The Kind of Faith I Want…

Every once in a while, I run into someone who is not happy with the theology department at our local Nazarene University.  Usually their complaint boils down to a story about a friend or a loved one who went to school to study theology and came home not sure if they believed anything at all.  The friends and or family of these students feel like the university has failed them. I would argue that it didn’t.

I would argue that the university was doing its due diligence in training up godly pastors and leaders.

You see, long before I ever took a real theology class, (my undergrad was in chemistry) I noticed something about the faith, and scripture in particular.  I noticed that the more a person reads and studies scripture, the less they seem to know about scripture.

Sure, when a person hasn’t deeply engaged scripture, it is easy to spout off a bunch of “bible promises” or single verses that “support” our faith.  But it doesn’t take a very thorough examination of scripture to begin to come across questions. In fact, sometimes it seems like the more you study scripture, the more the questions surface.  This is what happens to the theology majors mentioned above.  They are forced to wrestle with questions they have never encountered before.  Up until that point, most of them have lived on the faith of their parents or have developed a faith of nice, easy cliches.

The longer I live, the more I am worn out by the cliches and the faith that goes along with them.  I would never want someone to pastor my congregation who had never wrestled with the tough questions of the faith.  I would hope that my pastor was still wrestling.

That’s the universities job.  To send out pastors who have been willing to wrestle.

Have you ever read the book of Joshua?  What are we supposed to do with passages that seem to indicate that Yahweh instructs Israel to wipe out entire nations of people?  What do with do with this genocide that seems to be mandated by God?  Were the writers attributing something to God that was not of God as some would suggest?  How do we handle such texts?  There are no cliches to answer these types of questions.  Do we really believe serpents talked as we are told in Genesis 3?  What do we do with talking serpents?  Sometimes different passages of scripture seem to be in direct opposition.  How do we reconcile stories that flat out seem to contradict each other? Like I said, the deeper we get into scripture, the more questions arise…

I think a lot of times we believe that our faith has to be like a fortress.  We build up our fortress with passages like John 3:16, Romans 6:23, or Philippians 4:13.  We have the little family of Christian fish on our minivans and bumper stickers that say “God answers knee mail.”  We are poised to “defend our faith.”  We don’t want to get too deep into the questions because we might not have answers, and then the armor of our faith would have a chink in it.

Have you listened to the songs on Christian radio lately?  Yeah, me either…  But today I found myself listening to a Christian station in the car, and it was like every song had the same five cliches about grace, or being set on fire, or the like.  Not a lot of REAL music.  Not much of it spoke about the messiness of our existence.

The kind of faith I want looks a lot more like Jacob than K-LOVE. (The local Christian station)  Remember Jacob?  He spent an entire night wresting with God.  He grabbed on tight and wouldn’t let go.  Jacob’s hip even got wrenched in the process, but he still wouldn’t let go until The Lord blessed him.

Today, we were talking in my Hebrew class about the actual Hebrew verb in story of Moses and the burning bush.  God says that his name is “I AM that I AM.”  The actual Hebrew verb that is used there is the verb for “I will be.”  So one way to read it would be, “I will be what I will be!”

There is no way for us to reduce God to a bunch of simple answers, catch phrases, or even “bible promises.”  God will be who God will be!

I want the kind of faith that dives into the mystery of God and holds on for dear life like Jacob as he wrestled.  I want to wrestle with questions and trust God even when there seem to be no answers.  After all, isn’t faith really about trusting even when we can’t see the answer?

In other words, I don’t want the faith of some sort of shallow, self-help religion.  I want to dive deep into the mystery of God.  I want to be so deep in the mystery of God that I am way in over my head. And there, in the midst of my questions, I want to place my hand in the hand of the One whose name is “I will be what I will be…”


The Cumulative Effect…

Life is short…

They grow up way too fast…

Ever hear one of these phrases?  Yeah, me too.  It was always the “older folks” who used to say them to me when I was twenty.  You know the older folks right.  Those people over 40…

It seems that now I am one of those “older folks”, and I hear myself spouting off those same cliches to people in their 20’s.  Ahh, the circle of life.

I think if there is one thing that I am striving to learn in my life, it is the cumulative effect.  Things add up.  Over the span of our lifetime, little decisions can have drastic consequences.

I woke up this year at the heaviest weight I’ve ever been.  It was crazy.    Things accumulated, right around my waistline.  It was like one day I was running the Tough Mudder and in the best shape of my life and the next day I was buying the largest size waist band I have ever worn.  The truth is, it didn’t happen overnight.  Every decision to pop open a can of coca-cola, or open a bag of peanut butter M&M’s added up.

When I think about it, I ran the Tough Mudder 2 1/2 years ago.  Thats about 900 days.  Many of the days I said no to exercise and yes to all kinds of wonderful comfort foods.  It all added up to where I found myself two weeks ago.

Or take writing for example.  I enjoy writing, and I want to become a better writer.  I hope to live a nice, long life.  What would happen if I chose to write SOMETHING every day for the rest of my life.  So many days, I choose to watch someone else’s writing through a TV show or movie instead of writing something myself.  And a lot of that writing really stinks actually…

We can apply this cumulative effect to a great number of areas of our life.  For example, our spiritual disciplines can also be chosen or neglected.  We may look up a few years down the road and wonder how our heart grew hard towards the things of God.  It probably didn’t happen overnight.  We choose DAILY if we will allow ourselves to be shaped by God’s grace.

The beautiful thing is that the cumulative effect works both ways.  Our good decisions add up too.  Almost 2 weeks ago I started eating differently and I am already seeing results.  I know that if it took years to put those pounds on, it will take a long time to take them off, but every choice to drink water instead of soda adds up.  If I want to be a better writer, I can choose to write TODAY and see how my writing develops in the next 40 years of my life.  If I want to be in tune with God’s Spirit, I can choose to seek God TODAY.

Every little bit adds up.  A little each day changes us dramatically over time.

My boys are both in high school now.  Every person I have talked to has warned me HOW FAST high school goes by for your kids.  I’m sure that is true.  I pray that I will make small decisions each day as a dad so that when this season of my life is over, I see how the little things have accumulated and I have no regrets…

Just a thought,


A Pastor’s Appreciation…

We are on the heels of a month of appreciation for we pastor-types.  It always feels good to be appreciated, and I am thankful to be serving a congregation that appreciates their pastor all throughout the year.  Sometimes when I peruse the internet, it seems like we pastors are a bit of a miserable lot.  Most of the posts about pastors talk about our depression, our struggles, and our inadequacies.  I’m not saying that this pastor is exempt from any of these.  I have my share of neuroses to be sure, but this post isn’t about any of that…

There are three other people who make this journey with me.  Unlike me, they didn’t choose this life for themselves.  My wife, Paula, married a chemist.  She had no idea what she was signing up for when we married.  The title of “pastor’s wife” never crossed her mind when she said “I do.”

And then there are these two young men that live in my house.  They had no choice in the matter at all.  They were born as YPK’s. (Youth Pastor’s Kids)  There has always been somewhat of an expectation on them to be “good boys.”  Almost five years ago, they became just PK’s.  Maybe there is more expectation tied to that, I’m not sure.  Everybody expects the youth pastor to be a little crazy, so maybe YPK’s get cut a little slack.  Either way, they are PK’s which comes with a whole list of expectations.

At the end of pastor appreciation month, I’d like to thank these three.  They are the ones who pick me up on the days when I am the epitome of those pastoral blog posts.  When I am hurt, frustrated, depressed, or just plain worn out from the duties of being a pastor, it is these three that keep me steady.  It is in these three that I find constant affirmation, acceptance, and love.  Their love is the closest thing to the love of God that I have experienced on this earth.  So I would be remiss if I didn’t share my appreciation for them…

To Paula: From the moment you said those three magical words, “What’s your name?”, I knew that there was something amazing about you.  You are much more than a pretty face, although you are that for sure.  You are the one I have laughed with and cried with for   20 years now.  I love that we still date.  I enjoy going to our kids ball games, or just sitting around the house hanging out with the boys.  You are my rock.  You prop me up when I question myself.  Your faith challenges me.  You make an amazing pastor’s wife even though you didn’t sign up for it.  You are the life of the party and bring joy to the people you are with.  You dive right in and work hard at the church right beside me, even though you aren’t paid like I am.  You always have.  You allow me to completely be myself.  I love you…

To Nathan: You came into the world in a dramatic fashion.  We weren’t sure if you were going to make it or not that first night.  I am so glad you did.  You were always my mini-me.  Nate Jr. is what we called you as baby.  You always were a practical joker and a bit sarcastic like your dad.  I’ll never forget the prank you played on me in kindergarten.  You really were a mini-me.  Not so much my mini-me anymore.  Now I look up to you.  I know that there are days that people put expectations on you because of my calling, but I couldn’t be prouder of you.  You ARE a good kid, not because your dad is a pastor, but because you have chosen to follow Christ yourself.  I love that you are really enjoying high school and that you have a great group of friends to share the experience with.  I am excited to watch you play basketball this year, but am more excited about being your dad.

To Tyler:  We’ve always had a bit of a special bond because you and I understand what it is like to be the youngest of two brothers.  Since you were a toddler, you have been able to make the entire family laugh.  You are always entertaining us.  You too ARE a good kid, not because you have to be, but because you have placed your life in Christ’s hands.  I’ve watched you bring your friends to church and watched them become part of our youth ministry.  I have had the privilege of baptizing some of them.  You jumped in and started playing the drums in 5th grade, much to the surprise of everyone on the stage and in the church.  I taught you everything I know about the guitar, which took like an hour, but still…  Someday you will be teaching me how to play things on guitar.  I am looking forward to watching you play ball in the next month or so.  I love being your dad.


This weekend, as I watched my family set up for our “Monster Mash” trunk or treat, I realized how much I appreciate these three.  There is kind of this unspoken understanding that they will be there, but I love that they genuinely want to be there.  Tyler was over at the table sawing 2×4’s and building games, which he does much better than his old man.  Nathan was carrying sheets of plywood and reaching things that no one else could.  Paula was scurrying around completing 10 tasks to every one of mine as usual.  And I thought to myself, no matter where ministry may take me, no matter the ups and downs, I will have these three people.  Definitely three people this pastor appreciates…

Active Waiting: Recovering the Passion of John Wesley

“Set yourself on fire with passion & people will come for miles to watch you burn. -John Wesley.” You may have seen a quote like this floating around the twittersphere. The only problem with this quote is that there is no evidence that John Wesley actually said any such thing. Why then is this quote so often attributed to Wesley? I think the reason the quote keeps getting attributed to Wesley is that it seems to be a good summary of his life. As a graduate student at Nazarene Theological Seminary, I was asked to study the life and thought of John Wesley including his sermons and journal entries. I was immediately struck with the passion with which Wesley pursued God. If there is one thing that I think the Church of the Nazarene could stand to recapture from Wesley’s legacy, it would be this passionate pursuit of God.

When Wesley was at Oxford, he joined a group his brother Charles had formed called “the holy club.” Although the main focus of this group was studying the scriptures, the members of the holy club were determined to live out their understanding of the text in daily life. John Wesley had little use for theological thoughts that were not lived out in a believer’s life.[1] A simple quote illustrates the passion with which this group pursued their Savior:

At first the friends met every Sunday evening; then two evenings in every week were passed together, and at last every evening from six to nine. They began their meetings with prayer, studied the Greek Testament and the classics, reviewed the work of the past day, and talked over their plans for the morrow, closing all with a frugal supper. They received the Lord’s Supper weekly, fasted twice a week, and instituted a searching system of self-examination, aiming in all things to do the will of God and be zealous of good works.[2]

There seems to be a natural pushback in the Church today against this kind of discipline. After all, any kind of spiritual practice that requires discipline has the potential to lead to putrid self-righteousness. Even Wesley, as he reflected on his Aldersgate experience, may have later considered his “holy club” days to be a type of self-righteous striving. His journal seems to imply that Aldersgate was the place where he first genuinely trusted the Love of God. However, it seems that this passionate pursuit of God was a quality in Wesley that made events like Aldersgate possible. By allowing himself to be constantly shaped by scripture, fasting, communion and the like, Wesley was making space in his life for grace. In other words, he was able to seek and find God as he sought God with all his heart.

A quick look into Wesley’s journal reveals that he continued to live with this same passion after leaving Oxford. Wesley’s daily routine during his trip across the Atlantic illustrates his dedication to the pursuit of Christ and to ministry. Beginning with prayer at 4 AM, Wesley’s days at sea were inundated with personal spiritual formation as well as ministry to others. After that initial hour of prayer, Wesley and his companions spent two hours in the bible together, reading the scripture in community. They also read the early church fathers’ comments on the passages and compared the two understandings. Wesley then set aside an hour for breakfast. After breakfast was an hour for public prayer, followed by a three-hour study of German. This was to enable John to minister to the German immigrants onboard. At noon, the Wesley brothers and their companions gathered for accountability and then ate lunch together. After lunch, the group spent time reading to other passengers on the ship that were in their care. The early evenings consisted of a public prayers and catechism, private prayers, and reading to men who were in their cabin. The Germans hosted a public service at 7 PM, which Wesley attended. The Wesley brothers and their companions then met together one more time to “exhort and teach one another” about an hour before they went to bed.[3] In looking at Wesley’s daily schedule, it becomes painfully obvious that the driving force in Wesley’s life was to “Love God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength. And to love his neighbor as himself.” His passion to know God permeated every hour of his days at sea.

Although Wesley’s daily pursuit of God demonstrates the passion with which he approached his faith, it may be in his lack of faith that we see this characteristic most distinctly. On his voyage to America, Wesley had a “near death” experience. It bothered Wesley that in the midst of the storm, he lacked a sense of assurance about his faith. What was even more troubling was the fact that a group of German Christians known as Moravians seemed to have a peace when faced with their own mortality that Wesley did not possess. They literally continued to worship by singing the evening’s Psalm as the storm raged on. When Wesley realized his faith to be lacking assurance, he began to seek this assurance with his usual vigor. He was introduced to a Moravian named Peter Bohler. Bohler continued to converse with Wesley about the “assurance of faith” and encouraged Wesley to continue to preach, even as he sought the assurance of salvation.[4] On May 24th, 1738, Wesley received the assurance of salvation he had been seeking:

In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.[5]

Even though Wesley admits that he went “unwillingly” to the meeting at Aldersgate Street, that evening was a culmination of a Wesley’s search for the assurance of salvation. The search began on a boat in the Atlantic where Wesley realized his faith to be lacking. It was this lack that led him to “actively wait” for the assurance that he witnessed in the Moravians. Wesley’s friendship with Peter Bohler was another form of this “active waiting.” In short, Wesley made himself available to God so that he was willing and able to recognize the grace of God at Aldersgate.

It seems that Wesley’s life was characterized by this “active waiting” upon God. Wesley’s life was saturated with prayer, scripture, and participation in Christian community, which was characterized by receiving communion together. Wesley called these activities the “means of grace.” He instructed those who desired the grace of God to wait for it, not passively, but by actively pursuing the means of grace.[6]

The Church desperately needs to recapture the passion that led John Wesley to actively pursue God. We are victims of the dreaded pendulum swing. We have seen discipline turn into legalism, and therefore, our natural reaction has been to forego discipline altogether. Grace is free. It seems to us to be something we passively receive. Wesley’s daily schedule is almost laughable to us. Even the pastors among us can hardly imagine having every hour of the day accounted for in study, prayer, or ministry. We enjoy our lazy boys and Netflix binges. It is difficult for us to get our people to commit to an hour-long service every week. Wesley’s words from his sermon entitled “On Grieving the Holy Spirit”, sound all too familiar to us:

Men are generally lost in the hurry of life, in the business or pleasures of it, and seem to think that their regeneration, their new nature, will spring and grow up within them, with as little care and thought of their own as their bodies were conceived and have attained their full strength and stature; whereas, there is nothing more certain than that the Holy Spirit will not purify our nature, unless we carefully attend to his motions, which are lost upon us while, in the Prophet’s language, we “scatter away our time,” — while we squander away our thoughts upon unnecessary things, and leave our spiritual improvement, the one thing needful, quite unthought of and neglected.[7]

Once again, we see that Wesley refutes the understanding that holiness somehow happens to us. Rather, Wesley affirms that our response to the sanctifying grace of God is to “attend to His motions.”   With the advent of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and the like, we are given a multitude of opportunities to “scatter away our time.” We are easily distracted by the myriad of choices placed in front of us each day. We cart our children to soccer practice, vocal lessons, and swim team. Could it be that we have been guilty of grieving the Holy Spirit by allowing our lives to become so disjointed and distracted?

Over the years, we have had lots of theological conversations about holiness. We have talked about two trips to an altar. We have talked about growth in grace. We have argued over which is correct. Some of us have said, “This is a both/and thing, not an either/or.” Although Wesley understood sanctification to be a crisis event, he acknowledged that scripture is somewhat ambiguous on the subject. Perhaps it’s time to stop having discussions on the mechanisms of sanctification and to, instead, begin passionately pursuing a Holy God, trusting God to give us all the experiences we need. It seems that Wesley’s pursuit was a pursuit of God that led him to experiences, rather than a pursuit of experiences that led him to God.

Recapturing this passion from Wesley will mean that we will have to say “no’ to some things. Many of those things will be “good” things, but not necessarily “the best” thing. It means that we will have to learn to make space in our lives for grace. It might mean that we turn off the Netflix marathon. It might mean that our churches say “no” to traditional weekly events to create new environments for hearing scripture in community. Some of us might be able to leverage the power of our technology by listening to scripture on our morning walk. Others of us may want to put the technology away for large portions of our day. We might give up sleep, or food, or even sex. We might have to learn to say “no” to some things to make ourselves available to receive the grace that God desires to pour into our lives.

If we are to take our cues from Wesley, a passionate pursuit of God will most certainly include attending to the means of grace. Rather than living by one verse bible promises, (which may or may not be completely ripped out of context) we will have to become a people who devour scripture. We will need to learn to hear scripture in community, both with the people in our local congregation and in the historical voices of the church. We will need to be a people of prayer who call on God both individually and as a congregation all throughout the week. Finally, we will need to be a people of communion, a living embodiment of the broken body and shed blood of Jesus Christ. I pray that the people called Nazarenes would once again learn what it means to “actively wait” on the grace and mercy of God by attending to the means of grace. I believe that, as we are willing to attend to the means of grace, we will be set on fire, and the world will come to watch us burn!

            [1]. Timothy J Crutcher, John Wesley: His Life and Thought (Publication Pending), 95.

            [2]. “John Wesley the Methodist”, Wesley Center Online, Internet, available from accessed October 16, 2014; Chapter V.

            [3]. John Wesley, “The Journal of John Wesley”, Christian Classics Ethereal Library Internet, available from, accessed October 16, 2014; 16.

[4]. Ibid, 34-35.

[5]. Ibid, 36.

[6]. John Wesley, “The Means of Grace”, Wesley Center Online, Internet, available from, accessed October 16, 2014; Section V.1.

            [7]. John Wesley, “On Grieving the Holy Spirit”, Wesley Center Online, Internet, available from, accessed October 16, 2014; Section II.

Why I am a Nazarene…

I was recently asked to give an answer to the question, “Why am I a Nazarene?”

If I am honest, part of why I am a Nazarene is my pedigree.  Both my grandparents were Nazarene ministers at some point in their life. My dad was a Nazarene youth pastor.  In other words, if I would have ended up as something else, someone had failed miserably…

But there comes a point in a person’s life when he has to own his faith.  I was in my 20s when I fell in love with Nazarene theology.  It was because of our “Theology of Love” that I fell in love with the church that I was born into.

We believe that God is a God of Love and God extends that love to EVERYONE.  We aren’t predetermined, we have a choice.  Real love always includes a choice to love and be loved.

But more than that, we believe the love God does more than just cover up our sin, we believe this Love of God transforms us into the image of Christ.

What that says to me is that NO ONE is beyond the transforming Love of God.  Even the person who is most hostile to religion.  The gospel is good news to everyone.  There is hope for all of us.  None of us is too far gone.  Jesus modeled this when he walked upon the earth.  He went to people that others had given up on.  He was accused of eating with tax collectors and sinners.  Everywhere Jesus went, his transforming love changed people.  From religious leaders like Nicodemus to tax collectors, adulterers, and lepers.

What I love about my church is that even in its inception the goal was to make “outsiders” into “insiders”.  The buildings were plain because we wanted to poorest of the poor to feel at home.  In choosing the name Nazarene, we were identifying with those who have been given up on.  Nathaniel asked Jesus, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46)  To be a Nazarene was to be an outcast.  We are the church for the outcasts.

When we are honest with ourselves, we are all outcasts at some point.  We all are the woman caught in the act of adultery.  We all are the tax collector. We all are the Pharisee.  In short, we all long for and need an encounter with the transforming Love of God that is found in Christ Jesus and born in our heart by the Holy Spirit.

Honestly, at times our church has gotten away from our identity.  But what organization hasn’t?  What I am encouraged by is the fact that all across the North American Church I see churches that are getting back to our roots.

Why am I a Nazarene?

Because I believe in the transforming Love of God, that brings hope to places that are hopeless.  There is no place that is too far gone. God specializes in making something beautiful out of “Nazarenes” like you and me.

Just a thought,


The Problem with Fundamentalism…

I have always had a problem with fundamentalism.  I am not sure that I have ever thought out WHY I have a problem with a fundamental understanding of scripture in depth.  I read this quote today from Dr. Tim Crutcher, one of our theology professors at Southern Nazarene University.  It is the best explanation of why a fundamentalist understanding of scripture becomes problematic I have personally ever read.


“The problem with fundamentalism is not that its interpretation of Scripture is wrong. It may be, but as Wesley recognized, “there are a thousand mistakes that are compatible with true religion.” No, the problem with fundamentalism is that it prioritizes the selfish human desire for secure knowledge over an encounter with God that might actually make us feel very insecure. Certainty obviates the need for faith–which the Bible itself offers as the only possible foundation for a relationship with God. By confining God’s word to only those categories we can easily and comfortably grasp, fundamentalism trades the amazing–and sometimes terrifying–dynamic of interpersonal trust for the safe but selfish and static ideal of certain knowledge. A safely domesticated deity, however, is not one worth relating to. Any god who fits in our box is too small to have any hope of filling our heart.”

She said YES…

September 17th will always be a special day in my life.  It is the day I asked Paula to marry me.  When it comes to remembering dates, I am not the stereotypical guy who always forgets.  For some reason, September 17th is easy for me to remember.  Probably because I know I married up, and for some reason Paula said YES!  I felt like I won the lottery…

When I think about September 17th, 1994, I am amazed at how young we were.  Paula was 19.  I was 21.  She had no idea what she was saying “Yes” to…

She thought she was marrying a chemist, and ended up being a pastor’s wife.  The only problem is that she didn’t wear her hair in a bun, or know how to play the piano.  She didn’t wear her dresses down to her ankles or talk in that high pitched pastor’s wife prayer voice that must be taught somewhere in seminary.  She has always been unique, which is one of the things I love about her.

When Paula said “yes” that day it wasn’t a one-time “yes”.  It was a continual “yes.”   A “til death do us part” kind of “yes.”  For her, it meant taking on a role that she never prepared for.  It meant becoming the pastor’s wife.  And, I may be a bit biased, but I think that she is an amazing pastor’s wife.  On that night I proposed, Paula had no idea where that “yes” would take her.

I think what God really desires from all of us is a continual “Yes.”

Sometimes we have boiled the Christian experience to a “yes” to God at an altar somewhere.  That “yes” is important, but it also has to be followed up by a continual, daily “yes.”  Sometimes saying “yes” to God will lead us to places we never dreamed we’d be, but if we trust that our Creator has our best interests in mind, we know that wherever He leads us will be the best place for us.

Much like when Paula and I got engaged, when we launch out into a life of faith, we have no idea what all we are saying “yes” to.  We never know where we will end up.

I think the key to this kind of living is learning to enjoy each day and say “yes” to God in the smallest things in life.  We may have no idea where it will take us, but we can be assured that wherever it takes us, we won’t be alone!

Just a thought,