i-believe-literally

The Bible… It’s been a source of lively discussion for centuries. It’s a shame when it moves from being a source of healthy dialogue to a form of division, especially among those who claim to represent what is contained therein.

I love the Bible. I trust the Bible. I believe the Bible is reliable. I believe God has preserved it so that His children can use it as a source for living the life He’s called them to live. How we read the Bible, however, is another topic.

There are those who believe it is nothing more than a collection of ancient documents. There are also those who believe it’s merely a compilation of sacred stories meant to reveal divine purposes. Someone who views the Bible primarily as a collection of metaphoric fairytales likely does not believe Adam and Eve actually existed, but that they only symbolize the creation of mankind. Those who write off Adam and Eve as supernatural fables also likely deny other biblical miracles such as “Moses Parting the Red Sea,” “The Fiery Furnace,” “Jonah and the Big Fish,” and many others.

Then there are those who are literalists in the strictest sense, meaning they refuse to recognize allegorical language in scripture. I’m uncertain as to what they do with hyperbolic passages like: “If your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out…” We certainly don’t see very many Christians walking around looking like patch-eyed pirates. Metaphor is used as a literary device throughout scripture. For example, Isaiah 64 teaches us that we are like clay in the hands of the potter; this is metaphor. Matthew 5 teaches that followers of Jesus are the salt of the earth and the light of the world; this too is metaphoric language. We are not actually clay, salt, or light; we are human beings. These metaphors serve as literary devices to reveal deeper meaning pertaining to our relationship with God and His call on our lives.

Personally, I believe the Bible is it’s own best interpreter. If one can understand the difference between literary genres, the Bible isn’t overly difficult to read. While it’s certainly not a mindless task, scripture is organized in such a way that assists the reader in understanding if they’re reading poetry, history, prophecy, allegory, theology, etc.

So what’s the best way to read the Bible? Through the lens of Jesus Christ and His finished work on the Cross.

Ask the Holy Spirit to help you identify Jesus on every page and in every story. In fact, I believe we read the Bible irresponsibly if we’re not recognizing the salvific message of Christ throughout. Everything in the Old Testament points forward to Jesus. Everything in the New Testament builds off the foundation of Jesus.

So much for the introduction, let me tell you what I believe.

I believe in the beginning was the Word, literally. I believe God spoke the universe into existence, literally. I believe God created man and woman, and placed them in the Garden of Eden, literally. I believe God destroyed the earth with a flood because mankind had become extremely wicked, literally. I believe Noah really did build and Ark (can you imagine how much faith it took to cut down the first tree?). I believe God actually scattered people all over the earth at the Tower of Babel. Yes, I believe these things actually happened.

I believe God literally made a covenant with Abraham. Part of that covenant was to make His children like the stars of the sky and the sand of the sea, metaphorically speaking. I believe Jacob literally wrestled the Angel and walked with a limp for the rest of his life. I believe Moses literally led the Children of Israel out of Egyptian bondage and crossed the Red Sea on dry ground, not a few inches of water, but ground as dry as a desert floor. I believe God led the Israelites through the wilderness for 40 years with a cloud of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night.

I believe Joshua and the Israelites marched around Jericho and the walls literally crumbled to the ground. I believe Gideon actually defeated the Midianite troops numbering over 100,000 after God reduced his army to only 300 valiant men. I believe Elijah literally left this earth riding a chariot of fire in a whirlwind and never experienced death. I believe Daniel spent the night in a Lion’s Den, maybe cuddled up beside them, and lived to tell the story. I believe Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego hung out in a fiery furnace with Jesus and not a hair on their head was singed.

I believe everything in the historical books really did happen. I believe the books of poetry provide great imagery and give us deeper insight about the nature of God. I believe the prophets received visions from God that reveal His plans and desires for His people. And yes, I believe Jonah really did spend three days in the belly of a fish!

I believe Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. I believe He lived a perfect life. He healed the sick, raised the dead, performed miracles, and preached with authority. I believe Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate, shed His blood and died on a cross at Calvary for our sins. I believe the Cross works and nothing else does!

I believe Jesus defeated death, hell, and the grave. I believe He rose from the dead on the third day and the tomb is still empty. I believe He literally levitated into the sky when He ascended to the Father. I believe Jesus is at this very moment making intercession for anyone who expresses faith in Him.

I believe everything described in the Gospels and the Book of Acts actually happened. I believe the Book of Acts provides the model we should strive for as the New Testament Church. I believe God gives us a picture of how the Church should proceed theologically through the writings of the Apostle Paul and the other NT authors.

I believe Heaven and Hell are literal places and that every person will end up in one of those two destinations. I believe Jesus will return, literally. The dead in Christ will rise first and we who remain will be called up together with them in the air, and from that time forward, for all eternity, we will forever be with the Sovereign Lord of the Universe.

I believe God still saves, sanctifies, and sets people free, literally. I believe God is omnipresent, but that He also manifests His presence in unique ways as He has throughout history. I believe we should strive to walk in the anointing of the Holy Spirit, literally. I believe we can know Jesus personally, literally. I believe we should be diligent and relentless at reaching people with the love, power, and presence of Jesus, literally. Hope that clears up any confusion.

compromised-church

“The chief danger of the twentieth century will be religion without the Holy Spirit, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, heaven without hell.” ~William Booth (founder of the Salvation Army)

Like so many other ideas, “tolerance” has been redefined in our postmodern society. Tolerance is something that focuses largely on morality. If one doesn’t embrace the behavior of another when that behavior is celebrated by society at large, then that person is likely to be labeled “intolerant.” This label carries consequences. Being called “intolerant” quickly discredits your views in the arena of public opinion.

Scripture is full of instances where Jesus interacted with people He didn’t agree with morally. Jesus teaches us that love has no boundaries. We are called to love people wherever they may be on their journey. That’s what true tolerance is: being willing to walk with and bear the burdens of others even though we disagree with their choices and behaviors. True tolerance says, “While I don’t agree with you, I love you anyway.”

Today’s view of tolerance requires much more than loving and walking with a person. Today’s tolerance requires that we celebrate a person’s choices. Today’s tolerance strips us of the ability to say that anything is “wrong.” This view doesn’t leave room for absolutes. It teaches us that we are incorrect, possibly bigoted, and certainly close-minded to even think that another person’s behavior misses the mark.

When properly defined tolerance requires one to identify right and wrong, truth and untruth, good and evil. It is recognizing that something that is less than what it should be and deciding that you can live with it. True tolerance means you endure something that you believe to be incorrect. Loving someone is different than celebrating immoral behavior. If you don’t believe something’s wrong, and you embrace it, that’s not tolerance. Jesus accepted everyone, yet with love and compassion, He also confronted their sin and offered them a better way.

Western culture has become a battlefield; truth and morality is what’s at stake. While we must remain tolerant toward all people, that doesn’t mean we should celebrate sinful behavior. The church is being influenced heavily by the cultural undertones of the day. We want to be liked so badly that we’re willing to compromise. What we end up compromising are the very things scripture declares as nonnegotiable. In our negotiations we forfeit the power of Jesus. Without His manifest presence there is no anointing, no transformation, and no sense of purpose.

In many ways the church has become a mere reflection of the American way. Entire denominations are revising the basic tenets of biblical theology as it pertains to Christian practice. Church leaders are legitimizing immorality because it’s become legal. Just because laws change regarding sin doesn’t make it right. We can legalize drug use, but that doesn’t make it right. We can legalize same-sex unions, but that doesn’t make it right. We make it lawful to deport people and rip families apart, but that doesn’t make it right.

Reports of our shifting views make the news all the time. A few years ago an openly gay bishop was ordained in the Episcopal Church. He went on record to say that he considered his relationship with his partner “sacramental.” Since when do the Episcopals get to make “sacred” what God calls an “abomination”?

We are so concerned with what everyone thinks that we’ve forgotten to care about what God thinks. Have you checked out the stats of some of the more “progressive” denominations lately? They’re in rapid decline. Why? Because God does not bless what He has declared in His Word as being wrong. It doesn’t matter what we call it. When the Holy Spirit withdraws from a group of people there’s nothing left to do but go though the motions and gather in powerless huddles hoping for the best.

Recent studies by Barna Research indicates that large percentages of people identifying as Christians see nothing wrong with occasional adultery, abortion, homosexual behavior, casual use of pornography, living together outside of marriage, and the use of profanity. Many of these same people don’t believe in Satan, and hell is merely a contemporary platonic construct, not an actual place. To add to the confusion only 15% of people who identify as Christian actually hold to any sort of biblical worldview.

I’ve interacted with people who adhere to many of the above-described views. A few years ago a candidate who was seeking ordination admitted to a few people in a restaurant if they were ever questioned about their beliefs concerning sexuality that they’d lie. They indicated that their cause was more important than the ordination process. Let that sink in. . . These up-and-coming progressive leaders have a cause that’s more important than anything else, including orthodoxy, scripture, sound doctrine, church tradition, and life-transformation.

This theological confusion is spreading across denominational spectrums. In a day and age where we need hope more than ever before we are offering people theological play-doh. The problem is not that these folks are being disingenuous. It’s just that they’ve accepted a worldview that is far from the one given to us by Jesus, Scripture, the Apostles, and the Early Church Fathers. Beyond that, they’re extremely intolerant of anyone who holds a more centered biblical view.

The immorality of western culture has created instability, confusion, and a church that is void of power. Many people who identify as Christian have aligned so closely with the postmodern religious narrative that they’ve lost the ability to recognize the “anointing” of God. In fact, they don’t even like words like anointing, manifest presence, glory, revival, etc. They rely solely on forms and functions. They can’t hear from God because their minds are muddled by the noise of postmodernity.

This is not who the Church is called to be. We are the Bride of Christ, the Body of Jesus, and the Light of the World. We are God’s ambassadors in a world void of hope and power. The Church is a group of called-out, sold-out, radical world-changers. The Church is on mission through the infilling power of the Holy Spirit as she takes presence of Jesus to communities all over the globe.

However, postmodern pollution has built a dam. The rivers of Living Water have been largely shut off. When the things God calls sin is continually validated in Christian articles, on Christian bookshelves, and in classrooms and pulpits, the source of this contamination is made clear. Yet, the dam is protected and even celebrated in the name of tolerance.

The good news is there’s a leak. God is raising up prophets. The Living Water is starting to seep through the cracks. There is a remnant of committed Christ-followers passionately calling out to Jesus. They are praying earnestly for revival every single day. They realize that the powerless tolerant form of religion that’s currently in vogue will never suffice in transforming the world. So, while these are serious times, they’re also exciting times. May we wait with hopeful hearts for the King of Glory to make His presence known once again.


(Sources: “Trouble with Truth” by Rob Renfroe; “Desperate for His Presence” by Rhonda Hughey; Barna Research Group)

living-sacrifice

Desperate and fulfilled: these are the only two adjectives to describe how I feel right now. I am fulfilled because God has recently made Himself known to me in ways that are seemingly abnormal. I am desperate because I can’t get enough. It’s a crazy combination.

The Psalmist is right: “Taste and see that the LORD is good…” (Psalm 34:8). Once you get a taste of His goodness, nothing else satisfies your emptiness. You’re always full; yet also, you’re always hungry. What I’ve just described as being abnormal should actually be normal for Christians.

Following Jesus involves struggle. There’s no way around it. That’s how we grow; it’s the only path to fulfillment. God wants us to experience more, but we have to keep dying in order to have it. Dying to self includes daily mêlée. That’s why sanctification is so important. Following the Holy Spirit is the only way through the confusion, turbulence, and strife pressing in on our lives. God walks us right into the middle of the devil’s playground, sets up a table, and dines with us. It’s what He calls preparing a table in the presence of our enemies (Psalm 23).

Too many Christians live in arrested development. They’re just stuck in a place. They live like beggars instead of heirs: like rejected outcasts instead of much-loved children. I know because I’ve begged way too much over the years. In the midst of our pity parties, Jesus walks by and reminds us that we don’t have to live like outsiders. We have a seat at the King’s table.

The Apostle Paul speaks of offering ourselves as living sacrifices. He calls this our “reasonable service,” or the only way to properly worship. We don’t naturally think of laying down our lives as a reasonable thing to do. So we fight. Sometimes we fight and don’t even realize why we’re fighting. We think we’re fighting sickness, finances, our spouse, our employer, or whatever else, but the reality is, we’re usually wrestling with Jesus.

Entire sanctification includes daily death. God’s always trying to get us to die to some part of ourselves that’s striving to get a foot on the throne: some part of our flesh that’s rising up trying to usurp the Lordship of Jesus. Living Sacrifices: that’s the life we’re called to. Living: the part of us that God created to abide in Him. Sacrifice: death to self. The problem with living sacrifices is that they have the tendency to crawl back off the altar.

The call of Christ is abundant life, but you can’t have it unless you die. And no one can die to you for you. You’re the only one that can die to you. Death to self means being filled with the Holy Spirit is such a way that there’s no room for anything else: no anxiety, no need for control, no expectations, no agendas, no offence, no anger, no bitterness, no grudges, no record of wrongs, no striving to climb a ladder. Nothing but Jesus: Him abiding and me and me abiding in Him.

Abiding always takes us to new places. As we walk with Jesus we will find ourselves in one of three places: being, becoming, or doing. In the flesh we often get stuck in the “doing” phase. Just like Martha, we’re so busy doing that we never take time to be, and if we never take time to be, we will never become more of what Jesus wants us to become (Luke 10). When your life consists primarily of doing, abiding is virtually impossible.

Arriving at new places with Jesus means going through valleys, over mountains, across deserts, and into storms. The journey is never easy. If it were easy everybody would do it. Think about the One we’ve decided to follow; His journey led Him to a cross. I’ve never read of anyone following Him whose life was easy. In fact, Jesus never said it would be easy, He only promised it would be worth it. As we journey with Him, we can trust that He is always with us. He never leaves us (Hebrews 13:5). He’s a friend that sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24).

We’re all “little Jacobs” at times: heel-grabbers, supplanters, deceivers. Always trying to overthrow the opposition. Every follower of Jesus needs a Peniel experience. In fact, those serious about followership will likely spend a lot of time in Peniel (Genesis 32). I’ve had many Peniel moments: places where I’ve wrestled with God to the point of walking with a limp. Places where I’ve been so overwhelmed with God’s presence that I’ve never gotten over it.

There have been times when I’ve arrived in Peniel and didn’t even know how I got there. The wrestling matches are hard. In the midst of the struggle stuff surfaces that I didn’t even know existed. God wrestles me into submission, yet I somehow walk away the victor. Isn’t that crazy? Typically when we think of a battle, the one submitting is the one who’s been defeated. Yet, when we wrestle with Jesus and submit, we win.

If I may give you 20 years worth of advice: embrace the struggle. Trust Jesus and walk in faith. Don’t be oppressed by the invisible walls created by anxiety, insecurity, and even your own ambition. Living sacrifices get to die on the altar, dine with Jesus on the battlefield, and lift their hands in victory even when they’re in the valley. What an amazing way to live!

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

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

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

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

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


First Generation: The Pioneers

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

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

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

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


Second Generation: The Propagators

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

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

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

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


Third Generation: The Perfectors

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

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

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

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


Fourth Generation: The Protestors

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

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

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

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

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


How do we become a Holiness Movement again?

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

nazarene-fire

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot about the roots of the Church of the Nazarene. As with any denomination, God uses specific groups of people to accomplish unique things. No doubt, the early women and men that called themselves Nazarenes were catalysts of the 20th Century Holiness Movement.

Phineas F. Bresee, founder of the Church of the Nazarene, left the Methodist Church much the same way John Wesley moved away from Anglicanism. Bresee helped organize the “Peniel Mission,” which was a nondenominational ministry focused on helping the poor and needy. The Methodists didn’t like this endeavor; they were afraid it might hurt the image of the church. Bresee was then forced to choose between the Mission and the Methodists. He chose the Mission. The rest is history.

The past couple of weeks while revisiting archived sermons and quotes from Dr. Bresee, I’ve noticed a lot of phrases that we don’t hear very much anymore. It’s left me asking myself, “Why?” Bresee said things like:

  • “Bring the Glory down. When we lose the Glory we are gone.”
  • “We keep a red hot center of fire and work the edges.”
  • “Praying… and preaching in the power of the Spirit is God’s way of doing His work.”
  • “We must have unction… the hammer that breaks the heart of men.”
  • “The Shekinah Glory… The Manifest Presence”

Today, we seem to be doing great at “working the edges,” but I’m not sure we’ve got many “red hot centers of fire,” at least not in the northern hemisphere. This is a problem. Without the infilling of the Holy Spirit, our efforts are fruitless. We can know God, yet become unfamiliar with the ways of God. This is where I think we could learn a lot from our brothers and sisters in the southern hemisphere. We need more than form; we need power.

For years I’ve been praying for an authentic revival, not rule-based legalism or manufactured emotionalism, but a genuine awareness of the presence of the Holy Spirit empowering people for the work of the kingdom. The Holy Spirit is the fire that keeps the center hot. If we neglect the center, how can we expect the fire to spread to the edges?

We serve the same God that parted the Red Sea, walked with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the furnace, and filled the early church with enough power and courage to turn the world upside-down. Personally, I am more awake than I’ve been in years. It’s hard to understand, actually. This certainly hasn’t been the easiest year of my life. Yet there is a sense of fulfillment that’s indescribable.

A year ago I was struggling with my assignment. I’d been pastoring for almost two decades and had become accustom to the rhythms and seasons of pastoral ministries. I had a system of vision-casting and team leadership that seemed to work. Suddenly, I was in new role that felt like managing chaos. I am extremely type-A. Therefore, this bothered me greatly.

At District Assembly something changed. Actually, leading up to assembly I began to feel different about my ministry. There seemed to be a shift. Alignment was being realized. Purpose was becoming clear. As I gave my report on Sunday night June 5th God came in a special way. It wasn’t anything I planned. Yet, God used a moment in time to remind me that he still manifests his presence in ways that we cannot anticipate. When he shows up everything changes.

God is doing a new work in Kentucky. I love the people here; they are hard-working, committed, and kind. I am in awe of the church planting and revitalization efforts. I get calls, texts, and emails from pastors several times a week with of stories of people experiencing the transforming power of Jesus. I’ve actually had four calls today. A year ago, I dreaded hearing my phone ring, now I look forward to it.

God is moving in unacquainted ways. We realize that we’re only skimming the surface of what could be. However, it’s exciting to catch a glimpse. We are learning that holiness is not merely a doctrine to be articulated. Instead, it’s Person to be encountered and a life to be experienced.

God is using our denomination’s emphasis on church planting and revitalization to bring a real sense of renewal. I’d like to publicly thank Bill Wiesman and his team for their tireless efforts. God is also using an emphasis on corporate prayer to turn the hearts of his people back to himself. I am grateful for the vision of Corey Jones and others as they work to bring prayer back to the center of the church.

I believe if we would intentionally connect corporate prayer, church planting, and congregational revitalization, we would experience God’s presence in ways we haven’t in our lifetime. We have NMI, NYI, SDMI, and DCPI… I believe we need PDGI (Pray Down the Glory International). Just think, we’d never have to attend another church growth conference.

The Church of the Nazarene was born in a holiness revival. That’s who we are; it’s in our DNA. As we talk about the future, I hope we’ll consider the past. We certainly shouldn’t attempt to recreate it. However, we should consider the distinctiveness of our story. We aren’t Pentecostal, although we share history with the Pentecostals. We aren’t Anglican, although we share history with the Anglicans. We aren’t Methodists… well, maybe souped-up Methodists. We are Nazarenes. We started in a church affectionately referred to as the “Glory Barn.” May we never forget who we are as we’re figuring out where we’re headed.

I hope our future includes a even greater emphasis on prayer, planting, and revitalization. In fact, if those things become our only focus, we would look a lot more like the pioneers of our movement. They didn’t create strategies for church growth, evangelism, and social justice. They just did it. They lived with a holy discontent because they had a holy encounter with a Holy God. They believed the experience of holiness was one that could transform all of society.

Fire is contagious. Maybe we could start with the prayer often used by our founder, “Bring the Glory down, Lord.” Go ahead; try it. Are you okay with that prayer? Or does it feel too old-fashioned? We should be careful not to put God in a container with an expiration date. You can’t take the Holy Spirit seriously and not take the glory of God seriously. When the center is blazing, people are consumed. Void of the fire of the Holy Spirit there is no holiness movement to speak of.

“When we lose the Glory we are gone.” ~Phineas F. Bresee


(Source: “Our Watchword and Song” by Floyd Cunningham, ed.; “Our Pioneer Nazarenes” by C.T. Corbett found at wesley.nnu.edu; “Phineas F. Bresee” by Dorli Gschwandtner found at SNU Library online)

country-club-jesus

“If your church hasn’t won anyone to Jesus in the last year, it’s not a church, it’s a country club.” A friend recently made that statement. I’d go a step further: if a church isn’t endeavoring to ‘win’ people it isn’t even a good country club. Too many churches have become shrines of personal achievement where the members with the most influence get the biggest perks. When trophies and tributes become the primary décor, the place feels more like the Moose Lodge than the church (no offense Moosers).

This is a difficult conversation for some pastors. They take it personal. They carry the responsibility for church growth as if it’s their burden alone. I’d like to take a moment to exonerate many of my pastor friends from this way of thinking. I know too many faithful pastors who struggle through seasons of drought because they’ve inherited a mess. The ground they’re working with hasn’t been plowed in years. Tilling the soil feels more like digging through concrete.

Pastor, I’m speaking to you directly. If you’ve inherited a country club, it isn’t your fault. Be free of that burden.

Nonetheless, we mustn’t forget, while there are seasons when being faithful is all we can do, there are also times when God calls us to be fruitful. It’s the difference between starting a fire and tending a fire. Keeping the flames from dying out is one thing, but stoking the flames is what causes a fire to burn bright. Evangelistic fires have always been part of the Wesleyan-Holiness movement. John Wesley said, “Set yourself on fire with passion and people will come for miles to watch you burn.”

Whereas most pastors I know are serving faithfully, I have known some to be idle, indifferent, and insincere to say the least. They not only lead a country club, they’ve become the president. Unfaithful pastors play along with church bosses, cater to nitpickers, laugh at crude jokes on the golf course, and pander to the members with the deepest pockets.

Someone recently shared a story of attending what he described as a “fancy church” while visiting Washington, DC. The front row of the sanctuary had chairs that looked like they were reserved for royalty. He explained that they were actually for the top tithers. The strangest part of his experience was the white gloves the ushers wore while seating people. The gloves were supposedly used to make guests feel special. However, he noticed the ushers did a good job keeping the visitors away from the majestic thrones up front.

I literally get sick thinking about this scenario: the privileged getting special honor in the name of Jesus. My initial reaction would be to flip the chairs over, jump up and down on them, douse them in lighter fluid, and invite the neighborhood over for S’mores.

Thom Rainer says, “God did not give us the local church to become country clubs where membership means we have privileges and perks. He placed us in churches to serve, to care for others, to pray for leaders, to learn, to teach, to give and, in some cases, to die for the sake of the gospel. The time to get this right is now.”

Often when we think of “winning people” we equate it to growth. And while I believe strongly in church growth, I also recognize that this happens in various ways. The real goal is changed lives. Evangelistic efforts often lead people to make a commitment to Christ, yet never attend the church that made the investment, and that’s okay. If a church is serving for a payoff, then it’s serving for the wrong reasons anyway.

Sometimes it’s the people in the pews that we need to win to Jesus. Again, pastors usually aren’t the ones to blame for the country club attitude. It’s the hard-hearted folks who’ve been drenched in the modern ethos of consumerism. They rest on their laurels and complain about their bellies not being full. The “feed me” mentality is consumerism at it’s finest.

Too often pastors have to decide when to babysit and when to shove a piece of meat down someone’s throat. Sometimes loving the sheep means wrapping the crook of your staff around their neck and pulling them away from the edge of a cliff. They hate the feeling of being choked, but it’s better than the alternative. It’s the pastor’s job to speak prophetic truth that challenges people to a life of repentance. Regardless of how many “amens” they shout from the back row, repentance is not something people are naturally inclined to.

Pastors, you should not take the opening statement personally unless you’re a card-carrying member of the country club. The statement pertains to churches where visitors actually have to worry about upsetting someone because they accidentally sit in the wrong seat. Whether we want to admit it or not, these things really do happen.

Many of us have pastored country club churches, including me. In fact, the country club mentality has the potential to set in anywhere. When it’s recognized, we must become passionate about leading people out of it. This is never easy; ministering in a self-absorbed society is challenging. However, it doesn’t mean that we have to settle with not doing anything to ‘win people.’

We can develop creative ways to reach beyond the four walls of the local assembly. Example: I’ve helped organize drama ministries at several churches over the years. At our annual events we often witnessed several hundred people profess faith in Christ. One year in Raleigh we brought in a life size replica of the Tabernacle for a two-week period. During that time more than 300 people committed their lives to Jesus.

I’ve prayed with more people than I can count at Easter Extravaganzas, fall festivals, homeless shelters, youth events, VBSs, and community centers. I still have connections with many of these people. Someone approached me in Wal-Mart when I was visiting my hometown a few years ago and said, “I’ll never forget that time… It changed my life.”

When you start leading your church to reach outside the walls, something amazing happens. Hearts begin to soften. People start seeing beyond themselves. They shed the member’s only jacket. Before you know it someone’s at the altar repenting. And that, my friends, is what you call a win for Jesus.


(Sources: Doug Wyatt, John Wesley, Thom Rainer, Rich Shockey, Scott Olson, Eric Frey)

holier-than-thou

“Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees…” (Mark 8:15). Jesus is harsh in confronting the Pharisees of his day pointing out that they polluted the Body. It is interesting to consider the role of fermentation in the making of bread. It starts small, but it contaminates the entire loaf. In fact, one of the definitions of the word ‘ferment’ is to incite or stir up trouble and disorder. Synonyms of the word include, uproar, confusion, and turmoil. That’s what leaven does: contaminates the whole.

A friend of mine recently tweeted, “You know what’s just as bad as holier-than-thou academic types? Holier-than-thou anti-intellectuals. The holier-than-thou part is the issue” (Brannon Hancock). I agree. His statement got me to thinking about the behavior of the holier-than-thou pharisaical types that distract, pollute, and weaken the mission of the church.

Interestingly, the Pharisees of Jesus’ day were highly educated, yet the Pharisees of the last century have been largely uneducated. Both groups are notoriously recognized as spiritual elitists. They epitomize a sanctimonious attitude. They want their opinions to be accepted by the masses and they work hard to discredit opposing voices. Undeniably, the holier-than-thou mindset raises its head among the educated and the non-educated alike.

Look close and you’ll notice that there is a new breed of Pharisees ‘leavening’ the church today. It’s not the theologically uneducated form of legalism that’s dominated church boardrooms for the past 50 years. In fact, this new breed seems to be a resurrection of the Pharisees of old: the educated elitists.

Before I go any further let me clarify a few things…

Categories related to how people understand and practice faith are not always neatly packaged. What I’m addressing here are voices existing on the far ends of the theological spectrum: rigid legalists and religious liberals. Both are detractors. It doesn’t take long to identify these extreme personalities in church committee meetings, Sunday School classrooms, social media groups, and hallway conversations.

Let me also say, academic training is essential for those preparing for ministry. There should be rigorous academic requirements for anyone preparing for ordination. I was enrolled in school for 15 consecutive years, earning four degrees along the way. In fact, since completing my doctoral studies I’ve felt a bit lost. ‘Studying to show oneself approved’ is a biblical mandate that I take seriously. Many Christian universities are going to great lengths to ensure balanced biblical teaching.

With those disclaimers, let’s move ahead.

A professor at a prominent seminary (non-Nazarene) recently said, “You can’t be an intellectual and be a conservative.” This person indicated that in the world of academia it’s becoming increasingly difficult to be theologically conservative and/or moderate. In other words, there is tremendous pressure to ‘lean left,’ otherwise one isn’t seen as thinking deeply and critically about important issues.

Often when we think of Pharisees and fundamentalists we think of legalistic uneducated troublemakers who reject anyone that doesn’t measure up to their spiritual standards, not intellectuals (remember my friend’s tweet). But what if the ‘spirit of pharisee’ was alive and well in the realm of academia? Does it surprise you to learn that rejection of those who don’t ‘lean left’ is commonplace in academic circles?

Let me be clear: the academy itself is not the problem. It’s the spirit of elitism infiltrating segments of the academy that’s the problem. It has a leavening effect. When being theologically liberal is equated with academic success a certain way of thinking begins to ferment the whole.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were not the uneducated fundamentalists we think of today. Just the opposite, they were highly educated. In fact, they were so knowledgeable that they took it upon themselves to reinterpret large portions of scripture. When you arrive at a place where you feel the need to deconstruct sound biblical doctrine in light of cultural shifts or personal interests that might be a sign that you’re on the road toward spiritual elitism.

Elitism has always been a sign of pharisaical behavior. It’s always been indicative of those who create controversy among the faithful with an attitude of superiority. Of course, we realize that Jesus caused unrest. However, he certainly didn’t challenge the authority of scripture, particularly in a way that would alter the call to a holy life. The unrest Jesus created wasn’t among the faithful; it was among those who were corrupting the body.

A tree is always known by its fruit. We can discern whether unrest is harmful by analyzing the fruit. Fundamentalism, regardless of what side of the spectrum it’s found, is driven by a belief that one is right. This is a good place to insert the Apostle Paul, “Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ” (Col. 2:8, NLT). Without a doubt, the unholy leavening of those who are faithful to the cause of Christ is the fruit spiritual elitism.

It’s in this new context that the ‘spirit of pharisee’ is being resurrected. Like Pharisees of old, this new breed of Pharisee is easily offended and quick to dismiss those without certain letters behind their name. They love to correct people they deem as not measuring up to their level of intellectual superiority. They deconstruct biblical orthodoxy, influence with alluring ideas, and intimidate with overpowering rhetoric.

Traditional fundamentalists have filled church pews for years. They’ve been described as legalistic, harsh, and judgmental, and rightfully so. However, don’t be fooled by the trendy new left push. Today’s fundamentalism is regularly found among those who seem to be the most educated and progressive. They enjoy force-feeding perspectives and diverting conversations away from those that hold a more centered biblical worldview.

Again, fundamentalism has always been found on the far ends of the theological continuum. It’s marked by rigidity and arrogance. When the pendulum swings, it never stops in the middle. Overcorrection leads to faulty perspectives. The centrist way is the way of Jesus: humble enough to learn yet brave enough to stand.

Historically, the Wesleyan-Holiness movement has been balanced in its approach to faith and practice. It’s a road less traveled: a lifestyle marked with love and compassion for people, yet also courage and resolution to speak truth. It’s a call to build bridges, not walls. The road we’re called to travel is an ancient path evident by holiness of heart and life. So, don’t get lured to the sidelines by the loud voices demanding your attention. Instead, be faithful to walk the via media.

It doesn’t matter what end of the theological spectrum we examine, we will always find holier-than-thou-pharisaical-fundamentalist types. Some will likely be offended to have the term ‘fundamentalist’ attached to their name. However, if their attitude reflects that of their legalistic predecessors, then it deserves the same description. This new breed of Pharisee is hardened toward others because they are confident that the bread of life needs a new additive: their leaven. Sorry to wound their highbrow ego, but God’s already provided all the ingredients we need.


(Sources: Janet Dean Blevins, Doug Hopkins, Jared Henry, Brannon Hancock)

water-level

The water level is rising. If you can’t swim you’d better grab a lifejacket. When the presence of the Holy Spirit starts overflowing even those not paying attention get wet. My hope is for the overflow to turn into a spiritual flood. We’re talking about the Spirit of the Living God. We should expect more that a glass of water spilling in the floor or a leaky pipe under the sink dripping just enough to fill a bucket. The presence of Jesus should do more than get our feet wet.

“I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams” (Joel 2:28). Peter preached this at Pentecost. He started with, “People of Judea give ear to my word…” He ended with “Be saved from this crooked generation.” Following his sermon 3,000 were baptized and added to the faith that very day! Friends, that’s called an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

It happened then, and it can happen now. I’m praying every single day for the church to get drenched with the overflowing presence of the Spirit of Christ. My hope is that the living water of the Living Savior will flow out of us and fill the streets of our communities with the power and presence of Jesus.

In Acts 2 we read about the inauguration of the Church. It started with revival. For many years I’ve been praying for authentic revival to pour into our churches and flow into the streets of our cities. Historically speaking, revival has a lingering effect. It gives people a renewed sense of purpose; it changes the landscape of entire communities. The Holy Spirit is likened to water in several places in scripture. Water wakes people up. That’s exactly what revival does: wakes people up.

My tribe, the Church of the Nazarene, was born out of a spirit of revival. In fact, it was a holiness revival. There was a strong emphasis on the doctrine of entire sanctification, or being filled with the Holy Spirit. A person who is filled with the Holy Spirit is so occupied with the love of God that it seeps into every aspect of their life. Their thoughts, motives, behaviors, and interactions become rooted in a radical, newfound, abundant sense of love.

Love is the chief expression of God and it becomes the central focus of anyone who is filled with the Holy Spirit. In keeping with the water metaphor we could say that sanctification is God’s love flowing like a river through the cisterns of our lives. Sanctification is not, nor has it ever been, a doctrine of sinless perfection. It’s the doctrine of love made perfect. When you’re justified you realize God has done something for you (i.e. saved you). When your sanctified you realize God is doing something in you (i.e. filling you). As God fills you it changes everything about who you are.

It seems the doctrine of sanctification has grown stagnant. It’s as if some leaders have put it in a jar and placed it on a shelf. We’ve constructed a dam that has congested the flow of this classic tenet of the faith. I don’t believe we’ve intentionally shut off the valve. I think it’s been a natural response to the poor theology that became associated with this doctrine during the 20th Century rise of fundamentalism.

Fundamentalism is a rigid form of spirituality that focuses largely on rules and regulations. It contaminated the water. Instead of filtering it we’ve simply stopped serving it. Fundamentalism emphasizes the “thou shalt nots” instead of the “thou shalts.” God empowers us to do. The emphasis on what not to do is a result of fundamentalism. It has done great harm to the holiness movement.

It’s time to reclaim entire sanctification: to set it back at the center of the table. Generic spirituality won’t bring revival. It’s time to tap into the fountain of living water. Entire sanctification is the doctrine that helps us focus on what we should be doing, not what we shouldn’t be doing… and what we should be doing is leading people toward the life-transforming power that only comes through the infilling of the Holy Spirit.

Sanctification doesn’t just influence the individual; it also bears witness to society. It is a social doctrine. It impacts one’s life in such a way that she or he can’t help but take the power and presence of Jesus to everyone they meet. It’s not about shoving religion down peoples’ throats, but loving people to such a degree that they can’t ignore the goodness of God being made known through the presence of a real person. That’s what the spring of living water looks like.

The levee is bursting; people are getting wet. People are learning to swim in a river that’s flowing like it hasn’t in a very long time. They’re being awakened to the mission of Jesus. Those who’ve become immersed in this new stream can’t get enough; those who haven’t are getting wet anyway. I’m absolutely amazed, renewed, and invigorated. Everyday feels like my mom pouring water on my head to get me out of bed when I was a teenager (yes, she really did that).

Everywhere I go I talk to pastors who are swimming in new streams. I literally get reports every week of people being saved, sanctified, healed, delivered, called to ministry, called to start a church, and the list goes on. What I’m talking about isn’t a 1960s rule-based, emotion-driven, religious form of fundamentalism. No… it’s just people waking up.

I want to remind you that you’re a vessel. If you’re a follower of Jesus, contained within you is the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit fills you up he begins to spill over into the lives of your family, friends, church, and community. That’s what floodwater does: it gets everything wet. It messes up the landscape. It shifts the soil. It washes away the debris. It wrecks everything. It forces us to start fresh.

Jesus says, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me… streams of living water will flow from within him” (John 7:37-38). The water level is rising. You’re like a reservoir. I’m praying that the floodwaters seep through the crevices of your life and overflow the entire landscape. It’s happened many times before. It can happen again. Come, Lord Jesus!

My Cup Overflows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When it’s all been said and done

There is just one thing that matters

Did I do my best to live for truth?

Did I live my life for you?


When it’s all been said and done

All my treasures will mean nothing

Only what I have done for love’s reward

Will stand the test of time


Lord, your mercy is so great

That you look beyond our weakness

And find purest gold in miry clay

Turning sinners into saints


I will always sing your praise

Here on earth and ever after

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

When it’s all been said and done

You’re my life when life is gone


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

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)