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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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


First Generation: The Pioneers

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

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

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

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


Second Generation: The Propagators

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

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

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

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


Third Generation: The Perfectors

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

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

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

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


Fourth Generation: The Protestors

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

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

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

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

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


How do we become a Holiness Movement again?

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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)

Blocking People

Pastoring over the years has taught me a great deal about social interaction. I’ve always felt that time is of the essence. Redeeming the time is something I take very seriously: every second of every day matters. Christ-followers have the most important mission in the universe. Thus, I don’t like to waste even a second.

We’ve all had people in our lives that are critics who love to steal our time by vocalizing their constant disapproval. As a pastor I’ve experienced it over and over. You see that certain person walking toward you in the sanctuary before the service and you want to run and hide because you know you’re about to be robbed. Pastors know exactly what I’m talking about. While there should be no limits to our compassion, there must be limits to the time we allow people to suck out of our days.

Once there was this guy who was determined to have his Christian band play on Sunday morning. Get this, his band was a Christian heavy metal band and he wanted me to give him a Sunday morning worship service. He also wanted a few minutes to share a message that ‘the Lord had laid on his heart.’

He came by my office several times a week to talk about it. He called persistently. He was determined to have his way. A few times when I pulled up to the church building and he would be sitting in his car waiting for me to arrive. He mysteriously showed up at restaurants where I’d be eating lunch. It became very odd, very fast.

I finally had to tell him candidly that his band would not be playing at church, ever. This caused him to become even more determined. He began talking to board members. He became aggressive toward my staff. He wasn’t going to take ‘no’ for an answer. Finally, I had a meeting with him in front of a witness and told him that his antics were not going to be tolerated. He was negatively affecting a lot of people and that any further contact concerning this issue would be ignored. He was so angry that he about jumped over my desk.

After speaking with the church board and staff, we all agreed not to give him another minute to discuss his band playing on a Sunday morning. I guess you could say we ‘blocked’ him, which brings me to social media.

Social media is a strange beast. At times online interaction resembles a bar fight. It’s like someone having one too many drinks, developing an inflated sense of self-confidence, and deciding to pick a fight with the biggest guy in the room. There’s no denying that people say things online that they would never say in person. Social media is a dream come true for people like the guy who wanted his metal band to play at church. They can say whatever they want with no accountability.

I’ve always felt strongly about being who you are wherever you are. Don’t personify yourself one way behind the veil of a computer screen if you wouldn’t be same way in person. Of course, we all have relationships with close friends where one-on-one conversation can take on a different tone. Relationships based on personal history provide safer conditions to let your guard down. However, typing out loud while thousands of eyes read what you say must be done with discernment. I’m not saying you can’t be spirited; just don’t pretend to be something you’re not.

I don’t have specific rules for social media interaction. However, over time my list of blocked people has grown. It would be no different in real life. If you showed up at my office everyday criticizing, ridiculing, swearing, and trying to force your will on me, I’d block you. I wouldn’t take your calls, emails, or meet with you unless there was a newfound sense of civility in your approach. Yet, when people do these things online they act surprised when they get blocked.

Online negativity affects a lot of people. I’ve dealt with situations in churches where innocent bystanders get sucked into the pessimism of those who weren’t getting their way. Guilt by association is a real thing. It’s no different online. If you hang out with the critics, you may very well become one. I’ve watched people become so influenced by the faultfinders on social media that they began fighting their battles for them. It’s really sad to watch.

I’ve told people over the years that one of the greatest spiritual gifts we can develop is learning to kindly ‘ignore the naysayers.’ It’s a difficult lesson to learn, especially for pastors. We often have the personality that wants to win everyone. It’s simply not possible. No one can make everyone happy, not even Jesus.

I don’t enjoy blocking people. Actually, I’d like to think that I have a high tolerance level for Internet trolls. However, at the end of the day some folks deserve it. They take things far beyond civil disagreement. Love certainly isn’t their motive. In fact, I believe these folks are only interested in ‘being right.’ These sorts of interactions lead me to the conclusion that continued association with certain personalities simply isn’t worth it.

Going the extra mile to keep relational airwaves clear is an important part of the Christian walk. Yet, some personalities have the unique skillset of convincing me that never hearing from them again would add a great deal of joy to my life. While part of me feels like tolerating faultfinders is an honorable notion, logic always brings me back to reality. Even Jesus came to a place with his detractors where he said to his disciples, “Ignore them, they’re blind guides leading the blind… They’re all bound for the ditch…” (Matthew 15).

Life is too short and the mission is too important to endure relationships that constantly suck the energy out of you. Blocking people doesn’t mean you don’t love them. It simply means you’ve determined that further interaction isn’t constructive. Even Peter and Paul came to that conclusion. So, while it may be difficult to part ways, sometimes it’s necessary.

Again, time is of the essence. Redeeming the day and making every second count is essential. Advancing the cause of Christ is too important to waste a single moment. If these things are true, then distancing yourself from personalities that rob you of time is a necessary. With that said, it’s accurate to conclude: blocking people matters.


(Sources: Thom Rainer; Walter Hudson; Eddie Kaufholz; Relevant Magazine; Christianity Today; Conversations with various Christian leaders)

Big Tent

Comparing the church to a ‘big tent’ has become an interesting conversation piece. Big tent theology teaches that God is calling the church to open her arms wider than ever before. Expanding the tent calls for a diversity of thought, the inclusion of varying stances on nonessential issues, and erasing lines that could potentially divide. Jesus died for all and therefore all are welcome to have a seat at the table.

“Unity in essentials, diversity in non-essentials” would probably be a good way to frame the discussion. At face value this is a virtuous notion. We all want to make room for more people at the table. Great leaders aspire to build bridges, not walls. However, the ‘big tent’ expression means different things for different people, which makes it worthy of further consideration.

Many would say that the ancient creeds (e.g. Apostles, Nicene) offer a basis concerning the essentials of the Christian faith. I would agree that the creeds provide everything necessary to affirm faith in Jesus Christ. However, the creeds lack in areas of discipleship and orthopraxy. In other words they tell us ‘what’ to believe, but don’t teach us ‘how’ to practice what we believe. Thus, a more robust understanding of timeless biblical principles must also be included in the big tent conversation.

Certainly, it’s a healthy move to navigate away from the legalism of years past. Distancing ourselves from fundamentalism is a shift in the right direction. It isn’t beneficial to associate holiness doctrine primarily with rule keeping. We don’t come to Jesus by following rules, nor do we grow in faith by adhering to specific codes of conduct. Legalism has wounded many people over the years and has proven to be obstructive to the process of making disciples.

We come to Christ by grace through faith: he invites, we accept. Once we enter a relationship with Jesus we become a disciple. When we become a disciple our behavior begins to change. If someone comes to faith in Christ, but his or her behavior is never altered then something’s missing. God never leaves people as he finds them.

God not only saves and sanctifies, he also delivers. That’s not saying that Christians don’t make mistakes, but it does mean they don’t have to yield to ongoing habitual sin. Spiritual victory is available to anyone who calls on the name of Jesus. This is what it means to walk by faith. This is the essence of sanctification. It’s a life so turned toward God that one is constantly aware of their need for repentance.

Centered:Bounded Set

The big tent conversation often leads to distinguishing between a ‘centered set’ and a ‘bounded set.’ The bounded set is fixed and includes boundaries. The idea is that if one believes and behaves the right way then he or she is a Christian. Those who don’t aren’t. The centered set, on the other hand, is dynamic. It focuses on constantly moving toward Jesus with no boundaries. Although I think these illustrations reveal great insight, I don’t think either is suitable for fully understanding the mission, nature, and responsibility of the church.

In and of itself, the notion of a ‘centered set’ is lacking. To emphasize the goal as moving toward Jesus is meaningless without defining the purpose of the gospel. Once we start defining terms and ideas, by default, we start constructing boundaries. Thus, it becomes a catch twenty-two. The truth is that all centered sets have boundaries and all bounded sets have a center.

In a recent conversation with one of our General Superintendents he indicated that he didn’t particularly like the ‘big tent’ imagery. Instead, he illustrated with the idea of a ‘tetherball.’ With a tetherball the rope is far-reaching, yet it’s always connected to the center. The tetherball stretches high and low, and reaches far and wide, but it’s always anchored. It has boundaries, yet it’s always centered.

Personally, I like the idea of a ‘doorway.’ Faith is the hinge that opens the door. Disbelief causes the door to remain closed. The church never locks the door and never turns anyone away. However, we are charged with upholding the orthodox teachings that reveal Jesus as the only entrance. Everyone is welcome, but no one can tear the door off the hinges and force their way inside.

In the Church of the Nazarene we have a family business meeting every four years. It’s called General Assembly. At this meeting we celebrate what God is doing and make decisions about the most effective ways to move forward on mission. As the Holy Spirit leads we often amend our stances on social issues (i.e. dancing, swimming, movies, etc.). However, we never weaken our views as they pertain to foundational issues, such as biblical doctrine. Example: Article IV in our Articles of Faith states that we believe in the inspiration and authority of Holy Scripture. This position does not change.

I liken General Assembly to meetings within my own household. We’ve had family meetings in years past to discuss the dynamics of our relationships. As my son got older, he and I didn’t always see eye-to-eye. We would often meet to discuss these issues. My wife and I realized that our relationships with our children had to change with time. The older they become the more decisions they got to help make. How we interacted with them as toddlers was not the same way we interacted with them as teenagers. The foundational values of our household never changed, but how we interacted relationally did. Relational shifts are needed for social structures to thrive.

Hypothetically, if after a family meeting my son decided to influence his sisters to defy his mother and me, we would have a serious problem. If he started tearing down the moral foundation of our home because he felt we were wrong on an issue, we would have to part ways. I would still love him, but I would move him out of the house. I would do my very best to help him land on his feet. He would always be welcome to return. However, he wouldn’t be able to stay unless he could agree to abide in harmony with the family.

So, we can illustrate with a big tent, a centered set, a tetherball, a doorway, and many other things. It doesn’t matter what description we use as long as we understand that all are free to come. Beyond that, when the family meets and makes decisions about the best way to move forward together, then each of us has a responsibility. We can abide in peace, nurture the family, and help advance the mission, or we can move out. What we cannot do is tear the house down.

Everyone is invited. Come one, come all. When someone decides move in, let’s help him or her feel welcome. If they have a few bad days and decide to start ripping up the floor with a crowbar, let’s try to help them get back on track. However, if they are absolutely set on burning the house down then we have no choice but to help them find somewhere else to live. There are too many lives at stake to allow anyone to hold people hostage, hijack the mission, or burn the place to the ground.


(Sources: Various conversations with General Church leadership, “Who’s In And Who’s Out? Christianity And Bounded Sets vs. Centered Sets” by Tim Harmon)

Fundamentalists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Letter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Peoples Talkin

“Peoples Talkin, Preacher!” Those were the first words out of Earl’s mouth when he walked into my office that afternoon. “Really? What are they talking about?” I asked. He responded, “I don’t recall.” “Well, who’s doing the talking?” I asked. He said, “I can’t remember, but they’re upset.” “Why are they upset?” I asked. To which Earl replied, “I’m not sure, but I thought you oughta know.”

“Earl, so you’re telling me that peoples talkin and they’re upset, but you don’t know exactly what they’re talking about, who’s doing the talking, or even why they’re upset?” “That’s correct,” he replied. I asked, “Why do you think I should know this when there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it?” He said, “Because peoples talkin, preacher. They’re not happy and I just thought you oughta know.”

Ghost chatter, that’s what I call it. It comes from those that hide behind vague concerns and mask their agendas though the voices of other people. When in reality they’ve simply had their feelings hurt because someone did something they didn’t agree with. When the words “I’m concerned” leaves someone’s lips without a detailed explanation, it’s typically a red flag that what’s to follow is coming from a place of personal offense. It’s a cowardice way to interact and certainly not the mark of a Christ-follower.

It’s all tied to leadership.

Leaders make decisions, pure and simple. They lead by example and try to bring everyone along. Good leaders are also courageous enough to admit when they’re wrong. Sometimes along the way trust is broken. A good leader will do anything in their power to restore brokenness in relationships. That doesn’t mean that all parties will submit to the restoration process. Nonetheless, a leader must keep their side of the road clean.

People’s feelings are going to get hurt as you lead. There’s no way around it. Not everyone is going to agree when it comes to direction. When people come together, it’s a beautiful thing. When they don’t, there’s really nothing anyone can do about it. My job has always been to do my very best at bringing everyone along, mending bridges when necessary, and always leaving the door open for anyone who wants to return at a later time.

I’ve experienced ‘people talkin’ on numerous occasions over the years. I’ve had people shake their fist in my face. I’ve witnessed people attempt to crawl over my desk while foaming at the mouth. Once a church member even gave me the middle finger at a stoplight (I just smiled and waved). I’ve had people listen through the walls during board meetings. I’ve endured people conducting secret meetings in an attempt to persuade decisions. I’ve had to dismiss staff members for causing division only to have them seek revenge by influencing people against me. I’ve withstood gossip, name-calling, insults, backbiting, and the list goes on… You name it and in twenty years, I’ve likely encountered it.

Let me tell you something about Earl. He loved Jesus. He was innocent. He was my friend. He was a man of integrity. When I preached his funeral I spoke with deep admiration for this man. I miss him. He was certainly one-of-a-kind. If you knew him, you know what I mean.

Like Earl, we all have the capacity to get caught in the middle of awkward situations. Don’t let the folks caught in the middle become a hindrance to your ministry. It’s not their fault. It’s the ones deliberately sewing discord, using intimidation to get their way, and hiding behind others to fulfill personal vendettas. These are the people we must stand up to.

People will never stop talking. Even if you go to great lengths to make things right, some will never stop with the ghost chatter. They can’t, it’s too deeply ingrained in who they are. It’s sad actually. Pray for those people, they aren’t your enemy. Many of them suffer with much deeper pain than we can possibly imagine.

Nonetheless, let your ‘yes be yes,’ and your ‘no be no.’ Say what you mean, and mean what you say. The Israelites ‘murmured’ against Moses and the Pharisees ‘muttered’ against Jesus. Remember, it was the common folk and the religious elite who turned on our Lord. If he caught it from both sides, what makes you think you’ll be exempt?

In the midst of all the chatter I implore you to be a good leader anyway. Live with conviction. Lead with integrity. Apologize when you’re wrong. Extend grace and stand for truth. Yield to people over petty issues. Fight for significant ones. Try to bring everyone along. Realize not everyone is going to come. It’s okay. Don’t ever close the door on relationships, even when people hurt you. Set you’re eyes on the goal. Keep Jesus first. And always remember, when ‘peoples talkin’ it usually means you’re doing something right… Let ‘em talk.

Ziklag

Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). The plan isn’t to stop halfway, get stuck, and stay there the rest of our lives. No… the goal is to press through the hardships, trials, and difficulties.

Webster’s defines “Victory” as overcoming an enemy or success in a struggle. That means that you can’t have victory until you have a struggle. You can’t have success until a problem arises. It takes two things to obtain victory: (1) A problem; and (2) faith to push through. If you have a problem that means you’re halfway there.

There is a day recorded in I Samuel 30 that was probably the worst day David ever experienced. David and his men had been out on an adventure (remember the 400 men of David from the Cave of Adullam). They were returning to their hometown of Ziklag. Often when we’re on a long trip sometimes we just want to go home and sleep in our own bed. Sick of hotel rooms, missing the wife and kids, like anyone else, these guys just wanted to be home.

No doubt, these men were excited to see their families. However, as they arrived closer to Ziklag they noticed clouds of smoke rising up over the horizon. Suddenly, all of their happiness turned to anxiety. They wondered what was going on. They arrived at the city gates only to be met with absolute tragedy. There was nothing left, everything had been pillaged and plundered. When they discovered the facts they realized that their houses had been burned, all of their belongings had been stolen, and worst of all, their families had been kidnapped. Imagine that for a bad day.

Let’s say you come home from work one day and turn down your road. The firemen are just cleaning up the mess. Nothing but smoking ambers remains of your home (maybe some of you may have experienced that). As you look at the remnants you get news that all of your bank accounts are empty; someone has embezzled your life savings. As if that isn’t enough, within a few minutes the police pull up to inform you that terrorists have kidnapped your entire family. That is the picture described in Ziklag. Friends, that is a bad day.

What do you do when you’re at Ziklag? I believe that David knew. And if you’re not at Ziklag presently, one day you will have a Ziklag kind-of-day. What will you do on the worst day of your life? The first thing you do is…

1.) Weep – cleanse your soul.

Always remember, faith does not exempt you from feelings. We are emotional beings, God created us that way for a reason. When disaster strikes, it’s natural to be upset. Peter wept bitterly. Peter had a Ziklag moment when his Lord and best friend was crucified after he denied him three times. Through the anguish he experienced in the depths of his soul he was able to process his guilt. Part of healing includes mourning. It’s okay to cry for a while, but then you have to…

2.) Focus – don’t get bitter.

No matter what happens to you, if you get bitter, it’s going to get a lot worse. We must keep walking in grace. Walking in grace requires receiving and extending forgiveness. If you stop forgiving, the root of bitterness will develop in your heart from the seed of offense. As it grows, it eventually takes over your entire life and leaves you in ruins.

3.) Strengthen Yourself – get a word from God.

I Samuel 30 describes a horrible day for everybody, but it is getting worse for David. David had his house burn down, his possessions stolen, his family kidnapped, and now his men are bitter and looking for someone to blame; he is first on their list as they contemplate stoning him.

At this point David would probably like someone to come along and cheer him up, but it doesn’t happen. However, what does happen makes me so excited that I want to leap out of my shoes! The Bible says in v. 6 that David “Strengthened himself in the Lord His God!” We must learn to encourage ourselves in the Lord when we’re at Ziklag.

Principles to remember in the bad times… (1) Weep – cleanse your soul; (2) Focus – don’t get bitter; (3) Strengthen yourself – get a word from God. On another note: just a short while after this passage David becomes the King of Israel. Why? Because he possessed the qualities of a king, he was anointed to lead, and he was able to express faith in God for all things.

Whatever you’re facing, God is there. He is with you. He walks with us through all of life’s ups and downs. He’s a friend that sticks closer than a brother. He’s promised to never leave us nor forsake us. Whatever valley you find yourself in, know that God will give your strength to climb to the next mountaintop. Don’t give up at Ziklag; press through. Victory awaits on the other side of the worst day of your life.


(Sources: various sermons by Brian Zahnd)