Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Most Beautiful Place on Earth

I went to Australia for three weeks or so when I was in high school. What an amazingly beautiful place. I stayed in Sydney, Cairns, a number of suburbs, a small rural town, camped in the outback, snorkelled on the Great Barrier Reef, and rested at a number of tourist resorts. I got a good glimpse of many facets of the country, people, culture, and geography. It was incredible. I hope to go back someday, taking my wife and family (or just my wife if it's several years from now).

When I got home from Australia, I decided that it wasn't the most beautiful place on earth, even though in physicality and landscape views, it probably is the most beautiful place to which I've ever been. But there is one place that I still think is more beautiful. If I had to choose a place to sit and rest, out of any place in the world, this would be it. When I die, I'd love to be buried there or have my ashes thrown into the wind there. We hope to do our best, God-willing, to make it there every summer if we can. I can't wait to take my children there so they can grow up with similar memories as mine.

I grew up taking family vacations to Lake Champlain. My grandparents' "camp", as we often call it, is on a small inlet in between Lapan's Bay and St. Alban's Bay in St. Alban's Bay, Vermont. The camp is at the end of a long dirt road. We are the dead end. No one bothers us there. My grandfather originally bought a camp on the lake in 1955 and then moved to the current land in 1964. The Nease family tree has taken vacations there ever since. I dread the day if and when the land is ever lost or sold. Sure, more people have discovered the area, but not enough to scare us away.

Anyway, back to the Australia-Vermont comparison. Australia is probably "more beautiful" as I said earlier. But Vermont is more beautiful to me in several ways. First and foremost is the presence of family. The Nease family tree has diverged over the years. Our families are quite different when you really look at us side-by-side. But believe me you, put us all together up at the Lake, and we have more love for one another than bees and honey. Sure, we often get into disagreeing discussions, but it's usually all in good fun. I love my family.

Then there are the memories. I remember learning to fish. There are several individuals who took me fishing as a child, just me and them - my dad, my grandpa, my brother, my uncle, my other uncle, my sister, my mother, and yes, I even believe I remember my grandmother taking me out once. I remember the huge catfish my dad used to catch. Sometimes we'd all rent out a lot on an island and we'd have to take more than one trip on the boat to get everyone there to spend the whole day. I remember taking boat rides to and from the big bay (St. Alban's) to watch the fireworks over the bay on July 4th (I've seen better fireworks in San Diego and other places, but not with better company, or with more exciting boat rides back to our dock thanks to Uncle Steve and his crazy driving). I remember putting the docks out, building docks and bringing them in at the end of the season. I remember watching powerful storms across the lake. I remember huge feasts of steak, hot dogs, all the Vermont corn-on-the-cob you can eat, and Auntie Helen's amazing desserts. I remember big bonfires, hunting for frogs, playing cards and Monopoly way into the night. I remember eating Ben & Jerry's factory seconds. I remember playing catch with my brother or grandfather. I remember playing whiffle ball, climbing trees, water-skiing, tubing, snorkelling, catching crawdads, burning the trash, and even playing "house" with my cousins. I remember falling asleep in the hammock or on the couch, usually after reading pages and pages from some book in the Chronicles of Narnia.

Most of all, I remember the sunsets. Usually we're all sitting around, fat from an incredible meal, talking a lot about nothing, waiting for the sun to set. Nowhere is there a more beautiful sunset. Yes, the picture was taken from our campsite (thanks to grandma).

My wife and I (and our four month old son) were not going to be able to make it to the Lake this summer because of time and finances. But this post was prompted by a call from my mother today asking if they could fly us up there in a few days. Hmm...had to think about that one.

Edward S. Mann wrote a poem called To the Lake Again. It's hanging on the wall in my parents' home. I wish I had it here to quote for you (if anyone reading this has a copy, could you e-mail it to me?). For now, I'll leave you with a few parts of another poem by Uncle Ed, Not in Vermont:

There are some places in the land
Where human greed holds sway;
Where nature is commercialized -
Her beauty made to pay,
Where billboards hide the loveliness
Which people need and want.
There are such places, but we pray,
"Please, Lord, not in Vermont;
Lord, not in Vermont."
There are some people - far and wide -
Who are inclined to shirk;
Who want the highest salary,
The least amount of work;
Who seek their own security
Though costs will ever haunt
Their children. but we plead of Thee,
"Please, Lord, not in Vermont;
Lord, not in Vermont."

- J

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Time Enough

I often hear people say, "I'm so busy." Even more often, I hear myself say it.

It's not really true.

The truth is: I waste a lot of time. I have been better recently, but in my life, I do a lot of things that I don't need to. I have watched a lot of television in my life. I've played many computer games. I've spent a lot of time on the Internet. I've spent hours upon hours looking at sports stats and working on my fantasy sports teams. Like I said, I've done so much better with this stuff recently and spending the hours of my life on more worthy enterprises (having a child somewhat demands this, but what a joyful demand it is).

However, I am still quite convicted about the way that I use time. Yes, I admit that Derek Webb has contributed greatly to this conviction. I've thought, "Okay, would Jesus spend time working on his fantasy baseball team?" Or, "Is playing Insaniquarium part of being Christlike?" But Mr. Webb responds, "You can do what Jesus would, but you'd be surprised what you can do with a hard heart." Imitating Christ has more to with why we do than what we do.

Back to the point of this post though, when we say that we're so busy, we're too busy. Perhaps I need to personalize that statement. I can't speak for all of you. I just know that I often tell people I'm busy, and immediately think after I say it, "Yeah, but with what are you busy?"

I'm not saying that we should be working 24-7 specifically on things that are only listed in scripture as worthwhile. All the things I listed above about myself are not in and of themselves bad things. (I am a believer in the necessity of recreational time and "time off" - it's biblical and necessary in life.) But the attention that I give to those activities can be bad and quite easily and quickly so.

Another line from Lyricist Webb sings "I work real hard but I mostly call in sick". I think perhaps this sums up the essence of my point. We do do a lot, especially in our American society built on fast food ethics and desire for instantaneousness. But our business is often busy-ness that contributes little or nothing to life. Is what we do necessary? If we say "I don't have time" to the beneficial and worthy calls of life, perhaps we need to reorganize our time and re-look our priorities. I don't think that God has ever called anyone to do more than that for which he or she had the time.

Because when it comes down to it, I have time enough.

(Okay, now back to the seminary assignments I'm neglecting.)

- J

Thursday, July 21, 2005

The Church's image? A pointed finger.

The Church has an image problem. Better said, followers of the Hebrew-Christian God have an image problem, as it dates back prior to the establishment of the Church. So, it's not a new problem. Jesus admonished us to stop it. So did Paul (though perhaps even he fanned the flame). Today, the image problem is evident when talking with those outside the Church about the Church. The Holiness Movement and successive denominations have added to the poor image. It is sad to me, but I'm sure I've not helped along the way sometimes. But I'm trying to do otherwise now.

Both within and outside, the Church is better known for her attempt to define sin and "uphold righteousness" than she is for being a welcoming and forgiving community of faith. What are we best known for today?
- Dividing, splitting, schisming, denominationalism - whatever you want to call it - but we fight with each other and go separate ways thinking our theology is "most correct".
- Our debates over whether or not those involved in the homosexual lifestyle can participate in ordaination, in lay leadership positions, in matrimony, membership, or even in association.
- Our derision and condemnation of those who perform and undergo abortion procedures.
- Our attempt to "make peace" throughout the world by wars and conflicts (yes, I know this is carried out by Western governments and armies, but if you don't think the rest of the world sees it as a religious endeavor by Christians, please look again).

There are other things we're known for, but as I quickly think right now, these are what come to mind. I do not mean to downplay the positive aspects of the Church (compassionate ministries and those faith communities that do well in demonstrating the will of God), but these are problems with our image for which I am worried.

What the Church should not be:
- An intimidating institution of individual inquisition.

What the Church should be:
- A philanthropic fellowship fostering forgiveness.

I truly believe that when a person has experienced forgiveness, he will know what it is in life that needs to be changed and is contrary to God's will for her life. Yeah, I know. That's backwards from what we preach and teach (conviction-->repentance-->forgiveness). I just look at Christ's ministry to individuals and wonder from where we get ours.

So, to help me with this in part, I'm working on a definition for sin. I like the "separation from God" proposition I've heard. But Jesus really had quite a bit to say about human relationship as well (this is also evident in the law of the Israelite community of faith). So one might add "separation from brother (or sister)" as well. But I want to take this further to use the positive side rather than the negative. Sin is anything that deviates from the loving relationship between me and God and me and fellow human.

But really the question shouldn't even be, "What is sin?" The question should be, "Is what I'm doing pleasing to God (first), and pleasing to my fellow human?" This is my whole point - the Church shouldn't be primarily known for defining, outlining, and "managing" sin. Rather, the Church should be known as the establishment of the love, grace, hope, mercy, and forgiveness of God here on earth.

- J

Monday, July 18, 2005

The Lost Letters of Pergamum

As a seminary student, I read a lot. Actually, just the same, as a seminary student, I don't read a lot. Perhaps this honesty resonates with others who have ever endured undergraduate, graduate, or any other studies requiring extesive required reading.

Anyway, the point of this post is to recommend a book, The Lost Letters of Pergamum. It is has been a long time since I "could not put a book down" and looked forward to reading it whenever I wasn't. This book brought back that feeling. I can't remember the time I had a book read long before the due date. Perhaps the fact that it is somewhat of a novel helped with this desire to read it, but I do not care. It was an incredible read. I learned from it historically (it is not 100% fictitious). I learned from it biblically. And I certainly was challenged by it in my own desire to find truth.

If you have no background whatsoever in biblical studies, you might find some of the storyline challenging, but the author gives good detail prior to and after the narrative (but not boringly or extensively - just enough to get along) .

I hope you consider reading it.

- J

Friday, July 15, 2005

The Jesus Guy

This is a sermon I wrote. You might recognize some of the text from earlier posts, thoughts from Derek Webb, and from the New Interpreter's Bible Commentary on Matthew (M. Eugene Boring). The text is Matthew 5:4-16. It's always a dangerous thing to let others see the manuscript of a sermon. It's quite a different result to read it than it is to hear it. But I thought I'd post this one. If you're near me (in KC), I can get you a digital video file of it for your computer .MPEG or .AVI. Just let me know.

We used to call him “the Jesus Guy”. My friends and I saw him all over the place throughout Boston and the Boston Metro area. He was one of those who wears a poster around his neck with a picture of Heaven and Hell with a cross bridging the gap between the two. He’s got really thick glasses that he’s probably had for decades. He rarely says anything. He wears a red hat that he obviously paid to get made or perhaps even made himself that says, “Jesus Saves” on it. He just walks around wherever crowds gather, sign hanging off his neck, handing out flyers or tracts about God. I went to Red Sox games, he was there. I went to Celtics games, he was there. I’d ride the “T”, as the subway in Boston is affectionately called, he was there. I went to Phish concerts 45 minutes away from Boston in Worcester, Massachusetts, he was there.

The situation is always the same. The best response he gets are those who actually take the tract and wait 15-20 feet before throwing it on the ground or in the nearest trash can. The more common response comes from people who simply ignore him, passing by without acknowledgment. But the worst ones are those who challenge him or yell at him. They swear at him to see what he’ll do. They shout, “Jesus Sucks!” They even push him. He just takes it all in stride, handing out his tracks.

Trouble Today
We cannot let our American ideals modify what it means to follow Christ.

It's certainly not that I have never been guilty of this. I imagine that pretty much every Christian who lives in the United States has dealt with, is dealing with, or is ignorant to the fact that American ideals are watering down Christian ideals. Certainly, hope and peace come with Christ. The problem comes in our expectations of these promised words. It is easy to let the dreams and "hopes" of our society define biblical hope, peace, and blessings with results like financial success, career success, and family stability. Even further, we say that if we are doing "what we’re supposed to", we’ll be content in each of these life endeavors. Our hope and peace comes in Christ, not the practical and desirable results of a satisfactory life. Desire and need are not equivalent. (Those living in the United States, including myself, seriously have to consider what "need" is.) Following Christ has nothing to do with American ideals. American ideals have nothing to do with following Christ.

Do you know why we struggle today so much with the topic of sanctification? Because we struggle with accepting what really comes with selling out completely to Christ. Rather than sell out to Christ, in our hunger and expectation for the immediate, we sell out to happiness Christianity:
- We hear, “Victorious living” and think that, with Christ, we’ll always win, here and now.
- We hear, “Jesus is the hope” and think that hope is success here and now.
- We hear, “God rewards the faithful” and think that the reward should be seen now.
- We hear, “Make God your purpose and life will straighten out” and think that the way of the world and the success of the world defines the straight path.
- We hear, “Become people of faith and God will reward you”, only to put faith in the bank and money in our heart.
- We hear God’s promises of the future and expect them now.

There is a value system today that says that if something is going wrong for someone, then he or she is not living correctly. Similarly, the value system says that if a group of people – a family, an organization, or even a church – is experiencing “bad times”, then that group is doing something wrong or incorrectly, something must be modified in their behavior or policy. Something must be changed to bring better days.

Trouble in the Biblical World
But, the decision to follow Christ is filled with trial. It is to be expected. Jesus expected it and accepted the cup. The disciples were well-warned that it would come and experienced it. Paul knew it and experienced it. So when we say "Give to God and he will take care of you" it must be said with the realization and acceptance of the way of the cross.

The beatitudes declare an intentional reality as the result of God’s way – the way of the Cross – not subjective or personal feelings. God’s way cannot be redefined by people. Jesus is telling his listeners that his way is not the easy way.

It’s no wonder that the disciples were scared and shocked at the arrest of Jesus. They didn’t know what to do. It’s not what they expected. They expected the Messiah to come and rescue the world, making a kingdom in which everything is perfect, everyone is happy. Instead, a band of soldiers came and arrested him. He was beaten, whipped, mocked, spit at, derided, much to the fear and dismay of those who had been following him. And then he died a horrible death. Where is the glory in that? The glory comes later.

Christ’s Answer in the Biblical World
And we can see this in what Jesus says. It is good to note that the beatitudes come in two parts – “Blessed are the blank, for they will blank.” There are two verbs – “are” and “will”. “Are” is present tense, telling us of things that happen now. “Will” is future tense, alluding to what will happen later because of what is happening now.

The move to the future tense in the beatitudes (from “blessed is” to “for they will”) resists all notions that Christianity is a “philosophy of life” – a self-help method – designed to make people successful, content, satisfied, and calm today, in the present moment. So we often hear it preached or taught that “Jesus is the answer” or “Got problems? Get Jesus”, but following Christ is not a cure-all solution to make straight the path of life as defined by today’s value system. Following Christ is not a scheme to reduce stress, lose weight, advance in one’s career, or preserve one from illness.

Following Christ does not give success here and now. Rather, just the opposite, following Christ is a way of living based on the firm and sure hope that meekness is the way of God, that righteousness and peace will finally prevail, and that God’s future will be a time of mercy and not cruelty. So, blessed are those who live this life now, even when such a life seems foolish, for they will, in the end, be affirmed by God.

Then Christ gives his followers the analogies of salt and light to define who they are.

I want us to think of the phrase, “rubbing salt in someone’s wounds.” What does that mean? Have you ever put salt on a cut? If anything, it’s gonna get your attention. It hurts. It stings. It is not pleasant. It does not bring immediate relief, but rather pain and annoyance. But man, does it heal. Just as intense as the pain that it first brings, it brings a clean and pure healing.

And then there’s the analogy of light and the city on a hill. Light cannot easily be hidden. Imagine the city up on a hill at night. You can’t hide it. In the darkness, the individual lights from homes all corporately make a magnificent sight. Have you flown in an airplane at night and looked below you, especially as you approach your city of destination? It’s quite obvious where you are going. I love driving into and around Boston at night. It’s an incredible sight when you think to stand back and see it - thousands of lights all shining together as one.

And this is not simply our call, but who we are to be. We can’t hide our message. When we do, it ceases to be the message, the gospel.

There’s a story about Martin Luther that says the people of his parish came to him one time and asked, “Pastor, why is it that week after week all you ever preach to us is the gospel?” His response was, “Because week after week you forget it. Again and again you walk in here looking like a people who don’t believe or live the gospel.” This is also an indictment for us today.

We must realize that when we preach and teach the gospel, we are bound to experience trial.

Christ’s Answer for Today
In my mind, I used to question the “Jesus Guy” in Boston. I questioned his motives and his method, thinking, “No one’s listening to him, why’s he do that?” One time, my brother, in an attempt to encourage the guy, stopped and said, “Hey, we’re already Christians…” and before he could say anything else, the Jesus Guy said, “Oh, great, here, hand some of these out” and gave him a stack of tracts. But I questioned him in my mind. I wondered how he could waste so much time and money with nothing more in return than pushes and jeers. How ineffective his method was. All he was getting was derided and insulted and making it harder for people like me to bring any sense to the Gospel for the world today.

But now, as I think about it, I realize the Jesus Guy’s place – his hope. He is doing that to which he feels called, without thought of how he looks or what people might think. His hope is that someone – anyone – will hear the same message he knows. Sure, I can question his method - and I'm sure I probably question his theology - but I can’t question his motive. He readily accepts the derision and persecution and revilement on the account of Christ. He readily sacrifices his time and money, rejoicing in gladness for the reward in the terms of the kingdom of heaven, rather than the terms of the kingdoms on earth.

Now that I think about it, he kind of reminds me of the wild-haired, crazy people I read about in the Old Testament called prophets. Crazy people who eat locusts and honey and wear animal skin, crying out in the wilderness, “Make way for God.” “Prepare ye the way for the Lord.” For, in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you, they persecute you.

The joy to which followers of Christ are called is not in spite of persecution, but because of it. Rejoicing because of persecution is not the expression of a martyr complex or something to be sought out, but it is the joyful acceptance of the badge of belonging to the community of faith, the people of God who are out of step with the value system of this age.

Consider this today, “What does it mean for you to follow Christ?”

- J

Thursday, July 14, 2005

What am I?

I am a stats guy. I was a mathematics major in my undergraduate studies. So, when people send me links to quizzes and stuff that tell me who I am supposed to be, I often take them. I like to look at results, percentages, etc. However, I usually always see bias in the questioning. The following are the results in the latest one I've taken. Please don't take the results as the final answer in any theology, for again, this quiz too was biased and had questions in which an answer didn't really make sense according to the possible answer scale. I find the categorical labeling interesting. Defining each of those categories can only be done by the writer(s) of the quiz. And just what exactly does it mean to say that I am 64% of something? But the quiz was interesting.

My results:
You scored as Emergent/Postmodern.

You are Emergent/Postmodern in your theology. You feel alienated from older forms of church, you don't think they connect to modern culture very well. No one knows the whole truth about God, and we have much to learn from each other, and so learning takes place in dialogue. Evangelism should take place in relationships rather than through crusades and altar-calls. People are interested in spirituality and want to ask questions, so the church should help them to do this.

82% Emergent/Postmodern
64% Classical Liberal
64% Charismatic/Pentecostal
64% Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan
57% Neo orthodox
54% Roman Catholic
54% Modern Liberal
32% Reformed Evangelical
14% Fundamentalist

What are you?

Good thing we have to tell us who we are.

- J

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Lawyers and Witnesses

Today's followers of Christ still get caught up in maintaining law-oriented living using human methods, especially in a democratic and law-oriented United States that tries harder than anything to create, maintain, and correctly interpret law. This is somewhat different than what Jesus, Paul, and others deal with in scripture, but not very.

Today, we don't use the word "law". However, we use words and phrases like "rights" and "morality" and "defending freedom".

We find ourselves feeling like we must defend God and his morality. Followers of Christ (again, especially in the United States), feeling like they are losing control of society, seek to define and maintain God's morality. We do this in major ways by legislating and lobbying for laws that fit our Christian morality or campaigning and voting for individuals who we feel fit within and will fight for our moral standards. We do it in more minor ways like fooling ourselves into thinking that the United States is a Christian country, founded upon Christian ideals (a longer post for another time) or by putting bumper stickers on our cars ("It's a child, not a choice", "Adam & Eve, not Adam & Steve", etc.). Wait, have you seen this one?

But when it comes down to it, the "Christian" foundation of our government or law or not simply does not really matter to those of us who follow Christ. God's law doesn't need our defense. God's sovereignty is not in trouble or on trial. The American court system can never condemn or affirm God and his ways. God doesn't need lawyers, he needs honest witnesses. He needs witnesses that do not water down the truth and are not hindered by legalities or fear of being caught in what they say.

When it comes down to it, God need not be defended. He's got a handle on himself.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Life in the States

I've been brought to think quite a bit recently (the last several months) about the call of Christ and what it does to our lives when we truly decide to follow Christ with all that we are and have.

I admit that I'm tired of "happiness Christianity" that says things such as "Find Jesus, find peace" or "Jesus is the answer to all your problems" or "Jesus makes all things right", etc. and leaves it at that striving for "converts". I'm quite wary of the message that has permeated evangelical Christianity making it into little more than any other self-help program. The problem here is that people "accept Christ" with the thought that life will then turn out beautifully, American Dream and success within the grasp of a little bit of initiative.
Conclusion: Transformed lives are preferable to conversion.

It's certainly not that I have never been guilty of this. I imagine that pretty much every Christian who lives in the United States has dealt with, is dealing with, or is ignorant to the attempt to mix American ideals and Christian ideals. Certainly, hope and peace come with Christ. The problem is our expectations of these promised words (I have the same conviction with the word "love", a post I will write someday). We let the dreams and "hopes" of our society convolude the terms with results not simply like financial success, career success, family stability, etc., but so also with contentedness in each of these. Our hope and peace comes in Christ, not the pragmatic and desirable results of a satisfactory life.
Conclusion: Desire and need are not equivalent.
(Those living in the United States, including myself, seriously have to consider what "need" is.)

Further, the decision to follow Christ is filled with trial. It is to be expected. Jesus expected it and accepted the cup (but in what should be comforting to us, hesitatingly). The disciples were well-warned that it would come and experienced it. Paul knew it. When we say "Give to God and he will take care of you" it must be said with the realization of the way of the cross.
Conclusion #1: Following Christ has nothing to do with American ideals (or any other societal ideals).
Conclusion #2: American ideals have nothing to do with following Christ.

My next words are inevitably going to sound arrogant and ungrateful. Know first that I am only able to be who I am because of the generations before me. I am grateful to God for the life I have been able to live, formed mostly by the experiences of those who are older than me. The majority of my formation has come to fruition by God's use of these. I thank God for generations past and passing. None of what I am about to say is exhaustively for all. It is indicative of the majority and is plaguing the Church, especially in the United States.

I struggle with a generation of ministry that spends more time patting older Christians on the back than continually and prophetically calling for all-out life-service to God. (Even I am struck with my young arrogance.)

I know that I am very young and it seems easy for me to say this (the response would probably be, "Jeremy, you can't say that. You haven't lived life yet."). But I don't understand retirement. It is a Western societal achievement and goal. It is hardly a Christian goal. I invite scriptural reference to mandate its acquisition. I imagine someone saving this post and giving it to me when I am 65 years old, tired and weary from life, when I want nothing more than rest. I have a different plan for rest though, and it's quite biblical. Perhaps I will post someday soon on "sabbath", a key, I believe in being able to serve God for life.
Conclusion: Rest is a Christian concept but exists not only to relieve from the previous period of work, but so also to prepare for the next period.

Complacency and comfortableness are related. The emphasized "single moment" of entire sanctification often leads us to both. It's not that I do not think sanctification can come in a single moment. It's that we stress the point way too much. The moment is not the point. It is crucial to sanctification. But it's not the point. When it becomes the central point, it leads to complacency. "Thy will be done" is not fully accomplished here on earth individually or corporately.
Conclusion: Sanctification is a life-long outgrowth that begins with an intentional decision.

If you disagree with any of this, please remember,
I'm still learning,
- J

Monday, July 04, 2005

Indy '05

It's been no secret my feelings on General Assembly before we even got there. The possibility of President Bush making an appearance really concerned me. I wish I hadn't posted so strongly on about it. Now many think I'm a Democrat or something. I've never voted for a Democrat in my life (though I've only voted a few times). Truth is, I'm caring less and less about U.S. politics.

In the weeks leading up to Indy, I was really pretty worried about my place in the Church of the Nazarene.

Then we got to Indianapolis for General Assembly. I was so encouraged by most of the messages of the different General Superintendents. Dr. Bond's was a testimonial-sermon worthy of retrospect by each person who wonders about sanctification. Dr. Porter's message was no surprise, but still refreshing: a call to break the mold of "Nazarene ministry" and to just minister as God leads, leaving the comfort of "what we've always known." The Quadrennial Address had some great aspects. I was encouraged.

And then voting began. I could give you a ballot-by-ballot run down of my thoughts, but I'll succinctly and simply say that neither of the two elected were on my "Top Five" (no, I didn't really compose a Top Five, but I might in a minute). I am encouraged that Dr. Gunter was elected. As one of my mentors said, "It'll break the glass."

But I came home pretty discouraged. I was discouraged that voting (both for GS and for Manual changes) did not go very well. Further, I was also discouraged because not many felt as I did. I disagreed with the last ballot, but an overwhelming 670 (77%?) voted that way. It didn't necessarily mean that they were right and I was wrong or the other way around, but that I didn't fit in. In part, I no longer see as my church does. For a fifth-generation Nazarene preacher, that's pretty discouraging.

I no longer post on Naznet. I imagine that I will from time-to-time, but nothing more than "I saw a raccoon last night" or "My experience with getting rid of spam is..." and other trivial matters. In fact, I think I started this blog as a different avenue of writing my thoughts.

But, I did in fact read much reaction on Naznet as well as at CRI. Only one person (that I saw) really spoke out against the elections. But a post at CRI really encouraged me. You have to know a lot of the history (it is very important that Dr. Dennis Bratcher wrote the post). But to me, it was very encouraging. I fear posting the text as to lose readers, but this is more for my saving than anything else, so here it is:

There is a wonderful line from Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring:
Frodo: “I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.
Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time given to us.

In some ways, this may be our situation now. We can wish all we want that things had gone differently. But they did not. Now we are left with how we will respond to the world and to the church that does not fit our expectations. I suppose we could react with doom and gloom. But how would that serve the Kingdom or fulfill our calling to serve others in the name of God? Or we could, like Frodo, wish and pray that God would somehow make it all go away. But how would that help us live in a sinful world with the grace and love of God as a witness, a light against any form of darkness? Or we could react with an angry activism or a militancy that determines to try and force our views on the Church, assuming that we know better how things should be than anyone else. But then, how would we be any different than those who oppose us? How is one set of ideologically driven agendas any different than another?

There is a fascinating passage from Proverbs that I have always taken as a God-given caution against my own zeal.
30:21 Under three things the earth trembles; under four it cannot bear up: 30:22 a slave when he becomes king, and a fool when glutted with food; 30:23 an unloved woman when she gets a husband, and a maid when she succeeds her mistress.

It is far too easy for us as we are fighting against injustice, prejudice, arrogance, and ignorance in the name of God to become so convinced that we are right and that our cause is just that we become the very thing that we despise in the process of fighting against it. If turning the other cheek means anything, if the sages’ counsel in Proverbs 26:20-21 is true (without wood a fire goes out . . . as charcoal fuels burning coals and wood fuels fire, so a quarrelsome person fuels a dispute), and if indeed we are called by God to respond to our “enemies”’ injustice with love and compassion (Prov 25:21-22 quoted by Jesus), then surely there is “a more excellent way” than anger, dejection, or hopelessness.

I am usually the voice of reform and change, calling us and the church to challenge the injustice and bigotry perpetrated in the name of God. I probably will not change that anytime soon. There is simply too much of it in the church and done in the name of God. But at this moment I have an unexpected sense of peace and calm, one of those times where there is simply a quiet assurance that God is at work.

That does not mean that I am happy with everything that has happened, or that things will go exactly like those who broker power think
they will. But then, I do not need to be happy to realize that the church is bigger than one man, or one set of agendas, or even 2/3 of the
General Assembly. As Marsha mentioned so well somewhere I understand quite clearly that God is not wringing his hands over our General Assembly. I do not know exactly what that means. Perhaps God has just given up on us ever accomplishing his calling and his purposes for this church or for us to be his people. It would not be the first time God has called a people to a great task only to grieve that they so obstinately refused to accept that calling. Or it may be that God is able to work, and has indeed purposed to work, with fragile earthen vessels “so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us” (2 Cor 4:7).

In any case, my response at this time is simply to let God work. I do not need to talk much about what could have or ought to have been, nor do I think we should become obsessed with the negative scenarios that we can all too easily conjure given some of the facts. We should not hide from those facts and pretend they are not what they are. But, as the old saying goes, character will come out. Maybe that is as much theology as folk wisdom. So I want to be sure that my own response reflects what I understand to be the nature of the Kingdom and the Gospel rather than letting it be determined by those that I think have misunderstood both.

As Adalai Stevenson observed, “It is often easier to fight for principles than to live up to them.” Maybe the best thing we, all of us, can do at this point is to stop fighting for principles and start living them. I am totally convinced that this lies somewhere close to the heart of the Gospel. Indeed, it is the heart of holiness. If so, authentic holiness may be the kind of power that can and will change the world in ways that power alone never can, precisely because love in its purest and most godly form “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things,
endures all things” (1 Cor 13:7).

Finally, this prayer:
Eph 3:13 I pray therefore that you may not lose heart . . . 3:14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 3:15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. 3:16 I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 3:17 and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 3:18 I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height
and depth, 3:19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 3:20 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 3:21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Grace and Peace,
Dennis B.

I don't know why I thought that the Church of the Nazarene would be perfect. I think I can expect that, right? We should. But to think that we are perfect is ignorant. As Dan Haseltine wrote: "If ignorance is bliss, won't You save me from myself?"

In regards to the rest of the voting, Hans Deventer put it well from the very floor of the General Assembly:

Mr. Chairman,
Although we are dealing here with a simple motion, it is actually an important principle that is at stake. It is the principle of trust. So far, this assembly has mainly voted down resolutions that called for more room, while adopting those that called for stricter rules or tighter control. May I remind you of the words of Dr. Bond of last Sunday? "We are control freaks", he said. Well, let me tell you, we will never be able to control our church, because first of all, it is God's church, and second, increasing legislation never created godliness and revival, only death and legalism. On Monday, Dr. Porter challanged us to go out with courage. But all we do here is acting out of fear. Brothers and sisters, we cannot be the people God wants us to be when we hide behind ever higher walls of rules and regulations. We need to give room to one another to live out the gospel in all our different cultures and contexts. We actually have to trust one another to be the church God wants us to be, and thus allow the Holy Spirit to revive us! So I speak in favor of this resolution and against the action of the committee.

God will still work. That we know - he always has even despite the failed efforts of humanity. I just hope that he continues to work through the Church of the Nazarene.

- J

Friday, July 01, 2005

I give

I'm not sure where this will go, but I'm going to go ahead and create this. Perhaps it will be a personal journal, perhaps I'll let the rest of you read it.

For now, it's created.

- J