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.

Crown of thorns and bible on old wooden background

When speaking about “Essentials” we are referring to what is indispensable concerning Christian faith and practice. In reflecting upon this subject we always want to leave room for varying ideas, convictions, and opinions. However, we are often confronted with voices that want to make non-essentials essential, making the conversation all the more challenging.

The tribe of which I am part, the Church of the Nazarene, released a publication last year entitled “Nazarene Essentials” in an attempt to bring more clarity to the subject. Unity is the goal. For unity to exist among any group there must be underlying principles that the adherents of the group subscribe to. When digression from foundational doctrines takes place, harmony is lost.

The Bible has always been central in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition. In John Wesley’s words, “God himself has condescended to teach me the way. He has written it down in a book. Oh, give me that book! At any price give me the book of God. Let me be a man of one book.” Later Wesley’s methods were categorized in what we call the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. In this, theological reflection and doctrinal development are filtered through four sources pertaining to what we believe and how we live as being: (1) Established in Scripture; (2) Clarified by Tradition; (3) Confirmed by Reason; and (4) Vivified in Experience.

Many churches today live in a state of tension due to an increasing openness toward social ethics. When cultural preferences begin to replace scriptural principles division is soon to follow. This error is common among religious progressives and conservatives. Progressives frequently rally around social issues and by default undervalue biblical standards. Conservatives tend to stress conformity to strict codes of conduct often resulting in legalism. Disunity occurs because people in both camps focus on personal convictions and preferences, thus placing too much emphasis on lower level theological issues.

So, how do we know what is most important? We must start with the Gospel; it is central to the Christian faith. Everything revolves around the birth, life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Thus, it’s imperative to understand exactly what the Gospel is and what it is not. The Gospel is not my response to Jesus. The Gospel is not the results of believing in Jesus. Essentially the Gospel is the fact that Jesus, God incarnate, died for our sins, arose from the dead, ascended to the Father, and promised to return.

With that as a foundation allow me to provide four tiers pertaining to how we should distinguish Christian essentials from non-essentials. These lists are not exhaustive, but serve as a point of reference concerning levels of importance for Christian faith and practice.

Tier 1: Essentials. These are matters of orthodoxy versus heresy. In other words, you cannot be a Christian if you do not believe these things: (1) Doctrine of the Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit); (2) Person and Work of Jesus Christ (deity, incarnation, atonement, resurrection); (3) Continual Work of the Holy Spirit; (4) Original and Personal Sin (we are born sinners in need of a savior); (5) Salvation by grace through faith; (6) Divine Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures (the bible reveals the nature of God and all things necessary for salvation). These are matters worth defending. It is appropriate to correct those who contradict sound doctrine in these areas.

Tier 2: Practices. These are matters that determine local church practice and ministry: (1) Polity or Church Governance; (2) Administration of Sacraments (Baptism and Communion); (3) Philosophy of Ministry; (4) Theological Persuasions (Calvinist vs. Arminian). These are issues that a local church needs to have general agreement on in order to minister effectively. While differences in these areas should not lead us to question one another’s faith, we might have to agree to exist in different fellowships.

Tier 3: Interpretations. These are matters that we can disagree on peaceably. Interpretations vary, but should never cause us to questions a person’s dedication to Christ. I will name a few that seem to get more attention: (1) End Times (preterism, historicism, futurism, etc.); (2) Views of Creation (literal 24-hour, gap theory, day-age, etc.); (3) Spiritual Gifts (miracles, healing, prophecy, etc.). I’ve pastored people who hold diverse opinions on various third tier theological issues, yet were able to exist in unity.

Tier 4: Convictions. These are often matters of the conscience, where scripture does not bind all, yet some may need to live a certain way while others live differently. Convictions often revolve around: (1) Education (public or private); (2) Politics (social issues); (3) Entertainment (movies, music, etc.). The last category refers to matters similar to the ones that Paul dealt with in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8-11. When scripture does not give us a command, we must use wisdom. Also, we must refuse to lay our convictions on the shoulders of others.

Again, none of these lists are exhaustive. However, they do give us a place to start thinking about what is truly indispensable to the Christian faith. To be absolutely clear, the most essential part of our faith is Jesus. He is the way, truth, and life; no one comes to God except through him. So, the best advice I can give is… put Jesus first and with everything else live by the famous words of Saint Augustine, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.”


(Source: Nazarene Essentials; Discipline of The United Methodist Church; Derek Radney)

Theology

Everybody has a theology. That is to say, everyone has a perspective of God and a way in which they interact with that perspective. You are what you think. What you think about God is the most important thought you will ever have. Personal theology is ingrained in the human experience. Everyone views the world through a lens: a belief system pertaining to how the world operates, morals that govern people’s conduct, and customs concerning how people interact in community. Every person’s worldview shapes their theology: social grids, ideas impressed early in life, and individual biases become so ingrained that virtually everything is viewed through life’s experiences.

Theological constructs dictate how others are treated, where boundaries are drawn and maintained, how religious congregations treat outsiders, how decisions are made, how we treat our children, how congregations worship, what stories we enjoy telling, and more. Things people say, their actions, and self-expressions all relate to their understanding of God. We are theological creatures. Understanding Missio Dei establishes a missional lens through which we can purposefully engage God and the world.

Theology is a broad subject. Narrowing theology down to the specific subgenre of “mission” helps us process how to effectively function as the Body of Christ in the world. However, if we believe the mission of God is linked to every aspect of his existence, then it doesn’t help as much as one would like in a pursuit to think “theologically.” God is mission; everything he does is part of his mission.

Given the global extent of the Christian faith, an astonishing variety of people are doing theology in diverse situations. Over the years, theology has developed some negative connotations. Many people perceive theology as being intellectual and abstract, undertaken primarily by trained professionals who use language and concepts beyond the reach of the common person.

However, I argue that theology is something that every person uses. I believe this because I’ve never met a person who doesn’t have an idea about God. Everyone believes something about God, even if they believe he doesn’t exist, that still counts. Therefore, theology is an enterprise in which all people enter into, even when they don’t realize it. Remember, we are theological beings and we can’t help it. God’s grace has touched the life of every human being. Therefore, no one can live and not consider the Creator and Sustainer of their very existence.

God With Suffering
The term “theodicy” comes from two Greek words: theos = “god” + dike = “justice.” This word commonly refers to an attempt to resolve the occurrence of evil in the world by reconciling God’s characteristics of being all-loving, all-powerful, and all-knowing. To find an answer, we essentially have to identify God in human suffering. Many people have a hard time watching human beings experience undeserved pain and tragedy, and then trying to reconcile that an all-powerful God really cares.

So where is God in the pain and suffering of life? In answering this question we must always start with Jesus. Everything starts with Jesus; he is the perfect reflection of an all-loving God. He came to earth to show us what God is like and to also show us what we should be like.

Unlike many evangelicals, Jesus never tells people who are suffering that it’s because they did something wrong or have unconfessed sin in their life. When Job lost everything and sat in sackcloth and ashes, the best thing his friends could have done was keep their mouths shut. When they started talking about “why” Job was suffering, they only showed their lack of understanding pertaining to the nature of God. What they failed to see in the midst of Job’s suffering was God’s.

Jesus always starts with compassion. He makes wrongs right and justifies suffering and pain with love and mercy. What we learn from Jesus is that God always sides with the one who is suffering. He’s not out in the distant universe somewhere picking at people and making them feel worse than they already do.

God is on the side of the sufferer, and we cannot find an exception to that in scripture. Notice the Disciples and the Pharisees demanded answers as to why bad things happen to some people and not others. Interestingly Jesus never spoke to the reasons “why.” Actually, Jesus always blew off the questions of “why” and instead focused on the response: “What can we do about it?”

When Hurricane Katrina blew into Louisiana, or when a massive earthquake devastated Haiti, unlike some evangelical voices that declared God’s judgment on the people in these areas, we should respond like Jesus by saying, “What can I do to help?” The scripture indicates that God grieves about human suffering even more than those who are experiencing loss.

Think about it, when Jesus responded to a widowed woman who had lost her son, when he ministered to a Roman soldier whose servant was sick, when he heals the blind, crippled, and diseased… He always, always, always extends compassion, not judgment. God sides with the suffering and his response is always marked with love and compassion.

“God is like Jesus.
God has always been like Jesus.
There has never been a time when God was not like Jesus.
We have not always known what God is like—
But now we do.” ~Brian Zahnd


(Sources: Brian Zahnd; Shane Claiborne; Jürgen Moltmann)

God is Good

We are who we are because of our choices (and because God allows us to make choices). If the fruit of the Spirit is self-control that means part of God’s nature is self-control. Have you ever thought about the idea that part of God’s sovereignty means that he has the ability to control, and even limit his interaction with us. That’s right, God is self-controlled. If I were him I would have smitten everyone a long time ago. It’s good for us that God has self-control. We are who we are because God has given us the freedom to make choices. He has already chosen us in Christ, but he waits for us to choose him.

Theologically, I am a Wesleyan-Arminian. We do not have a problem with God’s sovereignty. We believe God is in control. Within the boundaries of God’s permissive will, we believe God allows evil to exist because he created human beings as free moral agents. God is sovereign, however, he does not control things in such a way that he forces people to do anything out of necessity. That’s what you call self-controlled control. It’s how God rules the universe, not with an iron fist, but with a heart of love and compassion that allows us to make decisions.

God does not decree sin as some believe. If God controlled us in such an absolute way that forced us into evil, it would make him the author of sin. This would mean that freewill is non-existent, and that all things happen according to God’s perfect will. The scripture even negates this idea in 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise… He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” Question: Will everyone come to repentance even though it’s God’s will? No. In this, we can only conclude that God desires a relationship with all of creation, yet many refuse.

Bad theology declares sin and evil comes into the world through God’s sovereign rule. God has a perfect will, yet he also has a permissive will in which he allows us to make mistakes. Wesleyan-Arminians would not oppose the idea that God is in control of all things. The difference is that we believe he allows it, not that he causes it.

We trust that God works all things together for good for those who love him, yet allows people to live in the sinful reality that they create for themselves. It’s a very strange thing to think that an all-loving God would create a race of living beings, desire a legitimate love-based relationship, and then force some to love him and others not.

In the context of God’s permissive will, we believe God sets limitations on evil and the extent to which it impacts creation. In other words, it’s not as bad as it could be because God is on the throne. He’s a good king. He’s not a tyrant (he’s self-controlled). God rules over evil, and in no way does he force anyone to become evil. This is very different than saying that sin entered the world because of God’s decree. If sin and evil come by the hand of God, how can anyone resist what God sets into motion? This makes God a puppet master, not a loving father.

God did not create sin in order to make himself look good. In other words, God didn’t create sin so he could rescue sinners. He rescues sinners because he loves us. God did not invent evil, but he allows it in order to give us the ability to authentically embrace or reject his love. Therefore, in the process of life God turns bad to good. He redeems our choices when we love him. Even when we make bad choices, God is wise enough to make all things work together for good to those that love him (Romans 8:28).

God leads people in the direction that he knows is best, and even if they choose not to follow, he patiently continues to point the way. This means that through sinful choices God still seeks us out. He is so intelligent, clever, and well-meaning, that even the sinful choices of people cannot prevent his ultimate purposes being fulfilled. God uses our choices, good or bad, to accomplish his will in the earth. He’s that good!