The Necessity of Stories: A response to my open letter

I recently found myself at the receiving end of a post gone viral. For someone who has a very small social media platform, it was quite an eye-opening experience.

I wrote words that meant a great deal to me. I asked questions which were very personal and were questions which found a home in the deepest parts of my soul. I made myself vulnerable. I opened myself up and I quickly realized the questions I asked both resonated and offended in equal measure.

I subsequently spent two weeks talking with those who agreed with me, and more often, listening to those who disagreed with me.

At the end of it all, I don’t harbor ill-will or feelings of anger against anyone. For the most part, people were very Christlike- if not passionate- about their disagreement with me, and in a time when we need more passionate, Christlike disagreement, I respect them greatly for their fervor.

I have, over the past two weeks, also been thinking about how I wanted to respond to those who were offended by my asking tough questions.

Many have done a fantastic job explaining why it is very Biblical to question authority, particularly those in Spiritual leadership, and have done a beautiful job of citing Scriptural examples of this, and so I don’t feel the need to rehash this.

I do, however, think there is another aspect of this anger which must be addressed; this being the larger issue of our willingness to hear and respond to people’s stories and experiences within our communities.

We all love a good story. 

Whether it’s a book, a movie, a comic, or a podcast, stories and the characters within them, do something to us few other mediums can. They evoke within us feelings we can’t suppress (and we love them for this).

We’ve all experienced the power of story, haven’t we?

I still remember tearing up as a 10-year-old when Goose dies in the arms of Maverick in Top Gun (don’t judge me!).

goose

I still remember the feeling of rage when Tom Robinson is convicted of a crime he never committed, by a jury that was never going to let him go free.

tom robinson

I still remember the feelings of wonder and dread as I read about Middle Earth, and the conflict between good and evil within her.

gondor

And I remember the feelings of anxiety and tension, wondering if Bilbo or Gollum would emerge from the dark victorious.

riddles

Stories create within us, this unique ability to know the heart and experiences of others.

To quote my favorite literary character, Atticus Finch,

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

To listen to another’s story is the sacred act of climbing inside another’s skin and walking around a while. Their eyes become our eyes, their skin becomes our skin, their hopes become our hopes, and their fears become our fears.

Our church desperately needs more stories. 

The comment section of my “Open Letter” is filled with stories of those who were wounded by our denomination. These stories are important and need a place to be told.

We need the stories of clergy hurt by their colleagues, congregants or superiors.

We need the stories of parishioners who were hurt and silenced by clergy.

We need the stories of the ways leadership has stifled questions and who subsequently pushed the questioners out of their ministry assignments or their home congregations.

Simply stated, we desperately need to hear the stories of the people.

We need these stories because they lead us to, as a denomination, a greater depth of empathy and compassion. And in a time of great misunderstanding or resistance, this empathy, compassion and commitment to understanding will become the balm that heals our corporate bodies and souls.

However, this road to empathy is a difficult one.

To gain a deeper sense of empathy and understanding, we as the church must allow ourselves to be broken by what we hear; by these stories of the people. We must allow ourselves to identify with the victim, to hear their stories, even when it creates within us a sense of instability and even (especially) when it goes against our own experiences.

We must listen and tell these stories, we must ask these questions, even when others demand our silence.

We must resist.

We must do so lovingly, generously, and in a deeply Christ-like way, but we must resist all the same.

We must resist because we are a people who exist for the broken. We are the followers of a Messiah who identified with those who were told to shut up.

We must resist because we follow a Savior who listened to the voiceless.

Our church seems to be dividing down an experiential line. 

We’re dividing ourselves along the lines of those who love and appreciate her, and those who have been wounded and find themselves unable to trust her.

And the gap between these two continues to grow.

Friends, we must remedy this. Friends, we can remedy this.

This remedy will come when we decide we’re done with being an idealogical people, and instead dedicate ourselves to becoming a story telling people.

Friends, lets tell our stories, and may we watch as the beauty of reconciliation unfolds before us.

Book Review: “Searching For Sunday” by Rachel Held Evans

search

Books are beautiful things. They move us, shape us and through them we grow.

Some books are better than others. Some make us laugh, some make us cry, other books find themselves flung against the walls of our bedroom in anger. Anger which we may or may not feel guilty about later.

Still other books are exactly what we need at exactly the right time. They hit that nerve which speaks to us in ways more significant than just as words on a page. They convey a deeper truth, they give a name to that aching within our soul, that scratch we haven’t quite been able to itch.

What Rachel Held Evans just published in Searching For Sunday is that kind of special.

 A little about the book:

“Many months would pass before I understood that people bond more deeply over shared broken than they do over shared beliefs.” p. 67

Part memoir, part theological exploration, Searching For Sunday effortlessly weaves the telling of Rachel’s story with a theological exploration of the seven sacraments; baptism, confession, holy orders, communion, confirmation, anointing of the sick, and marriage.

As she explores the sacraments, Rachel walks the reader through her own experiences with the church, tells of how it shaped her, formed her, hurt her, how that hurt pushed her away, and how she found her way back to the community of believers once more.

Many attest to the fact that the spiritual journey is an intimate experience akin to marriage. Into the fold we bring our fears, baggage and hurts, and in doing so, we find ourselves deeply exposed for all to see.

For many of us, we will fight our whole lives to keep this sort of thing hidden from the eyes of others within the church. Rachel, however has courageously invited us into this journey. Sharing with us her story as tangible proof that those who doubt are not as alone as maybe they once believed.

What I loved

“But the gospel doesn’t need a coalition devoted to keeping the wrong people out. It needs a family of sinners, saved by grace, committed to tearing down walls, throwing open the doors, and shouting, “Welcome! There is bread and wine. Come eat with us and talk.” This isn’t a Kingdom of the worthy; it’s a Kingdom for the hungry.” p 147

I could write 5000 words on all I loved in Searching for Sunday, but for the sake of brevity I’ll limit it to only a few.

Even if the rest of the book were rubbish (which I can’t stress enough, is not the case), I would recommend readers buy it for the chapter on Communion alone. At multiple points during this section, I found myself choked up, with goose bumps, and audibly (and inaudibly) shouting my agreements.

Filled with stories of Methodist dance parties, heavenly bouncers, and stories like how the Eucharist was a divine instrument of racial-reconciliation in the 1940’s segregated South, Searching for Sunday provides the skin-and-bones beauty and sacredness of what the sacrament of Eucharist really means. It paints the beautiful picture of how the taking of the cup and the breaking of the bread unites people of all races, genders, political affiliations and orientations.

Rachel reminds us that the Eucharist is a divine act of remembering that not one of us belongs at the table, yet because of Christ, all are welcome at the table. The Eucharist reminds us that the food is just as much mine as it is yours, that the nourishment provided by the bread and the cup will heal you just as deeply it heals me. It reminds us that we need to let go of our disagreements, and in finding ourselves face-to-face with those we disagree with, speak the divine words of Jesus;

This is my body which was broken for you.

This is my blood which was poured out for you.

Easier said than done.

As I read and re-read this section, I once again rediscovered the beauty in the Eucharist. The deep and unending mystery of the eucharist. The great hope that comes from remembering Christ’s life, death and resurrection.

It was a journey in finding myself at the Table of Christ for the first time, again.

In conclusion

I cannot recommend Searching for Sunday strongly enough. It moved me, shook me, reached deep within me and changed me. While the American Evangelical church has lately become known for who they are against instead of who they are for, Rachel reminds us through her words, and through her stories, that the church isn’t defined by either of those categories.

Rather, we’re defined by the one whose table we dine at. For we eat at the table of the King.

You, me and the guy whose politics we can’t stomach.

So let’s pass the bread, let’s break open the wine, and lets remember that there is plenty for all to eat and be filled.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

///

For those who want to purchase the book, today is the day to do it! Rachel is giving away free download codes for “Seven Songs,” an album by singer/songwriter (and sister of Rachel) Amanda Opelt. “Seven Songs” was inspired by the seven sacraments featured in Searching for Sunday, and so they are closely tied to one another. So make your purchase and submitted you proof of purchase by April 18th, 2015 at 11:59pm EDT, and this amazing album is yours!

///

About Rachel:

rachelRachel Held Evans is a New York Times best-selling author whose books include Faith Unraveled (2010), A Year of Biblical Womanhood (2012), and Searching for Sunday (2015). Hailing from Dayton, Tennessee—home of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925— she writes about faith, doubt and life in the Bible Belt.

An Open Letter to a church I love. (Is there room for me?)

New-LogoTo the leaders of our Nazarene tribe,

It’s been a tough few months for us, hasn’t it? We’ve been through a lot together.

We’ve read about our family in the pages of newspapersmore than once. We’ve felt the effects of strong disagreement, feelings of betrayal, and the need for apologies from others and from myself. We’ve accused, we’ve repented, and done all within our power to be reconciled once more.

These stories, however, are beginning to pile up: NPH, MNU (Randy Beckum), NNU (Tom Oord).

If I’m being honest, as an ordained pastor, I really don’t know where to go from here.  I’m really, truly at a loss for words.

I think it goes without saying, that many issues like the ones we’ve recently faced require a great deal of discretion. I also know that leaders in high positions are forced to make decisions which are unpopular, but are done in the best interest of the group they lead. These same leaders are then forced to weather the storm of outrage and calls for transparency in silence; knowing they will do more harm than good in their justification.

I get this. I really, truly do.

However, I ask that you see this from our side. 

In the past year, two of the most respected leaders and theological thinkers in our denomination have lost their positions. These men both happen to be progressive in their practice and theology.

Randy and Tom are two men I deeply respect, and these are two men who have shaped my own theology, and who had a hand in saving my own faith. I respect them deeply; not because I always agreed with them, but because they were leaders unafraid of asking the difficult questions.

But they are now silenced.

What was the reason for their demotion and/or removal? We don’t know. Nobody will tell us.

Their departures/demotions are filled with confusing and contradictory evidence.

Now, again, I admit I know very little of these situations. I know little of the background to these removals. While I’m not privy to this information, as an ordained elder in our tradition, I do believe I have a right to say this:

There is a point when perceptions begin to convey a cultural reality.

This unveiling reality is that difficult questions are unwelcome, and hard conversations are not allowed to be had.

For me, the only thing the Nazarene church has done in the past 6 months is plant a question firmly in my mind: “Is there room in the Nazarene church for me?”

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love this Denomination more than anything. My children are the 5th generation of Palmer’s who have darkened the doorways of a Nazarene church. The history of this church is in many ways the history of my own family heritage.

I will never leave her. We are forever tied to one another.

Recent events, however, have begun to make me ask, “while I’ll never voluntarily leave the Nazarene church, will she push me away? Will she walk away from me?”

Because the questions asked by Randy Beckum, and the questions asked by Tom Oord, are the same questions I, myself, am asking, and these recent events have placed me on very unsteady footing.

It was once said,

“I often hear people in churches across America asking, “Where are our young people going?” I can’t help but believe they are leaving our sanctuaries of certainty in search of spaces where their doubts are welcomed and where there is room to wrestle with faith’s uncomfortable questions. If the church wants to find the next generation returning to the fold, they must accept all that comes with them. Doubts, fears, questions and all.”

This brings me to the thrust of this post:

To those in leadership positions in the Nazarene church, while I admit the truth behind the removal of Tom Oord and Randy Beckum might not be theologically based, the message you’re sending about them very much is, and it’s a message we millennials are receiving loud and clear.

“Get in line. Don’t ask questions, and all will be okay.”

So I want…no I need to ask a question as a friend, colleague and person who deeply wants our tradition to live on: “Is there room for us?”

Because, if I’m being honest, right now I am struggling to believe there is.

What marriage taught me about God, and how it saved my faith

Creative Commons: "Igreja Ibiporã - Paraná - Brasil" by Lírica Aragão

Creative Commons: “Igreja Ibiporã – Paraná – Brasil” by Lírica Aragão

Sanctification* nearly pushed me out of the church.

Being the child of the church, I had from an early age experienced the beauty of the community of believers. I had witnessed God’s provision, witnessed miracles and the power of a Spirit-drenched corporate worship. Church, and the church life came easy to me. Sanctification, however, did not.

Sanctification was this little voice inside my head reminding me of all the ways I fall short. I was supposed to be “perfect,” but my lack of success at being sanctified proved something much different; it was the tangible proof of my inadequacy.

Hearing story after story, I began to believe others had it all together, and as a result, were happy.  I, however, didn’t have my “it” together and as a result, had a growing dissatisfaction with my own spiritual life.

About Marriage and a Lamb

Through the Gospels, Jesus often refers to a coming wedding. A unification of heaven and Earth. A reestablishing of shalom and a final, complete reparation of the deep wounds that afflict our world.

Having been married for 5 years, I am relatively new to marriage life, and as a result am daily realizing more and more what it means to committed myself fully to someone.

This awareness began on a (seemingly) unremarkable Spring afternoon, in the lobby of the Smith Building at MidAmerica Nazarene University, when I crossed paths with an impossibly bright and beautiful fellow religion major.  I didn’t know much about her, but what I did know was that she was beautiful, talented, and universally loved by everyone who knew her.

Our relationship began with dinner and grew. It grew over the course of the following weeks and months as we shared hopes, dreams, fears, preferences and often hidden personality quirks. Hundreds of conversations paved the pathway over which we slowly walked towards our becoming one.

As great as conversations were, there was a day I realized that, without hesitation, I could be offered anyone of my choosing and the only person I would choose was Elizabeth. It was in this moment I realized the depth to which I had trusted her with my heart, and so I knew the only logical next step was for me to invite her to join me in a life-long journey together.

Brimming with hope, I invited, and she said yes!

Over the next six months, we called churches, and we made reservations.  Dresses were chosen and flowers were selected.  The cake was designed and invitations made, folded and stuffed into envelopes.

I blinked and we had arrived hand in hand, six months later, at a church in St. Louis, Missouri. It was at the front of this church, and in front of a number of our closest family and friends, I found myself  standing hand in hand with a stunning woman in a white dress. Catching myself in wonder at the magnitude and depth of the situation, I was brought back to reality by a simple question; a question that would forever alter the lives of myself and this beautiful woman whose hands I held.

The question? “Do you take this woman, to be your wife…till death do you part?”

Of course, I said “I do.”

On Clipboards and Check-lists

Early in my spiritual journey, I saw my relationship and sanctification as God holding a clipboard with a piece of paper clipped to it, and on this paper was written a list. This list included all of the possible sins, and each sin had a box on the left side of it. This box would be checked every time I failed. God was keeping score, and the story my score was telling closely resembled a Greek tragedy.

With the weight of my inadequacies hanging around my neck, and spiritual night surrounded me, my world became darker and darker. Hope nearly abandoned, it was in this darkness that God began to tear down many of the “realities” which had become millstones around my neck.

If I really search back to the beginning, as far back as I can remember, God had been part of my thoughts. I always wanted to learn about who Jesus was and what he meant for me.  There was a point, though, when I realized other people’s conversations about God no longer were enough. Another person’s story and experience can only be enough for so long before one must live their own story.

God wooed, I responded, and a relationship was formed.

Somewhere along the way I realized doing the acts of following God- devotions, church..etc-  weren’t enough.  I realized the love and affection I felt for God ran deep, and I knew these were feelings no human could fulfill. It was in this moment, a moment that happens at one point or another in every relationship, in which an unavoidable decision had been thrust upon me; Either I had to go all in, or I had to fold and walk away.

There was no third option.

God would either have all of me, or none of me.  Was this a marriage or a fling? Was I willing to give up all of my power and leverage to follow the one to whom I had trusted my heart?In this moment I chose to go all in, and I was now no longer the master of my own domain.

At the altar

All who have said “I do,” know the story doesn’t end with those two words.  With our vows spoken, the cake consumed, and hugs of family exchanged, we drove into the night and towards a new reality.  This was a new reality where “wise words” came up short and pre-marital counseling was inadequate in preparing me for what was ahead. A new world in which I am no longer my own.

I wish I could say it came together easily for me, however, in those early marital moments I quickly learned the depth of my selfishness and incompetence as a husband. Sure, I occasionally did a few things right, but more times than I want to admit, I did things completely wrong.

This marriage could have ended in disaster, and had this been a casual relationship, Elizabeth and I almost certainly would have parted ways. What made this different was the deep understanding and agreement that our mutual commitment trumped all. It was commitment that drove me to own my failures and pressed me to strive to become more than I once was. When I messed up, I fought to do things better the next time. I still failed, often miserably, however I had a deep desire to do it right the next time…or the time after.

For me, the old cliché rang true: I was a work in progress.

Our desire for restoration proves our loyalty.

In our marriage, Elizabeth and I both fall short, however it is in our failures where we learn to offer and receive forgiveness. Nothing drives us towards forgiveness like our own overwhelming need for forgiveness.

To be married means to be known, and it’s this being completely and wholly known which accomplishes something guilt and manipulation can never dream of accomplishing: a deepening trust and the desire to give even more of ones self no matter the cost.

Love propels us to become more and it encourages us towards becoming what we are not in this moment. In a healthy marriage, there exists no list of past faults and failures. Being known would never stand for such a list. When a person is known and accepted, there is no mask to hide behind, and it is in having our masks stripped away, that we no longer feel the right or desire to keep a list against another. To be known is to be humbled.

A Slow Transformation

Early on in my spiritual journey, my relationship with God was defined by a broken system of sin lists and petty nitpicking, however through a dark and painful time of spiritual reflection, I was forced to acknowledge my actions as nothing more than man-made attempts at holiness.

Admitting the problem was, to borrow the language of addicts, truly the first step towards recovery, and it was the admission of guilt that began a new journey; a journey towards wholeness. This journey will wind its way through amazing victories, and crushing defeats.  I will have to re-surrender myself to God thousands of times. However, over the course of this journey I will continue to learning that my strength comes, not from my own ability to stay the course with God, but from God’s commitment to stay the course with me.

Pierre Teilhard De Chardin, a Jesuit priest and philosopher wrote one of my favorite poems in which he implores us to, “above all, trust in the slow work of God.”

In it’s purest form, sanctification is, like marriage, about hope. Hope that God is not done with us, and hope that He will finish what he started. And we can trust that this hope in God is hope well placed. Each step we take is propelled by hope, and as the poem so beautifully says, we “Give our Lord the benefit of believing that His hand is leading [us].”  We are on a journey that will take a lifetime, but we have started that journey with the love of our lives.

In my story, it was sanctification that nearly pushed me out of the church, and ironically, it was sanctification that kept me here.

( This essay appeared in Renovating Holiness, a book containing over 100 essay written by Millennial and Xer leaders in the Church of the Nazarene representing 30+ countries in the world. You can purchase a copy of the book here, and join in the conversation happening on Facebook here.)

*The doctrine of Christian perfection.

What a dentist taught me about pain, death, and the love of God.

Creative Commons: Azlan DuPree, September 2010 "Suffering Is Permanent"

Creative Commons: Azlan DuPree, September 2010 “Suffering Is Permanent”

I have a daughter whom I love more than life itself. She’s wildly intelligent, talented, passionate about life, and has a smile that can melt my heart, even at it’s hardest.

I’m crazy about her.

Recently, my daughter had an accident. She tripped, hitting her front two teeth on a piece of furniture.

They bled.

She cried.

Her blood staining the shoulder and chest of my shirt. Noticing this, she looked up at me and said “daddy, I’m getting blood on your shirt.”

“Baby,” I said, “I don’t care about my shirt.”

I held her for a long time in the waiting room of our dentist; waiting for the inevitable to come- the news that her teeth would need to come out.

The teeth extraction appointment was scheduled, we drove to the nearest pedodontist (who was an hour and a half away), and we entered the room.

The hygienists were there, the table was reclined and realizing what was to come, my little girl sobbed.

Because they couldn’t risk her moving during the procedure, they had to restrain her.

As they tightened the restraints around her little wrists, my little girl sobbed, “Daddy, hold me! Please, daddy, hold me!”

I sat next to her head. Kissing her forehead. “I can’t baby, but it will all be over soon, I promise.”

“This is what’s best for you, and I’m here. I won’t leave you. I promise”

Her 3-year-old mind couldn’t understand. How could it? All she knew were her wrists being bound, and pain like she never knew before.

And her daddy watching it happen.

As it happened, as she cried for me, I muttered, through a throat constricted by tears, a promise that I loved her and would never leave her.

***

As the Church, we’re concluding our journey through the season of Lent. Lent is a season of pain and of restriction; a season of extraction. A season where we mirror Christ’s death on a cross by surrendering our own lives. A surrender that leads to our own death to self.

A death to pride.

A death to arrogance.

A death to anger.

A death to self.

We want the outcome of this death- the Life that follows- but we don’t want the pain that comes from dying.

It’s in this season of silence, pain, extraction, many of us (like my daughter) don’t understand what’s happening to us.

Maybe its physical sickness. Maybe is divine silence during our time of prayer. Maybe its physical, emotional or spiritual pain unlike we’ve ever known before.

No matter what it happens to be, the truth is it hurts. In our pain, silence and confusion, with tear-stained faces, we call out to God with a desperation we’ve never known before.

“Please, Daddy, take me off this table!” we beg.

Yet, He doesn’t.

And we weep, not understanding why.

***

The church doesn’t know what to do with this sort of pain, this kind of anger, this depth of sorrow. We gather together on Sundays, paint on faces of hope and happiness, sing songs of joy, and “amen” sermons on the love of God.

Yet, during the week, our experience is anything BUT joyful, hopeful or filled with divine peace.

The most painful part of these moments are, however, not that we feel this depth of sadness, anger, or pain, rather it’s that the church isn’t often willing (or unsure of how) to invite this pain into the light.

And so, in our uncertainty or unwilling, our services are filled with songs that say,

“Our hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.”

Yet, on the inside we’re actually singing the songs of the Psalmist,

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest. (Ps 22:1-2)

***

After the dentist pulled that final tooth, they un-strapped my little girl from that table. Once the final strap was released, she jumped into my arms- burying her head in my chest, sobbing.

I held my daughter in that corner of the dentist exam room as tightly as I had ever held her before. I kissed her, stroked her hair, and tried to soothe her rapidly beating heart. She didn’t understand what just happened, she didn’t understand why.

And so I just held her, kissed her, and sang quietly in her ear.

***

The most painful part of the Christian experience can be those moments when we’re in the deepest reaches of darkness, sadness and despair; when the pain is at its greatest, we cannot feel the presence of our Father, and when we cannot hear the soothing songs he sings, nor the warmth of his touch on our forehead.

In those moments we feel so alone.  And we don’t know how to move forward.

In our mind, we know God will never leave us nor forsake us, however that is little consolation to our hearts in the midst of the emptiness.

The truth is, one will never know why God behaves as he does, and I’m not here to explain his movements. It’s beyond my understanding.

However, I believe, deeply, that in those moments, God is pleading with his Church to be that soft touch, that warm voice, and that loving kiss which reminds people they are not alone in the midst of their pain.

I wondered, as I cuddled my baby girl, if maybe God quiets his own voice in order to allow his Church to speak love into the hearts of those around them; allowing them to be the voice of love and compassion people are desperately looking for.

I have a dream that the church will live into this invitation to mourn/doubt/grieve/suffer with others.

To do this, though, we must be willing to embrace people at their messiest. We must be willing to sit in their pain, let their blood stain our shirts, and their doubt about God and faith linger in the air around us like cigarette smoke.

I want to be that kind of pastor, and want to be part of that kind of Church community.  Mostly, though, I want to be the church that allows people to bleed on their shoulder while assuring them that it’s okay.

Why Franklin Graham is wrong about Ferguson (and what it means to be people of life)

[Trigger Alert: This post is about Police Officers, racism, and systemic inequality. I cannot stress it enough: this post is not a statement against those who wear the badge (I have a deep respect for our police force), rather it’s written out of a desire to continue conversations that will move us forward to peace and reconciliation.]

franklin Graham

Ferguson is in the news once more.

It’s not that surprising, is it? After all, the topic of the past year has been racial tension and police brutality. It’s been everywhere. Over the past year, we’ve been witness to countless protests, written editorials, panel discussions and pundit opinions (read: diatribes) on this issue.

Jumping into the mix is Rev. Franklin Graham, son of well-known evangelist, Billy Graham. He recently wrote on his public Facebook page:

“Listen up–Blacks, Whites, Latinos, and everybody else. Most police shootings can be avoided. It comes down to respect for authority and obedience. If a police officer tells you to stop, you stop. If a police officer tells you to put your hands in the air, you put your hands in the air. If a police officer tells you to lay down face first with your hands behind your back, you lay down face first with your hands behind your back. It’s as simple as that. Even if you think the police officer is wrong—YOU OBEY. Parents, teach your children to respect and obey those in authority. Mr. President, this is a message our nation needs to hear, and they need to hear it from you. Some of the unnecessary shootings we have seen recently might have been avoided. The Bible says to submit to your leaders and those in authority ‘because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account.'” 

His argument is a common one that goes like this: “If people just listened to police officers, obeyed them, and followed the law, then we wouldn’t have instances like Ferguson and New York.”

On paper, this seems valid. I mean, if I’m honest, his statement jives with my own personal experience. For instance, when I’ve been pulled over by a police officer, I would place my hands on the wheel, have my license and registration ready, and was careful to co-operate with anything the officer requests of me.

To this day, I’ve never been shot, even though I’ve been stopped by police multiple times. My experience seems to prove Graham’s point.

There is one just problem; My experience is not universal. It’s far from it, actually.

There is a vast spectrum of experiences that prove another truth; that co-operation and innocence doesn’t always end in peace, that obedience doesn’t always lead to justice. All around us, the voices of our minority brothers and sisters are pleading with us to listen to their stories and experiences.

Sadly, Graham, and much of Evangelical America, isn’t listening.

Context matters

In his statement about obedience and submission, Reverend Graham is completely ignoring a contextual truth within Ferguson, and within cities across the country; the issue of racial profiling and systemic racial injustice.

The New York Times recently released a study conducted by the Justice Department that found, “Ferguson police routinely violated the rights of blacks.” This article opens by saying,

Ferguson, Mo., is a third white, but the crime statistics compiled in the city over the past two years seemed to suggest that only black people were breaking the law. They accounted for 85 percent of traffic stops, 90 percent of tickets and 93 percent of arrests. In cases like jaywalking, which often hinge on police discretion, blacks accounted for 95 percent of all arrests.

It goes on to say,

The report, based on a six-month investigation, provides a glimpse into the roots of the racial tensions that boiled over in Ferguson last summer…Racial bias is so ingrained, the report said, that Ferguson officials circulated racist jokes on their government email accounts. In a November 2008 email, a city official said Barack Obama would not be president long because “what black man holds a steady job for four years?” Another email included a cartoon depicting African-Americans as monkeys. A third described black women having abortions as a way to curb crime.

Reading Graham’s quote, followed immediately by the Times article, leaves me with two thoughts. 

First, Reverend Graham is letting his politics interfere with his pastoral/prophetic responsibility.

Sound harsh? I don’t mean it to be. Speaking from my experience as a pastor, I know as well as any that it’s nearly impossible to keep one’s politics out of their hermeneutics and, consequently, their Sunday sermons.

We preach what we believe, and we believe in our politics.

I genuinely don’t begrudge a man or woman for having a political leaning; be they Republican or Democrat. Such is our right as Americans.

do however criticize Graham’s willingness to let his politics stand in the way of speaking truthfully about a very difficult, painful and complicated situation.

As pastors, there are moments when we must stand in unity with our brothers and sisters, and call out those who are being unjust. In doing this, there will times when we must call for others to stand in defiance of those who are in authority over us.

Our Christ-following leads us to protest.

In our protesting, are we as Christians to do it with love, compassion and Christ-likeness? Absolutely.

However, as the church, it’s one of our greatest callings and responsibilities to stand against injustice. What we are seeing in Ferguson is systemic injustice, and Rev. Graham’s words only discount what is happening all around us.

Second: Graham’s call for minorities to respect authority, because it’s ordained of God, is wildly hypocritical.

In an essay he wrote back in May, 2014 titled, “The Flood of Compromise,” Graham wrote:

On the heels of these upheavals [speaking of Gay Marriage], it was particularly jolting when those who call themselves Christians departed from the clarity of God’s Word…The very day World Vision announced its great compromise on a basic truth of Scripture…the Supreme Court began hearings to determine if the Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby, should be required to provide life-terminating drugs and devices in their employee health care plan, contrary to the Christian family’s spiritual convictions. The contrast was stunning. While the Christian-owned business stood up against a federal government bent on forcing them to compromise the right to life…”

Graham, in his own words, speaks glowingly of those who were willing to stand against a government denying rights to life, all the while he refuses that right to those who are angry about the denial of justice to minorities in America.

Instead of acknowledging that there is racial inequality within our justice system, and calling for this change, Graham tells those who are victims of such inequality to essentially “stop being criminals” and all their issues will disappear.

The problem, however, is we can’t have things both ways.

We can’t require of people obedience to civil authorities when it’s politically convenient for us, and then denounce it when it’s politically inconvenient. My friends. That’s text-book hypocrisy.

Life in Technicolor

Should the church fight for pro-life issues? Absolutely.

The value of life is a battle that will be forever worth fighting for. However, in our battling, we must not forget that to be pro-life means we’re required to fight for every life, regardless of where it’s found.

Pro-life means we fight for the care of the immigrant, the minority and the marginalized.

It means we fight for those who are…

Jewish.

Islamic.

Homosexual.

Heterosexual.

African-American.

Native-American.

Republican.

Democrat.

All. Life. Matters.

Farewell to arms

What Rev. Graham is saying, even if he doesn’t mean to, is that life is only worth something if it’s white, middle class and American. The problem is, however, that even if he doesn’t actually mean to preach this message (which, I’m sure he doesn’t), his words still convey it.

Therein lies the real problem; the problem of words.

Words inspire people. These people create and inspire social movements. Those social movements shape our nation’s laws. Those laws then shape social systems, and it’s those systems which oppress people.

The church would do well to remember this.

Rev. Graham isn’t just speaking words into the abyss. He’s speaking words which eventually oppress. Not in some generic, political-correct kind of way, but in a real-life-flesh-and-blood-kind of way.

The church must change her words.

We desperately need to find new words. Life-giving, soul-renewing, justice-loving, grace-restoring words. We need to rediscover our God-given prophetic imagination, and in our rediscovery, we must find our way towards compassion for others; especially when it’s “The Other.”

Because only then will we find our way forward in this divided and broken world.

Friends, we might not always have these chances to speak words that can change the world around us. With this in mind, may we speak our words well, with boldness, and as they leave our lips, may they bring life.

Why I would attend the wedding of a LGTBQ family member or friend.

ringsRecently, I read an article written by a well-known Southern Baptist thinker who stated the reasons he would not attend the same-sex wedding of a family member or friend.

As I read this, I recalled a conversation during a M15 side-session dealing with homosexuality and the church. In this session, a question was posed asking if the audience would attend the wedding of their gay or lesbian son or daughter. The one asking the question said they would not, while Dan Boone (the speaker for this session) and the majority of the audience (consisting of primarily pastors and leaders) said they would.

As an ordained minister, and someone who has been wrestling with these questions myself, I want to share a few thoughts as to why I would attend.

You versus Me

As Christians, somewhere along the line, we have come to this belief that if we disagree with someone, we have to show it through our refusal to spend time with them. For many, disagreement must result in exclusion. Disagreement means keeping someone at arm’s length. We might have coffee with them, but we must always make sure they know this isn’t a true friendship. There is a serious issue standing in the way of real community.

We see this happen politically (republicans and democrats, along with those who vote from them, refuse to talk to one another).

We see it theologically through our arguments and refusal to listen to those who think differently (oh, how many times I’ve heard people say Catholics aren’t Christians).

And we see it in this conversation dealing with LGBTQ equality and marriage.

This question is nearly always posed like this: “If we attend the wedding, aren’t we saying we affirm that union?”

However, I think there is a deeper question being asked.

This question being, “if I attend this wedding, what would people think of me?”

This past year I listened to the speech of a very well-known evangelical leader who represented a very well-known evangelical organization. This leader told the story of how he has a very good friend who is gay, and is married. This friend currently lived in a city where this leader would soon have to spend a few days. When this gay couple found out, as an act of hospitality they invited him to stay at their home. He accepted. Soon, the organization he represented asked him to cancel, saying their constituents wouldn’t understand and it would give the organization a bad name. An order he followed, refusing the hospitality of his friend, which (understandably) hurt his friend and placed a wedge between them.

This leader used this story as an example of times when Christians must do difficult things in the name of Jesus.

However, I’ll be honest. I don’t accept this.

What’s in a name?

We are Christians. Christ-followers. Little-Christs.

As Christ-followers, we are commanded to model our lives after Jesus.

This leads to the question: How did Jesus live?

Jesus enjoyed being with people. Especially those on the outside.

He spent much of his ministry eating, laughing, and loving people the church refused to love or acknowledge.

He ate with tax-collectors, prostitutes, and affirmed the place of women in society. (Lk 5:27-32)

He made a Samaritan (those who Jews saw as sub-human, half-breeds) the hero in his sermons. (Lk 10:25-37)

Consistently, Jesus refused to let the respectability of the church dictate how he loved.

This resulted in him being called a glutton and drunkard and the friend of sinners (Matt 11:19).

Why a wedding and dinner are the same

Many will say, “but dinner and weddings are very different things. I will eat with my lesbian or gay friend, but a wedding takes it to another level.”

Using a modern cultural perspective, this would be true.

However, in the time of Jesus, to accept the invitation for dinner, and to eat at a person’s home, was a statement that you approved of them. That you loved them. That you affirmed them.

Not only did Jesus accept these invitations, he often did so without requesting a change of life/opinion/action. He sometimes requested this, but not always. Over and over, Jesus ate dinner with outcasts, and only offered his presence. (Lk 7:36-50, Matt 9:9-31)

Change was never a qualification for belonging. Did change happen? Absolutely, but in its own time. At the pace and speed of the Spirit.

Ultimately, I would attend this wedding because I believe Jesus would attend. Love should compel us to attend.

My question is this:

Why wouldn’t we go to the wedding of a gay or lesbian family member or friend?

Why wouldn’t we show that we love them (even in disagreement)?

Most importantly, who cares what others think of us?

After all, if our actions receive the criticism of those within the church, we can rest in the knowledge that we’re in good company.

Thoughts? Would you attend the wedding of a LGBTQ family member or friend?

Admitting My Trust Issues with the Church

(A note before we begin: I try to hold a “No Generalizations” policy…and I admit that this article will be filled with them. Please understand that these words aren’t the end-all-be-all…rather, I hope them to be a conversation starter. My hope is to encourage honesty, the sharing of differences, and the safety to examine those differences together.)

There’s a funny meme that is circulating the web that goes like this:

trust issues

Trust issues. As I listen to millennial pastors and leaders (a generation I, myself, belong to), and then compare that to what I hear from earlier generations of pastors and leaders, I am finding there is a very real and growing difference in the way we see the church.

This difference of opinion is often the unspoken and under the radar message behind every issue and disagreement hashed out in public and private.

Within the tribe I serve, the Nazarene church, this mistrust among millennials has been exacerbated over the past year through the public mishandling of a situation with the denominational publishing house, and now through the confusion over the removal of a beloved professor at one of our denominational Universities.

This post is not an attempt to place blame or innocence on a particular party, rather it’s my attempt to help explain some of the growing frustration and mistrust inherent in the younger leaders and thinkers within our denominational context. (This post will exclude some of my readers who are not Nazarene, for this I apologize)

So, to the leaders of the church I love, a few thoughts.

Pastor” is no longer a universally defined term: Our worlds have shaped us differently.

For those over the age of 40, you were reared in a culture which celebrated the church and her clergy, and by in large, the Church honored this trust. Many pastors over 40 grew up listening to great pillars of the faith like Billy Graham and Francis Schaeffer speak of what it means to follow Christ. Western culture respected Christians, and respected those who served in vocational ministry.

Sadly, this is no longer the case.

For those of us under the age of 40 (or more specifically, under the age of 30), we’ve witnessed a steady stream of mismanagement, cover-ups and abuse. From the sexual abuse cover-ups in the Catholic Church, to the recent allegations made towards Mark Driscoll, to the handling of the NPH situation, the increased exposure from social media has made the flaws of the church evident to all, and these flaws make it hard to trust institutional church for fear of being hurt and mislead.

As a millennial pastor, and for many who share my age and vocation, our baseline to nearly every decision made is general skepticism. Simply put, we have a hard time trusting a leader and their decisions when the primary reason offered is the title or position they hold.

Authority and respect are no longer assumed realities.

Maybe they should be, unfortunately it’s not that simple.

Experience has proven otherwise.

This leads me to make a request.

Be patient with us

For those who get frustrated with the growing, vocal, and often frustrated millennial generation; please understand where we are coming from.

Please understand that the experiences of many, and the mistakes of the few, have planted the seed of doubt in an entire generation’s heart and mind, and through this doubt, for right or wrong, we now process everything the church does.

Because of this, trust is no longer assumed.

Honesty is everything.

At the end of the day, all we ask is for honesty. Please don’t play politics with the church we love. Please don’t cover up. As a leader, if you make a decision, explain it clearly, openly, and allow for conversation. We might not agree, and that disagreement might be heated, but know that we will certainly respect you for how you came to, and executed this decision, and will gladly continue walking the journey of faith with you.

Finally, please hear this:

For a leader to refuse honesty and dialogue means they are refusing inclusion into the community. This then becomes a universal issue, regardless of which generation you belong, for nobody wants to live in a house where they are not welcome.

On The Church, Empathy and Our Desperate Search for a New Way Forward

we cant
Note: This was written prior to grand jury decision regarding the death of Eric Garner. While he’s not specifically mentioned in this essay, his death is certainly on my heart as I post this now. May we find a new way forward. Together.

As many of you know, I grew up in Ferguson.

The school I attended was a mile from the now smoldering ruins of one of the twelve burned out buildings that inhabit this beautiful city. These buildings are a visual reminder of racial division and systemic injustice, and these frustrations have spilled out onto our streets in the forms of riots and peaceful protests.

As the city I was reared in was in upheaval, and as I followed social media, one thing became more and more apparent to me; our country, and our church is losing the ability to empathize with others.

to killEmpathy. The unique ability that humanity possesses to, as Harper Lee once wrote in her classic To Kill A Mockingbird, “climb into [another’s] skin and walk around in it.”

As a 3rd generation pastor and a 4th generation Christian, on an ever-increasing basis, I am experiencing this lack of empathy within the Church Universal.

Over and over again, our pastors and laity find themselves, on so many issues, getting caught into the mindset that there is “us” and “them.” As we continually divide ourselves, the gap between us grows deeper and wider.

When the world is black and white, we cannot empathize.

We can only segregate.

We can only isolate.

We can only divide into two camps; each camp tossing labels and generalizations like hand grenades with the innocent ones getting injured by the shrapnel created by our words and actions.

We, however, are not a people of verbal and theological violence. We are a church of peace, and empathy must become, once more, the cornerstone of our faith. For it’s empathy that will allow us to have a reasonable and gracious dialogue because it’s empathy which allows us to find common ground.

Empathy takes us from the black and white and into a world filled with color and beauty.

We must make empathy a priority.

Western culture is changing quickly, and the good people who fill her seats have been caught up in this cultural shift. What once worked and made sense to the church no longer does. Our future, once secure, known, and comfortable has become unknown with fear replacing security.

Fear of the unknown. Fear of the other.

In recent years, I have watched as denominations and churches begin the endless process of fortification.

These being the church’s attempts to protect ourselves against the threats outside our walls, and being fueled by a blind determination to defend our “rights.” The difficulty in this lay within the Biblical reality that rights are not promised, and instead we are commanded only to love and forgive.

We follow a God who gave up his throne to become lower than the lowest servant. We serve a Savior who ignored cleanliness and sabbath rules to heal, restore and empathize with those on the margins.

My tradition, the Church of the Nazarene was formed out of this empathy. Our forefathers and mothers filled the streets through a determination to listen to the songs of the suffering. Only a Christ-filled empathy drives people to this.

Only the light of the Gospel can drive away the fear of the other, which keeps us from our command to go and make disciples. For what on this earth should we fear?

We are promised that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God.” (Rom 8:38-39)

Do we actually believe this?

So may we be a church which chooses empathy over condemnation. May we remember people are not to be feared. May we invite those who think, believe or behave differently than us to speak in our midst. May we listen to their stories, because the only way to drive out fear is to replace labels with names.

For in learning names and hearing stories, we are reminded once more that we are not surrounded by enemies but fellow-humans- men and women-who are all created in the image of God.

Port-A-Potty Righteousness: Philippians 3:7-11

philippians

We’re neck deep into a series on Philippians. When I originally planned this, I had it marked out about 8 weeks long. However, as things like this go, we’re on our 8 week, and still only half way through.

You know, there are loud conversations about what the Bible is, or what it isn’t. There are opinions on all parts of the spectrum, but if there is one thing I’m reminded of as we work our way through this ancient letter, it’s that the Bible is so full and rich of truth. We can argue day and night about what the Bible is or isn’t…but we discover first hand, as a community, as we work our way through this book, we find its filled with a far deeper and richer truth that impacts my life, and I would guess your life, in ways we never expected, right?

This is the beauty of scripture. It leads us to truth.

Last week

We talked about the scandal of grace. We talked about how, in spite of all the ways we try to wall up the Kingdom of God, and in all the ways we try to define who is in and out, at the end of the day, it’s not our actions that save us, rather it’s the life, death and resurrection of Christ that brings about new life.

We ended last week reflecting on how we try to keep people out. What lines we draw and who we believe can be in and out.

This week, we’re going to continue on with this. In many ways, this is the part 2 to last week’s part 1.

So, to tie the two together, we’re going to start by reading our passage last week and then will move straight into the passage this week.

Let’s read together: Philippians 3:1-11

Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reasons for such confidence.

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in[a] Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

What’s going on?

Last week, we talked about how Paul listed all the reasons he should be righteous and in the in-crowd- spiritually speaking.

He was a man of status. A man of education. A man of heritage.

Whatever was to my profit, whatever I gained is now a loss. He had everything going for him. Paul’s job was not something he chose as a college grad…it was something he wanted and was being pushed towards as a child.

This man’s identity was wrapped up in who he was, what he believed and how he behaved.

The great reversal

This belief that righteousness came by definable terms ruled Paul’s life. The pharisaical order (to which paul belonged) believed that God was going to come when Israel behaved and followed the law fully.

Because they were the only ones who followed the law, they believed themselves to be the only ones righteous and it was everyone else’s fault that the messiah hadn’t come.

They were the in crowd. They were the righteous. And everyone knew it.

But something changed in Paul. 

What once gave Paul great pride and status, and what the world once saw and interpreted as righteousness (Godliness), Paul now believed was all loss.

There was a day when each of the things Paul did, the actions made and the beliefs he held were credited to him as right standing before God.

If you think of it this way, every time he followed a rule or a law, he made a deposit, and because he was very good at follow rules, Paul’s self-righteous bank account grew and grew.

His account ledger, when he balanced it out, was filled with righteous actions and was overwhelmingly positive.

Damascus changed everything.

There is a moment, however, when Paul becomes a believer in the way of Jesus.

And after doing that, he was brought to reconsider everything he believed up until that point.

When Paul said he “considers”…he’s saying he had come to consider it. This was a post-conversion understanding.  It was unnatural to him. It went against his sensibilities and Christian training. This new belief was that Christ and Christ alone leads us towards understanding what is real, true and worth value.

But that’s not all…

Paul doesn’t stop there. It’s not just physical assets, and it’s not just legalism that has been carried over into the negative category.

It’s everything.

Any method for advancement. Any method of control. Any method for gaining approval. Anything that we feel like we can do to earn God’s favor. Any rule, law or human justification is a complete and utter loss. 

Paul doesn’t stop there.

These works. This man-based righteousness accomplished human power and all that comes with it, Paul calls “skybala” or “filth.”

It’s actually a much stronger word that “filth.”

Skybala means excrement, dung or refuse.

Like this guy...but far more, well, used...

Like this guy…but far more, well, used…

Very literally, it’s a greek slang that translates very closely to the english word “crap.”

What Paul is getting at here is the understanding that “Righteousness through human strength and through human works must be expelled out of the Body and into the toilet as quickly as possible and without any prejudice.

There is visual interplay here. The understanding the filth of legalism, and understanding the necessity of the Body of Believers to rid themselves of it, is extremely important!

When we begin to be cleansed of this legalistic mindset or belief, and as we grow in our faith in Christ, we’ll find we are changed in ways rules and expectations never could.

Change happens because of the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord.

Surpassing value is the knowledge of Christ Jesus.

If everything except Christ is filth, the only thing of value, the only thing of worth, is Jesus. And that means, to follow him, everything must be on the table. Everything else we hold to as our foundation, or as essential to our happiness, must be discarded.

That sounds harsh, doesn’t it?

We must come to understand that, no matter how important something might feel or seem, Christ is above it all.

There’s a basic re-teaching of what we believe Righteousness, or Right-ness with God, looks like:

For centuries before Jesus and for centuries following, the church has often preached grace, but practiced man-defined Righteousness. We all realized its far easier to define people by rules and people’s ability to obey them.

We talked about this last week.

And, we must not forget that rules are put in place for the right reason, right? I mean, “Thou should not murder” is a great rule. One that societies, typically (though, not always) adopt…

However, while rules have their heart and intention wrapped up in good motives, whenever laws and rules dictate our righteousness, those rules will almost always go from being something that helps us obey to becoming a noose around our necks.

The more we struggle and fail, the more it tightens, and the more it tightens, the more the rules get more rigid.

This happened to the Jews.

What began as “remember the sabbath and keep it holy” turned into 39 activities you were forbidden to do on the sabbath.

This list included the activities:

Sowing, Plowing, Reaping, Binding sheaves, Threshing, Kneading,

Baking, Shearing, washing, beating or dyeing wool, Spinning, Weaving:

including Making two loops, Weaving two threads, Separating two 

threads, Tying, Untying, Sewing two stitches, Tearing, Trapping, 

Slaughtering, Flaying, Salting meat, curing or scraping or cutting hides, 

writing or erasing 2 letters, building or tearing down, starting or 

extinguishing a fire, or hitting with a hammer, and finally taking an 

object from the private domain to the public, or transporting an object in 

the public domain.

The law, as Paul says in other letters, was put in place to condemn…to show us how broken we were.

And he tells us that there is no hope for improvement through the law.

Improvement only happens one way…through Christ.

In spite of all things he’d accomplished in his life, Paul responds by saying:

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

This is what it means to be a Christ follower, guys. To come into contact with Jesus and to be changed by that experience.

After all, it’s impossible to experience the love of God, to sacrifice of Jesus and the life that comes from that, and not be changed somehow.

To be in communion with God and with the community of believers is the means of restoration and redemption.

Not rules. Not expectations.

But, love.

In this passage, one theologian talks about Paul becoming obsessed with Christ in his theology.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in[a] Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Where once the law defined us, now Christ defines us. He’s what binds us, heals us, redeems us, restores us, renews us. 

May we remember this.

Two takeaways:

These takeaways are a product of a beautiful conversation I had after service last week with several of you. So, as we begin, I want to say thank you!

  1. The Holy Spirit does the changing and will do it in His time.

It’s incredibly easy for us to see someone come to Christ, and expect them to arrive, and we begin to quietly…or not so quietly…begin to show our disapproval or disbelief in their behavior. Maybe they’re not changing as quickly as we think they should. Maybe they still smoke, drink, chew or maybe they still love a girl who does. And somewhere along the way we believe it’s our God-given responsibility to grab them by the scruff of their neck and drag them kicking and screaming.

That’s not necessarily right, and it’s not necessarily grace…even if we believe it to be.

We need to understand that conviction comes from God. And we need to understand that conviction of wrongdoing doesn’t usually happen when we think it should happen.

We also need to understand that what I’m convicted of isn’t necessarily what you’ll be convicted of.

And so, understanding this, we need to be willing to live in the mess with one another. To offer my story to you, to offer how God has changed my heart, and to walk along side one another.

Now, I admit, this is somewhat messy. This is somewhat like Spiritual Anarchy…at least, that’s what it feels like, right?

After all, if I can’t tell you what you should do, then who’s going to keep us in line? What will keep us from going off the deep end?

This brings us to number two.

2. We must learn to trust the movements of the Spirit

As Nazarenes, we believe in something called prevenient grace. This is the belief that the Spirit is working on the heart far before we ever come into contact with them. We believe there isn’t  a spiritual conversation that happens ahead of God’s timing.

We must be patient. We must be gracious. We must be loving, and in that patience, love and grace, the spirit will work.

I believe, nearly ever single time, He’s doing something deeper than we can see.

Where we see someone who is an alcoholic, Christ sees someone searching desperately for love, and an identity.

And this is where we find our role as the church.

We are a place that should welcome everyone. Period.

We do not exist to fix people. We exist to point people to Christ.