Easter Egg

God loves the thrill of discovery. It’s not that anything is hidden from Him, but that He enjoys watching those He loves more than anything else experience joy when something new is revealed to them. Have you ever considered: God hides things for us, not from us? The secrets of God are for our benefit and the revelation of God is for our amazement.

I love the mystery of Easter. Every year I’m reminded ever so clearly that God is for us not against us. What is concealed in darkness on Friday is revealed with radiance on Sunday. On Friday we mourn, on Saturday we reflect, on Sunday we rejoice. We stand amazed at the discovery of an empty tomb. The mystery of Easter never loses its wonder.

I remember when Amaya was little and we took her to her first Easter Egg hunt. She wasn’t much more than a toddler. She walked around finding eggs that weren’t hidden all that well. In fact, the eggs were hidden according age groups; each group looked for eggs in their own area. In other words, the eggs were hidden so they could be found.

She waddled around stepping over the brightly colored eggs without even noticing them at first. We kept cheering her own and pointing, and finally she caught on. Then the thrill of seeking and finding set in. Each time she found an egg she would turn to Heather and I with a really big smile. Then we would then cheer her on to find another. The Easter Egg hunt was a process of uncovering something amazing in her eyes. There is great joy in discovery: “Seek and you shall find…”

“It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter” (Proverbs 25:2). There have been times in my life when I wish God had spoken audibly. Times when I wish He had made Himself so clear that I wouldn’t have needed to do any searching. Yet the Bible teaches that God receives glory when He conceals Himself to some degree.

Rather than making things obvious to us all the time God takes delight in our quest to discover. He’s like the parents cheering from the sideline for us to find an Easter Egg. We’re walking around with the blessings of God in plain view, yet sometimes we need a little extra help in understanding what we’re looking for. When we find what we’re searching for we celebrate. Thus, it is more glorious for Him to hide, and for us to seek. It’s a learning process in which everyone can celebrate.

From Good Friday to Easter Sunday our hearts always yearn for the greatest mystery of all to be revealed. On Friday Jesus was concealed in a grave, but on Sunday the greatest revelation the world has ever known is revealed. The story never gets old.

On Easter we are responsible for acknowledging, proclaiming, and celebrating what God has made clear: Jesus Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Like Amaya finding those beautifully colored eggs and being amazed every time she picked one up, may we stand in amazement of what we have found: an empty tomb. The grave remains empty so that we can be filled, and that my friends, is the greatest discovery of all.

 

Repentance & Holiness

Becoming vulnerable is the first step toward freedom. Vulnerability exposes our weakness and enables God to break down strongholds. We cannot function in freedom until we become brave enough to confront the strongholds that hinder the advancement of the Kingdom in our lives.

God is so much better than we give Him credit for. I confess that I’ve done a poor job representing His goodness at times. The older I get the more inadequate I realize I am. The Lord has revealed Himself to me in new ways in recent days. I often find myself laughing and crying at the same as He makes His Presence known. These fresh encounters with God have left me more humble, grateful, and free than I can ever remember. There is so much to discover about following Jesus; it’s a never ending journey. I’ve asked God to help me become a better example of His goodness along the way.

I’m currently living in a place of great paradox. On the one hand, I’ve never felt closer to Jesus and I’ve never been more aware of the Presence of the Holy Spirit. Yet on the other hand, I’ve never felt more burdened; I live with a constant sense of heaviness for the state of the Bride. In the midst of my burdens I’ve discovered the power of weakness and the freedom that exists when we come to the end of ourselves.

At the heart of repentance lies vulnerability. True freedom in Christ requires that I constantly confess my faults, that I lay my inadequacies on the altar. Building an altar in our lives is so important. I’m not saying that we sin everyday as in “willfully transgressing against God.” However, I firmly believe that when we fail to love well that we sin against God and others. That means my attitudes, actions, words, and thoughts matter deeply. It means the things that I should be doing that I neglect to do matter in my relationship with Jesus.

I’m convinced that a lifestyle of repentance is the foundation of holiness. The minute I don’t think I have anything wrong in my life is the moment I set myself up as God. I have so many things to constantly repent of; at the top of the list is busyness and distraction. Beyond that, I often repent for not praying enough. I repent of being impatient. I repent for not always responding to my family the way I should. I repent for making decisions, even small decisions, without adequately seeking Jesus. I repent of developing preconceived notions about other people. These are all things that I need to continually lay on the altar. Again, the altar is so important.

True repentance is the only way to break down strongholds. Being in a relationship with God is important, but being in a right relationship with God is essential, especially if we’re going to live the life He’s called us to live. Indeed, repentance and holiness go hand in hand.

Dying to self and taking up the cross daily is about killing the little hedonist that’s kicking and screaming inside of us all. The flesh is one of our biggest foes; it’s always seeking pleasure that lasts for a season. We’re called to kill the flesh every time it raises its ugly head by nailing it to the cross. And when it reappears, we have to do it again. For holiness to become a lifestyle repentance must become a regular practice.

Have you ever considered the corporate hedonist that often appears among the Body of Christ? When the church begins warring against itself Satan takes the throne. When we refuse to corporately take up our cross we take up our quarrels. The Apostle James tells us that this infighting comes from the desire to please self over the desire to please God (James 4). It’s always rooted in our inability to believe that God can give us everything we need.

Many of you know that I’ve given my life to the Church, and in particular, the Church of the Nazarene. My heritage is grounded in the Church of the Nazarene. I love the people called “Nazarenes” very much. However, at times I’ve loved her too much. I repent of ever making my denomination an idol. I repent for allowing the boundaries of the Church of the Nazarene to limit my perspective of the Kingdom. I repent for the times I’ve allowed my identity to become more wrapped up in the Church of the Nazarene than the Kingdom of Jesus. We’d all do well to remember that God is a lot bigger than our little tribe.

With that said, I am burdened for the church. I’m troubled over the lack of passion for revival and what seems to be protest against it by some. I’m burdened over the unfaithfulness and pettiness. I’m burdened over the toxic environment that exists in some places. I’m burdened over the manifestation of pride. I am praying that God break down these strongholds; and when I say break down, I mean crush.

I’m praying for people to be delivered from rigid fundamentalism because none of us are the judge. I’m praying for people to be delivered from dead religious formalism because God is alive and He needs room to move among His people. I’m praying for people to be delivered from progressive intellectual elitism because it’s opposite of the posture of humility. It saddens me to see so many places negatively affected by legalism, liberalism, antagonism, and a host of other “isms” that no doubt breaks the heart of God.

We need to become a “movement” again: one that’s led by the manifest Presence of the Holy Spirit. God forgive us for allowing the church to become a religious enterprise. Forgive us for turning the church into a business instead of a house of prayer. Forgive us for trying to climb the latter of success. Forgive us for being more concerned about what people think than we are what God thinks. Forgive us for trying to be something we’re not. Forgive us for not living by the principles of corporate prayer and repentance that You’ve prescribed in Scripture:

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

It’s time to cry out to God corporately. For the anointing of the Holy Spirit to fall on us again we must repent of our failed business strategies, hollow philosophies, lack of accountability, and broken theological constructs. The Father won’t settle for being an afterthought. He desires to be intimately involved in everything we do.

I hope you hear my heart. In the midst of my brokenness, my longing to be a better follower of Jesus is increasing. Brokenness is a good place to be. There’s a lot of freedom when we learn to live like there’s nothing to lose. Vulnerability that leads to repentance is the only thing that’ll break down the strongholds preventing us from experiencing the intimate Presence of the Holy Spirit.

God is so good. He’s better than I’ve ever imagined He could be. There are parts of His goodness that’s easily noticeable, yet often overlooked. I want to spend the rest of my life paying closer attention to who He really is and what He’s really like. For that to happen, vulnerability and repentance must become a common way of life.

holy-spirit

In the late 90s on our way home from visiting Washington DC in mid-July, Heather, Jake, and myself were traveling I-95 southbound headed back to North Carolina. Lunchtime had passed and we were all hungry. Jake was around seven years old and he wanted to eat at McDonald’s. However, for some reason I was set on eating at Denny’s. I’m not sure why, maybe it was the “Grand Slam.”

When traveling our nation’s highways one doesn’t have to look far to find a Denny’s; sure enough, a few miles down I-95 and we spotted the big yellow sign. We exited the highway, parked the car, and went inside. When they brought our beverages to the table the first thing I noticed was a long, black, crusty hair hanging out of my drink and flowing down the side of the glass. Then we noticed what appeared to be a couple of eyelashes (we hoped they weren’t nose hairs) floating with the ice cubes in Heather’s beverage. We decided to pay for our drinks and leave. Jake said, “Dad, can we just go to McDonald’s?” “No,” I said, “We will find another Denny’s.”

A few exits down, and sure enough there was another Denny’s. No sooner than we had walked through the door a very loud, brassy, gruff voice yelled out, “We’re short-staffed and out of ice. So, if you want a cold drink you’d better go somewhere else!” Without a word, we walked back to the car. Jake again asked, “Dad, can we please go to McDonald’s?” Most people would’ve given up on Denny’s at this point, however we’re pretty resilient. “No Jake,” I said, “We will find another Denny’s.”

Another ten miles or so and what do you know, there was another Denny’s. The sign in the lobby said “Seat Yourself.” This Denny’s appeared to be abandoned; we didn’t see anyone. We sat at the first booth we came to and within a few minutes I noticed someone walking toward us with a slow swagger and a long, blonde, badly styled wig that was so bright that it glowed in the dimly lit room. It was our waiter.

His fingernails were so long that they curled under a few times; he was actually having trouble holding the pen to write down our order. Finally, we noticed the massive amounts of cat hair matted to his apron, which made me wonder what they were cooking in the back. Beyond that, he smelled and sounded like he’d been chain-smoking stale cigars. I ask him to give us a minute. As soon as he walked away I looked at Jake and said, “Let’s go to McDonald’s.”

I’ve never been to Denny’s again. Whatever it was I was craving, I’ve since forgotten. It was so bad that the memories of this incident will forever be branded in my mind. It wasn’t a food issue; we never made it that far. So what was it? Our problem with Denny’s had everything to do with hospitality. Plain and simple, Denny’s was a bad host. This occasion has caused me to think a lot about the importance of being a “good host.”

Have you ever been to a gathering that wasn’t hosted very well? Ever been in someone’s home who wasn’t very welcoming? Maybe they were rude, or messy, or obnoxious, or a bad cook? One thing is certain: hospitality plays a significant role in our relationship with others.

No doubt, there are many churches that need a lesson in hospitality. Beyond that, as Christians, we should strive to be good hosts in every situation. And while all of that is important I think the most important thing for us to realize is that, as followers of Jesus, we are called to be “hosts” of the Holy Spirit. Think about it: the Sovereign Lord, the Most-High King, the Creator and Sustainer of all things dwells in you. Walking in the fullness of God requires living with a sacred awareness that He’s always present.

Inattention to the Holy Spirit is a sure sign of misplaced affection. Without realizing it we tend to compartmentalize our lives. In doing so, we put God in a box and only take Him out when we need Him. Far too many people’s relationship with Jesus remains out of sight and out of mind. They go about their lives never giving a second thought to the fact that God is with them, every second of every day, He is present.

We like our faith to be categorized instead of personalized. We enjoy buying stuff, taking it out of the box, plugging it in, and using it. We like three-point outlines, PowerPoint presentations, and systematic theology. While these things may inform our faith, they lack the power to transform us into His image. Transformation comes in the form of continually encountering a Person.

While Scripture offers a standard for practicing faith, and Christian tradition certainly informs our faith, and reason helps us make sense of our faith, experiencing the Person of the Holy Spirit offers something the above mentioned do not: an intimate encounter with a Person. We would all agree that nothing impacts our lives like our experiences. My experience at Denny’s has forever altered my perspective.

Experiential faith worries some people because of its expressive nature. While I share their concern for the televangelist types that manipulate the masses and stir up emotional frenzies, we must not write off experience as an important part of our spiritual journey. We need to look no further than the Book of Acts to identify how the Holy Spirit came upon people and radically transformed their lives. This happened before the New Testament was complete, before the traditions of the Church had been established, and couldn’t be reasonably explained by those caught up in the movement.

If one examines what’s happening in the southern hemisphere today he or she will identify people encountering God in supernatural ways. There are reports of supernatural healing, intercessory prayer that’s changing entire cities, and revival that’s stirring the hearts of multitudes of people. Beyond the southern hemisphere, there is also a growing unrest among congregations in the United States that are experiencing authentic glimpses of revival. In fact, there is a grassroots remnant that believes the church needs revival more than anything else.

We are a church that believes in the infilling, overflowing, sanctifying power of God at work in and through us for the benefit of the world. He dwells in us for our sake, but He flows through us for the sake of others. When the Holy Spirit rests upon a person, a congregation, or an entire denomination, it’s because He’s been made welcome.

Sadly, it seems fewer and fewer people live consciously aware of their responsibility to be a good host. In fact, today the Holy Spirit seems largely forgotten, which grieves the heart of God and quenches His ability to flow through our lives. I believe the church’s greatest days will come when she rediscovers the power of hosting His Presence. We must realize that there is an experience that goes beyond emotions. It’s the atmosphere that is created by the manifest Presence of God. When He shows up it changes everything.

stench

Well, it’s that time of year again. I’ll never forget my first February in Kentucky; then last February I noticed the same thing, and now this year. Let’s just say some things never change. What am I talking about you ask? The early spring invasion of SKUNKS!

In their efforts to cross the road these poor animals get hit by passing cars and inevitably leave a smell that, as the old southern expression goes, would knock a buzzard off a gut wagon. I actually have a skunk living in my backyard. When I take the trash out at night I’m always fearful that she’s going to be standing by the garbage can cocked and loaded.

The potency of skunk stench travels a great distance. When I ride over their carcasses on the highway the odor oozes into my car and remains for several miles. The power of a skunk’s particular smell has the capacity to linger in your nostrils for an uncanny amount of time.

My friend, Eddie, once had a pet skunk named, “Pierre” (although it was a girl). He tells me that Pierre was one of the best pets he ever owned. He found her when she was 6-8 weeks old and had the scent glands removed. Pierre was housebroken and trained to walk on a leash. He kept her for two years before getting married. However, his wife-to-be put great pressure on him to find Pierre a new home. Pierre spent the rest of her days entertaining children at elementary schools as part of a traveling zoo.

If you’ve ever viewed a skunk up close (preferably in pictures), you’ll likely agree that they’re adorable little animals. I’ve pondered recently why God would create something that appears so sweet yet give it a scent that will scar you for life. A few days ago that familiar smell seeped into my car once again; as the odor lingered God reminded me of a few things.

Scripture speaks a lot about “smells” and “aromas.” When dealing with unfaithfulness among His people God says, “These people are a stench in my nostrils, an acrid smell that never goes away” (Isaiah 65:5, NLT). The Bible suggests a similar idea in 2 Peter chapter two when the Apostle writes about Believers who turn back to sin as “A dog that returns to his own vomit, and a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.”

All of us are wonderfully made in the likeness of a loving Creator. Every one of us is a much-loved child of the most caring Father in the entire universe. Yet many of us are like the prodigal son before he realizes his need to return home: We smell like a pigsty. We are beautiful in God’s eyes, yet all of us have the capacity to stink. When we willfully choose to live in sin we produce an aroma that reeks in the nostrils of God.

For many, the smelly aroma comes from their efforts of self-preservation. We’ve learned to function in ongoing protection mode. Like a skunk, we let off an odor when we try to defend ourselves against what we perceive as a threat. Something presses in on our lives and we lash out, lie, cheat, attack another person, think we deserve something we actually don’t, justify our bad behaviors and habits, and the list goes on. In these moments we produce a scent that not only distances us from the Father, it also separates us from the people we love.

My friends, sin is a serious problem. When it goes unchecked it has the capacity to derail our lives in a way that leaves us dead on the inside. Without God, the aroma of death lingers. We’ve all been affected, which means we’ve all smelled like a dead skunk in God’s nostrils at one time or another.

Like Isaiah, our very best efforts are like filthy rags compared to the righteousness of God. In other words, we don’t deserve the goodness and mercy of God because of our stench. We often live in denial of the fact that we have the potential to smell like a skunk carcass lying on the side of the road. Denying the potential to smell like sin means one likely thinks more highly of themselves than they should. This is a dangerous way to live.

At the end of the day we all smell like road kill without Jesus. Paul says in 2 Cor. 2:14-16, “Thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life…”

Wow! In Christ, we are called to manifest His sweet fragrance everywhere we go. That means the Kingdom of God is touching down everywhere we stand. Now, when I smell a dead skunk I think about the fact that I’m dead to myself, yet alive in Christ. Without Jesus we stink in the nostrils of God, but IN HIM we’re a sweet savor unto the Lord. Let people smell the aroma of Christ being manifested through your life everyday.


(Sources: Eddie Estep)

stale-spirituality

Religious practice void of the Holy Spirit is more like a funeral service than a worship service. God is alive. Deadness is not in His nature. Jesus came so that we could have life and have it more abundantly. That’s how the Church is supposed to exist and that’s how we’re supposed to live: absolutely abundantly alive.

Living with intentional awareness of the Holy Spirit must be the goal of anyone serious about following Jesus. Staleness sets in when we make our spiritual journey a routine that we squeeze into our schedule alongside countless other items. Jesus doesn’t want to be one of many things biding for our attention. He desires to be the only One with whom we are captivated.

The life Jesus calls us to is not to be engaged sparingly. It’s an all-or-nothing kind of life. Anything else leaves us lacking and depleted. Jesus calls us to a degree of intimacy that cannot be sustained outside of continually abiding in His Presence. Stale spirituality occurs when we fail to recognize the Presence of the Holy Spirit working all around us.

Many people remain spiritually destitute because they dwell in the past. They long for the good ol’ days. They crave that old-time religion so badly that they fight to preserve something that no longer exists. The cloud has left, the fire has burned out, yet they sit in the same place, doing the same thing, wondering where everyone went. God has moved on while they continue meandering in the desert hoping to restore something that’s long departed. Sadly, these people settle for the residue of what was.

Then you have those who want to make God relevant. They assume God needs their help in His ability to relate. Thus, they attempt to align Him with modern-day culture. In their quest for importance they do nothing more than fashion the Church after the world. What they fail to realize is that Jesus is always relevant. In fact, Jesus is more relevant than anything else going on anywhere in the universe. The idea that the God who is omni-now could possibly become irrelevant is insane. God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is perpetual relevance.

Relevance chasers often fail to understand that they’ll never achieve the significance they desire by mirroring culture. In fact, it’ll have the opposite effect because they’re chasing the wrong thing. Striving to keep up with the most up-to-date trends is a sure way to grow spiritually stale. Some congregations may lose their significance, but God never will. He is forever current, infinitely present, and eternally significant.

Dead religious formalism also has the tendency to produce stale spirituality. Notice the adjective “dead.” This often occurs when people place intellectualism on a pedestal above relationality. Jesus is a Person to be encountered, not merely a doctrine to be understood. While preparation, education, and engaging the mind is vitally important, intellectualism alone has the propensity to kill the moving of the Holy Spirit and rob people of an authentic, life-changing, powerful experience with Jesus.

Interestingly, the religious sages of the age don’t seem very concerned with the manifest Presence of the Holy Spirit. They scoff at the mention of revival, calling it nothing more than worked up emotionalism. They’ve become satisfied with religious theory, and unfortunately, they raise up generations far more interested in academic exercise than they are experiential faith.

Formalistic approaches to faith tend to emphasize symbolism over experience. Personally, I have a high appreciation for symbolism (e.g. cross, chalice, trinity symbol). I also value the beauty of liturgical practices (e.g. communion, baptism, creeds). Anyone who appreciates the sacred history of the Church must keep a place in his or her heart for symbolism. However, I must also conclude that ritualistic approaches to faith, even when grounded in good theology, do not regularly leave room for the moving of the Holy Spirit.

Unfortunately, many pastors, educators, and church leaders not only devalue an encounter with the Holy Spirit, they outright reject it. They call experiences such as altar calls, revivals, corporate prayer, etc. “dangerous and manipulative.” I’m unsure what Bible they’re reading? If you follow Jesus through the Gospels and trace the Apostles through the Book of Acts you witness multitudes of people extemporaneously encountering the Holy Spirit. Those that make worship gatherings nothing more than religious routine are starving their parishioners. They obviously lack the faith to believe that God can move in the same ways He did in the New Testament.

Beyond these issues, prayer is a lost art in many congregations. It’s difficult to get people to focus on prayer for more than a few minutes in our worship gatherings. Have you noticed how people get fidgety as the service nears the sixty-minute mark? I’ve watched people walk out while serving communion because they don’t want to miss the beginning of an NFL game that’s going to last the rest of the evening. No wonder drive-thru, quick fix ritualistic services are so en vogue. We essentially advertise, “Lose your guilt, feel good about your life, and be on your way.” My friends, the anointing has left the building. We lack prayer, we lack power, and most of all we lack His Presence.

Now for the good news: With all of this distraction, God is doing something new. There is a generation on the horizon that’s desperate for an encounter. They are seeking God like never before. Revival is coming and is already here! The grassroots of this revival movement is longing for a return to an experiential faith. They desire something that brings transformation to individuals, churches, and spills over into entire communities.

Jesus and the Apostles didn’t institute a ritual; they unleashed the power of His Presence. They didn’t follow a one-year liturgical plan. In fact, they didn’t even have a one-hour plan. If what you think you know about practicing faith cannot be found in the life of Jesus and the Acts of the Apostles, then you have reason to doubt it. Jesus’s life is absolute perfect theology. The Apostles lived out of the direct anointing of His ministry and we should too. What Jesus and the Apostles did as described in the Bible is what we should be doing by faith, through the power of the Holy Spirit, right here, right now.

So, what did Jesus do? He prayed with people everywhere He went. He fasted intensely for days at a time. He accepted people wherever they were in life, but never left them where He found them. He made disciples persistently. He healed people openly. He gave to people freely. He wasn’t ashamed to preach the Kingdom boldly. His life is the standard. Are the things Jesus and the Apostles did happening in your church, ministry, university, school, home, life?

Stale spirituality sets in when we engage the head and neglect the spirit. Stale spirituality sets in when we gather to learn and suppress the notion to encounter. Stale spirituality sets in when we live in what was, or dream about what will be, yet neglect what is. Stale spirituality becomes a reality when we live with a form of godliness, but deny the power of Jesus. The Bible says to avoid such… (2 Timothy 3:5).

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!

water-level

The water level is rising. If you can’t swim you’d better grab a lifejacket. When the presence of the Holy Spirit starts overflowing even those not paying attention get wet. My hope is for the overflow to turn into a spiritual flood. We’re talking about the Spirit of the Living God. We should expect more that a glass of water spilling in the floor or a leaky pipe under the sink dripping just enough to fill a bucket. The presence of Jesus should do more than get our feet wet.

“I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams” (Joel 2:28). Peter preached this at Pentecost. He started with, “People of Judea give ear to my word…” He ended with “Be saved from this crooked generation.” Following his sermon 3,000 were baptized and added to the faith that very day! Friends, that’s called an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

It happened then, and it can happen now. I’m praying every single day for the church to get drenched with the overflowing presence of the Spirit of Christ. My hope is that the living water of the Living Savior will flow out of us and fill the streets of our communities with the power and presence of Jesus.

In Acts 2 we read about the inauguration of the Church. It started with revival. For many years I’ve been praying for authentic revival to pour into our churches and flow into the streets of our cities. Historically speaking, revival has a lingering effect. It gives people a renewed sense of purpose; it changes the landscape of entire communities. The Holy Spirit is likened to water in several places in scripture. Water wakes people up. That’s exactly what revival does: wakes people up.

My tribe, the Church of the Nazarene, was born out of a spirit of revival. In fact, it was a holiness revival. There was a strong emphasis on the doctrine of entire sanctification, or being filled with the Holy Spirit. A person who is filled with the Holy Spirit is so occupied with the love of God that it seeps into every aspect of their life. Their thoughts, motives, behaviors, and interactions become rooted in a radical, newfound, abundant sense of love.

Love is the chief expression of God and it becomes the central focus of anyone who is filled with the Holy Spirit. In keeping with the water metaphor we could say that sanctification is God’s love flowing like a river through the cisterns of our lives. Sanctification is not, nor has it ever been, a doctrine of sinless perfection. It’s the doctrine of love made perfect. When you’re justified you realize God has done something for you (i.e. saved you). When your sanctified you realize God is doing something in you (i.e. filling you). As God fills you it changes everything about who you are.

It seems the doctrine of sanctification has grown stagnant. It’s as if some leaders have put it in a jar and placed it on a shelf. We’ve constructed a dam that has congested the flow of this classic tenet of the faith. I don’t believe we’ve intentionally shut off the valve. I think it’s been a natural response to the poor theology that became associated with this doctrine during the 20th Century rise of fundamentalism.

Fundamentalism is a rigid form of spirituality that focuses largely on rules and regulations. It contaminated the water. Instead of filtering it we’ve simply stopped serving it. Fundamentalism emphasizes the “thou shalt nots” instead of the “thou shalts.” God empowers us to do. The emphasis on what not to do is a result of fundamentalism. It has done great harm to the holiness movement.

It’s time to reclaim entire sanctification: to set it back at the center of the table. Generic spirituality won’t bring revival. It’s time to tap into the fountain of living water. Entire sanctification is the doctrine that helps us focus on what we should be doing, not what we shouldn’t be doing… and what we should be doing is leading people toward the life-transforming power that only comes through the infilling of the Holy Spirit.

Sanctification doesn’t just influence the individual; it also bears witness to society. It is a social doctrine. It impacts one’s life in such a way that she or he can’t help but take the power and presence of Jesus to everyone they meet. It’s not about shoving religion down peoples’ throats, but loving people to such a degree that they can’t ignore the goodness of God being made known through the presence of a real person. That’s what the spring of living water looks like.

The levee is bursting; people are getting wet. People are learning to swim in a river that’s flowing like it hasn’t in a very long time. They’re being awakened to the mission of Jesus. Those who’ve become immersed in this new stream can’t get enough; those who haven’t are getting wet anyway. I’m absolutely amazed, renewed, and invigorated. Everyday feels like my mom pouring water on my head to get me out of bed when I was a teenager (yes, she really did that).

Everywhere I go I talk to pastors who are swimming in new streams. I literally get reports every week of people being saved, sanctified, healed, delivered, called to ministry, called to start a church, and the list goes on. What I’m talking about isn’t a 1960s rule-based, emotion-driven, religious form of fundamentalism. No… it’s just people waking up.

I want to remind you that you’re a vessel. If you’re a follower of Jesus, contained within you is the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit fills you up he begins to spill over into the lives of your family, friends, church, and community. That’s what floodwater does: it gets everything wet. It messes up the landscape. It shifts the soil. It washes away the debris. It wrecks everything. It forces us to start fresh.

Jesus says, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me… streams of living water will flow from within him” (John 7:37-38). The water level is rising. You’re like a reservoir. I’m praying that the floodwaters seep through the crevices of your life and overflow the entire landscape. It’s happened many times before. It can happen again. Come, Lord Jesus!

Mirrors

We use them everyday. They help us evaluate ourselves. We use them to fix our hair, shave, brush our teeth, make sure our clothes match, put on makeup, and make funny faces. We use them to back out of the driveway, watch for traffic on the interstate, and make sure we still look okay after driving to work. Nowadays people use them to take selfies while puckering up their lips. They call it ‘duck lips,’ although ducks don’t have lips. Anyway… let’s talk about mirrors.

When we look into a mirror we’re use to seeing a clear reflection. However, that’s not what the folks of Jesus’ day would have been accustomed to. Mirrors were not crystal clear reflections. They weren’t even made of reflective glass. They were made of polished copper or brass. The image in a copper mirror would have been extremely vague and distorted.

Because the image wasn’t as clear as ours is today people had to stare at themselves intently for long periods of time to make out their reflection. They looked carefully so that they would know exactly what needed to be done with their hair, their make-up, their clothes, etc. With a better understanding of what a mirror would’ve been like in the 1st Century, let’s read from James chapter one.


“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it – not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it – they will be blessed in what they do.” (James 1:22-25)


Let’s read a few verses again…

“Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.”

This passage has a lot of implications if we understand what mirrors were like in the 1st Century. James is comparing scripture to a mirror. He’s teaching us that God’s instruction for our life doesn’t only need to be seen and heard, it needs to be obeyed. In other words, don’t be hearers only, be doers.

James is saying that anyone who listens to the Word of God, knows it, learns it, and doesn’t live it, is like someone who looks in the mirror and immediately forgets what they look like. He’s comparing that kind of person to someone who spends a lot of time studying what needs to be done, but doesn’t do anything. They see their spiritual reflection, then walk away and forget what needs to be fixed.

These people get distracted and neglect what they saw needed to be improved. They did it all for nothing. Their hair is still a mess, their shirt needs ironing, their tie needs straightening, and their makeup is smudged all over their face. Why in the world did they spend all that time trying to see and then walk away and do nothing? Excuse me, but that’s not very smart. In fact, it’s pretty stupid.

James is saying that God’s Word is the ultimate mirror. He’s teaching that if there’s a separation in our life between belief and behavior, between knowing and doing, between hearing and growing, then we may just be spending time in front the mirror then walking away and doing nothing.

So why don’t we do it? Why don’t we practice what we believe more often? I think it’s because we’ve bought into a warped opinion of life-change. We’ve accepted a messed up view of discipleship. We believe that spiritual growth is something that happens “to us,” or is done “for us.”

That’s not the church’s job…

Never has been and never will be.

People say, “Make me close to Jesus.” It’s not the church’s job to make you close to Jesus; it’s your job. “Save my marriage.” It’s not the church’s job to save your marriage; it’s your job. “Raise my kids.” It’s not the church’s job to raise your kids; it’s your job. “Give me friends.” It’s not the church’s job to help you make friends; it’s your job. “Feed me” (that’s my favorite). It’s not the church’s job to feed you; it’s your job to feed yourself.

It is not the church’s job to give you the life you want. It’s the church’s job to connect you with Jesus by offering opportunities to grow. Whether you do it or not is up to you. The church can’t change you; only God can do that. The church exists to enrich, inspire, challenge, equip, and provide spiritual leadership. In other words, the church offers you opportunities for discipleship, but the church can’t make you become a disciple.

Yes, the church serves the family trying to raise a child. It seeks to provide healing for those who are broken. It provides community to establish authentic relationships. It offers the necessary resources for a vibrant relationship with Christ. However, the church cannot circumvent your choices and responsibilities.

Your job is to be a disciple: a follower of Jesus. So, stop looking in the mirror then walking away and forgetting what you look like. Listen to the Word, examine yourself, and do what it says. Remember, the church cannot live your life for you. You’re the only one who can live your life for you. So do it.


(Sources: Rick Warren, James Emery White, NIV Application Commentary)

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)