Posts from the ‘Christian living’ Category

Still Making Tents …

Greetings Faithful Readers (all twelve of you … you know who you are)!

When I wrote my last post more than six months ago, I wrote it with the hope that things were going to get better. Sadly, I’d be hard pressed to say that this is so when it comes to ministry. The past six months have been among the most painful I have experienced in my life. I was confronted with my own failures and I’ve had to ask myself repeatedly,

A) do I genuinely have a call, and

B) do I really belong in ministry?

These are hard confessions to make. No one wants to admit that they have sunk years of their life, countless hours, and unimaginable amounts of their energy into something they might be mistaken about.

So here I find myself, easing back into church life after somewhat of a forced sabbatical, and still making tents. I am at the point where I am ready to surrender to the idea that making tents is my life, now and in the future.

I want to be encouraged, and in truth in aspects of life outside of ministry there is much for me to be encouraged about. I have the love of a wife who is far more than I usually feel I deserve, and things are going well at my job. Despite how difficult the last few months have been, I keep coming back to a verse that my wife and I picked out separately (unaware we were picking the same verse) when the officiant of our wedding asked us each for a favorite verse.

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.  (Jeremiah 29:11)

What Are We Giving?

This week, my friend Michael Perkins wrote on consuming and contributing over at his blog Drip Jesus. Now let me be quick to assure you — as Michael himself does in his post — that this is not a post about tithing.

As we continue in this first week of the Lenten season, I’m struck by a couple of things that Michael writes. First is this:

We are a consumer driven society.

We consume, consume, and then consume some more.

  • We consume media. (Blogs, Facebook, and Twitter)
  • We consume art. (Books, Poetry, and other forms)
  • We consume church. (I just want to be fed. I don’t have time serve)

And we never give anything back. We never contribute.

  • We don’t add to the discussion.
  • We don’t create art.
  • We don’t pour ourselves into the lives of others.

I’ll be honest that my initial reaction to this was to think Michael was being unnecessarily harsh, but the more I reflected on this, the more I realized what he was getting at. If we call ourselves Christians, how can we possibly stand in a position in which we seek to be served rather than to serve others? To do so is to live life in opposition to the example and teachings of Christ, who was pretty clear on the subject.

And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)

So the standard is pretty clear: we’re created to give, not receive. And that’s where Michael hit several nails on the head with his post.

  • We’ve been created to give our lives. (To the One that created us)
  • We’ve been created to give our abilities. (To the One that created us and to help further the Kingdom)
  • We’ve been created to give our stories. (To others that they may be encouraged)

A few years ago Dr. Jesse Middendorf, a General Superintendent in the Church of the Nazarene, issued a challenge at our annual district assembly. “How deep is your “yes” to God?” He wanted those who heard this challenge to consider if they were truly giving their all: all of their heart, all of their soul, all of their everything to the Kingdom of God.

In years past, as we entered the season of Lent, I’ve decided on one thing or another that I was going to give up for Lent, and while I don’t regret doing that, I wonder at this point in my spiritual life if I’m not doing that more out of a sense of obligation than anything else. I begin to wonder if isn’t better to start something instead of giving something up, if it wouldn’t be better for me to begin a new spiritual discipline that I take beyond the 40 days of Lent. I wonder what I am truly giving to the Kingdom, and if it’s really all that I can be giving to my Lord Jesus. J.B. Chapman once exhorted Nazarenes to be all out for souls, and that is the life I would lead and all too often am afraid that I am not leading in the least. So during Lent, I will be considering what it is that I am giving to the building of the Kingdom, and what further I can give of myself for His glory.

What are you giving?

The Post I Didn’t Want to Write

Here is the truth: I didn’t want to write this post. Yet when we truly strive to follow God and be guided by the Holy Spirit, sometimes we don’t really have a choice about certain things.

I know I am not the only person who is still struggling to make some sense of the events of December 14 in Newtown, CT. Until the last few days, I have been unable to look at the photos of 20 young boys and girls and 6 brave adults whose lives were taken from them by a sick, evil person. 20 children who might have done anything in life, stripped of dreams and possibilities. Six adults who will stand in my memory always as living examples of Jesus’ words in John 10: 11,  “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

I didn’t want to write this post because I have struggled so mightily with my emotions over the tragedy of Sandy Hook Elementary. At times I have felt like my whole inside has been nothing but a fountain of tears about to well forth. There have been voices out there whose words have helped. My friend Michael Perkins perhaps put it best here, saying,

My heart was wrecked. And if I can be completely honest, I think it should wreck all of our hearts.”

I cannot say exactly why this shooting has affected me more powerfully than others in recent memory, such as the Aurora, Colorado massacre this past summer. I only know that I continue to be heartsick, and keep mentally coming back to words that come from the Mourner’s Kaddish, a traditional piece of liturgy from the Judaism of my childhood.

“Let He who makes peace in the heavens, grant peace to all of us and to all Israel. Let us say, Amen.”

For me — as I suspect for many other — that peace is difficult to grab hold of. As a nation, it seems we may have begun to have a much-needed conversation regarding not just guns, but the violent nature of our culture in general. It’s a violence set in numerous contexts, some of which Scot McKnight identifies thusly:

1. Movies and TV
2. Video games
3. Western movies, Comic books, Cartoon figures
4. Toys
5. Use of the hand as a gun
6. Sports, especially football (of the American kind) and ice hockey
7. Mixed martial arts
8. NASCAR
9. Paintball games
10. Hunting for Bambi

I have struggled for some time, as I’ve discussed previously, with the question of whether Jesus in fact calls Christians to lay down the sword and in the wake of Newtown, I’m forced to confess my own shame over participation in a culture which doesn’t just condone guns, but glorifies and deifies them. McKnight specifically addresses this topic of Christianity and Guns here and here, and a cursory reading of the comments attached to any of these posts will show how heated this discussion quickly becomes.

Here’s why I didn’t want to write this post: I grew up in a household full of guns, and I spent most of my childhood and early teen years hunting with my dad, who has been a freelance outdoor writer for most of my life. To his credit, my dad made certain that both of his sons understood that guns were not toys and that we understood the responsibility of using them carefully. The worst whipping I ever received came when he caught me playing with a neighbor child’s toy gun (something I was expressly forbidden from doing). When I went off to college and life on my own, when I got home on occasion, I still tried to spend time out hunting with my dad. I say all this so it will be understood that I grew up in an atmosphere that made me as ardent a defender of Second Amendment rights as you can imagine.

I’m not sure I can do that anymore. I’m still not sure of whether I can build the argument that Jesus calls us to lay down the sword completely, but I am fairly sure that when Christians show more zeal for defending their right to guns than they do to follow and disseminate the teachings of Jesus, there’s a word to describe it: idolatry. I can agree with Scot McKnight on this:

“The church should lead the way in exhibiting peaceful approaches to life and conflict, and Christians should lead the way in seeking — at the least — serious examination of gun laws and gun safety and access to guns. How many have to die before this is an issue? How many times to do we have to say America has a gun violence problem?”

I didn’t want to write this post because I know what I am opening myself up to by doing so. I’m opening myself to an onslaught from angry Christians and non-Christians alike ready to tear me to pieces. I accept that may be a consequence of following my conscience in this. I don’t pretend that I have any answers yet. But how can any of us come to any answers — or make a safer world for children in other Newtowns — if we can’t stop being so convinced we’re right and just start talking to each other?

Fridays are for John Wesley

Welcome to what I hope to make a regular weekly feature here on A Heart That Burns. Each Friday will be devoted to a brief look at some of Wesley’s journals, sermons, or other writings. Enjoy! 

As one reads through the journals of John Wesley, one is struck by the unflinching manner in which Wesley enforced standards among the early Methodist societies. Consider this entry from January 27, 1742:

After diligent inquiry made, I removed all those from the congregation of the faithful, whose behavior or spirit was not agreeable to the Gospel of Christ: Openly declaring the objections I had to each, that others might fear, and cry to God for them.

It’s notable that the standard used by Wesley was the Gospel. This entry is not untypical, and it’s also notable that throughout his journals, Wesley never dwells at length on such incidents.

I found, after the exclusion of some, who did not walk according to the Gospel, about eleven hundred, who are, I trust, of a more excellent spirit, remained in the society. — Monday, February 1, 1742.

I read over in the society, the Rules which all our members are to observe; and desired everyone seriously to consider, whether he was willing to conform thereto or no. That this would shake many of them, I knew well; and therefore, on Monday, 7, I began visiting the classes again, lest “that which is lame should be turned out of the way.” — Sunday, March 6, 1743

… The number of those who were expelled the society was sixty-four: — Two for cursing and swearing. Two for habitual Sabbath-breaking. Seventeen for drunkenness. Two for retailing spirituous liquors. Three for quarreling and brawling. One for beating his wife. Three for habitual, willful lying. Four for railing and evil-speaking. One for idleness and laziness.  And, Nine-and-twenty for lightness and carelessness.  — Saturday, March 12, 1743

Clearly, Wesley was not a man who saw any accomodation with sin. It causes me to think about whether this is true of our churches today, be it the Church of the Nazarene or other Wesleyan denominations. In fact I jokingly mentioned this to a United Methodist pastor friend, whose response was, “Try that in a church and tell me how it works out for you.”

Sadly, I think that we are far from the standards that Wesley held to, and that the Church suffers much for it. We have lost the concept of reproval — gentle criticism or correction — and we seem to have lost the ability to draw a line in the sand beyond which sinful behavior among the Church will be tolerated.

What do you think? Are our standards too low?

The King’s Corn: A Tale About Integrity

An aging king woke up one day to the realization that should he drop dead, there would be no male in the royal family to take his place. He was the last male in the royal family in a culture where only a male could succeed to the throne – and he was aging. He decided that if he could not give birth to a male, he would adopt a son who then could take his place but he insisted that such an adopted son must be extraordinary in every sense of the word. So he launched a competition in his kingdom, open to all boys, no matter what their background. Ten boys made it to the very top.

There was little to separate these boys in terms of intelligence and physical attributes and capabilities. The king said to them, ‘I have one last test and whoever comes top will become my adopted son and heir to my throne.’

Then he said, ‘This kingdom depends solely on agriculture. So the king must know how to cultivate plants. So here is a seed of corn for each of you.Take it home and plant and nurture it for three weeks. At the end of three weeks, we shall see who has done the best job of cultivating the seed. That person will be my heir-apparent.’ The boys took their seeds and hurried home. They each got a flower pot and planted the seed as soon as they got home. There was much excitement in the kingdom as the people waited with bated breath to see who was destined to be their next king.

In one home, the boy and his parents were almost heartbroken when after days of intense care, the seed failed to sprout. He did not know what had gone wrong with his. He had selected the soil carefully, he had applied the right quantity and type of fertilizer, he had been very dutiful in watering it at the right intervals, he had even prayed over it day and night and yet his seed had turned out to be unproductive.

Some of his friends advised him to go and buy a seed from the market and plant that. ‘After all,’ they said, ‘how can anyone tell one seed of corn from another?’ But his parents who had always taught him the value of integrity reminded him that if the king wanted them to plant any corn, he would have asked them to go for their own seed. ‘If you take anything different from what the king gave you that would be dishonesty.’

‘Maybe we are not destined for the throne. If so, let it be, but don’t be found to have deceived the king,’ they told him. The d-day came and the boys returned to the palace each of them proudly exhibiting a very fine corn seedling. It was obvious that the other nine boys had had great success with their seeds. The king began making his way down the line of eager boys and asked each of them, ‘Is this what came out of the seed I gave you?’

And each boy responded, ‘Yes, your majesty.’ And the king would nod and move down the line.

The king finally got to the last boy in the line-up. The boy was shaking with fear. He knew that the king was going to have him thrown into prison for wasting his seed. ‘What did you do with the seed I gave you?’ the king asked. ‘I planted it and cared for it diligently, your majesty, but alas it failed to sprout.’ the boy said tearfully as the crowd booed him.

But the king raised his hands and signaled for silence. Then he said, ‘My people behold your next king.’ The people were confused. ‘Why that one?’ many asked. ‘How can he be the right choice?’ The king took his place on his throne with the boy by his side and said, ‘I gave these boys boiled seeds. This test was not for cultivating corn. It was the test of character; a test of integrity. It was the ultimate test.’

If a king must have one quality, it must be that he should be above dishonesty. Only this boy passed the test. A boiled seed cannot sprout.’ Never!!

When the subject of how the Christian life can be perceived by others, my wife sometimes likes to tell about an unchurched friend whom she went through high school with. He once remarked to her that what he respected most about her was that she was the same girl on Friday as she was on Sunday. What she believed and lived didn’t waver, and that made quite an impact on someone who didn’t have a very positive view of “church folks.”

To live a life of holiness requires no small degree of integrity, a characteristic that is not necessarily viewed as much of a virtue these days.  Yet anyone who even begins to claim that the Bible is the benchmark by which their life is lived must see integrity as a non-negotiable. To the ancient Israelites, the Chosen Ones, to be people of integrity was a command that came directly from the Lord.

“You shall have only a full and honest weight; you shall have only a full and honest measure, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. For all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are abhorrent to the LORD your God.”  (Deuteronomy 25:15-16)

It’s clear that the biblical perspective is that integrity flows from the heart, aptly illustrated by Proverbs 4:23-27.

“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you. Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Keep straight the path of your feet, and all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.”

What are some ways that integrity plays out in your Christian walk?

From the Archives: To Lay Down The Sword

The following post was originally published on September 20, 2010. As I am currently working on a second post on the subject, I thought I would revisit this one.

Carson T. Clark’s latest blog post has helped to crystallize some thoughts that have been rolling around in my head for a while, particularly this portion:

“I specifically have in mind childhood conflict. (Isn’t this the reason Lord of the Flies  is so powerful?) A college friend of mine recently put up a facebook status about how  his kindergarten daughter defended herself by slugging a bully right in the eye on the playground. As a loving father, his gut response was to be delighted that she stood up for himself. “That’s my girl!” But he later got to thinking about whether or not it’s right to encourage that. He didn’t say it publicly, but I suspect he got to thinking about the incongruity of his response with his professed theological beliefs.”

These thoughts that I’ve had rolling around center on the idea that a devoted follower of Christ has received a call to lay down the sword. This can particularly be seen in Christ’s statement in Matthew 26:52,

“Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”

As I work through some thoughts on pacifism, let me start by addressing several things.

1) I have nothing but the utmost of respect for those who serve our nation through military service. My father and uncle both served in the Navy, as did my brother-in-law.  My wife’s grandfather was a decorated Naval officer who dove into the water during the attack on Pearl Harbor to swim out to his ship, and didn’t see his family again for close to two years. One of my best friends currently serves in the Army. Whatever conclusions I may personally come to regarding war and Christians will in no way diminish the respect I have for the courage and convictions displayed by the men and women who serve in our armed forces. I am very mindful that they are risking their lives for my right to even write this blog post and that Jesus also said, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)

2) The Church, since the time of Augustine, has struggled with the concept of “just war.” The Church’s struggle has been to find a balance between the simple truth that Christians should not take part in a war that is obviously plainly wicked versus the fact that some wars are considered justified even by Christians in order to prevent greater evils.

3) In the United States, church denominations such as the Quakers, the Mennonites, the Hutterites, and (at least up until World War II) the Churches of Christ have historically maintained pacifist positions. The cost of their convictions for some members of these denominations should be troubling to all Christians. During World War I, around 2000 conscientious objectors from these denominations were imprisoned in Federal prisons, where they received solitary confinement, short rations, and in a couple of cases physical abuse severe enough to result in death. Conscientious objectors fared slightly better in World War II, when the Civilian Public Service was established as an alternative to military service (although the cost of the program was placed on the conscientious objectors and their congregations).

One of the difficulties I have personally had in sorting out my thoughts at what I see as Jesus’ command to lay down the sword is that defining pacifism can be a bit like nailing Jello to a tree. There are those who approve a nation going to war, but not participation by Christians. There are others who would approve participation in a war that resists invasion. Then there are those who call themselves pacifists who might agree to a non-combat support role in a war, but would refuse to kill an enemy soldier. Going even further than this are those who object to any violence, whether by police or military personnel. Still others might say they would agree to participate in a just war but not an unjust war. Traditional Christian thought holds that no Christian should participate in an unjust war, but it seems to me that this is something more honored in thought than practice.

As I share my thoughts, I’d love to get a dialogue going. What are your opinions and thoughts on this? Do you agree that Jesus calls us to lay down the sword?

Sowing Seeds, Sowing Hope

There’s been some exciting things happening in my life, ministry-wise, recently. The chief among these is that I took a position as an associate pastor at Madison Church of the Nazarene in Madison, TN. The church is located in a community with a lot of brokenness and a lot of needs, and both I and my wife are very excited about helping to grow the Kingdom and the church.

Other exciting things happening outside of ministry include a project I started. Anyone in my family can tell you that I am fairly vegetable crazy, especially when it comes to cucumbers and tomatoes. This year I decided I was going to have a good supply of both by growing my own. I turned for advice to my dad, Brook, who is an expert on gardening, especially when it comes to heirloom varieties. In fact, if you are traveling near or live close to Lexington, Kentucky, I encourage you stop at Fort Boonesborough State Park and say hello to him. He maintains the garden at the Fort — make sure you tell him I sent you!

Recently, as I was asking Dad some questions about the seeds I planted, he stunned me with something he said. Dad is not a person of great faith of any sort, so I took particular note when he said,

“Watching a seed sprout and grow is an affirmation of faith, because to plant a seed is to believe that tomorrow will come.”

There’s a whole world to be mined there, from the perspective of this pastor. Naturally, when we’re talking seeds, I think of the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:3-9.

“And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”

The application of the parable is pretty obvious when it comes to planting seeds of the Gospel into people’s lives. That is the job of every Christian to do, regardless of whether they are “in ministry” or not. And just as the parable says, when we plant seeds they will sometime take deep root in peoples’ lives and other times those seeds will wither away without the Gospel taking root. But when I consider Dad’s statement about believing that tomorrow will come, it leads to think about Hope, which gives me cause to remember one of my favorite verses in the Bible.

“I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Planting a seed is indeed the affirmation of faith my dad labels it as. To believe tomorrow will come is certainly to hope. But to believe that your future Hope lies in Jesus is to trust in the promises of God.

Question: Who has planted seeds in your life?

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