NYC Reflections…

I just returned home from Nazarene Youth Conference.  It was my 5th NYC to attend in a row.  Sometimes, after you have seen one, you have seen them all…  However, this was not the case at last week’s event.  God moved in powerful ways in students’ lives.  It was a privilege for me to get to be there.

But more than God working in student’s lives, God worked in my life.  Over the years, God has spoken to me through lots of “youth” gatherings.  When I am open and attentive to God’s voice, God never leaves me disappointed…

There seemed to be one main thing for me at NYC this year.  God was continually challenging me to think about what I treasure.  Obviously, as a pastor, I would say that I treasure my relationship with God above anything else, but sometimes in the drudgery of day to day life, our lifestyle can begin to speak otherwise.

Probably the one thing that will stick with me from this NYC was the final message by Eric Samuel Timm.  He had 24 boxes on the stage to represent each hour of the day.  Then he told us that we should get rid of the phrase “spending time” from our vocabulary.  We don’t spend time, we invest it.

Probably the best example of this was his illustration about guitar hero.  When I was a youth pastor, guitar hero was all the rage.  Eric talked about how investing time in guitar hero was a bit ridiculous because the return on your investment is small.  Even if you master every level on the game, you still can’t even begin to play a real guitar!  Imagine what would happen if the same sixth grader invested as much time in playing the REAL GUITAR.  Then he would have a skill that would last a lifetime.

This idea of investing time hit me over the head.  What am I investing in?  The latest Netflix binge or hours of mindlessly looking at Facebook for something interesting?  What are the returns on these investments?  Not that these things are bad in and of themselves, but what am I investing my life in?

When you are in your forties, you begin to realize how precious time is…

I want to invest it wisely…

I was privileged to get to share this NYC with my entire family.  When we returned, we sat around a table a Chili’s and talked about some new habits we hope to form as a family because of what God has done in our lives.

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I’m excited to see where the journey takes us!

Just a thought,

n8

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The ONE THING Missing from the Same-Sex Marriage Conversation

Like a lot of people, since the SCOTUS ruling came down last Thursday, I have read post after post about same-sex marriage.  On my Facebook page, I have people on both sides of the issue, but, as a pastor, the majority of my friends are people within the North American church.  As I have watched the Church respond to the supreme court ruling, there is one thing that no one in the Church seems to be talking about.  The only reason I am writing this blog is because I believe this one thing has been left out of the conversation.  The Lord knows that none of us need to read another blog right now.

The one thing I continually see left out of conversations about same sex marriage is the Christian virtue of HUMILITY…

I see lots of posts drawing lines in the sand.  I see lots of posts defending our stance with the bible.  I see lots of posts using fear mongering to scare the American public about the ramifications of this decision.  I don’t see a lot of posts drenched in humility.  I think, especially in this conversation, the church could use a little humility.

The first reason we could stand to be humble is that WE HAVE BEEN WRONG BEFORE.

Remember Galileo and Copernicus?  The church argued on the authority of the bible that the EARTH WAS FLAT!  Let that sink in for a moment.  I don’t know any Christians in the North American church today that would argue such a thing.  But books were banned, and the word heretic was thrown around because people began believing the earth was round, and revolved around the sun.

And of course, we all know the church’s sordid history with slavery.  The bible was used to support slavery for many years.  Scriptures were quoted and proof texted.  People who talked about racial equality were persecuted because everyone “knew” the bible endorsed slavery.  Today, no reasonable theologian would conclude that slavery is endorsed by the bible.

Perhaps we should let history teach us that these issues aren’t always as cut and dried as the church would like to make them.  Maybe we should approach such issues with humility, knowing we’ve been wrong before.

The second reason it would seem to me that humility is in order in the discussion of same sex marriage is that EVEN IN SCRIPTURE, THE UNDERSTANDING OF A “BIBLICAL MARRIAGE” SEEMS TO HAVE CHANGED.

The truth is that we have to be willing to deal with memes like this one:biblemarriage

I saw another meme that said that the bible is not trail mix, you don’t just get to pick out the parts you like.  But if we are honest, we all do a little picking and choosing.  This meme is obviously generated to garner a response, but there is some truth in it.  We have to be willing to wrestle with the fact that polygamy was an acceptable practice throughout much of the Old Testament. We have to read all of Leviticus if we are going to use the part about homosexuality being a sin.  We all understand that there are a lot of places where we pick and choose what we want to adhere to in the book of Leviticus.

And let’s take an even more modern example, divorce.  The church, even in the last century, has lightened its stance on divorce and the remarriage of divorced people EVEN THOUGH Jesus himself seems to speak pretty plainly about the issue in the Sermon on the Mount. (Matt 5:31-32)  We seem to have changed our stance on divorce in spite of Jesus’ words. I don’t know many Christians that would even debate whether a divorced person can remarry without committing adultery.

I believe we should be a little more humble when we talk about the bible’s definition of traditional marriage.

By this point, you may be wondering where I stand on the issue of marriage.  First of all, I belong to a denomination (Church of the Nazarene) that believes that marriage is defined as one man and one woman.  Our denominational leaders released a statement that you can read here.

When I was ordained, I promised to return my credentials to my church if my beliefs were ever out of harmony with our denominational beliefs.  I have not done so.

I believe, and have gone on record at my church as saying, that the best definition of marriage is between one man and one woman.  For me, you can throw out the proof texts that everyone uses to say “the bible says” homosexuality is wrong.  I’m not really one for proof texting anyway.  For me, it comes back to the image of God.

Genesis 1:27

So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

For me, the best representation of God isn’t a man, although we have often made God into a man.  And for me, the best representation of God isn’t a woman, although we probably haven’t emphasized God’s feminine qualities enough.

For me, the best representation of God is a man and a woman coming together, both the male and female qualities of God, in a monogamous marital union.  I believe that is why Jesus says:

Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?  So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” 

So that is what I believe…

But I also hold onto my belief with humility.  I am trying to be willing to enter into conversations with those who believe that same-sex marriage is perfectly compatible with Christianity because I know that the church has been wrong before.  For the past year and a half, I have prayed this prayer: “Holy Spirit, don’t let us miss on this issue like we did slavery and the earth being flat.  Guide your church.”  And I believe the Spirit will.

We Wesleyans have a great mentor in John Wesley.  His bust sits on my desk in my office.  Wesley was convinced that the bible is NEVER wrong, but that our interpretations of scripture can be.  He used other factors like tradition, reason, and experience to help shape his understanding of scripture.  Most likely, it is these elements that helped the church see that the earth was indeed round, that slavery is actually an abomination in God’s eyes, and that polygamy may sound great in theory but doesn’t work in practice! (read the stories of Rachel and Leah)

[If you are interesting in a good framework for a Wesleyan approach to these conversations please see Dr. Tim Crutcher’s blog]

I am convinced that, as we approach scripture with humility, God will lead the Church again.  It seems to me that in the past week, we have been so busy fighting for our “rights” (which seems antithetical to Jesus on the cross) that we forgot to exhibit the Christian virtue of humility.  May God give us the grace to do so in the coming days.

Just a thought,

n8

Pura Vida- Lessons from Costa Rica

I got back from Costa Rica a week ago.  I attended a conference called Third Wave for young leaders in the church of the Nazarene from all over the globe.  (Not sure I fall in the “young leader” catagory so much anymore)  The trip was amazing…

First of all, it was in COSTA RICA!  It is one of the most beautiful places I have visited on the earth.  The land was teeming with life.  I saw more plant species than I thought possible.  We ate with monkeys at our hotel.  I got to hold a toucan and visit gorgeous waterfalls.  It was amazing.

The country of Costa Rica has a slogan- Pura Vida!  It means pure life.  People will walk up to you in a public place and greet you with “Pura Vida!”

And yet, in Costa Rica, people are looking for that “pure life” in lots of ways.  Some of them look a lot more like bondage and slavery than pure life.

One of the things that God did for me was to open my eyes to how narcissistic I have become.  And I don’t think I am alone.  We Americans are a narcissistic lot.  We walk into a foreign country expecting other people to know English, but we haven’t taken the time to brush up on their native language a bit.  We expect a certain level of comfort, or we get frustrated.  We literally seem to believe that the center of the universe is the good ole USA.

Some of my team members and I noticed that the Europeans at the conference tended to speak 2 or 3 languages. We felt lazy.  Many of the Spanish speakers spoke English as well.  I only know how to speak English and Texan…

My friend Blair was telling me that one of his professors used to have a saying for the teams he sent out to do mission work.  It was something along the lines of “You have no rights.”  We joked about that, but God began to stir my heart as I thought about that saying.

See, I’m not sure that saying should be isolated to “mission” work.  After all, aren’t we ALWAYS on mission?  Shouldn’t we always be “without rights?”

The the question began to swirl around in my head.  “Did Jesus REALLY MEAN IT when he said that the person who loses his life will find it?”

In this new year, I have been praying the prayer of Saint Francis every day at noon.  It ends like this:

“For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

Do I believe this?  Do WE believe this?  To top it off, we prayed the Wesley Covenant Prayer at the Conference.  Take a moment to read this:

I am no longer my own, but yours.Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you, exalted for you, or brought low for you; let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing: I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal. And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours. So be it. And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

This whole prayer is a prayer of death.  Dying to our wishes, and surrendering to Christ’s wishes.  We live in a country where people choose their church based on their personal preference.  We live in a country where we organize our calendars around our personal agendas.  We live in a country where we spend hours seeing how many likes we had on Instagram or Facebook.  And yet, we wonder why we aren’t experiencing “pura vida.”

Maybe “pure life” comes through a “pure death”…

Maybe Jesus meant it when he said that whoever loses his life will find it…

I’m trying to live into this, and it is hard.  I’m trying to die to my opinion of how bad the ref’s call was at my son’s basketball game.  I’m trying to be thankful for my daily bread, and die to my preference of restaurant choice.  I’m trying to die to my own ambitions as a pastor, and be thankful for the people God has called me to serve.  I’m trying to learn to die, but I have to tell you that dying is hard.  There is this thing inside me that is always quick to want MY way, and MY rights, and MY timing.

But I am finding that there is something about dying that brings new life in me.  And in the place of this life that I have constructed, a new life is emerging…

And it is not just any life, it is “Pura Vida!”

Just a thought,

n8

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A Christmas Miracle

If you are a Nazarene (especially in our part of the country) you may have heard the Christmas story of the Toler Brothers.  All three of these brothers have been pastors and leaders in our denomination.  I recently found an article from NewsOK that recounts their miracle Christmas:

“Dad had been laid off from construction work, our food supply had dwindled to nothing, and we had closed off most of the house in order to cut down on our high utility bills,” Stan wrote. On Christmas Eve, they and hundreds of others waited in line for government handouts. The family shivered in the blowing snow until finally, Aaron Toler could not stand it any longer. They left without food. “We’re going home, boys. God will provide!” Stan recalls his father saying. “We cried,” Stan wrote, “but trusted Dad’s faith in God completely.” That night, the family ate popcorn and opened gifts that Mom had bought with Top Value trading stamps. On Christmas morning, as the entire family slept in the parents’ bedroom, a loud knock and a hearty “Merry Christmas!” startled them. The visitors were from the Fifth Avenue Church. “There stood Clair Parsons, Dalmus Bullock and others with gifts, clothes and a 30-day supply of food,” Stan wrote. “(Yes, dried pinto beans, cornmeal and a huge roll of bologna were included!) Since that day, I have always believed that God will provide, and that God is never late when we need a miracle.

(You can read the entire article about the Toler brothers HERE)

I pastor a Nazarene church.  Our name “Nazarene” indicates the desire of our founding mothers and fathers to be a church for ANYONE.  Even people from Nazareth!  You see, Nazarenes weren’t the up and comers in the world.  They weren’t the wealthy an influential.  In fact, when Nathaniel found out Jesus was from Nazareth, he asked Philip, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

At times we have gotten away from our roots.  We have tried to be successful.  We have moved out of the cities into the suburbs.  We have built beautiful buildings and created magnificent youth centers.  We might have even snubbed our noses at the “Nazarenes” of the world, wondering if anything good could come from such places.

This week I was on the phone with a lady from an organization I work with here in town.  She was telling me about a young couple that she ran into.  She was casually asking how the couple’s Thanksgiving went.  The couple just sat there quietly, not saying much.  Another lady chimed in and asked, “Did you eat a lot of food?”  It finally came out that the couple had eaten breadsticks from little caesars that one of them had brought home from work.

It hit me hard to know that people in my town are eating breadsticks for Thanksgiving or any day for that matter.

I’ll have to admit, being a pastor has made me a bit cynical about giving at times.  We get lots of calls at the church from people just wanting us to pay their water or gas bill.  People sometimes lie to you to get what they want, and sometimes it becomes obvious they are doing so.  Jesus tends to say things like “Give to everyone who begs from you”, and then wisdom says that we only have so many resources so I need to make sure I am giving to a GENUINE need.  It’s definitely a tough balance.

But when I heard about this family in MY community that is eating breadsticks for Thanksgiving (and a lot of other days from what I can gather), It broke my heart.  So I wanted to do something about it.

So I want to challenge all my Midwest City friends (It doesn’t matter if you attend our church or not) to do me a favor.  While you are at the grocery store, stocking up for you big Christmas shindig, could you pick up some things that could be EASILY HEATED in an oven (pizza rolls, hot pockets, think the freezer aisle), Mac and Cheese and the like, or crackers, cookies, etc… We are not wanting a big turkey or lots of ingredients, because to make a full fledge Christmas meal might be overwhelming.  (Up until just recently they didn’t have pots and pans to cook with)  We are hoping the food will last them a month or so…

Items can be dropped off at Community Church of the Nazarene, 10200 SE 15th MWC, OK 73130 on SUNDAY, DECEMBER 21st from 7 AM- 12:30 PM

That Christmas for the Toler brothers changed their lives.  The church of the Nazarene is grateful to that little church that brought them food, we have been blessed with 3 great leaders.  We may not see the same results here in Midwest City, but we WILL experience Christ in the act of giving. ( “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat…”)

I hope that Community Church of the Nazarene will get back to our roots of being the church for those who may be at difficult places in life.  My prayer is that this will be a springboard for us as a church that will help us to begin to provide for the TANGIBLE needs of members of our community into the new year!  (I am already hearing of more families we may be able to assist)

I hope you will join me in being part of someone else’s miracle Christmas!

Pastor Nate

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…”

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 http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/john-wesley-the-methodist/ accessed October 16, 2014; Chapter V.

            [3]. John Wesley, “The Journal of John Wesley”, Christian Classics Ethereal Library Internet, available from http://www.ccel.org/ccel/wesley/journal.html, 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 http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/the-sermons-of-john-wesley-1872-edition/sermon-16-the-means-of-grace/, accessed October 16, 2014; Section V.1.

            [7]. John Wesley, “On Grieving the Holy Spirit”, Wesley Center Online, Internet, available from http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/the-sermons-of-john-wesley-1872-edition/sermon-138-on-grieving-the-holy-spirit/, 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,

Nate