Church of the Nazarene Covid-19 Letters

Our weekly schedule is affected by our concern to worship and serve in the safest way possible, especially for our more vulnerable demographic. As such, we are only meeting in person for worship at 11:00 am on Sunday mornings. We are keeping the building empty for all other functions. Please wear a mask and practice social distancing! 

Denominational Statements:

CDC Recommendations:


Dear Church,

          Spring seems to be here! I know there are still a few weeks left where it will get below freezing at night, and I also know that there is always the possibility for more snow until at least June, but the recent warming trend has been encouraging! I even spent some time outdoors in short sleeves!

          The changing of the weather seems to correspond with a different change of season as well. There is a renewed spirit of optimism in the church these days. We are looking forward to the Easter season with excitement! We are going to have a sunrise service at 8:30, donuts and coffee following, and then we are able to celebrate an Easter cantata at 11:00! It will be the first time our choir has been able to perform in over a year! The board also recently met and we have decided to open our building after Easter for mid-week gatherings. Our ladies Bible study will be back in the building as well as our Wednesday night study. We of course still encourage proper safety precautions and distancing practices and we are not yet opening for Sunday School or hall rentals, but we are celebrating that we are beginning the process of resurrection. How fitting a time to do so, right after Easter!

          Ultimately, our board has agreed that when the vaccine is widely available, our church will go back to normal status. We will relax our safety guidelines and fully open the building. However, I think we will always be mindful of good health and safety practices, and it will likely be normal for quite some time for some of our folks to want to mask up and keep a safe distance – even after the vaccine. And that’s perfectly fine. Kylie and I travel quite a bit, and we recall that in airports long before COVID we would always see at least someone wearing a mask. We never did and we would always, without fail, have someone in the family wind up sick for a couple days. I think the trend of being more health minded will stick for a while. We’re scheduled to fly back out to Washington this summer – and I know that despite both of us being vaccinated, we will all still be wearing masks on the plane whether we’re required to or not – even if just to avoid that pesky cold and flu bug. There is no reason why our more health compromised folks in church shouldn’t be comfortable to do the same.

          The additional good news is that shortly after we decided to table a full opening of the church until after widespread availability of the vaccine, it was announced that for Michigan the vaccine would be made widely available to everyone 16 and older by April 5. This is terrific news! There is officially a light at the end of the tunnel! Thanks be to God!

          All this expectation of good news reminds me of the Easter season that we are about to celebrate. Of course, right now we are still in the middle of Lent. We are still considering our sinfulness, our mortality, and the necessity of the cross. It’s like looking at our yards right now- full of the waste from winter. Pebbles from the driveway, dead grass, and sticks. We see the work still ahead of us and the need for patience in our lawns, as well as in our spiritual lives. We still need to focus on a spirit of repentance and penance. But we also know the good news – and we look forward to celebrating it!

It’s hard not to look forward to the Easter season! Just like outside – the yard is still a bit of a mess, but the sunshine on our shoulders feels great! It calls us forward into spring! I just today received the palm branches for Palm Sunday. Our choir has been practicing for the cantata. We’re getting ready for Easter. The vaccines are becoming more readily available. How can we not be getting excited! We know the end of the story! That despite the different challenges and discouragements of the world around us, resurrection wins! Jesus always wins! And we are invited on to His team.

And so, as we begin the last half of the Lenten season and begin preparing for Easter, let us first be encouraged to finish this current season strong. Let us give proper consideration of the cross as we make our way to Good Friday. Let us know that our redemption was bought at a price, and that we must continually be aware of the repentance necessary for kingdom living. But let us also be reminded of the good news that awaits those who love Christ. The good news of resurrection. The good news of redemption. The good news of eternal life. And let us invite others to live into that hope as well.

As Hebrews 12 says, “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Amen.

Grace and Peace,


Pastor Josh


March 3, 2021

Dear Church,

          Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus!

          I pray that this letter finds you in good health as we are now coming to the half-way point of the season of Lent. The church during Lent this year is reading together Sacred Invitation by Rev. Dr. Jesse Middendorf, a retired General Superintendent, and Rev. Stephanie Lobdell, campus pastor for Mount Vernon Nazarene University. The book takes us through Old Testament, New Testament, and Gospel passages that prepare us for the events of Palm Sunday, Holy Week and then Easter. It also supplies Psalms to be prayed in the morning and the evening. Along with the rich and plentiful supply of scripture readings, the authors take turns writing out daily devotional thoughts and supply the readers with follow-up questions. It is a wonderful way for the church to pray and hear the words of Scripture together; not only on Sunday, but throughout the week as well!

          By the time this letter reaches you, we will be rapidly approaching Palm/Passion Sunday. This of course is the principle day of preparation for Easter Sunday and a remembrance of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem the week before his death and resurrection. You may recall years past where the whole church waves palm branches and sings songs and cries out “hosanna” which means, “God Save us!” And then of course, the story takes a dramatic turn where the cries of “God save us!” turn into cries of “crucify Him!” Of course, for us on the other side of that weekend, we see that in the crucifixion of Jesus God does indeed save us, but in a way that no one that weekend could have ever imagined and in a way that we still often times struggle with today. “For the cross is foolishness,” as Paul would say – and even here in the church 2000 years later, we still struggle with fully embracing everything the cross has to offer.

          And so, as we journey together now these last couple weeks before Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter, let us commit ourselves to prayer and fasting that we might come to a full appreciation of what this season of salvation means to us, the church, our neighbor, and the whole world! That’s truly the point of a Lenten observance. Some folks take a more formal approach to Lent, giving up several specific items and actions to focus their attention to prayer. Others take a much less formal approach. However you do it, or whether or not you even commit yourself to a specific practice, I do want to encourage you to spend these next couple weeks considering the cross of Christ. If you have a Lenten devotional, be sure to follow it daily. If you don’t, pay attention to themes of suffering and atonement in your scripture readings –especially whenever the epistles mention the Cross of Christ and “bearing your cross.” As we approach Good Friday, consider the garden of Gethsemane and the difference between Jesus bearing His cross and Peter bearing his sword. Both take courage and zeal – but which one does God command of us? Which one do we prefer to wield in dealing with the great sin of the world?

          Easter is certainly around the corner! New life springs eternal in the hope of Jesus Christ! But for these next couple weeks I challenge you to consider the cross and its necessity for finding that new life.

          Speaking of Easter, we are going to try to do a Cantata. It is also our hope that by that time we can start looking at opening up the building more. Specific news will come as those decisions are made. A major concern in that decision making is of course the availability of the vaccine. We of course cannot and will not require any one to get vaccinated, but the denomination has done a full study on the ethics of the vaccine and not only approve of it but also encourage it. Whether or not you get it is up to you, but from an operations standpoint it is good news that the vaccine is slowly but steadily becoming more available! When it’s fully available we will be fully open, and our safety requests will become safety recommendations. I know it can be a hassle to get an appointment, and I know that there are more often than not some side effects (I had a pretty good headache and was either burning up or freezing cold all day), but it really is the gift that God has given us to allow us to return to full operating status safely. Pastor Jim and I have both been vaccinated along with several other members – and we are all looking forward to doing ministry safely and completely once again!

          In saving the best for last, my final note is on the birth of Emeline Elizabeth McLaren. She was born on February 4, 8 lbs 4 oz, 19”, and absolutely perfect. Kylie and I are officially outnumbered, 3 kids to 2 adults, but we’re managing fine. Your continued prayers are certainly appreciated.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Josh

February 2, 2021

Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus!

          As I am writing this to you, Kylie is 36 hours away from beginning to be induced. By the time you receive this letter, we will know our baby’s birthday, gender, and size. But right now, it’s all a wonderful divine mystery. It’s like a small metaphor for the Christian life! Right now we don’t know when the resurrection will happen, how the new heavens and earth will exactly look, or many other particulars of that glorious day – but we do know it is coming, we know Christ will be in charge, we know death and evil will be destroyed, and we know that it will be very good. Like the old song suggests, “what a day, glorious day, that will be!” And so, just as Kylie and I continue to live in nervous but joyful anticipation, I invite you to live each day with that same joyful anticipation of resurrection as you also invite others to do so as well!

          An important note about resurrection, though, must be brought to our attention. Resurrection cannot happen without death. We were reminded of this in our baptism and should be reminded of it daily in our prayers and devotionals – it is only when we die with Christ that we are also resurrected with Him. I’m reminded of verse four of the great Easter hymn by Charles Wesley, Christ the Lord is Risen Today,

“Soar we now where Christ hath led, Alleluia!
Foll’wing our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!”

In order to soar with Christ, we must follow Christ. To rise with Christ, we must be made like Christ. This making includes the cross, the grave, but also ultimately the skies.

          These words are especially helpful to us now as we enter into the season of Lent. I know Lenten observance has historically been a rare practice among Nazarenes. I’m reminded of that every year when I bring it up. But I keep bringing it up because I feel like it is a powerful piece to holiness living, which is the central claim of the Nazarene church!

Of course, everybody would agree that prayer and fasting are important spiritual disciplines. Jesus talks regularly about the power of prayer and fasting, and about how some demons simply cannot be exorcised without it! I have heard many good holiness messages on prayer and fasting as well. But for some reason, the collective and systemic forty day fast in preparation for Easter seems to have been neglected. It’s like we’ve individualized holiness. But I would suggest that seeing fasting as my business to be done on my time is the same as saying that holiness is my business to be done on my time. But this fundamentally isn’t the case. John Wesley is famously quoted as saying, “there is no holiness but social holiness.” This quote is taken two ways. First, we don’t pursue holiness just for our own good; it’s for the good of others. If our faith doesn’t benefit our neighbor, it’s not a truly Christian faith. But second, holiness is not to be pursued by yourself; it’s a product of a community of faith. We need to be shaped by something greater then ourselves. And for that, God gave us the church.

And this is where my Lenten invitation comes into focus. We certainly need to have personal times of prayer and fasting. But I would also suggest that as a church we also need corporate times of prayer and fasting. And what better time for corporate penance, confession, and fasting than in the several weeks leading up to the cross of Jesus Christ? We as the church and as individuals are invited by the great Christian tradition to explore again the true weight of the cross as we lament together the great power and pervasiveness of sin in anticipation of celebrating the great liberation of resurrection!

Another way of seeing Lenten observance is in what the fasting is accomplishing. It was explained by Rev. Stephanie Lobdell, who is the current campus pastor for Mount Vernon Nazarene University, as the addition of “margins” in life. That is, it’s not just the crude removal of something in order to bring suffering in the name of Jesus, but it is rather the intentional making of space to allow for more time and room for Christ’s presence. For instance, television consumes an inordinate amount of our time. We are shaped by the doom, gloom, and fear of television programming! Not only is most of it unwarranted (television producers are good at spinning stories to make you angry or fearful), it is also effective! Perhaps giving up television for a season is less about discipline for the sake of discipline, which is a sure recipe for misery, and more about taking that t.v. time and turning it into something productive! Perhaps read an inspirational book! Or get through those couple extra books in the Bible! Or commit that time to writing encouraging letters to old friends and family that you haven’t seen since the start of the pandemic! Lent is a season where we catch ourselves reaching for old habits so we can STOP! And instead choose to do something healthy – like pray, read scripture, or encourage one another.

If I can sum it all up in one quote, it’s this, “let this Lenten season be an opportunity to give up who you’ve been in favor for what you can become.”

If you would like to read along with the church in prayer, scripture, and devotional practices, I would encourage you to request this year’s devotional book from our publishing house, Sacred Invitation, by retired General Superintendent Jesse Middendorf and Rev. Stephanie Lobdell. Call Elizabeth at the office at (810) 644-2300 for us to mail you a copy or you can order it from

God’s Peace,

Pastor Josh


Dear Church,

          I was looking at the last letter that I wrote and realized it was written in September! Oh heavens! I really must apologize!

          Anyhow, what that tells me is that things have been pretty much plotting along here without much change. We are still gathering at 11:00 am only. We are still practicing distancing. We are still asking folks to mask up. We are still impatiently waiting for the building to be opened completely. We are still waiting to properly serve the community – in person! We are still lamenting not being able to fellowship with one another the way that God intended – with a physical touch.

That is what Christmas is all about, after all, that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us! And that is at the core of Christian theology, the incarnational nature of it all, the tangible-ness, the touchable-ness, the realness of it all. The taste of communion. The wetness of baptism. The lingering sliminess of anointing oil. The power of a hug.

Perhaps another reason for the delay in writing is the incredible busyness that the holiday season still brought, despite everything being less than desirable. And not all the busyness has been good either. I consider the several people who have been hospitalized and the several more that have passed on these last months. I myself have done a couple funerals, and we in church have lifted up several more families who have lost loved ones recently, including to this dreadful sickness.

We’ve discussed during Advent just how dark the world is out there. We look out our windows and we see here at the end of December that we are enduring some of the longest nights of the year. We noticed that just as the days have more darkness than sunshine, so too does the rest of life seem to have more darkness than sunshine. It literally seems as though death and sickness controls everything that we do! From where we go to who we see to what we do, all of it is filtered through the lens of this virus. Additionally, it is also heartbreaking to see the further divisions that have surfaced in our culture these last several months. When I see people sever ties with loved ones and family over the silly things that we argue over, I cannot help but think we’re selling the kingdom for a bowl of soup. (See Genesis 25:29–34)

Yes the world is dark out there – but here’s the good news! All throughout Advent, as the nights were getting longer we would light another candle each week. Therefore, as the days got darker, the sanctuary got brighter! We lit the candles of hope, peace, joy, and love; and as we did so more and more darkness would be dispelled. So it is in the world around us! Yes, as we see the world get darker, may the lessons of Advent remind us to shine our personal lights of hope, peace, joy, and love through our thoughts, words, and deeds; and in so doing we too can help drive back the darkness as we prepare the way for the coming of Christ. And that leads me to the best news of all: Christ has come and will come again!

On Christmas, after all the other candles are lit, we lit the Christ candle. It is the largest candle of the wreath and is situated right in the center. It is the great light that all our other lights point to. And here’s the greatest insight: now that the light of Christ has been lit, the days are getting longer and the darkness of night is beginning to recede!

Of course, there are some good things on the horizon. The vaccine is out and is beginning to be distributed. I actually got my first dose just a few hours before writing this letter. (I am privileged to get an early round because of my work as a firefighter.) While the timelines for mass distribution are still yet to be determined, there is light at the end of the tunnel. It is my sincere hope to be able to return to “more normal” operating within the year.

But more than anything, vaccine or no, we can rest in the blessed assurance that Christ was, Christ is, and Christ always will be. No matter what the condition of the world around us, Christ has us in His hands. He loves us. He is the God of resurrection, and no matter where we find ourselves, even if we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil. For the God of resurrection holds us in His hands. And if for nothing else, for that I can let my light shine.

Grace and peace,

Pastor Josh.

P.S. Another reason I have for looking forward to 2021 is the coming of a new child. Kylie is due anytime between late January or early February. Perhaps that’s also why I’ve been a bit scattered – twice weekly doctor’s appointments have left me with much quality time with the kids! We’re waiting to be surprised as to whether it’s a boy or girl. Pray for us in the coming weeks!

September 30, 2020

Dear Church,

          As we are now very much into the fall season, I noticed that is has been several weeks since I have written to you. I Apologize. Here’s a brief summary of where we’ve been, where we are now, and what we’re guessing for the future.

          As I’m sure you are aware, the COVID season is still very much here. It’s a little bit of a struggle in church leadership to really know what the right or proper course of action is. Some churches have gotten right along to back to pre-pandemic operations, while others have yet to have any sort of in-person interactions with each other. We seem to fit with the majority of the churches that I’m aware of in that we are back together for the important task of Sunday morning worship while maintaining proper distancing, face covering when moving about the building, maintaining a meaningful online format, and limiting all other gatherings. We have taken the initiative to have a couple outdoor gatherings, most notably an outdoor church service and Sunday school picnic that was so well received we’ll probably do that every year.

          That’s where we’ve been. Where we are now is quite a bit tied to what we try to guess, but ultimately don’t know, about the future. We’re still maintaining our ability to gather together for worship while employing proper distancing and covering rules. We’ve even been able to open up the table of the Lord so we can celebrate Holy Communion again, although even that has a little bit different feel and process than usual. But as we look forward, we want to be careful of two things.

First, we don’t want to jeopardize our privilege to gather by being a part of the problem instead of the solution. There is a vaccine that is supposedly going to be getting distributed relatively soon – though it may still be several months out. Likewise, there is also growing herd immunity just by virtue of the growing number of people that have contracted the disease and beat it. However, for the great increase in what we know about the virus, there is still much we don’t know. How is the move from generally being outdoors when gathering to no longer being able to be outdoors going to affect the general population? Flu season is coming – what will that do? If the changing seasons brings with it an increased death rate and rate of spread, will we be wise to go back to completely virtual gathering again? I think of our disease management like winter driving. Through the summer we’ve been privileged to gather outdoors, see family, get extra vitamin D in our systems, travel, etc. It’s like driving 55 everywhere you go. Our circumstances are going to change. Will our behaviors as a society change to match? Will we know ahead of time to slow down on the icy roads, or will we have to wreck a couple cars first? Maybe do a power slide through an intersection? When it comes to disease management, we don’t want to skid around. We as a church want to be a part of the solution, not the problem. We just don’t necessarily know what that looks like yet.

Second, we don’t want to go back to the way things were just because that’s how things were. Rather, we want to be intentional to what we come back to. This virus, this change, this disorientation may just be the wakeup call that the church was in need of. When I speak of church, I do in some way mean Swartz Creek Church of the Nazarene, but I mostly speak of the universal church. Throughout church history, as Phyllis Tickle notes in her book, The Great Emergence, every 500 years the church goes through what she calls a “rummage sale.” Circumstances require that everything gets laid out on a table, and only that which is absolutely central and necessary to Christianity remains while everything else is jettisoned. It happened in the 300’s with the conversion of Constantine, again in 1054 with the great Schism between Eastern and Western Christianity, and once more in the 1500’s with the reformation. And now here we are 500 years removed from the reformation in the midst of powerful social, political, and religious upheaval. It’s disorienting. It’s scary. It’s worrisome. I for one am quite concerned about how this all shakes out, as my livelihood is tied into it, and I don’t have the luxury of an impending retirement date and I can reasonably expect to live another 40-60 into this season!

Here’s what I’m driving at though. Matthew 16:16-19 has this to say,

“Simon Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Then Jesus replied, “Happy are you, Simon son of Jonah, because no human has shown this to you. Rather my Father who is in heaven has shown you. I tell you that you are Peter. And I’ll build my church on this rock. The gates of the underworld won’t be able to stand against it. I’ll give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Anything you fasten on earth will be fastened in heaven. Anything you loosen on earth will be loosened in heaven.”

It is not fun living through such changes. The most asked questions I hear revolve around the concern for things to “get back the way they used to be.” This was even common before the pandemic. But that’s not how the kingdom works or how holiness works. Luke 9:62, “Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand on the plow and looks back is fit for God’s kingdom.” Revelation 21:5 says, “He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”

The church has been struggling the last several decades. Some of the testimony of Peter, the rock that the church is built on, that Christ is the son of the living God, has been covered up or crowded out by other practices and traditions and “add-on” doctrines. Some of that stuff was good and served a great purpose in getting out the word that Christ is king! But when that stuff begins to overshadow the message itself, it needs to be addressed. It’s on the table now. God is making something new! And that’s good news!

In our particular North American context, we as the church have become so used to being a voice of authority in our culture that we’ve come to assume too much and give too little. We’ve become content making Christianity something that happens in the building, and anyone who wants to participate in it must come into our building and function by our rules. All of our outward attention and evangelism techniques have come to be tailored to accomplishing that goal: get people in the building. In our desire to come back, this is an opportunity to look at what we’re coming back to! This pandemic may be a gift to the church, an opportunity for us to stop our institutional habits long enough to hear the Holy Spirit again. It’s long been the call of the prophetic voices in our culture to ease up on some of the Bible study so that we can have more Bible doing. Perhaps this can be the opportunity for the church to come back to a format that encourages us to get back into the world again, making disciples of all nations!

I don’t know. I have some meandering thoughts every now and again. I’m participating in a preacher’s conference right now from Nazarene Theological Seminary that is also sponsored by several of our universities. There are professors and pastors all on there talking about how they’re doing different things now and having to learn stuff all over again. I have to confess, this conversation is raising my blood pressure. I’ve trained and worked within the context of ministry that I was given and have gotten used to it. I have habits that I’ve come to enjoy, thank you very much. I don’t want to change. Please do understand that I feel as disjointed as you may feel right now. My livelihood is tied up in the church. My 40-60 year future is married to the church. The uncertainty of what it may look like is very much at the front of my mind every day. Sometimes it’s all I think about! I can’t escape it! But this I do know: Jesus says that the testimony of His Lordship is the cornerstone of the church, and as long as we have that, whatever else may come or go, if Christ is with us the gates of death itself cannot prevail. The church has seen and weathered and flourished in tumultuous times before. It will again. God says so.

There are things that I may very much like on the rummage sale table. It’s not my call, it’s God’s call. My job is not to fight God, but rather to trust God. When I stop and breathe for a moment and meditate on that truth, the world starts to calm down again. I know from church history that every time the church gets shook up, God does something to shape and mold it for the future. And so now again, as the church is being shaken around, we can know that if we “let go and let God,” we’ll be able to see a glimpse of that beautiful future.

I know that wasn’t very concrete and still begs questions about what we’re going to do this fall going into winter, what some of our holiday plans will be, and all that. Well, like I mentioned, we don’t know for sure yet. I do have some Advent devotionals that we’ll hand out in November. Hopefully we’ll have some sort a Sunday school class to go through it together, but I’m not making promises. And that’s the whole point of the letter. We don’t know what’s ahead of us except for this: God is and has something beautiful for us to grow into. Stay tuned and we’ll discover it together. May we be gentle and receptive to whatever that is.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Josh

August 11, 2020

Dear Church,

            Grace to you, and peace in the name of our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus!

            I start this letter this week by asking you to remember to pray for me this upcoming weekend, August 14th and 15th as I will be taking my state written and state practical tests for the fire service. This will be the culmination of now ten months of classes and study. It was supposed to be six months, but with COVID the testing was delayed several weeks, and now after three short weeks of review we are back to test. I’ve been taught by excellent instructors and I am well studied, but the weekend will be quite warm and a full day of dragging hose and throwing ladders in full gear will likely be taxing nonetheless!

            And this little project that I’ve been working on in establishing a presence within the fire service is yet another little example of how I think the church should function in the world around us. There is an age old doctrine that has unfortunately in practice faded a bit into the background of church life, the doctrine of the incarnation. Ronald Rolheiser, in his spiritual masterpiece, The Holy Longing, devotes a couple chapters to the incarnation of Christ and what implications this has for us spiritually. He writes,

“…The incarnation is not a thirty-three year experiment by God in history, a one shot physical incursion into our lives. The incarnation began with Jesus and it has never stopped. The ascension of Jesus did not end, nor fundamentally change, the incarnation. God’s physical body is still among us. God is still present, as physical and real today, as God was in the historical Jesus. God still has skin, human skin, and physically walks on earth just as Jesus did…God’s incarnational presence continues as before. What is being said here?

…Scripture uses the expression the ‘Body of Christ’ to mean three things: Jesus, the historical person who walked this earth for 33 years; the Eucharist, which is also the physical presence of God among us; and the body of believers, which is also the real presence. To say the word ‘Christ’ is to refer, at one and the same time, to Jesus, the Eucharist, and the community of faith.

            We are the body of Christ. This is not an exaggeration nor a metaphor…

            …(this) means that the incarnation did not end after thirty-three years, when Jesus ascended. God is still here, in the flesh, just as real and just as physical, as God was in Jesus. The word…became flesh and continues to dwell among us. In the body of believers and in the Eucharist, God still has physical skin and can still be physically seen, touched, smelled, heard, and tasted.”

            Rolheiser then continues to write that there are several massive and life-changing implications to the community of believers, the church, and individual followers of Christ being the still present and physical hands and feet and eyes and ears and mouths of Christ. Jesus tells us that whatever we bind and loose on earth will be bound and loosed in heaven. Whatever sins we forgive are forgiven, whatever is withheld is withheld! We are the power of Christ! Those who contact us contact Christ! What a grave responsibility!

            I, of course, desire that you would look up and read the book. I also own it, and when I finish reading it for now the second time I’ll have it available for loan. But the point that I’m trying to get at is found in this beautiful prayer from St. Theresa of Avila,

“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

            There is a world out there that is in need of grace, mercy, and redemption. I hear it all the time from people about how wicked and dreadful it is out there, and I also here a common refrain about how much we desire that Christ would just come and redeem it already. Except Christ is already here – in all of us – and more often than not is unfortunately doing nothing. Rolheiser writes again in his book about how perhaps when we pray “in Christ’s name” and then experience nothing is because we don’t fully realize what we mean when we pray “in Christ’s name.” We’re praying for Jesus to move, of course, but we also must see how the grace of the Eucharist and the power of the Spirit residing inside our bodies must move as well.

            I’m reminded of the old parable of the family living in a flood plain with a massive storm approaching. Emergency agencies warned them of the evacuation orders and offered a ride out on a bus, but they refused saying that God would take care of them. The flood waters come and rescuers come with a boat offering a ride, yet still they refuse, insisting that God would rescue them. Finally the waters come high enough to force them to the roof of their home. During this most incredibly intense part of the storm yet more brave rescuers fly a helicopter to the house and offer a ride, yet they refuse again saying that God will rescue them. Unfortunately the family drowns in the storm, and as they approach the throne of God they immediately complain, “God, why didn’t you rescue us!?” to which God replied, “I sent a bus, a boat, and a helicopter. What more did you want?” For the church, are we praying for the family on the roof top the same way they were praying? Praying as mere theists? Or are we praying as incarnational Christians, adding flesh to our prayers by also sending busses, boats, and helicopters?

            The full impact and depth of incarnational theology not only takes some re-learning, but also some forgetting. It’s unfortunately usually the forgetting that’s the hardest part. It’s a hard lesson that we will commit to learning here at Swartz Creek. It’s not enough to make decisions for Christ. That’s a magic formula evangelistic technique that delays any action from God until after we’re dead. No, the Gospel is for today, so we must make disciples. It is a wild and unjust world out there. But God is here, ready to redeem! But when we pray “in Christ’s name” that God will heal and redeem the world, we must realize the depth of what “in Christ’s name” means. It means that we too may very well be called to be the answer to that prayer. Give up something to feed a hungry person. Give up time to help a neighbor in need. Befriend a sinner for no other reason than to be a living offering of forgiveness and grace. Move physically in solidarity with people groups who are suffering. Make a phone call. Send a letter. Show up someplace unexpected. Be a living offering of peace. Let us pray like St. Francis of Assisi, who prays,

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.

“O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.” Amen

Praying this prayer incarnationally will bring miracles. Jesus says so in John 14:13, “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” Let us pray truly in Jesus’ name.

Yours together in Christ,

Pastor Josh

July 15, 2020

Dear Church,

            Grace to you and peace in the name of our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus!

            I do hope that this letter finds you well. I for one am very much grateful for the cooler weather that we have been able to enjoy. As I write this, I realize that we are about to go right back into another big warm up, but according to the 10 day forecast it should be a little bit shorter of a stint this time around. All I know is that the last couple mornings have been absolutely gorgeous and it has been a pleasure sitting out in the yard soaking up the Word and the fresh air and the pleasant warmth of the sunshine. It does the soul good to sit out at sunrise and pray this old prayer, “Oh Lord let my soul rise up to meet you as the day rises to greet the sun. Glory to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever, amen.”

            This whole experience has got me to thinking just how important it is to start the day on such a healthy note. When I was pastoring on the Northwest District, our district superintendent formed “learning communities” composed of 7-9 pastors who would meet together once a month for five hours. Considering that the Northwest District composed of the eastern two thirds of Washington, the pan handle of Idaho, and a north eastern sliver of Oregon, and considering that these communities were put together only loosely geographically, it was possible at times for me to leave the house as early 5:00 am and not get back until 8:00 pm. But it was worth it. We would all read a book the month before hand, discuss the book the first half of the meeting, eat lunch together, and then share how the book would inform our ministry settings the second half. The following month we would ask each other if we then applied what we learned the way we said we would. What a wonderful time of support and accountability!

            It was in this context of shared community among fellow pastors that my former D.S. shared about the importance of starting the day right. He shared his temptation to always want to start the day with the news or with social media – but how starting the day on such a godless note set the rest of his day up for failure. Therefore, with the help of his wife, he started the process of starting each day by “grinding his beans.” What he meant by that is the first thing he did when he woke up, before checking a phone, computer, or TV, was he ground coffee beans to make a fresh pot of coffee. Then while the coffee was still brewing he opened the Scriptures. Then while he was enjoying his coffee he would open a book on Christian spirituality. This wouldn’t be an academic book or a “how to” book on ministry, rather it was simply a book on spiritual formation. Then he would open his prayer book and pray through a morning liturgy of prayer. Only after all this was accomplished would he set about in the day; reading for work, making phone calls, and even catching headlines in the news. The point was that how the day started, the day went. If the day starts without God, the day tends to continue without God. If the day starts with God, the day will almost certainly continue with God.

            And so, with the guidance of my old D.S. and motivation of the Holy Spirit, I try to start each day “grinding my beans.” If I have an early start scheduled, I try to discipline myself to be up even earlier. Because I have found that when I start my day with God, the day continues with God. But when I start my day without God, by day never really recovers any awareness of His presence. With God, the happenings and news of the day seem appropriately sized under the glory of the creator. Without God, the happenings and news of the day grows to epic proportions that cause me to respond in unholy and even hateful ways.

            Oh that we all would start our days right – “grinding our beans.” That we would brew our way through the Scriptures. That we would sip our way through the writings of a spiritual master. That we would have our eyes opened through a robust liturgy of prayer. And that we, in our great awareness of God, would keep sight of Him the whole day long. May this prayer be fulfilled in Jesus’ name, amen.

               For a list of things to read, check out the new section of our website at Here you will find a pile of books on theology, worship, and other general topics of interest. However, whatever you may find yourself reading, be sure to start the day with a book on Spiritual formation, something out of the “Spiritual Disciplines” section. Because without the love of God, all our service, all our education, even all of our sharing of the Gospel is but clanging gongs and clashing cymbals.

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Josh

July 8, 2020

Dear Church,

Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus!

I do trust that you are able to keep cool in this warm weather. I have found myself complaining at times at the amount of sweat that has come off my brow, and that was just from getting out of the chair to go grab another glass of ice water! Perhaps I should remember these complaints come next February! It just goes to show, you just can’t please some people.

I do want to say a very special thank you to some folks who did not do a good job staying cool this last week. Mike Shephard, Mike Ahearn, Randy Henry, Rick Evans, and Travis Edgerton spent four torturously hot and long days (6:00 am to 10:00 pm) tearing down the old steeple and bell tower and rebuilding from scratch a new one. All this work on the hottest week of the year to boot! The original plan was just to clean the old steeple and put up a cross. It was supposed to take an hour and a half. The best laid plans… It turns out there was a hole in the roofing and a significant amount of rot throughout the structure. Our ox very quickly fell into a ditch. So, many thanks a thousand times over to these guys for unexpectedly giving up their holiday weekend to build us something new and beautiful, and many thanks to Tami Henry, Lorraine Ahearn, Theresa Shephard, and my wife Kylie for feeding us throughout the week. If you have time and ability, I encourage you to drive by the church just to take a look at the new steeple. It’s worth the trip.

All this work on the steeple just got me to thinking about how often our lives are much like the buildings we spend them in. Everybody knows that you can’t just build a building and expect it to stay the same forever. Age and weather take their toll on every structure, and even the most thoroughly built buildings degrade without proper upkeep. I had an old boss that once told me that if you don’t invest a little each year in improvements, you’ll have to invest a lot in repairs down the road. How true is that!

So it is with our spirituality. If we are not constantly searching the Scriptures, praying formatively, and opening our heart in a spirit of repentance; that is if we are not always growing in faith, than we are shrinking in faith. Just as a building can deteriorate shortly after construction, so too does our life show the cracks and rot of prejudice, partisanship, greed, and hardness of heart if we are not always willing to be repaired or rebuilt or at least repainted by the master builder.

If we stay on top of our Spiritual formation – that is if we are constantly searching for deeper rhythms of prayer, Scripture reading, and service to others, than the occasional small-scale renovations to our “theological houses” will be affordable and minimally invasive while still showing a massive amount of growth and improvement over a lifetime of investment. If we allow ourselves to fall into a “rut” of spiritual practices, if we ignore the occasional signs of wear and rot such as coldness towards outsiders and rigidness in self-understanding, than the process to rebuild our faith into a vibrant and strong faith will take a massive amount of work; and in some unfortunate cases such as our beloved church steeple, even require a total deconstruction and fresh rebuild.

However, no matter what the case may be, God is there cheering you on. God desires that we all have well-built and beautiful “theological houses.” God desires that we all have vibrant and powerful spiritualties. God desires it so much so that through the work of His Son (a carpenter) and the Holy Spirit, the cost of renovation is paid for. All we have to do is hand the architectural plans over to God and pick up the hammer and start swinging. It may be hard to let go of the avocado green counter-tops – but it’s time. Revelation 21 has these words from the one seated on the throne, “Look, I am making all things new!” The description of the new heavens and new earth is beautiful. Let us not miss out by clinging too tightly to that which is fading away. The foundation is firm, built on the cross of Jesus Christ. The rest belongs in the hands of the Spirit, which according to John 3:8, “… blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” May it be so for us as it is in Scripture.

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Josh

June 17, 2020

Dear Church,

Grace to you and peace in the name of our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus!

Throughout the last several weeks of quarantine, I was able to catch up on reading some books that I have been meaning to get around to as well as re-read some old favorites that needed refreshment in my imagination. One such old favorite was A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by one of my favorite authors, Eugene Peterson. This book was written back in the early 80’s and is perhaps even more applicable today than when first written. It is a reflection on the failure of the “instant” and the “cheap,” especially as it relates to Christian spirituality and practical living.

However, while this book is very insightful, it is altogether useless unless the words are put into practice. It is just like everyday life – we moan all the time about the poor quality of goods that aren’t built to last, yet we refuse to pay (or wait) for the goods in life that are quality built. It’s not the manufacturer’s fault we have such terrible products, nor is the blame entirely theirs for employing slave labor. Ultimate blame lies with us, the consumer! We want what we want now and for very little cost, and we’re willing to settle for a cheap imitation made at the destruction of others in order to get it.

Pastor Peterson argues that this is also true with much of Christian spirituality. We want a faith that can withstand all attacks and effectively call others into a life of obedience, but we’re unwilling to fully invest in long-term obedience ourselves. We try to get the most of God for the least investment! We get frustrated when we read a little Scripture, pray a little prayer, even do it every day for years, and still nothing happens! But Scripture itself is full of action commands; commands that require obedience. Matthew 7:21-23,

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’”

Notice all the religious functions that these people were doing, thinking that such “work” was sufficient: preaching, calling out evil, flashes of the spectacular. Yet all of this is “empty” work, “cheap” imitations of what God calls us to. Yet how many of us today are satisfied with such “work?” We preach at people, we criticize freely without discernment, and we even manage to pull off a couple “miraculous” events in our churches, and then settle and think that we’ve done it.

But what does Christ actually call us to? What is the actual command that requires a “Long Obedience in the same Direction?” Matthew 25:34-40,

“The king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’”

Jesus also tells us in His summation of the purpose of life, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.” (Luke 10:27, MSG). The long and sometimes hard but always worth it obedience is an obedience to love. It’s long, because we love even when after a lifetime they don’t change. It’s hard, because we love even when they’re perceived by us as enemies. And it’s worth it because God’s ways always lead to God’s rewards, even when we don’t see how. Recall that from the Matthew 25 text, the sheep being rewarded were astonished that they were rewarded, because their life of love didn’t seem to produce much fruit, at least of the religious variety. Yet great was their reward because of their obedience, and greater still was the actual fruit of their labor. Also recall the grand expectations from those who cried “Lord, Lord,” in Matthew 7 because of their great religious accomplishments, yet they had no true compassion or love for their neighbors. The world and its people were a problem to be solved, not a gift to be loved.

            And so with that, as the church continues to slowly and carefully come back from our COVID-19 quarantine, it is my prayer that we are able to jump out of any “cheap” or “quick” spiritual practices and move deeply into a long obedience of love. That our worship will be well informed and free from secular distraction – a true movement of disciplined love for God – and that our discipleship would not only be an exercising of the mind, but that we would also give equal time to being the hands and feet of Christ in the neighborhood around us. We have loose partnerships already with Carriage Town, Little Lambs, and Forge Garage, and with a little imagination and lot of love we can quickly form new ministries to exercise passion and muscle in new ways. My hope is that as we come back, we don’t come back looking at our seating capacity, but rather at our sending capacity. May we not be found on judgment day being the church that preaches, condemns, and puts together nice programs – but rather let us be found as the church that worships and serves with love. It’s time to put hands and feet to our faith. “The harvest is plentiful and the workers our few,” so let’s grab a sickle and get to work!

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Josh

P.S. – A good place to start is June 27 at 9:00 am at Forge Garage (3456 W. Pierson Rd, Flint, MI). They are opening up a car lot to sell reliable donated cars to families in need, but the lot is in tough shape. There will be trash removal, weeding, fence repair, building repair, painting, and whatever miscellaneous work needing to be done. Oh, and they’ll have food. Many hands make light work, and many hands working for the Lord make joyful work. So, if you’re short on joy, go work for the Lord!

Check out the garage here.

June 9, 2020

Dear Church,

            Grace and peace to you in the name of Christ Jesus our Lord!

As I hope you are aware, this Sunday is the day that we’re opening the doors for Sunday morning worship again! As much as I am excited to see many of you back in the building, I am becoming more pressingly aware of the fact that many of us have to remember how to do church again! Just this week Elizabeth reminded me that she has to remember how to make bulletins, just as I have to remember how to preach to people and not a camera!

            All that said, I do ask that you keep our church leadership in prayer as we prepare to welcome many of you back into the building. We’re doing a great job getting ready and we’ve taken the opportunity to spruce a couple things up while you were gone, but we’re coming back to a new normal and we’re going to have to learn some new tricks as we go forward. Also, for those coming to the 8:30 service, we will be livestreaming that service for our folks that are electing to stay home for a while longer, so we really need to make sure we start on time. It’s going to be hard, as I usually call our early service the late service since we usually start 10 minutes past our published time, but whether you’re seated or not the cameras will be rolling at 8:30! And if you are unsure if you’re ready to come back, especially our immunocompromised family, please do feel free to stay home and continue to participate online. It will continue to be available for you. Also, I do intend to keep sending these letters and Sunday School papers out to those unable to attend for the foreseeable future.

            With that, we are coming back to a season (another church season! good heavens!) called “ordinary time,” or the “Season after Pentecost.” The name ordinary time may seem to be because there are no church holidays between now and Advent, but that’s not actually the reason. Rather, the time is called ordinary time because it’s so long that you use ordinal numbers to mark the time: 1st Sunday after Pentecost, 2nd Sunday, 3rd, 4th, etc. Come to think of it, that doesn’t sound that exciting either…

            However, what’s actually happening is exciting! We’re devoting the next six months to studying the church and how scripture defines it and tells its story and invites us to join in the action! The first six months of the Christian year are rightfully devoted to the story of Jesus, the proper starting point for any person. Start with Jesus and all will go well! So in these last six months we studied the coming, birth, baptism, fasting, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ through the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, and Easter. Now, in the second half of the year, we will look more intently at the church that is born out of this magnificent work of Christ, the church that is born out of the Pentecost event that we celebrated just two weeks ago!

            This week we’ll start the journey of the people of God looking at the start of the people of God. Our Old Testament text will be from Genesis giving the account of the birth of Isaac, the promised son of Abraham and the first of the Jewish line. Our Gospel text will be Matthews’s account of the calling of the disciples, the first followers of Jesus. From these origin stories we will then cast off in the Biblical story following the story of the first people God as we are then invited into the story as the current people of God.

The color of this summer season is green, which is the color for growth. We’ve seen purple for seasons of fasting and spiritual preparation, white for celebration, and red for the particularly special celebrations for Pentecost and Holy Week, and now we’re going to be staring at green as we put this work of fasting and celebration to work in our lives as we grow in a life filled with the Good News of Christ Jesus. May the testimony of Scripture continue to call us forward into the future with Christ! I look forward to growing with you!

In Christ,

Pastor Josh

June 2, 2020

Dear Church,

Grace to you, and peace in the name of our Lord and savior, Christ Jesus.

          As I hope you are well aware, we are scheduled to open our church for Sunday morning worship on June 14th. In her last press release, rather than extending restrictions our governor has lightened restrictions. Therefore we are going to go ahead with our plan to reopen for morning worship only on June 14th. It is my prayer that as restrictions lighten that we as a people don’t “receive an inch and take a mile,” but rather that due concern may still be given; especially towards those who may have underlying issues and apprehensions (even ones we may not be aware of). Above all, our duty as Christians is to follow the way of Christ, a way that cares for others even more so than standing for “rights.”

And so, when we come back I humbly ask these 10 things:

  1. Only enter through the south (main) door. This is easy to comply with as the other one will be locked.
  2. Maintain reasonable distancing. Smiles and waves work well for now J
  3. Make your way reasonably quickly to the sanctuary and then afterwards enjoy lingering and visiting outdoors. Not only is avoiding unnecessary indoor gathering recommended to avoid sickness, at the time of this writing it is predicted to be mostly sunny and 77 degrees! You know your mother would kick you outdoors, and now your pastor is too!
  4. Please, please wear a mask. We’ll have some provided if you forgot one. Much like covering your cough or sneeze, part of the reasoning is that it does slow (even if it doesn’t stop) airborne particulates, and if nothing else it’s a simple (and easy) courtesy to extend to others.
  5. Sit in designated areas. Your “usual” spot may or may not be available, and unless you’re Pastor Jim this is not intentional, but rather a way for us to help maintain proper distancing and proper compliance.
  6. If at all possible, come to the 8:30 service! We have plenty of room to spread out in the early service!
  7. If you are immune-compromised or not feeling well, please stay home. Our services will still be available online at (click “livestream”). Though we very much miss you, we prefer that you stay healthy.
  8. Please do continue giving, but do it by placing your offering in a bin in the foyer at the conclusion of service, or online at (click “give”), or by mailing in your check.
  9. Refrain from critiquing your pastor and board in regards to any of these procedures. We’re all doing the best we can with the information we have, and considering all viewpoints also means taking into account ones that you may disagree with.
  10. In the words of the Herald of Holiness during the months of the Spanish Flu of 1918, “stay patient and stay sweet!”

        I do very much look forward to seeing all of your smiling faces once again on Sunday morning! But in the meantime, there is yet another pressing issue facing our neighborhoods at this time, one that holiness folks should be considerate of as we then look forward for ways to actively bring reconciliation and healing to all of our brothers and sisters. You likely have been made aware of the widespread protesting and isolated rioting taking place around America. As children of God, we know that our priority in our thoughts, words, and deeds should be the love and care of other children of God. Pay attention to these words from St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:14-21,

“For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Our Manual puts it this way in Paragraph 915,

“…[W]e renounce any form of racial and ethnic indifference, exclusion, subjugation, or oppression as a grave sin against God and our fellow human beings. We lament the legacy of every form of racism throughout the world, and we seek to confront that legacy through repentance, reconciliation, and biblical justice. We seek to repent of every behavior in which we have been overtly or covertly complicit with the sin of racism, both past and present; and in confession and lament we seek forgiveness and reconciliation.

Further, we acknowledge that there is no reconciliation apart from human struggle to stand against and to overcome all personal, institutional and structural prejudice responsible for racial and ethnic humiliation and oppression. We call upon Nazarenes everywhere to identify and seek to remove acts and structures of prejudice, to facilitate occasions for seeking forgiveness and reconciliation, and to take action toward empowering those who have been marginalized.”

          I want to suggest that we as Christians need to be careful about the voices that we listen to. The cable news media would cast these widespread protests and isolated riots as general lawlessness carried out by “thugs.” This type of story-telling and phrases such as “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” would lead our minds down a gravely sinful understanding of people as less valuable than possessions, and also put us in a place of being defensive rather than open to repentance and reconciliation. This is most clearly seen in phrases such as, “it’s a shame about George Floyd, but we really need to do something about these riots.”

          I would suggest that Jesus is probably standing with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. right now affirming his words, “riots are the language of the unheard.” Of course riots and civil demonstrations are uncomfortable and unpleasant, and of course it is commonly accepted that property destruction is bad (read Mark 11:15-19), but as a people who are commanded by the Lord Jesus Christ to not just love God but also love our neighbors, and as a people who have heard our Lord define our neighbor as even someone who may be classically understood as an enemy, the phrases coming out of our mouths should sound more like, “it’s a shame about all these riots, but we really need to do something about unarmed black people being killed by law enforcement.”

          And again, as I tried to explain in last week’s sermon, corporate sin is a tricky, difficult, and often messy problem, as it can even be carried out by individually righteous people! I’m sure that there were upstanding and holy individuals at the tower of Babel who were just making bricks out of love for their neighbors and were ignorant of the sinful end product of those bricks! (Gen. 11) But when sin of the tower is exposed, even though brick-making isn’t sinful, if the end result of those bricks is revealed to us to be sinful, we need to reconsider what or how we do what we do. I would go anywhere and do anything with any police officer I know; and I know lots of them! I love and respect all of them and consider each one to be righteous and many of them even holy. While there are definitely exceptions, the problem isn’t the moral character of individual police officers; like I said, all the ones I know are very morally upright. Rather, the sins that need heard, understood, confessed, and repented of are systemic and often hidden prejudices that are very complex and difficult to understand and deal with. But this doesn’t lessen their importance or our duty to hear and learn and repent and heal. May the Spirit of Pentecost give us ears to hear once again!

          I love all of you and look very much forward to seeing you all return to church as the time becomes appropriate. Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost have all now come and gone, which means that for the next several months we’ll be moving into a season of focus and attention towards our own individual and corporate growth as the people of God. May the life and teachings of Christ that we studied intently these last several months guide us ever further into holiness. Amen!

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Josh

Here’s our BGS statement on racism:

May 26, 2020

Dear Church,

            First, a few brief notes.

            I did get the lawn mowed. The back half of the church is still very mushy, so the grass is just going to be long back there for a bit, but the front half and all that is visible from the road is cut and very nice looking.

            Also, it is my pleasure to announce that the church board has met and we have decided to set June 14th as our tentative soft opening date. This is of course subject to change, but it sure feels good to be able to report some news that is somewhat forward looking. However, we must also be aware that our leadership across the denomination from the General Superintendents to district leadership on down to me as a local pastor has covenanted to follow the guidelines of our local authorities. This is neither a political decision nor a presumption of medical expertise, but rather a desire to follow Jesus in the way of patience and prudence – it’s a way for us as the church to show courtesy and solidarity to our communities in the way of holiness; a way that doesn’t count the cost of love.

            So again, we are looking closely at June 14th for a “soft” reopen. What that means is that we will be gathering for only our morning worship at both 8:30 and 11:00. We will be limited to whatever guidelines are given to us, and we will have the building marked out for adequate social distancing. Because of these parameters, we do encourage anyone who can come to the early service to please do so to ease any possible crowding in the second service. The building will be deep cleaned and disinfected before we gather and again in between services. Building access will also be limited to just the foyer, sanctuary, and bathrooms. The back half of the building and north entrance doors will be closed, meaning we will not have Sunday School or children’s church. We’ll have facemasks and hand sanitizer available for use. But the most important piece of the puzzle for staying in good health is you! If you are immuno-compromised or feeling sick, we strongly ask that you please stay home and continue to participate online or through these mailers. And again, as Christians, we are a people more concerned with courtesy than we are with “rights.” So then, following the words of the Herald of Holiness when published during the Spanish Flu in 1919, we “stay patient and stay sweet,” even if our date gets pushed again.

            And with that said I’m excited and looking forward to our celebration of Pentecost this coming Sunday (31st)! Be sure to wear something red Sunday as we will hear again the wondrous story found in Acts 2 where all the believers were together in one place and the Holy Spirit “descended upon them as tongues of fire.” I see the irony in reading of the believers being “gathered together” during this time of “social distancing,” but in that irony I also see the power of God revealed as we as the church stand together even in our separation! We are a people of hope and faith! “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1). And so, while it may seem to some of us that there is no light at the end of the tunnel, that doesn’t discourage us, because faith hopes for things that we cannot see. If we could see the end of the road, then it wouldn’t take faith to get there!

            And that, I think, is part of the great message of Pentecost. We are given the power of the Holy Spirit to continue in a life of holiness; a life rooted in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. So much in this world would trick us into thinking that such fruit is not necessary to survive, or even that rigid adherence to these fruit it is even detrimental to accomplishing the great commission in the most efficient way! We know that efficiency does not lend itself well to patience, and it doesn’t always play well with kindness, gentleness, or even faithfulness either!

So how can we expect to be a great commission people when we don’t know how to most efficiently fulfill it while also adhering to the fruit of the Spirit? Well, that’s what faith is: following the commands of Christ, even when they don’t make sense, and then trusting the Holy Spirit to make it work. Because more important than the great commission is the great command – to love God and love neighbor. We must trust that if we get the command right, the commission will surely follow. However, just because we work for the commission, it doesn’t mean the command will follow. It’s easy to evangelize without love; we do it all the time! It’s perhaps one of our greatest temptations as Christians to see people as problems to be fixed instead of God’s children to get to know and unconditionally love! However, though, it’s impossible to love without evangelizing. I naturally want the best for those I love, and the best is certainly a life free from sin in the forgiveness of Christ and bound to the community of faith.

Perhaps then, the core of the discipline of Pentecost and the message of the Holy Spirit and the purpose of a Holiness church is actually a discipline of love? Acts 2:42 says this, “They devoted themselves to the gathering, the apostles teaching, the breaking of bread, and the prayers.” The devotion spurned on by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost wasn’t a devotion to drive-by sermons to strangers or extra-curricular rule making, but a devotion to practices that build and facilitate loving relationships; devotion to “right worship” to build our relationship with God, and devotion to sharing meals and gathering together to build relationships with others. It’s not about the “hook,” it’s about building love! And this often takes time! There is no greater example of Spirit-led evangelism than the work of Jesus, who sought out sinners and strangers, met them in their homes, built relationship over a meal, and in love shared the good news of a life worth living. This is a way built on the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. No gimmicks, no schemes, no magic words, no “sure-fire techniques;” just the commands of Jesus and faith that this impossible way is actually the way.

Happy Pentecost, and may God’s peace be with you,

Pastor Josh

May 18, 2020

Dear Church,

            As I sit here on at the keyboard on Monday morning, I look out the window and see grey clouds and rain for the second day in a row. I’m also beginning to worry a bit. Last week I timed the mowing of the lawn exactly wrong. The last sunny day we had I had other work to do. The second to last sunny day we had the lawn wasn’t really in need of mowing yet, and I didn’t want to senselessly waste fuel. Now we’ve had all this rain and I can tell the grass has grown significantly, especially with some of the warmer thundershowers that have gone through! And now I have time and need (with a sense of growing urgency in that need), and yet as I helplessly look out the window, despite my readiness and despite the urgency of the need, the weather is telling me no! In fact, even if it were to sunny up, It would still take a solid day of good sun and breeze to dry out this ground to be fit to mow! So even still, I’m looking at an additional day or two before I can get out to the yard, and lord knows what the grass is going to look like then! So I’m basically stuck with two options: go out too early and have a rutted up mess, or wait until it’s appropriate to go out and have piles of grass everywhere! Can you tell that this quarantine has me going a little stir crazy? I’m sitting here writing to you my reflections on lawn care! But that may be an appropriate metaphor for where we are right now.

            As I sit here at my computer this Monday morning, the clouds are still grey and the rain is still coming down and we still have no real sense of when we’ll be able to gather back together. There is a hope that it may be as early as June, but there is still the very real possibility that we may be extended into oblivion. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to get back to some sense of tangible-ness in church. I’m resigning myself to the fact that we won’t go back to normal when we do go back – and in some ways that’s actually probably a good thing. We’ve been cleansed from bad habits of being exclusively silo’d up in holy huddles; we’ve been forced to fast from some of our habits of church. However, getting back down to the nitty gritty of it, the Christian life is still at its core a gathered life! We see in Scripture and know in our hearts that we can’t walk this life of faith on our own! We need to see each other and hug each other and pray together and sing together and take communion together! The fact that Jesus comes to us most clearly us the sacraments, the physically applied material of water, bread, and wine, proves that the Christian faith is a tangible faith that cannot be simulated through virtual means! And so I sit here and look out of my office window and stare at the coronavirus rain clouds and stew over not being able to properly do the work of Christian worship.

            But I’m also reminded of the need for patience. It’s supposed to be sunny tomorrow – but if I take the lawnmower out tomorrow I’ll sink up to the axels. I know; I’ve made that mistake before! Not only is it a pain to get unstuck, but it also makes a monumentally bigger mess that’s significantly harder to clean up than if I had just waited the extra day and committed to raking up the grass mess.

            It’s hard to wait, especially when the conditions look ready! I’m reminded of my high school years when my friends and I could hardly wait to jump into Lake Huron. The first 80 degree day would come around and we’d go diving into the lake, only to find that the water wasn’t quite up to speed with the air! You don’t swim until at least mid-June!

            These are all quite silly anecdotes that I hope illustrate a much more serious reality. Christian worship and the gathering of the body of Christ – not virtually but actually – is of critical importance not just to the Christian walk, but to life itself! If I never swim again or find myself doomed to stare at four foot tall grass the rest of my life, it’s not even a comparable price to pay for the joy and peace of Christian worship. But even the task of worship is subject to the two commands of Christ – to love God with all your heart soul mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. To love God is to love people, who are all created in His image (some more clearly than others, but still), from womb to tomb. We love our neighbors, we love our church family, and we strive to preserve human life as best as we know how. And so we wait – knowing that the harvest will be there waiting for us when the weather clears (unlike the wheat crop in the summer time, God’s crop never spoils), and also knowing that consequences of continuing on too early can be disastrous and deadly. Round two can always be more deadly and destructive than round one!

            And so, I, along with your church board and safety team, will be beginning to enter into discussion as to what reopening might look like. We’ll be sure to take all the recommended precautions and have appropriate safety materials available for use. We’ll be leaning heavily on guidelines given to us by our district and insurance companies. All we ask of you is patience.

            And that really is the key for us as representatives of Christ on this earth – that we conduct ourselves with the highest form of patience and respect. I really don’t think anyone actually knows what the right thing to do is – but I also know that no one wants to be responsible for any preventable spread of disease and death. And so, as Christians, in our recognition of the sacredness of life, we choose to error on the side of life, no matter what other material or monetary costs may come. “You can’t serve God and money!” (Matt. 6:24) And so, as was written in the Herald of Holiness during the 1918 flu, “stay patient and stay sweet.”

            And perhaps most important is the Spirit with which we do reopen. We are a part of the Body of Christ. Our faith is not our own, nor is it contained to the Swartz Creek Church of the Nazarene. Rather, our faith is inextricably tied to the greater Church, and our church has been severely affected. Here’s an excerpt from a recent letter to pastors from our Board of General Superintendents,

“While some are ready to move on from this virus and think about recovery, others have not had time to grieve or bury their dead. As we consider our worldwide church family, let us remember that many members of the family have been deeply wounded and others are suffering. The virus continues to make its way around the world; and as a result, we receive new reports daily of sickness and death. Our church in Peru has seen the passing of 22 members in just one district. We have pastors who have become ill and hospitalized, with some on ventilators. In Mexico, we have seen many members sick and at least six have passed away.”

This excerpt also didn’t mention our brothers and sisters here on this district that have suffered loss. Even those who have lost loved ones not related to COVID-19 have been unable to grieve or mourn appropriately. These churches listed are our church just as much as Swartz Creek is our church! The lives of those around us suffering loss are as important to us as what goes on in our homes! So I ask as your pastor, in our call and desire to get back to church, let us be sure to have our hearts open to more than just our personal desires – let us have our hearts open to the mourning and lament that we must deal with as the people of God before we move on too quickly to what we as individuals may want.

It’s raining today, but sunny days are coming. Death may seem to have the final word today, but as Christians we believe in the power of the resurrection to undo all that death has done! I look forward to celebrating that day with you.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Josh

May 6, 2020

Dear Church,

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!    

      As we continue through this quarantine time, one of the most prevalent thoughts that we keep being drawn back to both as individuals and as the collective body is the thought of “when will we be able to gather together again to worship?” Of course, this isolation, this “prohibition” from being able to gather together in our set “places of worship” doesn’t stop that task of worship. We are very much able to ascribe praise and devotion to God no matter where we are and no matter what circumstances we endure. Church history, as well as the Jewish history given to us in our Scriptures, tells often of times where the faithful are unable to make their pilgrimage to their places of worship, and still, God was worshipped. For hundreds of years during the exile the Jewish faithful were unable to make their annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem, and during times of pestilence, plague, and persecution the church has often been unable to enjoy the weekly pilgrimage to our local house of worship. This is certainly a time of plague, and this is certainly then not uncharted waters, so let us find peace in knowing that God has led the church through these times before, and God will lead us through again.

Our impatience, however, is beginning to show in some spheres of public media, and may be in need of discipline. One Anglican pastor commented in a jesting way how he is absolutely thrilled in the newfound passion and desire for Holy Communion, but also concerned by how some of the great spiritual giants and saints of the church in days gone by would laugh at our lack of resolve, as many of them have gone upwards of years between times of being able to gather for proper Eucharist and some of us are beginning to melt down after only a month and a half! This in itself I believe highlights some of the deep seated consumerism that has come to plague the church, even in regards to our worship. It has become less about a time of honoring God and being made more into God’s image and more of a time of me “being fed” with worship being customized to “my image.” But the task of the church is to point us away from ourselves and point us instead towards God and towards others. And the most significant method that God uses for such projects in scripture is the wilderness. It took only a couple days to get Israel out of Egypt, but it took 40 years in a desert to get Egypt out of Israel, and even so there was still much of Egypt that remained!

With all that said, it is my plea that we don’t jump on the boat too soon. Of all the worldly forces that are calling or things to open back up and get moving again no matter what the underlying risks may be (image Pharaoh’s demand for more bricks at all costs in the beginning chapters of Exodus), let us be as the people of God a model of patience, looking out for the health and welfare of our brothers and sisters and also our neighbors, all the while knowing that Christ has His hand on His church and will protect it for us and will welcome us back with open arms when the time is appropriate. Impatience comes when we become a people obsessed with “rights,” my “right” to this or do that. We think everything is a “right.” But Scripture tells us that everything, even life itself, and especially our worship, is a gift. Let us receive our gifts with thanksgiving, and lest us put our concept of “rights” to bed.

With all that said, however, it is also important to note that there is reason to lament. I think one of the fallacies that we can fall into on the other side of the argumentative spectrum is to suggest that time and physical place don’t matter in our worship to God. We quickly chime that buildings and gatherings don’t matter, for the purest form of worship is whatever just happens in our hearts at any given time! While this in part is true, I would also suggest, along with the Psalms, that this isn’t the full truth. Psalm 137 is a graphic crying out to the Lord in anger and frustration, and what’s at the root of that frustration? Verses 1-6 tell us,

“By the rivers of Babylon—there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our harps. For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither! Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.”

The Israelites just cannot sing their songs of praises properly knowing that their house of worship, their place that is set aside for the perpetual use of the worship of Yahweh is no longer available to them. It is the sanctuary of the temple, the pilgrimage to the holy place, which draws their hearts, their minds, and their strength into a fully human act of worship of God. And the loss of this gift is cause for bitter lament. Time, physical place, and actual gathering matter to worship, and it is right to lament when these thing appear to be “lost.”

          And so, all of that considered, I want us to take a moment in our lament to do just as the psalmist suggests, “to remember Jerusalem,” our highest joy. Eugene Peterson in his excellent book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, follows the Psalms of ascent, Psalms 120-134 as they map out a framework of discipleship. These Psalms are songs that the ancient Jews would sing together as they made their three annual pilgrimages into Jerusalem for the three significant Holy Days on the calendar: Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths). Jerusalem being the highest city in Palestine meant that the journey into the city would be mostly uphill, which then gives the name of these psalms sung on the way into town the “psalms of ascent.” The community of faith “ascends” to a Spirit of worship together as they “ascend” to the place of worship together.

          The particular Psalm that we’re going to reflect on is Psalm 122, the Psalm that Peterson uses for his chapter on Worship in His book on discipleship. Here’s Peterson’s translation, The Message,

“When they said, “Let’s go to the house of God,” my heart leaped for joy. And now we’re here, O Jerusalem, inside Jerusalem’s walls!

Jerusalem, well-built city, built as a place for worship! The city to which the tribes ascend, all God’s tribes go up to worship, To give thanks to the name of God— this is what it means to be Israel. Thrones for righteous judgment are set there, famous David-thrones.

Pray for Jerusalem’s peace! Prosperity to all you Jerusalem-lovers! Friendly insiders, get along! Hostile outsiders, keep your distance! For the sake of my family and friends, I say it again: live in peace! For the sake of the house of our God, God, I’ll do my very best for you.”

          Peterson starts the Chapter by noting that while we are all familiar with the many pithy excuses that people come up with for not going to worship, what he always found more fascinating in and engaging is the reasons people give who do go to worship! Because despite the occasional spouse or child protesting otherwise, worship is voluntary and still we do it with astonishing consistency!

          The first reason Peterson notes is that worship gives us a “framework for life.” He writes,

“When you went to Jerusalem, you encountered the great foundational realities: God created you, God redeemed you, God provided for you. In Jerusalem you saw in ritual and heard in preaching the powerful history-shaping  truth that God forgives our sins and makes it possible to live without guilt and with purpose.” (51-52)

One way to look at our own lives is through the lens of a story. It is, after all, what we do at our funerals; we recount events and actions that give people an idea of what type of character we were in the working out of our lives, the working out of our stories. For the Christian, the first and foremost task of our lives is for our stories to be grafted in with God’s story for the world. The means in which we continually check our story against God’s story is through the perpetual participation in and listening to the story of God. This overarching story then has the power to frame and support our own stories. Peterson ends this section with a story of a lady who was doing needle-point. In a moment of confession she tells her pastor, “that’s what’s wrong with my life. I have no frame to hold me together. All my thoughts and actions are loose and sloppy…I need a frame like this embroidery.” For the Christian life, that frame is worship.

          The second reason Peterson gives is because worship is a command. He notes, “the psalm doesn’t care whether you feel like it or not, as was decreed, ‘give thanks to the Lord your God.’” (54). Peterson just says it best, so I’ll let him explain,

“I have put great emphasis on the fact that Christians worship because we want to , not because we’re forced to. But I have never said that we worship because we feel like it. Feelings are great liars. If Christians only worshiped when they felt like it there would be precious little worship. Feelings are important in many areas but completely unreliable in matters of faith. Paul Scherer is laconic, ‘The Bible wastes very little time on the way we feel.’” (54)

The third reason given is so that we may receive a word from God. Of course with the gifting of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost we are all now able to receive a fresh word from God at the Spirit’s appointed times, but left to our own devices we easily become misled by our own spirit’s and mistake our selfish desires for God’s desires. One look at the T.V. preachers who own their own jets confirm this. How does public worship help? Peterson explains,

“If we stay home by ourselves and read the Bible, we are going to miss a lot, for our reading will be unconsciously conditioned by our culture, limited by our ignorance, distorted by unknown prejudices. In worship we are part of ‘the large congregation’ where all the writers or scripture address us, where hymn writers use music to express truths that touch us on only in our head but in our hearts, where the preacher who has just lived through six days of doubt, hurt, faith, and blessing with the worshippers speaks the truth of Scripture in the language of the congregations present experience.” (55)

It is in the diverse gathered community that the voice of God can be most clearly heard, free from prejudice and bias. Lord, help us be as diverse as needed to hear from you.

          Peterson then leaves the chapter with a couple final notes on what to expect from worship and what not to expect. Peterson notes that “worship does not satisfy our desire for God, it whets our appetite.” (56) The myth of going to be fed your spiritual food so that you can coast the week out is a false expectation of worship. Worship properly done should always leave you wanting more of God’s presence and guidance. With that, worship is also not a task to get done as efficiently and effectively as possible. So much church is designed to rush people to the altar and then back out the doors in a way that stirs our hearts deeply and then gets us to lunch on time! His closing illustration is a good one – and is applicable to chainsaws for the lumberjacks out there – but in this story uses a sickle. Consider the time wasted sitting on a stump sharpening the blade! We could be doing work! God’s work! But instead we sit there fussing with a sharpening stone! Oh what a waste of time…until it’s time to work again. Worship takes time to form our imaginations and sanctify our souls and often seems to be a “Royal Waste of Time” (another excellent book by Marva Dawn), but when we give it proper due diligence it is the key to an effective harvest.

          All that said, I do anticipate the day where I can worship with you rightly again, in the house of the Lord, with the full display of the salvation story before us in ritual and word. But until then, we wait patiently and filled with hope; expressions which in their own right are acts of worship as well.

Grace and Peace

Pastor Josh

P.S. – In all seriousness, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson is an excellent book. I recommend ordering a copy today. It’s well worth the read. You can find it here

April 28, 2020

Dear Church,

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

            I think that it is critically important for us to seriously reflect on the power of these words. The implications of resurrection are so powerful that it shows up twice in out Creed! First, where Jesus on the third day rose from the dead, and again where we state with boldness that “I believe in the resurrection!” This is the cornerstone of Christian faith! Resurrection of the dead! And this doctrine of resurrection has caused these three thoughts to surface in my head for us during this time of isolation and quarantine.

First, death is not the end. Unfortunately, some of the gnostic thoughts of our culture around us creep into our Christian theology, and then messes up some of our thoughts and practices. In this case, the gnostic idea of a “soul” being separated from the body at death and floating off to some disembodied “heaven” while the fleshly remains rot away for eternity is contrary to the teachings of scripture and the church. Christianity, however, is built on the belief of the resurrection. Jesus’ body was not in the tomb! It was resurrected! It was certainly different, in many cases even unrecognizable, because it wasn’t a return back to what it was before death but rather had gone through death and came out the other side in glory, but still – it was a bodily resurrection. The disciples and other with them weren’t seeing and dining with a Jesus ghost – they were seeing Jesus’ body! This resurrection is also the hope of all those who believe. We will be resurrected, the heavens and the earth will be resurrected, and all creation will live (as creation) for all eternity in praise and adoration of God!

What happens in the meantime? We really don’t exactly know. But 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 says this,

“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

This “catching up in the air” is for a victory parade! The custom in that day was when a victorious king or general would come back home after a successful military campaign, the people of the city would go out and meet them in the distance and parade them back home! This imagery is then doubly powerful in that the writer not only reminds us where our final dwelling place will be (right here with Christ ruling the universe in our midst), but also draws our attention to the power of an even greater king than all those found in the world, who wins his victories not by war and violence and death, but through grace and forgiveness and resurrection! This is the final victory! Death is not the final victor, but rather Christ and resurrection life with Him! And so we pray and encourage one another in the hope of resurrection!

            Second, then, because Christ is coming back to redeem once and for all God’s creation, because we believe in the resurrection, then how we live in the midst of God’s creation now is vitally important. Will our lives show Christ that we are uncaring towards God’s creation and towards our fellow brothers and sisters tasked with us to care for it? Because those bent on destruction or manipulation of God’s gifts and treasures, especially as found in our bodies and in other humans who bear God’s image, are not fit to enjoy them or God for eternity. They will be cast into the outer darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth. However, for those of us who’s hearts break in love for all of God’s goodness, though we are short on wisdom for how to best care for it, if the Spirit truly is willing and we truly are doing all we can to love God, love people, and love God’s garden, there is certainly a place for us to do so for eternity and by the light of the coming full revelation. To borrow imagery from a Jesus parable found in Mark 12, we’re tenants of God’s garden. We admittedly in our sin made a mess of it, introducing death and violence to the world, but God’s going to fix it, and He sent His Son to prove it and show us how He’ll fix it. So then, when he comes, are we going to be among the ones selflessly working with the Holy Spirit to restore it? Or are we going to be among the ones working to profit from it? Because God will get his due – and our eternal abiding in His garden with Him has much to do with our giving God His due.

            Third, and finally the really good news, resurrection breeds hope. We do not need to worry about the evil around us – it will be taken care of! We need not be discouraged by the death around us – it’s temporary! This doesn’t mean we don’t give death healthy respect – we’re powerless over it – but it does mean that our God is bigger than even death! What this means is that we don’t need to fear death, and we especially don’t need to serve it. Pandemic doesn’t need a runway to spread like wildfire though our church doors, because our church will be there when the pandemic is long gone. We can wait.  We can be stay patient and stay positive in the midst of turbulent and uncertain times because whatever disaster may befall, we believe in resurrection! So let us be a people of hope, let us be a people of support, let us be a people of good news!

            Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

            – Pastor Josh

April 21, 2020

Dear Church,

        He is Risen! He is Risen indeed!

        That’s right, it’s still Easter! Resurrection Sunday is of course Easter Sunday, the annual anniversary of the Resurrection of our Lord, and EVERY Sunday is a little Easter, the weekly anniversary of the resurrection of our Lord, but additionally the church has for centuries celebrated a 50 day paschal season. This season is in response to the 40 day season of lent, and is the longest festal season on the Christian calendar. On the surface it may seem like 50 days of revelry to make up for the 40 days of fasting, but this festal season of course has a more profound theological underpinning behind it – a theological statement hope that is the point of this letter to you today.

        Lent is a time of reflection upon our death and our sins that bring to us this wage. Lent starts of course with Ash Wednesday, a time where ash is applied to our foreheads and we are in a very vivid way reminded that “we are dust and to dust we will return!” Death of course comes to the world through sin, and Paul reminds us of this when he writes, “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.” It’s important, of course, not to just skip on to the gift, lest we fall back into the death of sin, so we set aside 40 days every year to remind us of our mortality, to remind us of our propensity to sin, and call us back to a renewed sense of discipline, and to open our eyes to new revelations of sin that we may not have been aware of. It’s a dreadful season! And it is only intensified through Holy Week where we make a pilgrimage to the cross to see that our sin not only caused our death, but we also see that God (out of God’s great love) allows our sin to even kill Him! Here we take Christ Jesus, God-in-flesh, and through our sinful pursuits nail Him to a cross, where He takes the manifestation of all of humanities sinfulness, and bears it with a message of forgiveness. It truly is humbling and unpleasant to face this reality in the face.

        But then comes Easter…

        Easter is such a powerful and magnificent and hope-filled event that it simply cannot be stuffed into one Sunday! Of course not! Obviously, as mentioned before, every Sunday is a small Easter celebration, as we gather together on the weekly anniversary of the Resurrection of the Lord, but the significance of a special season being set aside to especially celebrate the resurrection of Christ is especially appropriate considering the dread of an appropriately observed Lent. And this is why:

        The power of forgiveness is always greater than the power of sin.

        The power of resurrection is always greater than the power of death.

        I like to think that the Easter celebration starts on Good Friday as Christ is being crucified – the sins we’ve been made of aware of through the Lenten celebration all coming to do their worst, and in that moment Christ breathes the most powerful words in the history of humankind: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they’re doing.” The resurrection then happens to prove the power of that forgiveness. One of the immediate post resurrection accounts has Peter on the beach with other disciples and of course the resurrected Christ, and Jesus asks Peter three times, once for each of Peter’s denials, whether or not Peter loved Him. Peter of course says yes three times, and each of the three times Jesus sends Peter on a mission to feed the flock. This is very much widely understood to be Peter’s forgiveness and reinstatement – an unconditional welcome back into the fold for the one who denied Christ three times just days ago! Forgiveness is more powerful than sin!

        This of course makes me think of those who may have wronged me. Do I believe in the power of forgiveness? Do I believe that forgiveness is even more powerful than sin? Or am I hung up on the idea that I need to add retribution to make sure that whoever sinned against me “really learns their lesson?” Obviously, knowledge of the depth of sin is paramount to understanding how powerful the sin is, so we all need our Lenten moment, including those who sin against us. But if Easter teaches us anything, it’s that there is no sin more powerful and longer lasting than the power of forgiveness. Lord, help me be an agent of Your power!

        We also see in Easter that the power of resurrection is always more powerful than the power of death. Of course the most prevalent expression of death in recent history is seen in this COVID-19 pandemic. Everything is shut down, people are starting to go a little nuts, and thousands upon thousands of people of all ages, nationalities, and ethnicities are dying. Add in of course that this last century has been one of the most violent and war torn centuries in recorded history, that the economic disparities between the haves and the have not’s is growing at an alarming rate, and along with that large scale corporate resource production is crippling natural resources, and we can very much begin to believe that the power of death is taking over the world and that there is very little hope for a future. I hear all the time as a young parent of the great worries that people have for the next generation. Will there be anything left? Is this the end? Has death won after all?

        And then Easter comes! And we see that in all things on this side of the veil, we’re only approaching the beginning! The Bible tells us that all will be raised with Christ and evil will be judged and removed and Christ will be revealed as the actual king and the world will be made right again and suffering death will be no more and every tear will be wiped from every eye! Or as Bill Gaither put it, my children can face uncertain days because He lives!

This is the hope of Easter, this is the hope of the Christian faith, and this is why we need a 50 day celebration! To help us fully come to terms with the power of this hope so that we may be a people who live continuously into this hope! So that no matter how dark the darkness may be around us, we are a people of light invading the darkness with a message of Hope and Light! This of course does not make light of the power of darkness, we are very much aware of the sting of death. We just know that the power of resurrection is even greater! Amen!

        And so, as we continue through this 50 day celebration of Easter, let this verse from Ephesians 5:8 guide our compass, “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord, so live your life as children of light.”

        You’re not in the light, you don’t see the light; rather, you are light. Let it shine! Amen.

        I do very much miss you all. Sundays are pretty weird without your hugs and handshakes and stories and greetings. I feel a little empty right now.  I don’t know when we’re back together or even what it will look like when we are! But I have come to learn the value of the admonition in scripture, “do not forsake the gathering” and I know now more than ever why the early Christians “devoted themselves to the fellowship” after Pentecost. But I also know the power of resurrection – and I’m choosing faith in that power. I do pray that you do to. And I also pray that you hurry back as soon as we’re able to safely do so.

Until then, receive my love through this letter,

Pastor Josh

P.S. here’s a link to the latest from the denomination:

April 6, 2020

Dear Church,

As was announced during yesterday’s live stream, we still don’t know when we will be back to normal. However, we do know that it will not be for quite some time yet. Because of this, we are making provisions for Holy Week to be celebrated online! Yesterday was Palm Sunday and we celebrated together Holy Communion. We gathered our own elements in our homes, Pastor prayed a prayer of blessing on them, and together we partook the body and blood of Christ under the shadow of the Cross. Again, because of the highly communal nature of the Communion sacrament, I strongly request that you do not go back and celebrate on your own time. This is something that we do together as a church during the live stream.

And so now we must talk about the Holy Week and Easter schedule:

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, at 10:00 am Pastor will give a brief scripture reading and meditation. These of course will be archived, so you may access them throughout the day.

On Maundy Thursday, we will hold a foot washing and Communion service at 7:00 pm in commemoration of the last supper in the upper room. Please do gather communion elements and a tub of water if you are able, again, to join us live.

On Good Friday Pastor will publish a reading of the Passion Account. You will be free to access it at any time throughout the day to reflect on the cross of Christ and our participation in killing and abandoning Jesus in our sin.

Holy Saturday will be silent.

Then comes Easter!! We will celebrate the resurrection of our Lord with a sunrise service at 8:30 am! Please do plan to join us live with communion elements at the ready as we celebrate together Communion once again, this time in the light of the resurrection!

While not gathering for these events almost seems sacrilegious, I am reminded of the two great commands given to us by Christ Jesus, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commands hang all of the law and the prophets.” It is our intention that by holding these services online that we will be fulfilling both of these commands by loving God through worshiping together, even though we are physically distant, and by loving our neighbors by not being vessels of virus transmission. If all of the rest of the law hangs on these two intentions, I believe we’ll be in good shape. And we may also rest assured in this: we will celebrate Easter twice this year, once on this coming Sunday, and once more when the church is finally gathered back together!


March 22, 2020

Dear Church,

            There is an extraordinary amount of
chatter going on in the news and around our neighborhoods of the coronavirus
that is rapidly traveling around the world. Unfortunately, whenever anything of
this magnitude hits the airways, people tend to respond one of two ways, either
dismissing it entirely as a hoax or falling into panic, neither of which is
helpful to the general public, especially those infected or susceptible to the

            The duty of the church during times
like these is two-fold and in tension with one another: first we must be a
beacon of hope to those who feel hopeless and continue to provide an avenue for
meaningful worship and service in the name of Christ. Second, we must be
prudent and responsible for the health of our parishioners and our neighbors. This
is love in action!

            Our safety team here at Swartz Creek
talked diligently and deferred to the recommendation of the denomination and
our civil leaders about what we can do to be responsible for the health of the
church and general population without being crippled by fear or prevented from
fulfilling our obligation to worship our Lord. Prudence is what we looked for,
and I believe prudence is what we’ve found. Here is our plan going forward
these next couple weeks until we are advised otherwise.

1.         Our Sunday
morning worship is going digital! You can access our link to livestream at

2.         All of our evening and midweek
gatherings are suspended until we are advised otherwise.

3.         Giving can
still happen! You can give electronically under the “give” option at or you can mail your tithe check to the church at 7154
Morrish Rd, Swartz Creek, MI 48473 or you can call to arrange a direct drop off
or pick up,   (810) 644-2300.

4.     Please
do continue to pray for the ministries of the church and pray how God may be
calling you to help others in this time of  quarantine.

5.         Please
do not hesitate to call the church if you need help. Again, (810) 644-2300.

Community mitigation strategies are
crucial to slowing the transmission
of coronavirus disease, particularly before a vaccine or treatment becomes available.
These strategies provide essential protections to individuals at risk of severe
illness and to health care and other critical infrastructure workforces.
Preventing a sudden, sharp increase in the number of people infected with
COVID-19 will help minimize disruptions to daily life and limit the demand on
health care providers and facilities. Our participation in these preventative
measure are our best way as a church to show our love to our neighborhoods. So
wash your hands, cover your cough, stay home, only buy what you actually need
(considering first the needs of others – I’m looking at you 300 rolls of toilet
paper guy), and be a good neighbor!        

– Pastor Josh

Denominational Statements:

CDC Recommendations: