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General Assembly is the quadrennial gathering of the global family that is the Church of the Nazarene. Every four years delegates from all over the world come together to celebrate what God has done, discern how the Holy Spirit is leading, and make decisions about how to faithfully advance the mission of Making Christlike Disciples in the Nations in the years ahead.

The Church of the Nazarene has always been theologically and biblically conservative, yet progressive in practice. In other words, we believe the Bible is true and we take the message of holiness seriously. Nonetheless, we’re willing to stop at nothing to reach people with the life-transforming message of the Gospel.

From the beginning the distinctive doctrine of the Nazarene movement has been “entire sanctification,” which teaches that after one becomes a Christian there’s a deeper work to be experienced. When a person is filled with the Holy Spirit (entirely sanctified) his or her devotion to Jesus becomes the essence of life. Entire sanctification is the doctrine of “love made perfect,” lived out as the Holy Spirit empowers us to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).

At General Assembly we make decisions about resolutions that’s been submitted by districts and committees from around the world. These resolutions affect the theology, polity, social positions, and overall governance of the church and are incorporated into the Manual (book of discipline) if passed by the global delegation. I am thankful for the growing delegation from the Africa, South America, and Mesoamerica Regions, as I believe they will keep us on track theologically.

After reading through the resolutions that’s been submitted, and are now open to the public at ga2017.com (click resources, click resolutions), I’ve decided to elaborate on a few resolutions in the “Christian Action” grouping. This category informs our identity more than any other as it pertains to who we are theologically and where we stand biblically.

While administrative matters need to change as we discover better ways to faithfully steward the organizational structures of the church, theological distinctiveness should only be strengthened, never diluted. In a world of pluralism, relativism, moral decline, and social injustice, if our theological distinctiveness is not reinforced the church’s influence in the world will diminish.

With that in mind I’d like to submit a few thoughts on some of the resolutions to be discussed in committees and on the floor at General Assembly. The following is not an exhaustive list of every resolution, but only alludes to some of the benefits and potential problems that could arise in our discussions.

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CA-700: Affirmation and Declaration of Human Freedoms – The United Kingdom British Isles South District submitted this resolution. It calls for us to “confess our complicity” as it pertains to the enslavement of human beings. That statement alone makes this resolution a bad idea. With that kind of wording this could become a legal issue in some world areas. It reads as an admission to a crime against humanity. This resolution is not necessary because our involvement in “setting captives free” is a given by nature of the holiness message (Isaiah 61:1, Luke 4:18). In my opinion, this resolution should be rejected.

CA-701: Human Sexuality – Resolution 701 was created and submitted by the Board of General Superintendents. It is the best choice of the three submissions on “Human Sexuality.” There is unquestionably a minority looking for loopholes as it pertains to same-sex marriage. While we need to be gracious in our response, we must also remain committed to biblical orthodoxy concerning sexuality. The Board of General Superintendents engages this topic with a deep sense of compassion; yet they also remain clearly grounded in Holy Scripture and Wesleyan-Arminian theology. This resolution lovingly speaks to the various nuances related to the doctrine of human sexuality and should be accepted.

CA-701a/701b: Human Sexuality – The Netherlands, New England, and Kansas City Districts submitted these two resolutions. They remove any language pertaining to homosexual behavior. Without such language being supplemented elsewhere these resolutions weaken the biblical doctrine of sexual purity and potentially opens the door to homosexual behavior becoming acceptable. It’s impossible to remain biblically responsible, yet remove language pertaining to homosexuality from our doctrinal statements. In my opinion, these resolutions should be rejected.

CA-708: The Christian Life – The Mid-Atlantic and Northwestern Ohio Districts, and the General Assembly Resolutions and Reference Committees collectively submitted this resolution. The new wording offers a much-needed global perspective. Without it, this entire section of the Manual is established on paradigms employed primarily in western culture, especially the U.S., and is not reflective of the fact that we are an international church. This resolution is a great addition and should be accepted.

CA-709: The Use of Social MediaWhile I appreciate the efforts of the Mid-Atlantic District and the Reference Committee, to say that all social media activities should be affirming and uplifting to all people is biblically inaccurate (Jer. 1:10). There would be large portions of the Bible that couldn’t be quoted on social media if our activities must continually be uplifting to all people. This would also deny anyone the ability to speak prophetically about the difficult issues facing the church. Beyond that, who decides what qualifies as “respectful” when it comes to social media interaction? Various personalities speak, write, and communicate differently. Interpreting online interaction becomes an impossible task if we attempt to judge one person’s written expressions based on what another person considers respectful and/or offensive. Being gracious and forgiving to one another on social media should be a given. In my opinion, this resolution should be rejected.

CA-710: The Use of Intoxicants – The Nebraska and Mid-Atlantic Districts, and the Reference Committee submitted this resolution. While we could certainly work on the wording of this Manual paragraph, this particular submission weakens our position on the use of alcohol to the point that we might as well remove it altogether. I struggle with the missional implications as it pertains to something as addictive as alcohol consumption. We certainly realize the devastating effects it’s had on the poor and marginalized. We should consider rewording these paragraphs. However, as it stands this resolution should be rejected.

CA-714: Sanctity of Human Life – The Mid-Atlantic District submitted this resolution. I struggled more with this submission than any other. The suggested change weakens our current stance and actually devalues human life beyond what we presently affirm. It’s a slippery slope that we should avoid at all costs. When we arrive at the place in our theology where we view the sanctity of human life as a “political” issue we fail the most innocent human beings among us: those still in the womb. If anything, we should make a stronger statement on the sanctity of human life, especially as it relates to abortion. This resolution should be rejected.

CA-717: Covenant of Christian Character – The Netherlands District submitted this resolution. The Covenants of Christian Character and Conduct are designed to give additional direction to members of the Church of the Nazarene concerning what is beneficial to the Christian life. They are not exhaustive, but they are helpful. They serve to strengthen believers in the pursuit of holiness. Eliminating these details deprive us of our distinctiveness. When we lose the things that make us unique we ultimately ignore the distinctive call of God on our movement, and in turn become generic and ineffective. In my opinion, this resolution should be rejected.

CA-718: The Christian Life – The New England District submitted this resolution. Rewording this Manual paragraph to include the Great Commandment and the Sermon on the Mount would be extremely helpful. However, removing the reference to the Ten Commandments when Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law…” (Matt. 5:17), only weakens the statement. I agree that focusing exclusively on the Ten Commandments centers primarily on rules and lends itself to legalism. The teachings of Christ should be highlighted in this paragraph. Rewording this resolution slightly would strengthen our theological position. This resolution should be edited and accepted.

CA-721: Christian Marriage – The Southwest Indiana District submitted this resolution. This amendment strengthens our theological and legal position on marriage. As society continues to change at a rapid pace there will be more and more groups attempting to redefine marriage in light of cultural shifts based primarily on human reasoning. One recommendation: if we are going to change the word “biblical” to “Christian” in the last sentence, we should also change it in the second-to-last sentence. This resolution should be accepted.

CA-724: Gender Identity – The Board of General Superintendents submitted this resolution. In a day and age where gender identity is surrounded with controversy we desperately need a statement that provides direction on an issue that is predominantly driven by culture and politics. This resolution is rooted in biblical doctrine and Christian tradition, and affirms that gender identity reflects God’s divine plan for humanity. This resolution should be accepted.

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This is by no means an exhaustive list of the resolutions to be reviewed at General Assembly. This article only speaks to resolutions that some feel could have a significant impact on the future identity of the Church of the Nazarene. These particular resolutions are what I describe as “identity declarations.” When we amend the Manual paragraphs concerning what we believe and how we practice what we believe we are reinterpreting how to apply biblical doctrine, which cannot be done lightly.

The sentiments expressed in this article are based on conversations with various leaders in the Church of the Nazarene, analysis of the negative impact that secularized culture is having on the church, application of Scripture in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition, and personal convictions as it pertains to how the church can best move forward in the power and authority of the Holy Spirit.

Please feel free to contact me at kynazds@gmail.com with any questions or comments. If you have more insight as to how we can better discuss these issues in committees and on the floor at General Assembly I’d love to hear from you.

 

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.

Redemption Stories

The Bible is the story of redemption and it’s filled with redemption stories. For example, the Moabites were not allowed to dwell among God’s people because of their refusal to help the wandering Israelites (Deut. 23). Then Ruth the Moabite shows up. She enters the story and challenges the prejudice against the Moabite people and everything changes.

Joseph was a man alienated by his brothers and ultimately betrayed, only to experience the resurrection power of God when the Lord redeemed him from the pit and elevated him to a position of leadership. From his prominent status, Joseph redeemed his family, those that betrayed him, from famine and starvation. The story of Jonah describes pagan sailors on a boat who end up praying to the God of heaven and earth. The Ninevites were enemies of Israel, yet redeemed by their faith in the words of a most improbable messenger. Esther, an unlikely Jewish girl in exile from Jerusalem, living among pagans, was elevated to Queen and used to redeem her people.

The people of Uz are considered evil (Jer. 25). Then the story of Job is told and he was described as being the “most blameless man on earth.” In the Old Testament no foreigners or eunuchs were allowed to enter the assembly of the Lord (Deut. 23). Then the Book of Acts records the story of the African eunuch being welcomed into the fellowship of the church (Acts 8). God’s people loathed Samaritans, but then Jesus tells a story about a “Good Samaritan” that challenged everyone listening to change their mind.

Throughout scripture the story may begin with prejudice, discrimination, and animosity, but when the Spirit of God moves, people have to either change or reject God’s redemptive purpose. Redemption stories include being open to people from all walks of life, welcoming people, accepting them wherever they may be, and trusting God to bring them to a new place. The mission of the church mandates that we go and make disciples of all people. Once people meet Jesus, God incarnate, he doesn’t leave them as he found them.

Luke 15 is one of my favorite passages to preach from. The story never fails to leave congregations in tears. Luke 15:1-2 states, “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’” These two sentences describe Jesus being with sinners and religious folks at the same time. What an audience.

Think about that scene for a minute. Jesus is spending time with people of ill repute. Tax collectors, who were infamous for swindling people and extortion. People called “sinners,” meaning people with foul mouths, who had made mistakes, slept in the wrong beds, made a habit of lying, and lived immoral lives. These were people whose lives went against everything that the religious leaders of the day stood for… people who were very far from God.

They were gathering around Jesus, listening to him, taking in everything he had to say. They were captivated by this man who, while compromising nothing, welcomed them, spent time with them, and talked with them about a God who loved them, and wanted to be in relationship with them. They didn’t realize it, but they were interacting with God in the flesh, who wanted to bring forgiveness and a new beginning. The story of redemption was playing out right before their eyes.

While that interplay was happening, the religious leaders gathered together in their holy huddle and said, “Can you believe this guy?” “What is he thinking?” “Doesn’t he realize they’re the enemy?” Jesus obviously overheard them. The scripture says that he turned to them and was upset that they didn’t get what he was about. Upset that they didn’t see the heart of the Father. Upset that they had hardened their hearts toward the very people God sent him to save.

Jesus was so troubled, that he told not one, not two, but three straight stories about something that was lost and then found. The moral of these three stories is simple: God is completely consumed with finding what is lost. The heart of the Father is always in absolute, ongoing, permanent, search mode. Jesus makes it absolutely clear in the story of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son that there is nothing more critical than seeking what is lost in order to find it… Nothing.

Redemption is more than an ancient biblical concept.

Max was a business executive with a wife, kids, six-figure salary, and a house in the suburbs. During the 2008 economic meltdown he lost everything: his job, house, wife, and family. He found himself living on the streets and eventually ended up at a rescue mission. It was there that he was introduced to Jesus. Now Max is back on his feet, but his life is very different than it was before. Max is a living example of God’s redemption.

Paul and Cindy were living on the streets of a major U.S. city. Cindy is legally blind and Paul has a myriad of medical problems. Through the missional outreach of a local church they found a place to belong and was introduced to a new way of life. The church adopted them, they discovered a relationship with Jesus, and now they’re living a new life in their own home. Paul and Cindy are examples of God’s redemption.

Redemption matters more than anything. It’s the reason God sent Jesus into the world. So, tell your redemption story. Live out the redemption of God before a watching world. Let the narrative of God’s saving grace ring loud and clear in your life, because at the end of the day, it’s what matters most.

“For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10)


(Sources: Bixby Knolls Christian Church; Rick Lee James; Doug Hopkins)

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Recently a pastor told me about a conversation that he had with a friend. In describing the church he serves he said, “I pastor a small church with a big mission.” His friend replied, “I go to a big church with no mission.” It’s true. Sometimes leaders get so wrapped up in their own vision they forget that God calls them to serve. Make no mistake, if service isn’t part of a church’s mission, it’s not God’s mission.

Leaders must remember that it’s never their job to convince followers to support the leader’s needs. That quickly becomes coercion, oppression, and often leads to manipulation and even spiritual abuse. Servant-leaders are committed to meeting the followers’ needs by leading them to Jesus through his/her willingness to serve (truly understanding the shepherd and sheep metaphor would be helpful).

When a church’s mission can’t see past the building, there is no mission. If the focus of the church stops with the cool café, cozy couches, state-of-the-art light show, and high-energy children’s program, there is no mission. If most of the church’s time, resources, and energy is spent attracting people to a building instead of reaching people where they live, there is no mission.

It can be the biggest church with the best speaker, raise a ton of money, attract lots of people, entertain well, and develop a loyal following, but that doesn’t mean it’s on mission with God. If a church is content with waiting on people who need Jesus to come to the building, there is no mission. If a church is not stepping into local neighborhoods and connecting with the community, there is no mission. If a church refuses to see the remarkable opportunities in its own backyard, there is no mission.

The greatest opportunity for any church to make a difference in the world waits just past the property line. If a church doesn’t recognize that, someone in leadership either has an alternative agenda or they’re simply too complacent to care. Mission is urgent; we can’t afford to miss the call to go, love, get our hands dirty, be intentional about meeting people where they are.

Don’t misunderstand, gathering for corporate worship is important, but worship nor mission is to be shut up in a building. We must be passionate and relentless in our efforts to reach people not merely entertain them, which means getting out of the building. People all around you need Jesus; they are searching for something and we have the answer. So stop looking for the latest, greatest, coolest, coziest church. It’s better to be part of a small church with a big mission than a big church with no mission.

Refugees

Jesus was a refugee. Born on the run due to intense persecution, he entered the world with no place to call home. He was executed as a leistaí (λησται). This Greek word implies that he was accused of being a bandit, a rebel, and an insurrectionist. Jesus was none of these things, but make no mistake, to the Romans Jesus was a religious fanatic who would no doubt try to overturn their social order if allowed to gain too many followers. Get this in your mind: Jesus was a refugee.

The Apostle Paul was a terrorist. He promoted Roman ideology and intentionally persecuted the church, killing Christians in order to prevent an uprising. After he encountered Jesus on the Damascus Road everything changed. The message of Christ’s love was branded in his mind through the response of the very ones he was persecuting. After his encounter with Jesus instead of the persecutor, he quickly became the persecuted. Get this in your mind: God can save terrorists.

There’s a lot going on in our world today that parallels early biblical times. Refugees are fleeing their homeland because of extreme persecution. Terrorism has become a part of modern life in an attempt to promote social, political, and religious change. Terrorists are killing people because of misled and evil ideologies. Don’t misunderstand; I think we should relentlessly fight terrorism. We must stand against the injustice that’s plaguing our world and fight to protect the innocent.

With all that is happening in our world it’s easy to respond with fear. In doing so we forsake the good news of Jesus Christ. He teaches us a different way. Love is always Jesus’ response, not fear. I wonder about the innocent refugees. Should we let them die as we cower in fear? Should we refuse to care for the hurting because it would be uncomfortable for us? Should we ignore them so we can sleep better at night? If so, the terrorists have won. In the tradition of the Apostle Paul, we must risk all for the sake of the gospel. And then there are the words of Jesus:

“I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” ~Matthew 5:44

Christians are not called to live in fear. Instead, we are called to love the Muslim (our “enemy”), and I hope Christians will step up with love and not hate for Muslims regardless of their view on immigration. We can lead Muslims to Jesus. ISIS is evil, but there might just be another “Paul” among them who will become an ambassador for Christ. We have an opportunity to be the church among the refugee crisis as people flee a land of violent persecution and enter a place where we are free to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I would dare say many people who call themselves “Christian” are more American than they are Christian. They are more interested in saving their life than they are losing it. They are more interested in safety than they are the gospel and more interested in comfort than they are the cross. Period.

Following Jesus isn’t safe. If you want safe you need to pick someone else to follow. Following Jesus is scary and dangerous. It takes you places that make you uncomfortable. Following Jesus isn’t simple. He asks us to balance loving our enemies and protecting the innocent.
 If you want simple you need to pick someone else to follow.

Following Jesus requires us to welcome the stranger as a friend and be wise about who we associate with. Following Jesus means rising above fear and responding with Christ-like love. God gives us the Spirit of power, love, and a sound mind.
 If you want safe and simple you need to find someone else to follow… because Jesus is not safe, but he is good!

“Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.” ~Emma Lazarus, Poem on the Statue of Liberty

“Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!” ~Hebrews 13:2

Stop and thank God today because you get to go home tonight and sleep in your own bed, in a house, with your family, in a place you lovingly call home. And remember that on the other side of this globe are a whole lot of people who have no bed, no home, separated from their families, and driven away from their homeland. Just like Jesus, we call them refugees.

(Sources: Jared Henry, Jonathan McClure, Jeremiah McClure, Eric Frey, C.S. Lewis, Don Burrows)

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The movie “City Slickers” depicts the mid-life crisis of three men who were in search of themselves and their place in life. There is a line in the movie where the character played by Billy Crystal, Mitch, turns to his boss at work and says, “Have you ever reached a point in your life where you say to yourself, ‘This is the best I’m ever gonna look, this is the best I’m ever gonna feel, this is the best I’m ever gonna do,’ and it ain’t that great?” The guys in the movie felt “stuck” and that thought was killing them.

Growing up, we all had different dreams and ideas of what we wanted our life to be like. But for most of us, there was a common denominator: We wanted our life to matter, to count for something, to make an impact. Has that changed for you?   Because it doesn’t have to. The question is, “How do you live a life of significance? How do you become a person of influence?” Jesus says, “You become the salt of the earth and the light of the world.” That means you learn to live intentionally.

When I think of living intentionally, I think of a forty-two-year-old woman who was on her way home from work on a cold December day. It was a day like any other day. Getting on a public bus, she paid her fare and sat down in the first vacant seat. As the bus filled with passengers, the driver turned around and told her that she would have to get up and move to the back of the bus. You see, it was 1955 and she was black, and those seats were for white people. But for whatever reason, she didn’t move. She wasn’t an activist or a radical, just a quiet church-going woman with a nice family and a job as a seamstress.

Maybe it was the injustice of it all. Maybe it was the years of abuse that she and millions of others had suffered for no other reason than the color of their skin. Maybe she was tired of being treated as a second-class citizen; having to drink from certain fountains, go to certain bathrooms, being forced into certain schools.   Whatever ran through her heart and mind, one thing was clear: this is wrong. So she didn’t move. The driver began yelling at her, and then the other passengers began to yell at her, push at her, and curse her. But she stayed right where she was until the driver stopped the bus, got off, and called the police. When they arrived, they hauled her off to jail. But what they really did was haul her off into history.

That woman was Rosa Parks, and when she took her stand for what was right – or rather when she took “a sit” for what was right – the entire civil rights movement was ignited. She didn’t get on that bus looking for trouble, or with a planned attempt to make some kind of political statement. She just wanted to go home like everybody else. As a Christian she knew she was made in the image of God. She knew she had dignity and worth. For a wonderful, eternity-filled moment, she was the salt of the earth and that salt helped change our world! In an instant, she became the change that our world needed.

Not all of us can be Rosa Parks, but all of us can be the change that the world needs to see as we follow Jesus. But let me be frank with you: Many people believe, many people consider themself a Christian. However, there are many who are Christian in name only. They don’t live it; they’re not serious about it. How long is that going to go on? What are you waiting for? This is your one and only life, and you’re spending it fast. Be the change today!

(Sources: Rosa Parks, City Slickers, James White)

fist-fight

I love a good fight… always have.  I learned a long time ago that a good fight is where you give everything you have and a bad fight is anything less.  I remember my first schoolyard scuffle as I defended my little brother from a neighborhood bully.  I walked away with a bloody nose, but you should’ve seen the other guy.

In all seriousness, there is something intriguing about two people in a struggle.  One wins and one loses with a lesson to be learned from either outcome.  The Bible is full illustrations: Jacob and the Angel, David and Goliath, David and Saul, Paul and Europe.  The Bible gives us a common theme: “triumph for the underdog.”  With God what is weak is always made strong.  Really, that is the story of the scripture.

I’ve always considered myself an underdog.  I never got picked first to be on any team.  Never naturally excelled academically.  Was always the short guy.  Never the most athletic, smartest, best-looking, etc…. you get the picture.  However, regardless of my own inabilities God has called me to make a difference in the world by fighting the good fight in spite of my inadequacies and he’s called you to do the same.

The victory of following Jesus comes with struggle.  Sometimes it’s hard because we tend to make life all about us.  Emptying oneself of personal ambition so that one may adapt a missional posture can be painful.  It’s a fight with self: a struggle against the man in the mirror.  It’s a spiritual battle.  It’s not about inflicting physical violence.  It’s about fighting to advance the kingdom within, because if we’re not careful the world will beat the mission of God right out of us.

This translates to the kingdom because when we misplace the mission we misplace God himself.  I’ve been in ministry long enough now that it’s easy to identify those who do it for the right reasons and those who do it for other reasons.  Let’s be honest, some people do the right thing for the wrong reason; it’s a real temptation.  I’ve met young leaders who are full of themselves and older leaders who have given up on the mission and vice versa.  The person who does nothing to defend the weak, nothing to lift up the needy, never feeds the hungry, clothes the poor, or aids the widow and orphan… you should recognize that person is NOT on mission with God.

I’ve actually watched leaders destroy the mission of the church in the name of entertainment labeled discipleship.  When this happens the mission becomes a smokescreen, a cover-up, a ruse.  Someone recently said to me about the mission of a particular local church: “It ran its course.”  I ask how does identifying needs in a community and implementing organized efforts to help people “run its course”… How does mission go out of style?

It happens when people stop fighting for mission and crawl out of the missional arena.  I’ve never seen a day where more people want to sit on the sidelines.  In doing so they build their own kingdom, increase their own income, promote their own people, buy a big house on a big hill and call it a life.  They do these things at the expense of the mission.  They get stronger with no regard to the underdog.  They miss the call to downward mobility.  They disengage the Missio Dei.

Remember, the things we typically equate with greatness is not what makes us great in God’s eyes: talent, wealth, good-looks, etc.  What makes us great in God’s eyes is a willingness to become weak: to admit that we don’t have it all figured out.  In fighting the good fight we discover that there is honor in defending the weak from being overcome by the strong.  There is great power discovered in our frailty when we submit to God.  And the reason God uses weakness is so that when victory is attained, he gets all the glory.

You ask, how do I get in the fight?  Actively make a commitment, don’t passively let the kingdom pass you by.  Do something every day to advance the mission of God in the world.  Buy someone a meal who can’t afford it.  Become friends with a widow or a single mom.  Become an advocate for orphans around the world and never stop talking about it.  There are so many ways to make a difference.  As you do these things offer people the hope of Jesus.  Let the kingdom emerge from within.  Fight for it, because the world will never stop beating it out of you.

Black Friday

Once upon a time (a really long time ago), Christians in America celebrated the holidays leading up to Christmas with fellowship meals and gift giving in a spirit of love and generosity. The word “holiday” was initially derived from the phrase “holy day.” A holy day indicates a day that is ‘set apart’ or ‘sacred.’ Holy-days were often a series of sacred days, hence the word: “holidays” (plural).

In America we have long abandoned the idea of anything ‘sacred.’ Particularly the day after Thanksgiving when we engage the consumer-driven celebration named by the media: “Black Friday.” It’s a day where people lay their lives on the line for the best deals in town. It is indeed a very dark day.

Every year it gets worse, and every year I’m more disheartened by the conduct of people who literally behave like wild animals to save a few dollars on a new television or cell phone. On Black Friday the sheep don’t even realize they’re being led to the slaughter at the altar of consumerism. I could preach for hours about this culturally concocted human frenzy, but I’ll let the media images speak for themselves.

I’m not sure when Black Friday came into existence. It certainly hasn’t always been part of life. I suppose we gave birth to this dark day when we decided that one day of gratitude was all we needed. Black Friday clearly illustrates that we’re never satisfied. We never have enough. We love to feed the Beast. Like gerbils on a spinning wheel, we turn the cogs of the machine, all along knowing it’ll never be enough.

If anything bears witness to the new ‘Anti-Christian’ spirit of our society it’s the annual Black Friday orgy of selfish crowds fist-fighting over holiday (holy day) bargains. Miroslav Volf says, “There’s something profoundly incongruous between the gratitude of the Thanksgiving Thursday and the Black Friday’s mad rush to acquire…” No doubt, this celebration of acquisition coming the day after Thanksgiving is indicative of an American disease.

Think about what we’ve accepted as normal. On Thanksgiving we gather with family to express gratitude for God’s provision. On Friday we rush in pandemonium, trample anyone in our way, and worship at the altar of consumerism. Yes, I said worship. Black Friday is reminiscent of a pool of piranhas when blood drips in the water. The sale prices are revealed, the doors are open, and the turkey-eating pilgrims staring killing each other for the best deals.

Society has certainly been brainwashed. It’s actually sad to see so many people manipulated by the prospects of a bargain. Black Friday is nothing to celebrate. With the desire to acquire people believe they are becoming owners and making smart decisions, when in reality they’re being bought and enslaved. There’s no better day than the Black Friday to witness the madness that’s set in to the human psyche. As Black Friday becomes celebrated holiday (holy day), it’s a sure sign that the sacred is lost.

Some of you may say, “You’re being too hard.” I get it, there’s nothing wrong with buying Christmas gifts. But when Black Friday becomes an unabashed celebration of unrestrained consumerism, I would rather not participate. I challenge you not to partake in the madness either, if for no other reason but to stop feeding the beast. Besides, I’d rather pay a little more than be swallowed up at the altar of consumerism.


(Sources: Brian Zahnd; Miroslav Volf; Biblical Times News)

Dad & Kacey

China was quite the journey, exciting and fun, yet stressful and nerve-racking at the same time. The jet lag the first two days was extreme. We found ourselves wanting to sleep during the day and sitting up through the night. On the third day we met Kacey Xing-Yu Powell. The night before our meeting was sleepless. It was a lot like preparing to go to the hospital the day before the birth of a child, except with Kacey, we knew we were getting a child that already had a personality and physical limitations.

“Gotha Day” arrived and I can’t describe what it was like to gather in a room and wait to meet your child. After we found a place to sit in the room with 15 other families, I made a beeline to the restroom and there she was. At a sink outside the restrooms, washing her hands, I spotted my daughter. She had her back turned to me, but I knew it was her because she was wearing the same dress that I had seen in so many pictures. Tears welled up in my eyes. There she was: the little girl that we’d been praying for, dreaming about, and working toward bringing into our home for months.

As I passed her, I stopped, looked down and said, “Hello Xing-Yu.” She smiled from ear to ear and said, “Hello,” seeming to recognize that I was her new daddy. I watched her run across the room to her orphanage workers, then turn back and point at me with a huge smile.

After ten minutes or so, they called: “Powell family.” That meant it was time to be united. We walked forward. Then out of a room she came and embraced us, saying, “Hello mama and baba.” It was a time of rejoicing. We gave her gifts, met her orphanage director and nanny, and took a lot of photos. However, the joy was short-lived.

After fifteen minutes, the room began to clear out. Her orphanage director and nanny left. It got quiet. There we sat with our new daughter, not able to communicate, and tears began to trickle down her face. Within a few minutes, she was weeping and began to wander the hallways of the building searching for her orphanage director. She eventually found him in a room signing documents.

She entered the room crying and began to speak to him in Mandarin. He tried to console her, and at this point our hearts were sinking. We were in a group with several other families, all of which had adopted much younger children who were not aware of what was really going on. However, Kacey was very aware that her life was about to change drastically. She refused to leave the building, and in China, any orphan over ten years old has to agree to be adopted.

Her orphanage director agreed to walk out with us in an attempt to get her closer to the bus. She had to be pulled onto the elevator to go down to the lobby of the civil affairs building. She cried the entire time. While all the other families held their infants and toddlers, we were almost in tears as we struggled with our teenager. After exiting the building, she spotted her orphanage director’s car and walked to the door wanting to get in and return to the orphanage. He kept pleading with her to go with us, but she refused.

So, there we were, in the parking lot: she’s clinging to him saying ‘no’ and the rest of the families are in tears on our behalf. Finally, my fatherly instincts kicked in and I ask our guide, “Can I pick her up and carry her to the van?” She said, “Yes, that is the best solution.” So I swept her up, told her that I loved her in Mandarin, buried my head against her stomach where I could actually hear her heart beating, and started walking to the bus. I could hear the families around me crying.

I entered the bus, went straight to the back seat, sat her down, and had our guide explain the process to her in Mandarin. She was required to stay with us one night before the decision could be made. She wouldn’t look at me on the ride to the hotel. However, once we arrived, she had come to terms that she would be spending the evening with us.

To make a long story short, through the course of the evening, we worked hard to win her heart. By that night she was sitting on the bed with us laughing and playing games. The next day she signed the documents to become our daughter and the rest is history.

There is so much more to tell about our experience in China and the journey to rescue our daughter. All I can say is that God is good and his mercy endures forever. He has shown us so much grace in this process and we are very grateful. We love God, our family, our church, and our new daughter beyond what words can describe.

Consumer Christianity

This picture really bothers me, but we’ll get back to that in a minute. Attention Deficit Disorder drives my wife crazy. Not because she’s ADD, but because I am. Someone recently described ADD as hearing five television sets going off in your head all at once. Think about this: every American views over thirty thousand different media messages a day, and almost all of those messages are screaming “BUY SOMETHING!”

When I go to the grocery store, every isle has so many options that I find myself spending far too much time on each aisle. If I’m not careful I leave with more than I need. For example, the cereal aisle alone has over 60 options. This would explain why I have a cereal cabinet with over ten different kinds available. Bottomline: we are consumers and we live in a consumer-driven society. And I love cereal!

In his book, “Enough,” Will Samson helps us define exactly what consumerism is:

  • Consume: to use up, devour, absorb (this can be good or bad depending on context).
  • Consumerism: the utilization of economic goods in the satisfaction of wants; a way of thinking about stuff that believes the consumption of things— food, cars, new models of church— is what will finally make us content (this is always bad).

Fact: we consume more stuff than at any time in history. It is rare when we get to make such an audacious historical statement. However, the simple fact is that we live in an unparalleled era of buying: consumption such as has never been seen before. Recent polls indicate that more than 50% of American household expenditures are for “non-necessity” items. We are spending more than ever as a nation on items we don’t need, but oh how we want them. We love shiny new things!

I want a new motorcycle (Triumph Bonneville to be exact), and a boat, and an ATV, a motor-home, a hot tub, a swimming pool, another guitar, a new mountain bike, new kitchen cabinets, a new flat screen TV for the man cave… oh yea, and season tickets to watch the Pittsburgh Steelers! Come on, what’s wrong with having it all?!

Okay, let me change the tone for a moment. Why does the picture bother me so much? Because it represents our reality: “The American Dream and The Kingdom of God.” We want it all and we don’t care about the side effects. Having it all misplaces where our true affection lies. Unfulfillment deep within our souls cause us to want what we do not have and to have what we do not want. G.K. Chesterton once jested, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” Fulfillment stems from giving not getting. Jesus gave us this truth, but it is ever so hard to learn.

It’s not that I couldn’t acquire all the things on my list, it’s that those things would misplace my attention, and I certainly don’t need anything else screaming for my attention (I love cereal). You see, God’s calls us to something bigger than ourselves. Jesus teaches that we can’t find satisfaction in acquisition, because acquisition never satisfies.

The world says, “Get all you can.” Jesus says, “Give all you can.” With that in mind, my family and I are becoming more conscious about what we acquire, understanding that we have all we need (we actually have more than we will ever need). The goal of the communal life becomes how to give more away. How to contribute instead of acquire… How to give instead of get… How to serve instead of being served.

Christianity includes an implicit call to embody our faith, to be that which we say we believe. We are called to live communally. Communion is a celebration of gratitude for all that God has done for us. It focuses on Christ’s life and death and us being immersed in it. Imagine the transformation in our lives, communities, and congregations, if we began to literally offer ourselves as “living sacrifices.”

The notion of being willing to go to the cross for the the ungrateful, the outsider, and the stranger is the type of Christ-follower that Chesterton was referring to: “Christianity that has been found difficult and not tried.” Pray for God to transform you from “consumer” to “commuter,” from a “getter” to a “giver.” Find fulfillment in your contribution. Be more than the things you own. Enough.


(Sources: “Enough” by Will Samson; G.K. Chesterton)