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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.

Remember the methodists

The call to pastoral ministry is often depicted with the metaphor of “Shepherd and Sheep.” The shepherd is one who leads, serves, and protects the flock. In every church I’ve pastored I have taken that call very seriously. I stress the word “protect” as it relates to the shepherd’s staff. The staff was used to ward off predators and get the sheep out of precarious situations.

Since coming into the role of District Pastor (Superintendent) there have been times when I’ve been very vocal about what I perceive as “dangers” lurking in the shadows. No differently than I would have confronted those dangers in the local church, I’ve confronted them as they’ve influenced the network of churches that I’ve been called to serve. I suppose it’s my shepherd’s reflex responding to what I identify as threats.

My concerns have largely been informed by recent developments in the United Methodist Church. Many people are heartbroken over the harm caused by the lack of accountability among their clergy. The unfaithfulness of some UMC pastors and bishops has caused damage that will be difficult to ever repair, which is why groups like the Wesleyan Covenant Association have been established. I am encouraged by such alliances. Revival is breaking out in many pockets of the UMC because of the faithfulness of a few. All it takes is a remnant.

In the midst of my efforts to “protect the flock,” God recently reminded me that He doesn’t need me to defend Him. He’s shown me that making a statement and arguing a point are two very different things. So, while I’m not going to stop speaking (I’m a preacher for goodness sake), I am going to stop debating as if there’s a fight to win. This battle isn’t against flesh and blood, but against the rulers of this dark world and the forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph. 6).

I’ve been very loud at times over these issues. Not debating is difficult for some of us; it’s how we process and learn. However, in the age of social media we lack the relational equity to have difficult conversations without constant offence. Sometimes volume isn’t nearly as effective as simply handling matters in a way that isn’t seen or heard beyond the boundaries of the people we’ve been called to serve. Nonetheless, in my opinion, a higher level of accountability is needed across the board.

Accountability for ordained ministers has been a topic frequently discussed as it relates to these issues. Ordination has traditionally been understood as a sacrament (i.e. “Holy Orders”). That means the covenants taken by ordained and licensed members of clergy matter greatly. Remaining faithful and striving for unity is a big part of the job for those who’ve been entrusted to serve the church.

When I think of ordained ministry, and especially the call to preach, I’m reminded of the sacred charge that many of us carry. Think about it, preaching is a form of public speaking unlike any other. The preacher is one who has answered a divine call to proclaim eternal truths from God’s Word to a gathered group of listeners. There are serious implications involved with preaching; we are liable for shaping people’s lives with our words. The words we speak foster an ongoing Christian worldview among those we shepherd. This is an amazing honor, but an even greater responsibility.

With unorthodox teachings increasing in popularity they’re becoming more commonplace among pastors and leaders in every denomination. These issues are infiltrating our university classrooms, making their way into our pulpits, and taking center stage in many forums (remember the Methodists). Personally, I think we should put a stop to it. Every member of clergy should be accountable to the covenants they’ve made a promise to support. If they can’t they should surrender their credentials; it’s not difficult.

Some people believe I’m overreacting. Again I say, “Remember the Methodists.” We’d be naïve to think it couldn’t happen to us. Of course I realize that nothing will ever destroy the Church; the gates of hell won’t prevail against Her (Matt 16:18). However, that doesn’t mean there won’t be a great price to pay if we’re not faithful with what we’ve been entrusted to steward.

Most of the conversations that I’ve engaged pertaining to biblical unorthodoxy are with faithful pastors who feel extremely misrepresented. These pastors aren’t looking for a fight; they’re just serving faithfully and bearing fruit. Yet many are struggling with spending the rest of their life at odds with the people they’re supposed to be partnering with to advance the cause of Christ. I’ve spent hours explaining “why” the unfaithful among us aren’t held to a higher level of accountability.

The mission of Jesus is something we should be willing to die for; it’s the difference between life and death. Getting sidetracked with negotiating biblical truths in light of cultural shifts does nothing more than taint the mission of making disciples. Maybe I’m too extreme. One thing I’m certain of, however, the Kingdom means too much to forfeit a single minute debating with unfaithful co-laborers.

Bottom-line: we need a higher level of accountability. Actually, I believe it would lead to greater unity, church growth, and denominational revitalization. Yet, I concede from responding out of “protection mode.” While there are many who share my concerns, I also understand the wisdom of not speaking so loudly.

With all due respect, at times it seems like pastoring has become synonymous with “being a nice person” and “not offending anyone.” Interestingly, that’s not the model of Jesus, the disciples, or the prophets. Pastors are called to represent a Kingdom that’s not of this world, not get in bed with the world. It may be more important that we start taking a stand instead of going with the flow. Remember the Methodists.

 

Repentance & Holiness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

holy-spirit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

stench

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


(Sources: Eddie Estep)

stale-spirituality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

gotcha-day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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)

Black Lives Matter

No life is worth more than another. God sent Jesus to die for all because all lives matter to God. If all lives matter to God then all lives should matter to us. However, we also know that some lives are more broken than others. Brokenness is the root of racial tension wherever it may be found. Some people are afraid to admit that because when they admit it they become accountable to respond, especially if they consider themselves a ‘Christian.’

Racism is a real issue. It has been for a long time, particularly in the United States.

All lives indeed matter. However, saying ‘all lives matter’ in an attempt to divert attention away from the brokenness brought on by bigotry is a cheap move. Imagine going to the doctor with a broken bone and the doctor saying, “all bones matter.” You say, “Yea Doc, I know, but this bone is broken and I need you to fix it.” He says, “You’re overreacting, all bones matter.”

Everyone knows that ‘all lives matter.’ It goes without saying. And while we should value every single life, to ignore the brokenness that stems from decades of oppression that the black community has faced is like denying the fact that your leg is broken when the bone is showing through the skin and you can’t walk.

Before you read any further know that this blog post is not an official statement regarding the Black Lives Matter or the All Lives Matter movements. I really don’t know enough about those organizations to have an opinion. However, I do have many black friends and I’ve seen them suffer because of the color of their skin. Their lives matter to me.

I’d like to share a few stories of regret that I’ve lived with for a very long time.

Carlos was my friend in 5th grade. He was black. I’ll never forget how excited I was when his mom said he could come over for my birthday party. We attended a school in a city that had a large black enrollment. My cousins also came to the party. They attended a school in the county where very few, if any, black kids attended. Carlos came home with me from school that Friday. The plan was for everyone to sleep over and go home Saturday.

My cousins arrived within a few hours. They had never met Carlos. Within the first 15 minutes of their arrival they pulled me aside to ask me why I had invited that “N!@$#&” to the party. They were angry and told me that they were not going to spend the night if Carlos stayed. I told them I wasn’t going to ask him to leave. However, during the remainder of the evening they made him so uncomfortable that he called his mom to come and get him. I stood by silently as my cousins bullied my friend simply because of the color of his skin.

My first real job as a married adult I met Michael and Mitch. Even though he was 20 years my elder, Michael and I became good friends. I wanted to learn from him because he was the best salesperson in the company; he was often named salesman of the month. Mitch was a good salesperson too. He was arrogant and not as good as Michael, but good nonetheless. Michael was a true gentleman, gracious and considerate; he was also black. Mitch was a bit egotistical and aggressive; he was also white.

After a few years an upper management position came open. Whispers among employees began to circulate. Most believed Mitch would get the promotion even though Michael had been with the company longer and had an impeccable track record. It was no secret that the owner of the company had never promoted a black man to upper management. The time came, and sure enough, Mitch was promoted. We could all sense the disappointment with Michael. Within the next year, he left the company. My friend, who deserved a promotion, didn’t get it because of the color of his skin.

I could tell many stories of discrimination mixed with southern charm. It happened at school, church, and even in my own family. No one in the south is a stranger to people being treated unfairly because of the color of their skin. It bothered me then and it bothers me now. As a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ I say unashamedly that I stand against racism in any form.

I’m a white, middle-aged, upper-middle class, southern, conservative, Christian suburbanite and I believe that the racial hostility toward black lives should matter to all of us. I believe the black community has had more than it’s share of brokenness. We cannot turn a blind eye to the systemic oppression that our African-American brothers and sisters face.

Whether or not you are bothered by racial injustice doesn’t change the truth that it’s an ugly reality in our country. We can choose to be part of the solution or part of the problem. If you’re a Christian then you’re called to be part of the solution. If you remain silent you’re part of the problem. Turning a blind eye and keeping a sealed lip is not an option for committed followers of Jesus.

If you say things like, “I don’t owe ‘them’ anything” or “I’ve never wronged ‘those’ people.” Let me assure you that you’re more racist than you realize. Besides that, you’re missing the point. We are talking about fellow human beings: real people who, by and large, have been mistreated for a long time. Our ancestors owned their ancestors. Think about that. If you don’t believe that’s a psychological impairment on an entire race of people, then you need a psychologist yourself.

Have you ever really thought about what it’s like to walk in a black man’s shoes? As a white man, a security guard in a department store has never followed me because they assumed I was a shoplifter. As a white man, I’ve never been pulled over by a police officer for driving through a neighborhood where I didn’t live. As a white man, my grandparents didn’t have to use separate restrooms, go to different schools, drink from a different water fountain, or sit in the back of a public bus.

So, to my friend Carlos, if you ever read this, I’m deeply sorry that I didn’t stand up for you with my cousins. I wish I had sent them home that night instead if letting you leave. If I could go back I would change it. I want you to know I’m deeply sorry for the way you were treated.

To my friend, Michael, you should have got the promotion. You deserved it. You were by far the most qualified. The boss was wrong. If I could go back, I would have resigned with you. I think of you often and pray that your family is doing well.

To my black friends, I love you. And although I’ll never really know what it’s like to walk in your shoes, I stand with you.

Remember, all bones matter, but the one that’s broken get the most attention until it heals. Sometimes the healing takes longer than any of us would like. Nonetheless, we nurture the one that’s broken until it’s whole again. Broken lives matter, they matter to God and they should matter to us. It’s really that simple.

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)