I am sorry message

Apology. For those who have observed, been directly involved, and/or been affected negatively by me over the past year and six months I’d like to sincerely say, “I am sorry.” I sit here this evening reflecting on what has been a turbulent journey filled with many ups and downs.

A year and a half ago we adopted a special needs daughter from China. Within two months of getting her home I was appointed DS of the Kentucky District, which meant moving to a new state. Within a few months of that someone added me to a Facebook group called, “I’m Nazarene, Too.” I made the mistake of actually remaining in the group and trying to engage.

It didn’t take long to recognize that many of the things being discussed in the group were far beyond what I was comfortable with. Actually, I was in shock that ordained clergy members and parishioners of the Church of the Nazarene would be endorsing many of the topics. I should have left the group immediately. However, I kept allowing myself to get sucked into the conversation. That is my fault, and I apologize.

Finally, I did leave the group. Upon exiting, I started a new discussion forum called, “Missional Nazarenes” as a way of providing a place to discuss topics that aligned with the doctrine and polity of the Church of the Nazarene. Some of the folks from the NazToo group also joined MizNaz and it didn’t take long for a similar tone to develop. Monitoring that group became overwhelming.

At some point I became the topic of a few conversations in the NazToo group. People were sending me screen shots of disparaging things being said. I responded to the criticism with a blog post. I shouldn’t have. I apologize.

For several months I mourned the brokenness of the relationships stemming from these online discussions. I sense the Holy Spirit leading me to make things right. I reached out to the leaders of the group and privately apologized for my blog post. This is a public apology to everyone else.

The months following certain personalities continued to mock and ridicule. I continued to be the topic of closed-group discussions. Meme sites were created where they could anonymously criticize. Fake social media accounts were created with the soul purpose of ridiculing. One of these sites even took pictures from times of prayer from our credentials board meeting on the Kentucky District and mocked us praying over some of the ministry candidates.

Although, I’ve tried to guard my family from these things, my wife and daughter have found a few of these sites and have been hurt by the content. A few months ago someone even went so far as to take the name “Missional Nazarenes” and start a group using the identical name. MizNaz had become a discussion forum we were using to discuss topics within the boundaries of our church polity. After usurping the MizNaz title, of course, they made many memes poking fun at the original group.

I apologize to everyone that has endured these occurrences. It has felt a lot like bullying and antagonizing. No matter how much distance I try to create I keep finding myself becoming target their criticism. I am sorry for allowing that to happen. I should have used better judgment.

A few days ago I read an article by Rob Renfroe, Pastor of Discipleship at The Woodlands United Methodist Church in Texas pertaining to the strain that exists in the UMC over sexuality and marriage. I read it over and over. His words stirred my spirit. I thought the same message needed to be shared with the Church of the Nazarene. I believe that the problems the UMC are facing pertaining to sexuality and marriage are just over the horizon for us.

So, I used Renfroe’s article and re-articulated the content using terms that are more familiar to the Church of the Nazarene giving him credit as the only source. I also added a paragraph explaining exactly what I was doing and shared a link to his article. I also added citations at the end of the paragraphs where his words were directly used. I thought that was enough for a simple blog post. However, some detractors quickly pointed out that much of the content was too similar to Renfroe’s post. They said it seemed like plagiarism.

I’m a guy who posts sources in the church bulletin when I preach a sermon. I reveal who the author is when I tell a story in public. I certainly would never intentionally take anyone else’s work and not indicate where it came from. So, I called Rob Renfroe. We had a pleasant conversation. He was thrilled that I used his article as a basis for what I wrote. In fact, during our conversation he gave me more ideas to include in future blog posts.

Regardless, I want to apologize for any confusion. I am sorry. I am sorry for allowing myself to be continually drug into these conversations. I am sorry that I’ve reacted negatively at times to the continual ridicule. I apologize for those who have observed, been directly involved, and/or affected negatively by the last year and a half of my presence online.

Bible

Announcement. I believe in the authority and inspiration of scripture, for that I do not apologize. I stand against abortion and the clinics that provide the services, for that I do not apologize. I believe that marriage is a biblical covenant between one man and one woman, for that I do not apologize. I believe that homosexual behavior is outside of God’s will for a person’s life, for that I do not apologize.

I do not apologize for being committed to the classical tenets of Wesleyan-Arminian theology. I do not apologize for standing firm in the biblical doctrines and orthodox positions of the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition. I do not apologize for being a centrist who speaks out about the dangers of far right legalism and far left liberalism. I believe the centrist position has always been the Wesleyan way. Standing in the tension of the center is the most difficult place to stand. For this, I do not apologize.

I have two daughters at home that need my attention. One is a St. Jude patient that receives blood transfusions every five weeks. The other is a junior in high school and needs me during this crucial time in her life as she seeks God’s will and transitions into adulthood. We are also praying about adopting another child (please pray with us). I don’t have the time or energy to continue engaging these personalities who are waging war on social media. They can laugh, mock, make memes, celebrate, and throw a party because I’m done.

Over the course of the next few days I will be distancing myself from anyone who is associated with these personalities and social media groups. That means there will be some people that I really like that I will be disassociating with simply because I need to break the connection. I don’t want to, but I have to.

If I could go back one year and six months, I would have removed myself from the NazToo group without saying a word. I hope my experience can serve as an example for others as to how quickly we can find ourselves in the middle of something that we had no intention of being involved in at all.

Again, I apologize to everyone who has endured this season with me, even my detractors. I am sincerely sorry.

Fundamentalists

Christian fads have produced many factions over the years: Seeker Sensitive, Word of Faith, Purpose-Driven, Emerging Church and the list goes on. Special emphasis groups have surfaced highlighting everything from mega-churches to storefronts, church growth to social justice, and small groups to soup kitchens. Some enjoy running the aisles shouting ‘hallelujah’ while others appreciate reciting monastic chants while burning incense. Christians undeniably have a plethora of taste when it comes to worship.

What I’m going to describe in this blog post doesn’t have a label or fit neatly into any category. It has nothing to do with worship style, ministry emphasis, or denominational preference (though I do speak from the context of the Church of the Nazarene). While worship styles may vary, they all have something to offer if they exhibit the heart of Jesus. It doesn’t matter what type of worship one prefers, what matters most is loving God and loving people.

Let me talk about another religious faction for a moment: “Fundamentalism.” If you’ve ever been part of a church that focuses more on rules than relationships, you’ve likely experienced a dose of fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is a reaction the modern era of the 19th Century. When society started taking science seriously religious folks got frightened, thus fundamentalism was born and has haunted the church ever since.

Fundamentalism focuses on following rules. It produces legalism and self-preservation. It believes that adherence to strict codes of conduct equate to a right relationship with God. Fundamentalism doesn’t leave room for process. Certainly, the Bible offers guidance for holy living. However, no one arrives overnight. I don’t care how ‘entirely sanctified’ you are, we are all a work in progress. God isn’t finished with any of us yet. Following Jesus is a journey, not a destination. Rules are not the starting point… Grace is.

Fundamentalism has created a lot of problems in the church. Legalism is at the top of the list. Legalists make non-essential issues a top priority. They are light on grace, heavy on rules, and have become a stumbling block for many. Nothing causes pastors more grief than legalistic church members. I would rather talk to ten telemarketers while siting in rush hour traffic than try to reason with a seasoned legalist. They are set in their ways and you ain’t gonna change ‘em.

Today, a new trend is emerging. It’s an overcorrection to fundamentalism, yet in many ways reflects it. Whereas fundamentalism leans so far right it becomes rigid, this new faction leans so far left that everything becomes relative. One focuses on standards, the other on feelings. One is concrete, the other is ever changing.

Some equate what I’m describing with ‘Progressive Christianity.’ Just as I would never lump all conservatives together with fundamentalism, I admire too many progressives to include them in this faction. I know many people who are ‘progressive’ in the sense that they reject the tenets of legalism and desire to see progress in advancing the cause of Christ. Therefore, without a proper label, I’m going to refer to this faction as the “new fundamentalists” (new fundies).

I’d also like to point out that this has nothing to do with age. The generational gap with the new fundies is expansive. Boomers to Millennials are joining the ranks of this noisy faction. Let me take a moment to brag on Millennials. I know numerous kingdom-minded, Jesus-loving 20/30 somethings. If I had time I would create a list of names and talk about the qualities of the young women and men effectively serving the church today. They get it. The church is in good hands with these up-and-coming leaders.

The issue with this new faction of fundamentalism is the same as it was with traditional fundamentalists: a spirit of criticism, antagonism, and entitlement. The new fundies want credibility without earning it. They demand their voice be heard even though their track record is marred with unfaithfulness. The spirit of this group is relentlessly hostile toward the traditional tenets of Christianity. Like the old-time legalists tied evangelicalism to right-wing politics, this new faction has married the leftist political agenda with their faith and in turn they are deconstructing traditional Christian values. Like many of us, they are reacting to legalism, and rightfully so. However, reacting and overreacting are two different things.

When you examine the ministries of these loud voices you discover an overlying theme: unfaithfulness and unfruitfulness. They loathe accountability and crave influence, which is why they thrive on social media. Social media is a dream come true for those who desire influence without achievement. It allows them to say things behind the veil of a computer screen that they’d never say in a face-to-face conversation.

For the past few years I’ve attempted to build bridges. I’ll admit that my interactions with some of these folks have been shocking and I’ve not always responded the best. I’ve never been more frustrated than I am dealing with this faction. In fact, I’d rather walk barefoot on shards of broken glass than interact with some of these folks. Sound familiar? Yes, dealing with them mirrors dealing with seasoned legalists. They say they want ‘conversation,’ but I’ve come to believe that’s a farce. Actually, they want to talk while you listen.

I’ve had some of these folks send me resumes asking to partner in ministry. Yet when I attempt to ask questions and check references it becomes obvious that they hate to be interrogated, especially by anyone in leadership. My attempts to understand their motives have gone unanswered. I’ve made personal calls, sent messages, and pleaded with them in an attempt to find a way forward, but to no avail.

They love to ridicule, mock, and poke fun at anyone who has the courage to stand on the classical traditions of the Christian faith. The new fundies scoff at authority and tear down those who don’t align with their agenda. They want to educate others on how to think properly about matters such as abortion, sexual ethics, gender issues, other religions, human constructs, heaven and hell, universalism, and the list goes on. They lurk in the shadows waiting to pounce on every conversation.

If traditional fundamentalism is a far-right, self-preserving, legalistic, rule-based approach to faith, then the new spirit of fundamentalism is a far-left, cheap grace, anything goes, ‘everybody’s okay’ approach to Christianity. Both are fallacies. The way of Jesus stands in the tension of the center, which is actually the most difficult place to stand. The cross is always in the middle. The centrist way is the way of Christ. It always has been and always will be.


(Source: Ongoing conversations with various leaders in the Church of the Nazarene)

Letter

A few days ago I received Rob Renfroe’s article “Three Requests of My Centrist Friends: An Open Letter.” Rev. Renfroe is the Pastor of Discipleship at The Woodlands United Methodist Church in Texas. His letter so resonated with my spirit that I felt led to share his sentiments. The UMC is dealing with a lot of tension as it pertains to sexuality and marriage, as are we all. I had a difficult time with some of his terminology as he related to the various voices within the UMC. What he identified as “centrists” I recognize as “progressives.” What centrists in the UMC call the “far right,” progressives in the CotN call “ultra-conservatives” or “fundamentalists.” Nonetheless, the heart of his message reverberated deeply with me. I actually wept as I read his words. I have used his letter as a direct source for the following thoughts as they pertain to the Church of the Nazarene (a link to his letter is attached below).

Over the past couple of years I have been dialoguing with pastors in the Church of the Nazarene who identify themselves as “progressives.” I have grown to appreciate many of these leaders. I believe they genuinely love Jesus and desire to impact the world with the gospel. As much as I love these folks, I am also aware of how differently we view some very important issues, namely sexuality and marriage.

It is improbable that we will ever agree on what the church should teach regarding sexuality. I find their arguments for changing the church’s position on this issue out of harmony with everything we use to measure truth (the bible, theology, and science). Their arguments for same-sex monogamous relationships simply don’t work (Renfroe, paragraph 2).

I hate the idea of dividing into camps as we have this conversation. However, they have branded themselves “progressives” (Renfroe, paragraph 5). They use that label as if the rest of the church is against progress. Let me assure you, the Church of the Nazarene is progressive in the sense that we work diligently to advance the cause of Christ in the world. We are conservative in our message and progressive in our methods. Nonetheless, the old adage carries weight: “The one who defines the terms often wins the debate.”

With that as a foundation, I’d like to take a few moments to speak directly to my progressive friends…

I have a high level of respect for many of you. However, I do think you need to recognize there are a few voices lurking in your camp that are damaging your cause. If you would distance yourself from the aggressors we could have a more peaceable conversation. In fact, the sarcasm in your online discussion forums, the memes that constantly mock those who don’t share your views, and the social media accounts created to ridicule church leaders behind the mask of anonymity are undermining your attempts at meaningful dialogue.

With that said I need to inform you of something: You’re not the only ones seeking progress as it pertains to the church. You should have enough integrity to stop painting that picture. I’d like to ask you to stop referring to traditionalists as “ultra-conservatives” and “fundamentalists.” Many of us have worked hard to distance ourselves from the spirit of legalism that’s damaged the church over the years and would appreciate it if you’d stop using these phrases.

If you insist on using politically laden descriptions then at least be fair and call yourself “liberals.” In reality, we affirm what the position the church has held for over 2000 years regarding sexuality and marriage. We are in accord with the vast majority of Christians around the world on this issue. How that makes us “ultra-conservatives” or “fundamentalists” is beyond me (Renfroe, paragraph 6).

We are actually the ones who stand in the center. We are progressive in the sense that we are centrists. The Wesleyan-Holiness movement has always been centered in its message. In fact, being willing to stand in the tension of the center takes a lot of spiritual stamina. We intentionally position ourselves in a place that prophetically speaks truth to the right and the left. Why don’t you use another label. Call us evangelicals, Wesleyans, centrists, or orthodox because that’s what we are.

Also, let’s talk about the Bible. You may consider yourself orthodox, but realistically you’re treading on thin ice. You have to reinterpret large portions of scripture to arrive at your current conclusions regarding sexuality. At this point we are traveling very different paths. This indicates that we have major differences regarding the authority of scripture.

When you arrive at a place where you feel certain portions of scripture could be blotted out altogether, that’s more than a difference of interpretation. That’s a difference in how we view biblical authority and inspiration. This directly affects Article IV in our Articles of Faith. So be candid and admit that your perspective is quite different from what’s taught in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…” Paul’s view would include major parts of the Old Testament that it seems some of you would like to ignore. (Renfroe, paragraph 9)

None of us are fundamentalists in the sense that we believe God forced the hand of human authors to pen the Bible. Orthodoxy doesn’t believe God turned human beings into robots for the purpose of writing words on paper (Renfroe, paragraph 10). Although we may vary in our views regarding canonization, we have to part ways when it comes to ignoring passages you don’t think God could have possibly inspired. This means that ultimately we don’t hold the same view of scripture. I hold to the view articulated by the Apostle Paul. He may be wrong and y’all may be right, although I doubt it. Regardless, I’m sticking with him.

At this point, the problem that threatens our unity is not a difference of opinion. It’s a difference of practice (Renfroe, paragraph 17). It’s pastors openly declaring things contrary to scripture and opposing the Manual of the Church if the Nazarene. You argue, “But the Manual changes at every General Assembly.” Pertaining to social issues, yes, the Manual is often amended. However, regarding matters of biblical orthodoxy, the Manual may be reworded for clearer understanding, but meaning is never lost.

This indicates that we differ in both orthodoxy and orthopraxy. How? I’m glad you asked. Some of you openly affirm that you’d be willing to bless what the church declares incompatible with Christian teaching if we would change our stance. We differ because some of you are elders who refuse to uphold a higher standard as it pertains to the covenant of ordination. At this point we don’t merely have a difference of opinion. We now have different ways we desire to live out the gospel. Our orthodoxy and orthopraxy are in opposition. I don’t care how big the tent is, without biblical orthodoxy, the tent will collapse.

I’m grateful for knowing you. I consider many of you friends. I think we all genuinely want to serve the church to the best of our ability. However, I don’t see how we can ever come together on these issues with the breadth of distance that’s obvious in the conversation. So, in the mean time let’s just be honest about our differences. We are worlds apart and the gap is growing ever wider.

The “big tent” approach, “federation” of the denomination, or no other perceived remedy that allows you to perform same-sex ceremonies is ever going to work. It’s simply out of sync with the classical Wesleyan-Arminian understanding of this subject. I love you. I’m better for knowing you. I wish we could work out our differences, but all I see happening right now is us drifting further apart.

Please hear me, I wish you no ill will. In fact I mourn your departure from orthodox Wesleyan-Arminian theology. However, you need to understand something very clearly. The global responsibility to uphold our polity has never been more urgent. Our tribe is growing rapidly in the southern hemisphere. Do you know what that means? It means every morning when we wake up, the Church of the Nazarene is more committed to sound, orthodox, biblical doctrine than it was the day before… and that, my friends, is worthy of celebration.


(These words and ideas have been shared with the direct approval of Rob Renfroe)

(Sources: Rev. Rob Renfroe, “Three Requests of My Centrist Friends: An Open Letter” from The Perspective Newsletter, link: http://myemail.constantcontact.com/Three-Requests-of-My-Centrist-Friends—An-Open-Letter.html?soid=1108936514096&aid=UvYvSC3-8S4, and various conversations with denominational leaders in the Church of the Nazarene)

Why Sit Here

Faith believes in the possibility of a better tomorrow. God always uses faith. Faith moves the heart of God. Not only does it change your circumstances, but it also changes the circumstances of the people around you. I’d like to share one of my favorite stories of the Old Testament.

In 2 Kings chapter 7 the author describes a time of conflict. The year was 892BC. Israel was at war with their northern neighbor Syria. Samaria, which was the capitol city of the northern Israelite nation, was under siege. Siege warfare is an ancient practice where an enemy would surround a city and slowly starve the city to death.

Ben-Hadad (King of Syria) led his troops to surround Samaria and no one went in or came out. Weeks slowly turned into months. The food reserves ran out and people were literally starving to death. Famine was so severe that the Bible tells us that a donkey’s head or a pint of dove’s dung was being sold in the market for a week’s wages. If you were wealthy you could afford to dine on donkey; if you were poor you would have to settle for dove dung soup.

In the midst of this bleak situation a prophet came on the scene with a message of hope and restoration that seemed extremely improbable. His name was Elisha the son of Shaphat. Elisha announced a prophetic word from the Lord, declaring, “Listen! God’s word… This time tomorrow food will be plentiful—a handful of meal for a shekel; two handfuls of grain for a shekel. The market at the city gate will be buzzing.”

At the gate of the city there were four lepers, four outcasts, four men who were living the most dismal life imaginable. These men occupied a no-man’s land of hopelessness and rejection. As lepers they were not permitted to enter the city and they were afraid to travel very far outside the city. Their dilemma was that they were stuck in a “place.”

We cannot really conceive a more miserable situation than that of these four men. They had nothing to do and nowhere to go. They were four dying men at the gates of a dying city. They had no family, no food, no business, no obligations, no responsibility, and nothing to occupy their time.

Can you imagine these four men discussing their plight in life? Talking about the situation and asking, “Why is this happening to us?” “What have we done to deserve this?” Then one of the lepers asked a very important question that came in the form of a few startling words: “Why are we sitting here until we die?”

Let’s emphasize the “here.” They are saying that this is not a particularly good place for them to be. They knew that they had nothing to lose. So their big question was “Why sit here?” They knew death was approaching, so they began to wonder what was so great about where they were. Visualize with me, four men sitting at the threshold of death when a simple question jolted them out of their apathy. Under the dark shadows of the gates of death they rose up and moved toward the enemy’s camp. They decided, “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” “The enemy may kill us, but at least we will die trying.”

Can you see them? Clothed in rags, full of sores and sickness, no strength in their frail legs, yet emancipated to press forward hoping for a better tomorrow. That’s faith! Four dying men marched through the darkness of night with no one lining the roads to cheer them on. Nobody said, “You can do it!” Besides each other, they were alone and unimportant. Their lives did not matter to anyone.

No one saw their march of faith. Except one: God saw it. As he looked on, the faith of these four lepers tugged on his heart. Their faith invoked the presence of God and he decided to make these four sick men his own personal army. God joined four lonely lepers walking by faith and something remarkable happened.

As they marched through the night God amplified the sound of their footsteps. As the Syrian army slept they begin to hear what sounded like a mighty multitude of men coming their way. As they heard this rumble of what sounded like chariots, swords, shields, and foot soldiers, the gossip begin to spread through the camp like wildfire. Fear spread through the camp and within moments the entire army was in complete panic. They begin to retreat from the horrible sound that was drawing ever nearer.

Just as the sunlight began to break over the horizon the lepers entered the enemy’s camp. The campfires were still burning, but no one was home. They came to surrender, but no one was found. So, you know what they did? They started eating, drinking, and rejoicing. Just one day earlier these were four dying men, in a dying city, with a dying situation. Their prospects in life were absolutely dismal, until one of them asked a life-changing question: “Why are we sitting here until we die?”

Remember the Prophet Elisha announced: “By this time tomorrow a miracle will come.” That miracle solution for a miserable situation arrived because of the faith of four sick men that marched into the darkness of a long treacherous night. At the enemy’s camp they ate and drank till they were revived. They put on new clothes and filled their pockets with silver and gold. What a difference a day can make.

One day later, these four lepers bore no resemblance to what they once were. Not only were they better men with better lives and better conditions, but they were also about to be turned into evangelists. They said to themselves, “Here we are, our bellies are full, our pockets are stuffed with silver and gold, but in Samaria they’re dying. We can’t remain silent, let us go and proclaim the good news.”

They returned to Samaria preaching: “I know it is hard to believe, but the enemy is gone, they’re no longer there, their spoil belongs to us!” And Elisha’s prophecy was fulfilled that day when in the marketplace, “This time tomorrow food will be plentiful—a handful of meal for a shekel; two handfuls of grain for a shekel. The market at the city gate will be buzzing.”

I believe the horizon holds a better tomorrow for anyone willing to move forward by faith. We can’t be satisfied to exist in complacency and ineffectiveness. As we step out by faith God promises to amplify our efforts. When we march by faith, even though we’re weak, sick, weary, and tired, the hosts of heaven marches with us toward the dream of a new tomorrow.

Faith believes that God is there when everything says that he is not. Faith is the capacity to step out without caution. Faith is not risk; it is an assurance built on hope. Faith believes as if something is, even before it is. Faith imagines the impossible, attempts the unreasonable, and dreams without limitations.

When we walk by faith we never walk alone. The lepers realized time was slipping away. The sand was running out of the hourglass. They were ready for a change. They knew that if they remained in that place that there was absolutely no future. So they tried something different. They were so excited about their newfound hope that they didn’t wait until morning. They rose up that night, before they had time to talk themselves out of it and God blessed their efforts.

What a difference a day can make!


(Sources: Brian Zahnd and Graham Cooke)