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).

gotcha-day

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” ~Jeremiah 29:11

“Gotcha Day” is a term used in the adoption community. It refers to the day when adoptive parents finally get their child. It’s the climax of months of praying, waiting, and preparing to bring a child into their life, of which they’ve usually never met. Imagine deciding to adopt a new son or daughter and working for many months toward bringing him or her home. Finally, the day arrives when you wrap your arms around that child. That’s Gotcha Day!

September 15, 2014 was “Gotcha Day” for Kacey. We committed to adopt her eight months prior. We spent thirty-five weeks praying, reading about her, looking at pictures, preparing her room, and filling out paperwork, and more paperwork, and more paperwork. But mostly we anxiously awaited the day we were going to fly halfway around the world and bring her home. We did all of this because we felt like God said, “rescue her.”

We flew out of Chicago in the early morning hours on Saturday September 13, 2014. Once in Guangzhou we spent a day adjusting to the time difference, then another day receiving final instructions for what the process would entail. On Monday morning we boarded a bus with eight other couples and headed to the civil affairs office to meet our daughter.

There were over fifty couples picking up their children from all over the Guangdong Province that day. We walked in with the group from our agency. Once inside, everyone found a seat, and family-by-family they called people forward alphabetically by last name. When your name was called you proceeded to the center of the room and your child came from another room. In those few seconds families were united with their children.

It seemed like forever before they got to the “P’s.” Finally, they called our name. From behind another door Kacey emerged. There she was, scared to death, yet trying to smile. The picture at the top of the blog post captures this moment. Most families were adopting younger children who really didn’t know what was going on. However, Kacey was thirteen years old, and although she wasn’t that old emotionally or physically because of her blood disorder, she was old enough to know that her life was about to change forever.

She came out of the door with her orphanage director and one of her caregivers. None of them spoke any English; we knew minimal Mandarin. She was being very polite, but it was obvious that she was afraid. Who wouldn’t be? She’s lived her entire life in an orphanage. She’s been told that she wants to be adopted, but she really doesn’t know what it means to be adopted. She has no context for understanding what a “family” really is. She’s heard the words “mother” and “father,” but doesn’t understand what it means to have parents.

As the room started clearing out, Kacey became more apprehensive. Finally, her caregivers told her goodbye for the last time. Remember, these are the only people she’s ever known and they’re leaving her with two Americans with whom she can’t even communicate (other than with the iTranslate app on our phone).

A few minutes after they said their final goodbyes tears started streaming down her little face. She was trying so hard to hold them back. Her effort to smile was causing Heather and I to cry. After a few more minutes Kacey was sobbing. Then she walked away from us and began roaming the hallways yelling out for her orphanage director.

Eventually she found him. As they spoke in Mandarin we had no idea what they were saying. Our director told us that he was explaining to her that she had to go with us for at least one night. The law in China says an orphan over ten years old has to ‘agree’ to be adopted. That means they have to sign their name in front of an attorney stating that they willfully choose to become the child of their adoptive family. However, even though they get that choice, the law also requires that they stay at least one night with the family seeking to adopt them. Kacey was fighting even going with us for one night.

The director of our adoption cohort, who also translated for us, took Kacey by the arm and gently tried to explain the rules. However, she wasn’t having it. Eventually, they begin forcing her to walk out of the building with us. They literally pulled her down the hall, onto an elevator, and out into the parking lot kicking and screaming. Along the way our director kept trying to explain to her that she had to go with us for one night.

In the parking lot Kacey spotted her orphanage director’s car. She ran toward it, but the leader of our group wouldn’t let go of her arm. Kacey is relatively strong and extremely strong-willed. She was hard to manage and would’ve been very difficult to drag for two city blocks. The fatherly instinct rose up inside me. I looked at our director and said, “Can I pick her up and carry her?” She said, “That would be the best solution.” So, I swooped her up and carried her kicking and screaming, against her will, for two city blocks.

All the people in our group were crying for us, we were crying, and Kacey was squalling and fighting simultaneously. It was quite the scene. As the others in our adoption cohort carried their toddlers and infants to the bus with no problem, I was literally forcing our little teenager to go. It felt strange. People on the busy sidewalks looked on with concern as this white man carried a little China-girl down the street against her will.

In all of the confusion, Kacey didn’t realize that something very important was actually taking place. In the midst of the struggle we were literally trying to save her life; this was a rescue mission. You see, at fourteen she would have aged-out of the adoption program. The China government doesn’t care if you show up at midnight on a child’s fourteenth birthday; they will not let you take them when they reach that age.

She was aging out of the adoption program soon. Beyond that, she was very sick and needed a lot of medical attention. I wanted to give her a life she’d never experienced. I wanted to take her from the orphanage to the castle, so to say. I wanted to treat her as a good father would treat a much-loved child, but fear was standing in the way.

When we finally got to the bus, I carried her straight on, down the isle, to the very back seat, and sat her in the corner. I blocked the isle so there was no chance of her getting up and running. She crossed her arms, looked up at me, and if looks could kill, let’s just say I’d be a dead man. I felt terrible, however, I did what needed to be done.

The ride from the civil affairs office to the Garden Hotel was over an hour long. On the way Kacey saw things she had never seen before; her countenance began to change. Once we arrived at the hotel she was astonished. The Garden is a five-star hotel that provides special deals for adoption agencies. Many adoptive parents stay in the Garden while they’re in China. As Kacey walked through the doors of the Garden she was amazed. She kept saying, “woooow.” It was literally a rags-to-riches story coming to life.

When we got to the room on the 15th floor she looked out over the city in amazement. Then she discovered a jetted bathtub; she had never had a bathtub. She wanted to know if she could take a bubble bath (she ended up taking one every night of our stay). I had brought some beef jerky on the trip; she loved it. In fact, she ate the entire bag. We took her to eat at a fancy restaurant. She wanted to know what she could order. I told her “anything you want.” Soon the table looked like a banquet fit for a queen. She had never eaten that good before.

That night, Kacey Xing-Yu Powell fell asleep on a king size bed between a mom and dad on the 15th floor of the five-star Garden Hotel after taking a bubble bath and eating a fine meal. She feel asleep lavished with the love that only a mother and father could give. In one day her entire world literally changed. What a difference a day can make.

We got up early the next morning. After breakfast our adoption cohort loaded the bus to return to the civil affairs office to sign the legal documents for the adoption. Once we arrived everyone was again sitting in the same room as the day before. We were apprehensive that once she got back in that element she would become anxious again.

The process included going to two different offices, sitting before attorneys, signing documents, and promising to take care of the child for the rest of her life. Again, once a child is over ten years old they have to agree to go with their adoptive parents. Therefore, she also had papers to sign.

While in the attorney’s office Kacey began to have a conversation with the official. It was in Mandarin; we had no idea what she was saying, but it was obviously serious. Our director came over and joined the discussion. The attorney sent us out of his office to work out whatever it was Kacey was talking about. After about five minutes of conversing with Kacey, our director filled us in.

“She’s negotiating,” our guide told us. I smiled and ask, “What’s her terms?” The guide smiled back and said, “Kacey says you have to promise to take her back to visit the orphanage before you leave China or she will not sign the papers.” I almost laughed. “Deal,” I said, then Kacey signed the documents knowing there was no turning back.

We made plans to visit the orphanage the next week. I paid a driver to take us back to the little village where the orphanage was located, which was a couple of hours from Guangzhou. In the days leading up to the visit Kacey kept asking to buy small items, mostly snacks. When the day came to visit the orphanage she had filled two large bags with all kinds of food, snacks, and toys. We quickly realized what she was doing. She wanted to give these gifts to her friends before leaving them forever.

When we arrived at the orphanage, I followed her with the bags. She walked into the main office, gave specific instructions as to who got what, and left the bags with the workers. Then we followed her up the stairs and through the halls of this building where she had lived. We passed so many children on that short walk, many crying and reaching up to us. Heather and I were again in tears.

We arrived at Kacey’s room. Her friend that she shared the room with was there; she had aged out of the adoption process and was now looking for a job. Kacey started collecting items that were stashed in various places. Once she gathered all the things that were important to her, she placed them in the luggage bag we had bought her, then she looked up at me and in plain English said, “Let’s go!”

I can hardly type this without tears. The rest is history. Kacey now has a family and a future, but most importantly, she has a Savior. You see, a few months after she arrived back in the United States she watched the “Jesus Film” in Mandarin. In our driveway, using the iTranslate app on my phone, I led Kacey to Jesus with tears streaming down her little face.

Fourteen years before, Kacey Xing-Yu Powell had been left on the steps of a hospital at eleven months old. She’d lived her entire life with a life-threatening blood disorder that had never been properly treated. She resided in a poor orphanage in an obscure village in southern China. She would have aged out of the adoption process five weeks after we arrived. However, that didn’t happen.

Everything changed because eight months earlier God said to two strangers on the other side of the world, “rescue her.” Kacey was an orphan for over a decade, but now she’s a princess for life, and will forever be a daughter of the King!

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!

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)

My Cup Overflows

This morning I woke up with a song by Robin Mark on my mind. The joy of the Lord filled my heart and tears welled up in my eyes before my feet hit the ground. There’s no better way to start the day than in the presence of Jesus. Those mornings when you get up and you’re immediately overwhelmed by his goodness. It’s in those moments that I’m reminded of the extent of God’s love for us.

Back in 2003 someone gave me Robin Mark’s CD, Revival in Belfast. I’ll never forget the first time I played it in my car. I was captivated by the sound of the bagpipes, chimes, and wind instruments that opened the first song, “Garments of Praise.” Halfway through the first verse the Lord came. He ministered to me in a special way as I drove that day. Actually, I had to pull the car over to the side of the road as tears streamed down my face and joy filled my heart. I sat there for 30 minutes and just praised him.

I call those moments being in the overflow of God’s presence. The Greek word περισσεία (perisseia) means: “superabundance; out of measure; exceeding normal expectations.” It’s related to the Hebrew idea the psalmist uses in Psalm 23 when he writes of his ‘cup running over.’ It’s the same word used to describe the leftovers after Jesus fed the multitudes in Mark 8.

A good English interpretation of the word perisseia is “overflow.” To live in the overflow means that there’s more than enough. It means that there’s so much more than I need that I have the responsibility to share. I like to say that living in God’s overflow means I have more than I need, more than I can use, and there’s more to come.

Throughout the Bible we are promised that God will supply us with an overflow of some amazing stuff. He promises an overflow of love, grace, joy, provision, gratitude, and so much more. You know, things money can’t buy. However, from my experience it seems that many people don’t really know what to do with the overflow. They fail to see it, much less live in it. We’re all guilty at times. We’re so busy trying to make our mark in the world, so busy trying to make a living that we fail to experience the overflowing presence of God.

There’s great peace in knowing that we’ll never run out of something. We experience that peace when we realize that we can’t do anything to exhaust God’s grace. That means you don’t have to store up anything for later; there’s always a fresh supply. The overflow means God’s love is fixed toward us. There’s nothing we can do to make God love us more and nothing we can do to make God love us less. His goodness never ceases to flow into the lives of his children.

When you learn to live in God’s overflow it becomes your overflow. When God’s overflow becomes your overflow it starts spilling out into the lives of everyone around you. As my friend Michael Perkins would say, you begin to drip Jesus.

Since that morning in 2003 there have been many days where God has visited me in a special way. When he shows up it’s obvious: no one shows up like God shows up. Often it happens when I’m driving. However, the overflowing presence of the Holy Spirit never stays in the car.

The song I woke up to this morning is a song that has become the theme of my life. This song will be played at my funeral. It’s called, “When It’s All Been Said And Done.” I’d like to share the lyrics with you today:

When it’s all been said and done

There is just one thing that matters

Did I do my best to live for truth?

Did I live my life for you?


When it’s all been said and done

All my treasures will mean nothing

Only what I have done for love’s reward

Will stand the test of time


Lord, your mercy is so great

That you look beyond our weakness

And find purest gold in miry clay

Turning sinners into saints


I will always sing your praise

Here on earth and ever after

For you’ve shown me heaven’s my true home

When it’s all been said and done

You’re my life when life is gone


(Sources: “When It’s All Been Said And Done” by Robin Mark; Michael Perkins)

No Reserves No Retreats No Regrets

In 1904, 16-year-old William Whiting Borden graduated from a Chicago high school. He was heir to the Borden family fortune. As a graduation gift, before beginning his Ivy League education, his parents sent him on a trip around the world. As he traveled through Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, he developed a deep burden for the hurting people of the world.

William Borden wrote home about his desire to become a missionary. Some expressed skepticism that he would be wasting his life if he committed himself to the mission field. Many thought he should assume his place with the family empire. In response, Borden wrote two words in the back of his Bible: “No Reserves.”

Borden arrived on the campus of Yale University in 1905. His classmates quickly noticed something unusual about him and it wasn’t that he was wealthy. One student wrote: “He came to college far ahead, spiritually, of any of us. He had already given his heart in full surrender to Christ… We who were his classmates learned to lean on him and find in him a strength that was solid as a rock, just because of this settled purpose and consecration.”

It didn’t take long for Borden to notice what he described as “moral weakness and sin-ruined lives” at Yale. Surveying the faculty and much of the student body, Borden mourned what he identified as empty, humanistic philosophy. During his college years, Bill Borden made an entry in his personal journal; it said simply: “Say ‘no’ to self and ‘yes’ to Jesus every time.”

Borden started a small prayer group at Yale that ended up transforming campus life. This prayer group gave birth to a movement that rapidly spread through the student body. By the end of his first year, 150 freshmen were meeting weekly for bible study and prayer. By his senior year, 1000 of Yale’s 1300 students were meeting in prayer groups.

Borden’s ministry was not confined to Yale. He also cared about widows, orphans, and the disabled. He rescued drunks from the streets of New Haven and founded the Yale Hope Mission. One of Borden’s friends wrote that he “might often be found in the lower parts of the city at night, on the street, in a cheap lodging house or some restaurant to which he had taken a poor hungry fellow to feed him, seeking to lead men to Christ.”

Borden’s missionary call narrowed to the Muslim people in China. Once he fixed his eyes on that goal, he never wavered. One of his classmates said: “[Borden] certainly was one of the strongest characters I have ever known… There was real iron in him. I always felt he was of the stuff martyrs were made of…” Upon graduation from Yale, Borden turned down some high-paying job offers. In his Bible, he wrote two more words: “No Retreats.”

William Borden went on to do graduate work at Princeton Seminary in New Jersey. When he finished his studies at Princeton, he sailed for China. Because he was hoping to work with Muslims, he stopped first in Egypt to study Arabic. While there, he contracted spinal meningitis. Within a month, 25-year-old William Borden was dead.

When the news of Borden’s death was cabled back to the U.S., nearly every American newspaper carried the story. Sorrow over the loss of this amazing young man was felt around the globe. Many believed Borden wasted his life, arguing that he should’ve focused on the family business rather than becoming a missionary.

Upon receiving his things Borden’s family discovered that prior to his death, while laying sick in Egypt, he wrote two more words in his Bible. Underneath the words “No Reserves” and “No Retreats,” Borden wrote: “No Regrets.”

As a young man William Borden made a conscious decision to give up his wealth, influence, claim to the family business, and all the advantages that came along with it. So, was his untimely death a waste? No way. God used Borden’s story to call thousands of young men and women to give their lives to missions. Borden’s life became an inspiration to people around the world.

Many of us are tempted to play it safe with our life and ministry. We often retreat from difficulty. When we look back, we frequently have many regrets because we fail to live ‘all in’ for God. Let me remind you, Jesus never said it would be easy, but he did say it would be worth it.

So, live with no reserve. Whatever it is, or whatever you are facing, don’t hold back. You’ve only got one life; give it all you’ve got. Live with no retreat. Don’t take the easy path just because it’s easy. Move forward in what God is leading you to do no matter how difficult. Live with no regret. Follow Jesus wherever he leads without caution.

Like Borden, say ‘no’ to self and ‘yes’ to Jesus every time. Then at the end of your life, you too, will be able to say that you lived with “No Reserves, No Retreats, and No Regrets.”


(Sources: Mary Taylor; Howard Culbertson; Alan Taylor; Daily Bread 1988)

(Disclaimer: This encouraging story was shared with me over 10 years ago by a pastor via email; I’ve shared it many times in sermons and lessons, but am unaware of where this version originated)