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Journey’s End

Hello again, dear readers.

It’s been a very long time since I last even thought about posting, and I hope that it’s not too great a disappointment that I am posting this only as an announcement that this will be the final post on A Heart That Burns.

I began this blog in large part as a chronicle of a particular journey I had embarked upon: to become an ordained elder in the Church of the Nazarene. In truth, that journey has been over for me for well over a year. It was at that point, in the wake of a confrontation with some mistakes I had made in pursuit of that goal, that my wife and I made the very difficult decision to not only end my pursuit of ordination, but to leave the Church of the Nazarene.

Before I go further let me state categorically that I am not angry with anyone in the Church of the Nazarene. Some of my dearest friends – who have continued to love and support my wife and me in the past year – are Nazarenes. Ultimately, the decision was prompted by the growing knowledge that my wife Kathleen and I simply didn’t fit into the Church of the Nazarene. Part of it was that I too often found that my identity as a Jewish believer in Jesus needed to be supressed in order to fit in as a Nazarene; along with this is the simple fact that if the CoTN has any interest in ministry to Jewish people (beyond a specific local congregation), I was never able to discover it.

Our departure was also the culmination of some serious wrestling I had been doing (some of it in these pages) as to whether I actually had a continued call to ministry. My prayerful conclusion was that whether God had plans for my future that involved ministry, I was chasing a goal that more and more seemed to be one that I was pursuing of my own volition rather than the Lord’s leading.

The year that followed was very difficult. Following closely on the decision to leave the Church of the Nazarene, my schedule at work changed and the days and hours I worked made it impossible for us to attend any church service. I can’t adequately describe what that lack of fellowship was like, but it might involve the words “Siberia” and “exile.”

As terrible as this was, some good things have come out of our year of displacement. When Kathleen and I were first married, I was full-time missionary. Who we were as a couple was very much defined by ministry. Upon leaving full-time missions, Kathleen and I were both tapped within the space of mere weeks to do pastoral ministry within our local Nazarene church. Over the course of 5 years, it never really occured to us that we needed to put in any more time figuring out who we were as a couple. The past year has given us the time to do that and we are the better for it, our marriage is stronger for it, and I love her more today than I did the day we were married.

A year ago, I asked God that if ministry was no longer my path, that He would allow me to advance in the work that I do. He has been faithful in this; I earned a promotion a little over a month ago and have since started a new shift with hours that will allow Kathleen and I to see more of each other and will allow us to resume church attendance. We are excited about the start of a new journey.

As I close, I want thank those who have taken the time to follow A Heart That Burns, some of you from close to the blog’s inception. As many of the posts continue to get hits from people searching for information on John Wesley and holiness, my intention is to keep the blog up. Within a week I will shutting down all comments. Thanks again for following along with my journey, and may God bless you in your own!

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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?

Fridays Are for John Wesley

Wesley and Accountability

While still a student at Oxford, John Wesley started a group that met regularly for the purpose of keeping each other spiritually accountable — what scoffers called “The Holy Club.”  His time as part of this group was foundational to the Methodist societies Wesley and his brother Charles would later form, and the principle of spiritual accountability was one that Wesley cleaved to his whole life. Wesley’s diary from 1729 or so contains a list of over 20 questions that the Oxford group asked themselves regularly, and that Wesley later gave to the various bands and societies.

1. Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I really am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?

2. Do I confidentially pass on to others what has been said to me in confidence?

3. Can I be trusted?

4. Am I a slave to dress, friends, work or habits?

5. Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?

6. Did the Bible live in me today?

7. Do I give the Bible time to speak to me every day?

8. Am I enjoying prayer?

9. When did I last speak to someone else of my faith?

10. Do I pray about the money I spend?

11. Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?

12. Do I disobey God in anything?

13. Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?

14. Am I defeated in any part of my life?

15. Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy or distrustful?

16. How do I spend my spare time?

17. Am I proud?

18. Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisees who despised the publican?

19. Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold a resentment toward or disregard? If so, what am I doing about it?

20. Do I grumble or complain constantly?

21. Is Christ real to me?

What do you think of these questions? Are there questions you would add or remove?

Sweet Home Alabama?

According to a story in the New York Times, church leaders in Alabama stand poised to break state law – intentionally. In June the state of Alabama passed an immigration enforcement law which the Times reports as being called “the toughest in the country by critics and supporters alike,” noting that “the opposition has been vocal and unceasing.”

On August 1, according to the Times,

An Episcopal bishop, a Methodist bishop and a Roman Catholic archbishop, all based in Alabama, sued on the basis that the new statute violated their right to free exercise of religion, arguing that it would “make it a crime to follow God’s command to be Good Samaritans.”

Many church leaders are arguing that “the law essentially criminalizes basic parts of Christian ministry,” since it “makes it a crime to transport, harbor or rent property to people who are known to be in the country illegally,” thus making it illegal for churches to give illegal immigrants rides, issue invitations to worship services, or perform marriages and baptisms for them.

While laws such as this have popular support, it raises the question as to whether it is right for leaders in the Church to oppose the law of the land. After all, the Apostle Paul admonished his readers in the epistle to the Romans to obey governing authorities:

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience.” (Romans 13:1-6 NRSV)

Christians seeking to do the right thing, however, may find a tension between this and God’s repeated admonitions to treat the alien among His people with fairness and equality.

“there shall be one law for the native and for the alien who resides among you.” (Exodus 12:49)

“The foreigner who resides with you must be to you like a native citizen among you; so  you must love him as yourself, because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:34)

“You and the alien who resides with you shall have the same law and the same ordinance.” Numbers 15:16

Politics aside, is it possible that church leaders who are vocally opposing Alabama’s law are seeking to follow the will of God before the will of Man? Perhaps they are remembering Jesus’ criticism of the Pharisees:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others.” (Matthew 23:23)

In the Church of the Nazarene, the issue of immigration has been under discussion for some time. The 2009 General Assembly resolved that that the Church of the Nazarene was on record as affirming that our denomination should

• Provide pastoral care and crisis intervention to immigrants and to build bridges with the immigrant community, regardless of their legal status.

• Provide technical and financial assistance to local churches in compassionate ministry with undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers.

• Become more informed and active citizens, using our voices and votes to speak for the voiceless, to defend the poor and the vulnerable, and to advance the common good.

• Encourage our leaders to show their support for congregations composed of or working with immigrants who may or may not have documents.

What do you think the Church’s response should be towards illegal immigrants?

The Cost of Following Jesus, Part One

This is the first part of a two to three-part series.

I did not have an interest in music – other than listening to it – until I was a  sophomore in high school, and then I dived into the deep end of the pool. In  the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school, I  learned to play saxophone, and then during my junior year of high school I  more or less taught myself to play guitar. The guitar I learned to play on was  a beat up old classical guitar loaned me by a friend, but I never think of that  as my first guitar.  My first guitar was an acoustic/electric Takamine, with a  glossy black finish and white detailing. I named the guitar Johnson, after a  famous blues musician, and I paid $600.00 for him at Currier’s Music Store,  which even today seems to me an enormous sum for a 17-year-old to spend  on anything. I paid $600.00, but that doesn’t begin to describe what I really  paid for that guitar. The real cost was a sacrifice of time spent with friends while I worked odd jobs. The cost was not having the money for getting a bite to eat with the gang I hung out with, or not being able to buy a new biker jacket, or a t-shirt from one of the bands I liked. The cost was staying in my room at home instead of cruising because I didn’t want to waste money on gasoline for my car that I could put towards my guitar. Johnson was costly, people.

I think that the generation in which I have found myself born is one that for the most part has never understood the true cost of things. It’s a generation that feels a huge sense of entitlement, and whatever it is that we’re supposed to be entitled to, we want it NOW, without any waiting! In previous generations this was not so. My late grandfather lived through the Depression, and until the illness which eventually killed him, seemed physically incapabable of inactivity for so much as a day. He spent most of his adult life as a bus driver in New York City, and continued to drive a school bus after his retirement. Even when he eventually stopped driving, he was constantly working, whether it was making some small repair in his home, or building some small item for a neighbor. Those who have come before us understood a connection between desiring something – whether it was tangible, such as food, or intangible, such as knowledge – and the price required to acquire it, a connection that seems more tenuous as time progresses. The blacksmith at his forge was standing there because he had served an apprenticeship of 7 or more years, an apprenticeship measured in his own sweat, and blood, and tears. The doctor treating patients walks the corridors of a hospital because he has served a different sort of apprenticeship of 8-10 years, years of endless studies and sleepless nights spent as an intern before being allowed to don the white jacket proclaiming him as a healer. The professor at a university is entitled to his podium in the lecture because he has gone through 4 years of undergraduate work, followed by 4-6 years of graduate studies, followed perhaps by yet more years of study and work on a doctoral dissertation which he must then defend before a panel of experts in his field of study. There was a price which the blacksmith, the doctor, and the professor paid to earn their place in society.

Today, I want us to consider a simple question: is there a cost to follow Jesus?

“And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have observed from my youth.” And Jesus looking upon him loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” At that saying his countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions. And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” Peter began to say to him, “Lo, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many that are first will be last, and the last first.”   Mark 10:17-31

Is there a cost to follow Jesus? As Christians, we tend not to think this is so. After all, He paid the price for us, did he not? He died on the cross for us, as a sacrifice for our sins. We didn’t do anything to earn that sacrifice, nor was there anything we could have done. It was a gift that God gave to all humanity – His own Son, brutally murdered that you and I might gain eternal life. The apostle Paul bids us knows that if we but confess with our lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead, we will be saved. Doesn’t sound like much cost to you and I, does it? The story of the rich young ruler, found in three of the four Gospels, teaches us differently. The moral of this tale is that following Jesus is costly.

Is there a cost to follow Jesus? As Christians, we tend not to think this is so. After all, HE paid the price for us, did he not? He died on the cross for us, as a sacrifice for our sins. We didn’t do anything to earn that sacrifice, nor was there anything we could have done. It was a gift that God gave to all humanity – His own Son, brutally murdered that you and I might gain eternal life. The apostle Paul bids us knows that if we but confess with our lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead, we will be saved. Doesn’t sound like much cost to you and I, does it? The story of the rich young ruler, found in three of the four Gospels, teaches us differently. The moral of this tale is that following Jesus is costly.

The rich young ruler is distinctive in the New Testament as being one of the few figures of authority who demonstrates legitimate interest and concern in the afterlife. The nature of his question to Jesus indicates that he had prior knowledge that Jesus was offering eternal life to those who followed him. Although there are those who question the ruler’s sincerity, he genuinely seems to want to know how he can gain salvation. Jesus’ answer treats the question sincerely; our Lord responds by quoting the Ten Commandments. He refers to commandments six through nine, and then cites the fifth commandment. As we examine the passage, note that all these are commandments dealing with relationships with other people. Know that in Jewish tradition, citing any portion of a passage implies the context of the entire passage. By citing commandments dealing with relationships with other men, Jesus by implication is also citing commandments dealing with relating to God. This is important in answering our question.

As sincere as the rich young ruler is, his response shows his misguidedness. “All these things I have kept since my youth,” he says, displaying a certainty that he has the ability to live a righteous life on his own. Although I don’t believe it to be arrogance, the young ruler displays a sort of boastfulness in his own piety, as if to say, “Look how long I’ve been keeping the commandments!” He’s misguided because he thinks that simply doing commandments is the way to a relationship with God. As someone who grew up in Judaism, and has brought the Gospel to the Jewish people, let me make something clear: it is not about doing the commandments. What was the one thing which Jesus told the young ruler he lacked? He was lacking a heart that was truly, wholly and completely given over to God. Jesus’ invitation to come and follow Him was a test of where the young ruler’s allegiance truly lay; it was a call for him to sacrifice his wealth for his faith. Understand that Jesus’ command to the young man is not a call for all people in all times to give up all they own, but it was God’s will for this ruler. He went away sad because the cost of following Jesus, the cost of eternal life, was all that the young ruler believed was important in this world. His reliance ultimately was not on the Lord; he drew comfort from his possessions rather than his God.

In part two of this series, we’ll discuss the price which some have paid for following Jesus. Look forward to some thoughts on Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Richard Wurmbrand in particular.

A Milestone Reached

Well, the title says it all.

As of today, this little blog I’ve been writing has achieved 1,000 views in just a little over a month shy of a year of existence. Don’t get me wrong, I am well aware that there are many blogs whose readership achieves that in a week, but reaching a milestone like this at least lets me know that there are a few people actually reading it.

All to to the glory of God, I pray.

Shane Raynor on “Entering the Spiritual Dimension”

Great post from Shane Raynor over at Faith Experience.

Wise Christians soon figure out that they can’t use natural tools to  accomplish  supernatural tasks, and they learn when spiritual revelation  needs to happen. Human  persuasion and intellectual arguments have their  places, but  there are times when the Holy  Spirit and prayer have to be part  of a situation to get the job done.

May we all allow the Holy Spirit in to get the job done …

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