living-sacrifice

Desperate and fulfilled: these are the only two adjectives to describe how I feel right now. I am fulfilled because God has recently made Himself known to me in ways that are seemingly abnormal. I am desperate because I can’t get enough. It’s a crazy combination.

The Psalmist is right: “Taste and see that the LORD is good…” (Psalm 34:8). Once you get a taste of His goodness, nothing else satisfies your emptiness. You’re always full; yet also, you’re always hungry. What I’ve just described as being abnormal should actually be normal for Christians.

Following Jesus involves struggle. There’s no way around it. That’s how we grow; it’s the only path to fulfillment. God wants us to experience more, but we have to keep dying in order to have it. Dying to self includes daily mêlée. That’s why sanctification is so important. Following the Holy Spirit is the only way through the confusion, turbulence, and strife pressing in on our lives. God walks us right into the middle of the devil’s playground, sets up a table, and dines with us. It’s what He calls preparing a table in the presence of our enemies (Psalm 23).

Too many Christians live in arrested development. They’re just stuck in a place. They live like beggars instead of heirs: like rejected outcasts instead of much-loved children. I know because I’ve begged way too much over the years. In the midst of our pity parties, Jesus walks by and reminds us that we don’t have to live like outsiders. We have a seat at the King’s table.

The Apostle Paul speaks of offering ourselves as living sacrifices. He calls this our “reasonable service,” or the only way to properly worship. We don’t naturally think of laying down our lives as a reasonable thing to do. So we fight. Sometimes we fight and don’t even realize why we’re fighting. We think we’re fighting sickness, finances, our spouse, our employer, or whatever else, but the reality is, we’re usually wrestling with Jesus.

Entire sanctification includes daily death. God’s always trying to get us to die to some part of ourselves that’s striving to get a foot on the throne: some part of our flesh that’s rising up trying to usurp the Lordship of Jesus. Living Sacrifices: that’s the life we’re called to. Living: the part of us that God created to abide in Him. Sacrifice: death to self. The problem with living sacrifices is that they have the tendency to crawl back off the altar.

The call of Christ is abundant life, but you can’t have it unless you die. And no one can die to you for you. You’re the only one that can die to you. Death to self means being filled with the Holy Spirit is such a way that there’s no room for anything else: no anxiety, no need for control, no expectations, no agendas, no offence, no anger, no bitterness, no grudges, no record of wrongs, no striving to climb a ladder. Nothing but Jesus: Him abiding and me and me abiding in Him.

Abiding always takes us to new places. As we walk with Jesus we will find ourselves in one of three places: being, becoming, or doing. In the flesh we often get stuck in the “doing” phase. Just like Martha, we’re so busy doing that we never take time to be, and if we never take time to be, we will never become more of what Jesus wants us to become (Luke 10). When your life consists primarily of doing, abiding is virtually impossible.

Arriving at new places with Jesus means going through valleys, over mountains, across deserts, and into storms. The journey is never easy. If it were easy everybody would do it. Think about the One we’ve decided to follow; His journey led Him to a cross. I’ve never read of anyone following Him whose life was easy. In fact, Jesus never said it would be easy, He only promised it would be worth it. As we journey with Him, we can trust that He is always with us. He never leaves us (Hebrews 13:5). He’s a friend that sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24).

We’re all “little Jacobs” at times: heel-grabbers, supplanters, deceivers. Always trying to overthrow the opposition. Every follower of Jesus needs a Peniel experience. In fact, those serious about followership will likely spend a lot of time in Peniel (Genesis 32). I’ve had many Peniel moments: places where I’ve wrestled with God to the point of walking with a limp. Places where I’ve been so overwhelmed with God’s presence that I’ve never gotten over it.

There have been times when I’ve arrived in Peniel and didn’t even know how I got there. The wrestling matches are hard. In the midst of the struggle stuff surfaces that I didn’t even know existed. God wrestles me into submission, yet I somehow walk away the victor. Isn’t that crazy? Typically when we think of a battle, the one submitting is the one who’s been defeated. Yet, when we wrestle with Jesus and submit, we win.

If I may give you 20 years worth of advice: embrace the struggle. Trust Jesus and walk in faith. Don’t be oppressed by the invisible walls created by anxiety, insecurity, and even your own ambition. Living sacrifices get to die on the altar, dine with Jesus on the battlefield, and lift their hands in victory even when they’re in the valley. What an amazing way to live!

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Passionate, mission-minded, revivalistic, evangelical, spirit-filled followers of Jesus that started in a Glory Barn believing in the life-transforming power of the Holy Spirit… That’s who we are. It’s who we’ve always been. It’s what makes us unique.

For some time it seems we’ve been struggling with an identity crisis. Some within our tribe lean toward Pentecostalism, others toward Anglican traditions, and many are left somewhere in-between. As we wrestle with diversity I hope we’ll remember what makes us distinct. If we ever lose our distinctiveness, we’ll lose our identity altogether. If we lose our identity, the Church of the Nazarene as we’ve known it will cease to exist.

In the early 1900s, visitors of Dr. Phineas Bresee’s congregation in Los Angeles, CA often testified of the powerful expressions of God’s glory. It’s been said, “You never saw anything like it. The people sang and shouted and stood up and said they were sanctified, and it was the greatest thing you ever saw.” These holy encounters empowered early Nazarenes to go into the world much like the believers did in the Book of Acts.

Dr. Bresee and other founders believed the Methodist Church had moved too far away from the message of holiness. They considered the Church of the Nazarene a faithful return to this essential calling. Their vision was to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and the experience of entire sanctification to all of society.

Now that we’re four generations in, it may be a good time to take inventory. Pastor Corey Jones of Crossroads Tabernacle provides the following generational descriptions. Although I’ve expounded on some of these portrayals, if you’d like more information on Pastor Corey’s original accounts you can contact him through his website at www.ctgiveshope.com. Now, let’s talk about the generations of the Church of the Nazarene.


First Generation: The Pioneers

Early Nazarenes were pioneers: revolutionary leaders who pushed forward like Israel out of Egyptian bondage to Mount Sinai (Exodus 24). They were prophets: catalysts of the holiness movement. They experienced God’s Shekinah glory and were consumed by the fire of the Holy Spirit.

Like Isaiah in the temple, the pioneers had a holy encounter with a Holy God (Isaiah 6). The sanctifying presence of the Holy Spirit inspired them to take the gospel to the world with passion and courage. Like the early believers who waited in the Upper Room, the pioneers experienced the manifest presence of God. Like the prophets of old, the glory burned in their bones.

The first generation began in the desert of desperation. They sacrificed everything. They lived with a holy discontent. The corporate cry of their heart reflected the desire of Moses toward God, “Show us your glory.” They were relentless in their pursuit of an ongoing encounter with the Holy Spirit. Holiness was not merely a message to be preached, it was a reality to be experienced.

One historian wrote the following about Phineas F. Bresee: “For Bresee, the only thing of importance was the Shekinah, the indwelling presence of God among the people. Shekinah, in Jewish literature referred to the direct presence or glory of God, as in the Tabernacle, the Temple, or in Jerusalem. It is the word underlying Revelation 7:15, ‘He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them.’ One of Bresee’s oft-spoken exhortations was ‘Get the glory down.’” (Carl Bangs)


Second Generation: The Propagators

The second generation of Nazarenes grew up in the glory like Joshua in the Tent of Meeting or Samuel in the Temple. They treasured it like a precious possession. Holiness of heart and life was their soul’s deepest desire. They were propelled by the vision of the first generation and believed everyone should encounter the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit. Steadfast in their call to proclaim the experience of holiness, they believed it had the potential to transform all of society.

If the first generation were pioneers who spoke prophetically, the second were propagators devoted to expanding the message at all costs. This generation also lived with a holy unrest. They proclaimed holiness from coast to coast, border to border, and beyond.

The second generation witnessed a numerical explosion of people and churches. Along the way the need arose to organize and perpetuate the message of entire sanctification. Therefore, pastoral and biblical training schools began to surface across the country. Schools like Peniel were founded to prepare holiness preachers.

Toward the end of this generation, General Superintendent, J.B. Chapman shared a message called, “All Out for Souls,” at a district superintendent’s conference in 1948. This message warned of declines being experienced in the church. Chapman called the leadership to come back to the altar of prayer and fasting.


Third Generation: The Perfectors

The third generation saw glimpses of God’s presence. They heard stories about the Glory Barn, but most never experienced it in the same way as the first and second generations. The third generation spoke largely of what they had heard. They received the holiness message as a heritage to be preserved.

This generation produced some of the greatest theologians in the history of the Church of the Nazarene. By default, with a new emphasis on perfecting the message, scribes replaced prophets. Increasingly, they spoke of what they had read more so than what they had experienced. The Holy Spirit became a doctrine to be articulated more than a Person to be encountered.

This generation shifted away from holy encounters toward intellectual understanding. Incidentally, the need to develop new strategies on how to grow churches began to materialize. Until the third generation there had never before in the history of the movement been a focus on church growth.

During this period the Church of the Nazarene began to decline. The Department of Evangelism was renamed the Department of Church Growth. Ironically, when a movement has to start talking about growth, it typically means it’s stopped growing. When the church shifted away focusing on God’s presence to methods of perfecting the doctrine of holiness and how to attract people to a building, it went into decline.


Fourth Generation: The Protestors

This generation, by and large, has never experienced the manifest presence of God. They have only heard whispers. The stories of God’s glory resonate like folklore with the fourth generation. Sadly, they have increasingly departed from the church. Many of those who have stayed have resisted the notion of a personal encounter with the Holy Spirit.

The fourth generation could easily be called one of protest. Although that’s not indicative of all, it’s not a secret that they often dispute the very things the first and second generations fought for and believed in. They also contest much of what the third generation wrote about, especially as it pertains to the experience of entire sanctification.

I’ve personally engaged conversations where some from this generation have called revivalism a “failed experiment.” They say that the American Holiness Movement has done more harm than good. They often leave me scratching my head. I wonder what Bible they’re reading that leaves them void of considering the manifest presence of God? It seems the primary convictions of the first generation have become the main points of debate for the fourth.

Generally speaking, this generation grew up with very little manifest presence of God. Thus, they protest something they’ve never experienced. They’ve heard messages about holiness without evidence. They’ve been told about entire sanctification devoid of an encounter with the Sanctifier. There is a form, but it denies the power.

This generation is hungry for an encounter. They’re desperate for God’s glory whether they realize it or not. They’ve sought his presence out of tradition rather than experience. Tradition has left them wanting. Sadly, we have lost the vast majority of this generation, not simply from the Church of the Nazarene, but from Christianity altogether.


How do we become a Holiness Movement again?

“Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it…” Phineas F. Bresee preached this message from Jeremiah 6:16 as it related to the early Nazarenes. For Bresee, holiness is the ancient path. For the Prophet Jeremiah, the call to prayer is the first step.

So, here we stand, but what will we do?

Return to the ways of the pioneers. Become prophets that proclaim the possibility of an encounter with the Holy Spirit. Pray for an uprising of visionary leaders that are willing to do the hard work of blazing a new path in the spirit of the first generation.

I’m not calling for some irrelevant form of old-fashioned religion. In fact, I don’t think any of us have experienced God the way the first generation did. Yet, I believe it’s possible. Call me crazy, but I think we need the power and presence of the Holy Spirit more than we need anything else. Maybe we need to pay more attention to what’s happening in the southern hemisphere.

I’m advocating for something as new to us as it was to the first generation. If we get a glimpse of God’s glory we’ll never have another conversation about church growth. However, for this to become an authentic movement we must return to the abandoned altars of corporate prayer. We must unapologetically preach the experience of holiness and believe that the manifest presence of God has the power to change absolutely everything.


(Sources: “The Generations of the Church of the Nazarene and How We Lost the Glory” by Pastor Corey Jones; “Phineas F. Bresee” by Carl Bangs; “Our Watchword and Song: The Centennial History of the Church of the Nazarene” by Floyd Cunningham, ed.)

(Background: Rev. Corey Jones provides these generational descriptions. They are based on a vision he received in October 2010, 70 miles south of Pilot Point, Texas, 102 years after founding of the Church of the Nazarene)

nazarene-fire

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot about the roots of the Church of the Nazarene. As with any denomination, God uses specific groups of people to accomplish unique things. No doubt, the early women and men that called themselves Nazarenes were catalysts of the 20th Century Holiness Movement.

Phineas F. Bresee, founder of the Church of the Nazarene, left the Methodist Church much the same way John Wesley moved away from Anglicanism. Bresee helped organize the “Peniel Mission,” which was a nondenominational ministry focused on helping the poor and needy. The Methodists didn’t like this endeavor; they were afraid it might hurt the image of the church. Bresee was then forced to choose between the Mission and the Methodists. He chose the Mission. The rest is history.

The past couple of weeks while revisiting archived sermons and quotes from Dr. Bresee, I’ve noticed a lot of phrases that we don’t hear very much anymore. It’s left me asking myself, “Why?” Bresee said things like:

  • “Bring the Glory down. When we lose the Glory we are gone.”
  • “We keep a red hot center of fire and work the edges.”
  • “Praying… and preaching in the power of the Spirit is God’s way of doing His work.”
  • “We must have unction… the hammer that breaks the heart of men.”
  • “The Shekinah Glory… The Manifest Presence”

Today, we seem to be doing great at “working the edges,” but I’m not sure we’ve got many “red hot centers of fire,” at least not in the northern hemisphere. This is a problem. Without the infilling of the Holy Spirit, our efforts are fruitless. We can know God, yet become unfamiliar with the ways of God. This is where I think we could learn a lot from our brothers and sisters in the southern hemisphere. We need more than form; we need power.

For years I’ve been praying for an authentic revival, not rule-based legalism or manufactured emotionalism, but a genuine awareness of the presence of the Holy Spirit empowering people for the work of the kingdom. The Holy Spirit is the fire that keeps the center hot. If we neglect the center, how can we expect the fire to spread to the edges?

We serve the same God that parted the Red Sea, walked with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the furnace, and filled the early church with enough power and courage to turn the world upside-down. Personally, I am more awake than I’ve been in years. It’s hard to understand, actually. This certainly hasn’t been the easiest year of my life. Yet there is a sense of fulfillment that’s indescribable.

A year ago I was struggling with my assignment. I’d been pastoring for almost two decades and had become accustom to the rhythms and seasons of pastoral ministries. I had a system of vision-casting and team leadership that seemed to work. Suddenly, I was in new role that felt like managing chaos. I am extremely type-A. Therefore, this bothered me greatly.

At District Assembly something changed. Actually, leading up to assembly I began to feel different about my ministry. There seemed to be a shift. Alignment was being realized. Purpose was becoming clear. As I gave my report on Sunday night June 5th God came in a special way. It wasn’t anything I planned. Yet, God used a moment in time to remind me that he still manifests his presence in ways that we cannot anticipate. When he shows up everything changes.

God is doing a new work in Kentucky. I love the people here; they are hard-working, committed, and kind. I am in awe of the church planting and revitalization efforts. I get calls, texts, and emails from pastors several times a week with of stories of people experiencing the transforming power of Jesus. I’ve actually had four calls today. A year ago, I dreaded hearing my phone ring, now I look forward to it.

God is moving in unacquainted ways. We realize that we’re only skimming the surface of what could be. However, it’s exciting to catch a glimpse. We are learning that holiness is not merely a doctrine to be articulated. Instead, it’s Person to be encountered and a life to be experienced.

God is using our denomination’s emphasis on church planting and revitalization to bring a real sense of renewal. I’d like to publicly thank Bill Wiesman and his team for their tireless efforts. God is also using an emphasis on corporate prayer to turn the hearts of his people back to himself. I am grateful for the vision of Corey Jones and others as they work to bring prayer back to the center of the church.

I believe if we would intentionally connect corporate prayer, church planting, and congregational revitalization, we would experience God’s presence in ways we haven’t in our lifetime. We have NMI, NYI, SDMI, and DCPI… I believe we need PDGI (Pray Down the Glory International). Just think, we’d never have to attend another church growth conference.

The Church of the Nazarene was born in a holiness revival. That’s who we are; it’s in our DNA. As we talk about the future, I hope we’ll consider the past. We certainly shouldn’t attempt to recreate it. However, we should consider the distinctiveness of our story. We aren’t Pentecostal, although we share history with the Pentecostals. We aren’t Anglican, although we share history with the Anglicans. We aren’t Methodists… well, maybe souped-up Methodists. We are Nazarenes. We started in a church affectionately referred to as the “Glory Barn.” May we never forget who we are as we’re figuring out where we’re headed.

I hope our future includes a even greater emphasis on prayer, planting, and revitalization. In fact, if those things become our only focus, we would look a lot more like the pioneers of our movement. They didn’t create strategies for church growth, evangelism, and social justice. They just did it. They lived with a holy discontent because they had a holy encounter with a Holy God. They believed the experience of holiness was one that could transform all of society.

Fire is contagious. Maybe we could start with the prayer often used by our founder, “Bring the Glory down, Lord.” Go ahead; try it. Are you okay with that prayer? Or does it feel too old-fashioned? We should be careful not to put God in a container with an expiration date. You can’t take the Holy Spirit seriously and not take the glory of God seriously. When the center is blazing, people are consumed. Void of the fire of the Holy Spirit there is no holiness movement to speak of.

“When we lose the Glory we are gone.” ~Phineas F. Bresee


(Source: “Our Watchword and Song” by Floyd Cunningham, ed.; “Our Pioneer Nazarenes” by C.T. Corbett found at wesley.nnu.edu; “Phineas F. Bresee” by Dorli Gschwandtner found at SNU Library online)