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).

compromised-church

“The chief danger of the twentieth century will be religion without the Holy Spirit, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, heaven without hell.” ~William Booth (founder of the Salvation Army)

Like so many other ideas, “tolerance” has been redefined in our postmodern society. Tolerance is something that focuses largely on morality. If one doesn’t embrace the behavior of another when that behavior is celebrated by society at large, then that person is likely to be labeled “intolerant.” This label carries consequences. Being called “intolerant” quickly discredits your views in the arena of public opinion.

Scripture is full of instances where Jesus interacted with people He didn’t agree with morally. Jesus teaches us that love has no boundaries. We are called to love people wherever they may be on their journey. That’s what true tolerance is: being willing to walk with and bear the burdens of others even though we disagree with their choices and behaviors. True tolerance says, “While I don’t agree with you, I love you anyway.”

Today’s view of tolerance requires much more than loving and walking with a person. Today’s tolerance requires that we celebrate a person’s choices. Today’s tolerance strips us of the ability to say that anything is “wrong.” This view doesn’t leave room for absolutes. It teaches us that we are incorrect, possibly bigoted, and certainly close-minded to even think that another person’s behavior misses the mark.

When properly defined tolerance requires one to identify right and wrong, truth and untruth, good and evil. It is recognizing that something that is less than what it should be and deciding that you can live with it. True tolerance means you endure something that you believe to be incorrect. Loving someone is different than celebrating immoral behavior. If you don’t believe something’s wrong, and you embrace it, that’s not tolerance. Jesus accepted everyone, yet with love and compassion, He also confronted their sin and offered them a better way.

Western culture has become a battlefield; truth and morality is what’s at stake. While we must remain tolerant toward all people, that doesn’t mean we should celebrate sinful behavior. The church is being influenced heavily by the cultural undertones of the day. We want to be liked so badly that we’re willing to compromise. What we end up compromising are the very things scripture declares as nonnegotiable. In our negotiations we forfeit the power of Jesus. Without His manifest presence there is no anointing, no transformation, and no sense of purpose.

In many ways the church has become a mere reflection of the American way. Entire denominations are revising the basic tenets of biblical theology as it pertains to Christian practice. Church leaders are legitimizing immorality because it’s become legal. Just because laws change regarding sin doesn’t make it right. We can legalize drug use, but that doesn’t make it right. We can legalize same-sex unions, but that doesn’t make it right. We make it lawful to deport people and rip families apart, but that doesn’t make it right.

Reports of our shifting views make the news all the time. A few years ago an openly gay bishop was ordained in the Episcopal Church. He went on record to say that he considered his relationship with his partner “sacramental.” Since when do the Episcopals get to make “sacred” what God calls an “abomination”?

We are so concerned with what everyone thinks that we’ve forgotten to care about what God thinks. Have you checked out the stats of some of the more “progressive” denominations lately? They’re in rapid decline. Why? Because God does not bless what He has declared in His Word as being wrong. It doesn’t matter what we call it. When the Holy Spirit withdraws from a group of people there’s nothing left to do but go though the motions and gather in powerless huddles hoping for the best.

Recent studies by Barna Research indicates that large percentages of people identifying as Christians see nothing wrong with occasional adultery, abortion, homosexual behavior, casual use of pornography, living together outside of marriage, and the use of profanity. Many of these same people don’t believe in Satan, and hell is merely a contemporary platonic construct, not an actual place. To add to the confusion only 15% of people who identify as Christian actually hold to any sort of biblical worldview.

I’ve interacted with people who adhere to many of the above-described views. A few years ago a candidate who was seeking ordination admitted to a few people in a restaurant if they were ever questioned about their beliefs concerning sexuality that they’d lie. They indicated that their cause was more important than the ordination process. Let that sink in. . . These up-and-coming progressive leaders have a cause that’s more important than anything else, including orthodoxy, scripture, sound doctrine, church tradition, and life-transformation.

This theological confusion is spreading across denominational spectrums. In a day and age where we need hope more than ever before we are offering people theological play-doh. The problem is not that these folks are being disingenuous. It’s just that they’ve accepted a worldview that is far from the one given to us by Jesus, Scripture, the Apostles, and the Early Church Fathers. Beyond that, they’re extremely intolerant of anyone who holds a more centered biblical view.

The immorality of western culture has created instability, confusion, and a church that is void of power. Many people who identify as Christian have aligned so closely with the postmodern religious narrative that they’ve lost the ability to recognize the “anointing” of God. In fact, they don’t even like words like anointing, manifest presence, glory, revival, etc. They rely solely on forms and functions. They can’t hear from God because their minds are muddled by the noise of postmodernity.

This is not who the Church is called to be. We are the Bride of Christ, the Body of Jesus, and the Light of the World. We are God’s ambassadors in a world void of hope and power. The Church is a group of called-out, sold-out, radical world-changers. The Church is on mission through the infilling power of the Holy Spirit as she takes presence of Jesus to communities all over the globe.

However, postmodern pollution has built a dam. The rivers of Living Water have been largely shut off. When the things God calls sin is continually validated in Christian articles, on Christian bookshelves, and in classrooms and pulpits, the source of this contamination is made clear. Yet, the dam is protected and even celebrated in the name of tolerance.

The good news is there’s a leak. God is raising up prophets. The Living Water is starting to seep through the cracks. There is a remnant of committed Christ-followers passionately calling out to Jesus. They are praying earnestly for revival every single day. They realize that the powerless tolerant form of religion that’s currently in vogue will never suffice in transforming the world. So, while these are serious times, they’re also exciting times. May we wait with hopeful hearts for the King of Glory to make His presence known once again.


(Sources: “Trouble with Truth” by Rob Renfroe; “Desperate for His Presence” by Rhonda Hughey; Barna Research Group)

1908hallelujahmarch

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)

country-club-jesus

“If your church hasn’t won anyone to Jesus in the last year, it’s not a church, it’s a country club.” A friend recently made that statement. I’d go a step further: if a church isn’t endeavoring to ‘win’ people it isn’t even a good country club. Too many churches have become shrines of personal achievement where the members with the most influence get the biggest perks. When trophies and tributes become the primary décor, the place feels more like the Moose Lodge than the church (no offense Moosers).

This is a difficult conversation for some pastors. They take it personal. They carry the responsibility for church growth as if it’s their burden alone. I’d like to take a moment to exonerate many of my pastor friends from this way of thinking. I know too many faithful pastors who struggle through seasons of drought because they’ve inherited a mess. The ground they’re working with hasn’t been plowed in years. Tilling the soil feels more like digging through concrete.

Pastor, I’m speaking to you directly. If you’ve inherited a country club, it isn’t your fault. Be free of that burden.

Nonetheless, we mustn’t forget, while there are seasons when being faithful is all we can do, there are also times when God calls us to be fruitful. It’s the difference between starting a fire and tending a fire. Keeping the flames from dying out is one thing, but stoking the flames is what causes a fire to burn bright. Evangelistic fires have always been part of the Wesleyan-Holiness movement. John Wesley said, “Set yourself on fire with passion and people will come for miles to watch you burn.”

Whereas most pastors I know are serving faithfully, I have known some to be idle, indifferent, and insincere to say the least. They not only lead a country club, they’ve become the president. Unfaithful pastors play along with church bosses, cater to nitpickers, laugh at crude jokes on the golf course, and pander to the members with the deepest pockets.

Someone recently shared a story of attending what he described as a “fancy church” while visiting Washington, DC. The front row of the sanctuary had chairs that looked like they were reserved for royalty. He explained that they were actually for the top tithers. The strangest part of his experience was the white gloves the ushers wore while seating people. The gloves were supposedly used to make guests feel special. However, he noticed the ushers did a good job keeping the visitors away from the majestic thrones up front.

I literally get sick thinking about this scenario: the privileged getting special honor in the name of Jesus. My initial reaction would be to flip the chairs over, jump up and down on them, douse them in lighter fluid, and invite the neighborhood over for S’mores.

Thom Rainer says, “God did not give us the local church to become country clubs where membership means we have privileges and perks. He placed us in churches to serve, to care for others, to pray for leaders, to learn, to teach, to give and, in some cases, to die for the sake of the gospel. The time to get this right is now.”

Often when we think of “winning people” we equate it to growth. And while I believe strongly in church growth, I also recognize that this happens in various ways. The real goal is changed lives. Evangelistic efforts often lead people to make a commitment to Christ, yet never attend the church that made the investment, and that’s okay. If a church is serving for a payoff, then it’s serving for the wrong reasons anyway.

Sometimes it’s the people in the pews that we need to win to Jesus. Again, pastors usually aren’t the ones to blame for the country club attitude. It’s the hard-hearted folks who’ve been drenched in the modern ethos of consumerism. They rest on their laurels and complain about their bellies not being full. The “feed me” mentality is consumerism at it’s finest.

Too often pastors have to decide when to babysit and when to shove a piece of meat down someone’s throat. Sometimes loving the sheep means wrapping the crook of your staff around their neck and pulling them away from the edge of a cliff. They hate the feeling of being choked, but it’s better than the alternative. It’s the pastor’s job to speak prophetic truth that challenges people to a life of repentance. Regardless of how many “amens” they shout from the back row, repentance is not something people are naturally inclined to.

Pastors, you should not take the opening statement personally unless you’re a card-carrying member of the country club. The statement pertains to churches where visitors actually have to worry about upsetting someone because they accidentally sit in the wrong seat. Whether we want to admit it or not, these things really do happen.

Many of us have pastored country club churches, including me. In fact, the country club mentality has the potential to set in anywhere. When it’s recognized, we must become passionate about leading people out of it. This is never easy; ministering in a self-absorbed society is challenging. However, it doesn’t mean that we have to settle with not doing anything to ‘win people.’

We can develop creative ways to reach beyond the four walls of the local assembly. Example: I’ve helped organize drama ministries at several churches over the years. At our annual events we often witnessed several hundred people profess faith in Christ. One year in Raleigh we brought in a life size replica of the Tabernacle for a two-week period. During that time more than 300 people committed their lives to Jesus.

I’ve prayed with more people than I can count at Easter Extravaganzas, fall festivals, homeless shelters, youth events, VBSs, and community centers. I still have connections with many of these people. Someone approached me in Wal-Mart when I was visiting my hometown a few years ago and said, “I’ll never forget that time… It changed my life.”

When you start leading your church to reach outside the walls, something amazing happens. Hearts begin to soften. People start seeing beyond themselves. They shed the member’s only jacket. Before you know it someone’s at the altar repenting. And that, my friends, is what you call a win for Jesus.


(Sources: Doug Wyatt, John Wesley, Thom Rainer, Rich Shockey, Scott Olson, Eric Frey)

holier-than-thou

“Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees…” (Mark 8:15). Jesus is harsh in confronting the Pharisees of his day pointing out that they polluted the Body. It is interesting to consider the role of fermentation in the making of bread. It starts small, but it contaminates the entire loaf. In fact, one of the definitions of the word ‘ferment’ is to incite or stir up trouble and disorder. Synonyms of the word include, uproar, confusion, and turmoil. That’s what leaven does: contaminates the whole.

A friend of mine recently tweeted, “You know what’s just as bad as holier-than-thou academic types? Holier-than-thou anti-intellectuals. The holier-than-thou part is the issue” (Brannon Hancock). I agree. His statement got me to thinking about the behavior of the holier-than-thou pharisaical types that distract, pollute, and weaken the mission of the church.

Interestingly, the Pharisees of Jesus’ day were highly educated, yet the Pharisees of the last century have been largely uneducated. Both groups are notoriously recognized as spiritual elitists. They epitomize a sanctimonious attitude. They want their opinions to be accepted by the masses and they work hard to discredit opposing voices. Undeniably, the holier-than-thou mindset raises its head among the educated and the non-educated alike.

Look close and you’ll notice that there is a new breed of Pharisees ‘leavening’ the church today. It’s not the theologically uneducated form of legalism that’s dominated church boardrooms for the past 50 years. In fact, this new breed seems to be a resurrection of the Pharisees of old: the educated elitists.

Before I go any further let me clarify a few things…

Categories related to how people understand and practice faith are not always neatly packaged. What I’m addressing here are voices existing on the far ends of the theological spectrum: rigid legalists and religious liberals. Both are detractors. It doesn’t take long to identify these extreme personalities in church committee meetings, Sunday School classrooms, social media groups, and hallway conversations.

Let me also say, academic training is essential for those preparing for ministry. There should be rigorous academic requirements for anyone preparing for ordination. I was enrolled in school for 15 consecutive years, earning four degrees along the way. In fact, since completing my doctoral studies I’ve felt a bit lost. ‘Studying to show oneself approved’ is a biblical mandate that I take seriously. Many Christian universities are going to great lengths to ensure balanced biblical teaching.

With those disclaimers, let’s move ahead.

A professor at a prominent seminary (non-Nazarene) recently said, “You can’t be an intellectual and be a conservative.” This person indicated that in the world of academia it’s becoming increasingly difficult to be theologically conservative and/or moderate. In other words, there is tremendous pressure to ‘lean left,’ otherwise one isn’t seen as thinking deeply and critically about important issues.

Often when we think of Pharisees and fundamentalists we think of legalistic uneducated troublemakers who reject anyone that doesn’t measure up to their spiritual standards, not intellectuals (remember my friend’s tweet). But what if the ‘spirit of pharisee’ was alive and well in the realm of academia? Does it surprise you to learn that rejection of those who don’t ‘lean left’ is commonplace in academic circles?

Let me be clear: the academy itself is not the problem. It’s the spirit of elitism infiltrating segments of the academy that’s the problem. It has a leavening effect. When being theologically liberal is equated with academic success a certain way of thinking begins to ferment the whole.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were not the uneducated fundamentalists we think of today. Just the opposite, they were highly educated. In fact, they were so knowledgeable that they took it upon themselves to reinterpret large portions of scripture. When you arrive at a place where you feel the need to deconstruct sound biblical doctrine in light of cultural shifts or personal interests that might be a sign that you’re on the road toward spiritual elitism.

Elitism has always been a sign of pharisaical behavior. It’s always been indicative of those who create controversy among the faithful with an attitude of superiority. Of course, we realize that Jesus caused unrest. However, he certainly didn’t challenge the authority of scripture, particularly in a way that would alter the call to a holy life. The unrest Jesus created wasn’t among the faithful; it was among those who were corrupting the body.

A tree is always known by its fruit. We can discern whether unrest is harmful by analyzing the fruit. Fundamentalism, regardless of what side of the spectrum it’s found, is driven by a belief that one is right. This is a good place to insert the Apostle Paul, “Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ” (Col. 2:8, NLT). Without a doubt, the unholy leavening of those who are faithful to the cause of Christ is the fruit spiritual elitism.

It’s in this new context that the ‘spirit of pharisee’ is being resurrected. Like Pharisees of old, this new breed of Pharisee is easily offended and quick to dismiss those without certain letters behind their name. They love to correct people they deem as not measuring up to their level of intellectual superiority. They deconstruct biblical orthodoxy, influence with alluring ideas, and intimidate with overpowering rhetoric.

Traditional fundamentalists have filled church pews for years. They’ve been described as legalistic, harsh, and judgmental, and rightfully so. However, don’t be fooled by the trendy new left push. Today’s fundamentalism is regularly found among those who seem to be the most educated and progressive. They enjoy force-feeding perspectives and diverting conversations away from those that hold a more centered biblical worldview.

Again, fundamentalism has always been found on the far ends of the theological continuum. It’s marked by rigidity and arrogance. When the pendulum swings, it never stops in the middle. Overcorrection leads to faulty perspectives. The centrist way is the way of Jesus: humble enough to learn yet brave enough to stand.

Historically, the Wesleyan-Holiness movement has been balanced in its approach to faith and practice. It’s a road less traveled: a lifestyle marked with love and compassion for people, yet also courage and resolution to speak truth. It’s a call to build bridges, not walls. The road we’re called to travel is an ancient path evident by holiness of heart and life. So, don’t get lured to the sidelines by the loud voices demanding your attention. Instead, be faithful to walk the via media.

It doesn’t matter what end of the theological spectrum we examine, we will always find holier-than-thou-pharisaical-fundamentalist types. Some will likely be offended to have the term ‘fundamentalist’ attached to their name. However, if their attitude reflects that of their legalistic predecessors, then it deserves the same description. This new breed of Pharisee is hardened toward others because they are confident that the bread of life needs a new additive: their leaven. Sorry to wound their highbrow ego, but God’s already provided all the ingredients we need.


(Sources: Janet Dean Blevins, Doug Hopkins, Jared Henry, Brannon Hancock)