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)

No Reserves No Retreats No Regrets

In 1904, 16-year-old William Whiting Borden graduated from a Chicago high school. He was heir to the Borden family fortune. As a graduation gift, before beginning his Ivy League education, his parents sent him on a trip around the world. As he traveled through Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, he developed a deep burden for the hurting people of the world.

William Borden wrote home about his desire to become a missionary. Some expressed skepticism that he would be wasting his life if he committed himself to the mission field. Many thought he should assume his place with the family empire. In response, Borden wrote two words in the back of his Bible: “No Reserves.”

Borden arrived on the campus of Yale University in 1905. His classmates quickly noticed something unusual about him and it wasn’t that he was wealthy. One student wrote: “He came to college far ahead, spiritually, of any of us. He had already given his heart in full surrender to Christ… We who were his classmates learned to lean on him and find in him a strength that was solid as a rock, just because of this settled purpose and consecration.”

It didn’t take long for Borden to notice what he described as “moral weakness and sin-ruined lives” at Yale. Surveying the faculty and much of the student body, Borden mourned what he identified as empty, humanistic philosophy. During his college years, Bill Borden made an entry in his personal journal; it said simply: “Say ‘no’ to self and ‘yes’ to Jesus every time.”

Borden started a small prayer group at Yale that ended up transforming campus life. This prayer group gave birth to a movement that rapidly spread through the student body. By the end of his first year, 150 freshmen were meeting weekly for bible study and prayer. By his senior year, 1000 of Yale’s 1300 students were meeting in prayer groups.

Borden’s ministry was not confined to Yale. He also cared about widows, orphans, and the disabled. He rescued drunks from the streets of New Haven and founded the Yale Hope Mission. One of Borden’s friends wrote that he “might often be found in the lower parts of the city at night, on the street, in a cheap lodging house or some restaurant to which he had taken a poor hungry fellow to feed him, seeking to lead men to Christ.”

Borden’s missionary call narrowed to the Muslim people in China. Once he fixed his eyes on that goal, he never wavered. One of his classmates said: “[Borden] certainly was one of the strongest characters I have ever known… There was real iron in him. I always felt he was of the stuff martyrs were made of…” Upon graduation from Yale, Borden turned down some high-paying job offers. In his Bible, he wrote two more words: “No Retreats.”

William Borden went on to do graduate work at Princeton Seminary in New Jersey. When he finished his studies at Princeton, he sailed for China. Because he was hoping to work with Muslims, he stopped first in Egypt to study Arabic. While there, he contracted spinal meningitis. Within a month, 25-year-old William Borden was dead.

When the news of Borden’s death was cabled back to the U.S., nearly every American newspaper carried the story. Sorrow over the loss of this amazing young man was felt around the globe. Many believed Borden wasted his life, arguing that he should’ve focused on the family business rather than becoming a missionary.

Upon receiving his things Borden’s family discovered that prior to his death, while laying sick in Egypt, he wrote two more words in his Bible. Underneath the words “No Reserves” and “No Retreats,” Borden wrote: “No Regrets.”

As a young man William Borden made a conscious decision to give up his wealth, influence, claim to the family business, and all the advantages that came along with it. So, was his untimely death a waste? No way. God used Borden’s story to call thousands of young men and women to give their lives to missions. Borden’s life became an inspiration to people around the world.

Many of us are tempted to play it safe with our life and ministry. We often retreat from difficulty. When we look back, we frequently have many regrets because we fail to live ‘all in’ for God. Let me remind you, Jesus never said it would be easy, but he did say it would be worth it.

So, live with no reserve. Whatever it is, or whatever you are facing, don’t hold back. You’ve only got one life; give it all you’ve got. Live with no retreat. Don’t take the easy path just because it’s easy. Move forward in what God is leading you to do no matter how difficult. Live with no regret. Follow Jesus wherever he leads without caution.

Like Borden, say ‘no’ to self and ‘yes’ to Jesus every time. Then at the end of your life, you too, will be able to say that you lived with “No Reserves, No Retreats, and No Regrets.”


(Sources: Mary Taylor; Howard Culbertson; Alan Taylor; Daily Bread 1988)

(Disclaimer: This encouraging story was shared with me over 10 years ago by a pastor via email; I’ve shared it many times in sermons and lessons, but am unaware of where this version originated)

Mirrors

We use them everyday. They help us evaluate ourselves. We use them to fix our hair, shave, brush our teeth, make sure our clothes match, put on makeup, and make funny faces. We use them to back out of the driveway, watch for traffic on the interstate, and make sure we still look okay after driving to work. Nowadays people use them to take selfies while puckering up their lips. They call it ‘duck lips,’ although ducks don’t have lips. Anyway… let’s talk about mirrors.

When we look into a mirror we’re use to seeing a clear reflection. However, that’s not what the folks of Jesus’ day would have been accustomed to. Mirrors were not crystal clear reflections. They weren’t even made of reflective glass. They were made of polished copper or brass. The image in a copper mirror would have been extremely vague and distorted.

Because the image wasn’t as clear as ours is today people had to stare at themselves intently for long periods of time to make out their reflection. They looked carefully so that they would know exactly what needed to be done with their hair, their make-up, their clothes, etc. With a better understanding of what a mirror would’ve been like in the 1st Century, let’s read from James chapter one.


“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it – not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it – they will be blessed in what they do.” (James 1:22-25)


Let’s read a few verses again…

“Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.”

This passage has a lot of implications if we understand what mirrors were like in the 1st Century. James is comparing scripture to a mirror. He’s teaching us that God’s instruction for our life doesn’t only need to be seen and heard, it needs to be obeyed. In other words, don’t be hearers only, be doers.

James is saying that anyone who listens to the Word of God, knows it, learns it, and doesn’t live it, is like someone who looks in the mirror and immediately forgets what they look like. He’s comparing that kind of person to someone who spends a lot of time studying what needs to be done, but doesn’t do anything. They see their spiritual reflection, then walk away and forget what needs to be fixed.

These people get distracted and neglect what they saw needed to be improved. They did it all for nothing. Their hair is still a mess, their shirt needs ironing, their tie needs straightening, and their makeup is smudged all over their face. Why in the world did they spend all that time trying to see and then walk away and do nothing? Excuse me, but that’s not very smart. In fact, it’s pretty stupid.

James is saying that God’s Word is the ultimate mirror. He’s teaching that if there’s a separation in our life between belief and behavior, between knowing and doing, between hearing and growing, then we may just be spending time in front the mirror then walking away and doing nothing.

So why don’t we do it? Why don’t we practice what we believe more often? I think it’s because we’ve bought into a warped opinion of life-change. We’ve accepted a messed up view of discipleship. We believe that spiritual growth is something that happens “to us,” or is done “for us.”

That’s not the church’s job…

Never has been and never will be.

People say, “Make me close to Jesus.” It’s not the church’s job to make you close to Jesus; it’s your job. “Save my marriage.” It’s not the church’s job to save your marriage; it’s your job. “Raise my kids.” It’s not the church’s job to raise your kids; it’s your job. “Give me friends.” It’s not the church’s job to help you make friends; it’s your job. “Feed me” (that’s my favorite). It’s not the church’s job to feed you; it’s your job to feed yourself.

It is not the church’s job to give you the life you want. It’s the church’s job to connect you with Jesus by offering opportunities to grow. Whether you do it or not is up to you. The church can’t change you; only God can do that. The church exists to enrich, inspire, challenge, equip, and provide spiritual leadership. In other words, the church offers you opportunities for discipleship, but the church can’t make you become a disciple.

Yes, the church serves the family trying to raise a child. It seeks to provide healing for those who are broken. It provides community to establish authentic relationships. It offers the necessary resources for a vibrant relationship with Christ. However, the church cannot circumvent your choices and responsibilities.

Your job is to be a disciple: a follower of Jesus. So, stop looking in the mirror then walking away and forgetting what you look like. Listen to the Word, examine yourself, and do what it says. Remember, the church cannot live your life for you. You’re the only one who can live your life for you. So do it.


(Sources: Rick Warren, James Emery White, NIV Application Commentary)

Failure Success

There was a time in my life when I was terrified of failure. I was afraid of failing at things that really mattered to me, but not anymore. Now I’m more afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter. I’ve learned that being a disciple isn’t about doing everything right. Discipleship is as much about failure as it is success. It’s actually about being willing to do whatever God calls us to do with courage and enthusiasm. Failure is success if we learn to be better in the process.

The world wants you to think that ‘success’ is the hallmark of life. They tell us we need to make a lot of money, buy a lot of things, live in a big house, drive a nice car, etc. When you do these things, then you are successful. That’s the world’s message and it’s never-ending. However, the kind of life God calls us to is one of sacrifice. In the world’s eyes that looks more like failure than success.

It’s important to remember that God cannot fill you up until he empties you out. With God down is up. Failure is the path to victory. Defeat is the road to triumph. Death is the way to life. The last will be first. This is the essence of the gospel. It’s the message of the cross. Coming to the end of self is the only way to truly discover oneself.

The world’s motto is “Get.” Get, get, get, and get some more. It reminds me of the old expression, “Get all you can, can all you get, and sit on the can.” In other words, accumulate everything you can. Preserve everything you amass. Finally, guard your assets so no one else can get them from you. The kingdom’s motto is the opposite: “Give.” Give, give, give, and give some more. Give until it hurts and keep on giving, trusting God as the source.

God allows seasons of failure to help us grow. He wants us to learn to give more than we get because he knows if we get more than we give that we’ll become consumed by what we get and not focus on what we need to give. That’s a tongue-twitter, but it’s true. It’s also difficult to swallow, especially for Americans. We are winners; we don’t fail, ever. At least that’s what we’re told.

Remember, the kingdom doesn’t play by the world’s rules. God knows what we’re holding on to. He knows the areas of our lives that need to be purged. Failure is simply part of the process. God didn’t make it a three-strikes-and-you’re-out sort of deal. It’s more about how God helps us dust ourselves off so that we can swing for the fences again.

A life motto for me has been… “If you don’t quit, you can’t lose.” Say that out loud, “If you don’t quit, you can’t lose.” With God, this is spot-on. You may feel like a failure sometimes, but as long as you keep the faith, you’re still in the game. No matter how many times you swing and miss, you’re never out with God.

You don’t get to shape all the circumstances of your life. But have you ever thought that maybe Jesus is using the circumstances to shape you? The master sculptor is constantly chiseling away the rough spots. Like any great artist, he never stops working until the sculpture becomes a masterpiece. It’s a painstaking process, but the end result is out of this world, literally.

Satan will never stop calling you out. It is like a baseball game and the Devil’s the umpire. Life decides to throw you a curveball. Ever had that happen? When you swing and miss the Devil says, “Strike one.” Life throws you a fastball. You swing and miss and Satan says, “Strike two.” Then life throws you a changeup. You swing and miss the Devil says, “Strike three, you’re out!”

Now if you believe that you will drop your bat, hang your head, slump your shoulders, go to the dugout, and sit on the bench for the rest of your life. You will spend a lot of time thinking about what might’ve been, what could’ve been, and what should’ve been. You’ll spend the rest of your life living with a sense of failure if you buy into the rules of the world.

However, you’d be forgetting that the kingdom plays by a different set of rules. So, when the Devil yells, “Strike three, you’re out!” Turn around, with your bat in hand, and say, “Satan, it’s my bat, my ball, my Dad owns the field, and I’m not out, not now, and not ever.” Step back up to the plate and keep swinging and believing, and believing and swinging, until you get a hit and get on base.

“Success is going from failure to failure without the loss of enthusiasm” ~Winston Churchill. So, never let success get to your head and never let failure infect your heart. Stay focused on Jesus and never, never, never give up. Reach for the sky every single day. If you don’t quit you can’t lose.


(Sources: Bob Goff, Brian Zahnd, Winston Churchill)

Black Lives Matter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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