Tag Archives: Church of the Nazarene

Reflections on the second anniversary of my retirement

IMG_2465.JPG Wow, retirement anniversary number two.  It was the first Sunday of May, 2013 that we concluded our pastoral ministry and entered into retirement.  In our case, we retired to travel and the very next day we drove off with our RV, starting the next primary chapter of our lives.

This last year has been terrific.  We traveled from Houston to the northwestern corner of the continental United States and then journeyed at a leisurely pace south along the western coast where we enjoyed amazing scenery and cool Pacific Ocean temperatures.  We visited numerous national parks and, in general, had a blast.

100_3734.JPGOur winter and early spring has been spent doing a variation of our fulltime RVing lifestyle.  We’ve volunteered at the Texas San Jacinto Battleground/Battleship Texas State Historic Park.  In exchange for donating 100 hours of our time each month we’ve enjoyed “free parking.”  That “trade” has saved us some serious, and needed, cash! We’ve thoroughly enjoyed this experience which allowed us to do some very interesting things while being close to family and friends.  While we’re more than ready to begin our travels again we enjoyed the volunteering experience enough that we’ve already signed up to do it again next year.

I did a few more clergy-like things than I did our first year but not a lot.  I filled for our pastor when he was away, filled in for our Sunday School teacher (who happens to be my son) when he was away, did a baby dedication, and finalized my series of books of devotionals.  Aside from that I’ve happily sat in the pew, appreciating the ministry of others.
clearlakenaz.jpgAll in all, we’ve spent over 4 months in the Houston area during this stay.  That means we suspended our “church hopping” ways and settled into a more typical church attendance routine.  While visiting many different churches during our travels is enjoyable we’ve missed the sense of community associated with being a part of a congregation.  This being our second winter as part of our home church helped us feel more a part of things.  It’s interesting to me how things we at first felt were somehow different become, in just a few weeks, just “the way it is done here.”  One thing that become increasingly clear is that no church can be evaluated in just a week or two.  Churches have personalities and that personality isn’t apparent until one is part of the congregation (and involved beyond an hour on Sunday mornings) for a while.  Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy visiting churches, but I know that being a regular, contributing part of a church family is superior.

So, I’d say retirement is going quite well, thank you!  We’re well aware that we are blessed to live this life and we don’t take it for granted.

PHOTO_20150130_145029.jpg

 

Contemporary Worship: things that bug me

No, I’m not going to complain about the style of music or being asked to stand through the song -er- worship service. Here are three contemporary worship services practices that I am seeing that bug me.

  1. Volume of instruments in the praise band. This may surprise you, but I’m not talking about the music being too loud. We seldom come away from a service in a church of our flavor (Church of the Nazarene) thinking the music is too loud. What I do hear fairly often, though, is unbalanced volume from the various instruments in the band. Often, even when the stage has several instruments, the only two I can hear clearly are the strumming of the worship leader on the guitar and the drummer. If you closed your eyes you would think that was all there was: no keyboard, no bass, no second guitar. Of course there are variations to that. Sometimes the music guy plays keyboard and it’s the keyboard you hear. Really, if you are going to recruit instrumentalists to your praise band and have them come to rehearsal it’s reasonable that your music and sound people work together to balance the sound. Obviously, there are exemptions – maybe you have a not-so-talented musician that you want to encourage by having them sit in. Aside from that, though, an effort needs to be made to equalize the sound.
  2. Self-serve communion. It is becoming more common to put the communion elements out and announce to the congregation that during the next song they can come and receive communion if they want. I can’t tell you what poor symbolism I think this is. Communion isn’t a self-serve event. It isn’t an “if you want it” kind of ordinance. Just continuing with the music portion of the service as though communion is just a side line misses the mark. I love communion and I think it has enough spiritual “weight” to hold it’s own in a service. I don’t mind the ritual being updated in some reasonable ways, but I want the pastor to lend his/her authority to the serving of the sacrament.  It bugs me to hear the pastor taking time to do announcements as though that is really important stuff but leaving the serving of the Lord’s Supper on automatic as though it’s just an optional part of that Sunday’s worship service.
  3. Preaching from floor level rather than the platform. I understand the desire of pastors to be informal and approachable during the sermon. I understand that in a contemporary worship service the speaker doesn’t want to appear preachy. Apparently, a lot of pastors have decided that, not only do they not want a pulpit, but they want to be down front rather than on the stage looking down on people. But let me tell you what happens out in the seats: some of us spend the whole sermon trying to look around the people in front of us. After awhile I gain a whole new appreciation for Zacchaeus of New Testament fame who climbed a tree so he could get a glimpse of Jesus. If the speaker would just stand on the platform we could all see him or her. Some pastors think they are enhancing their communication effort by staying off the platform, but I think they are shooting themselves in the foot by creating an absolutely unnecessary distraction.

Any time I see young adults in the church who are really into worship it blesses my heart and I’m happily convinced that a lot of contemporary churches are doing a lot of things right.  Still, I have to confess that these things bug me.

How about you?

Communion

communionI grew up in a very “low church” worship environment.  Our Nazarene Manual directed us to receive the Lord’s Supper at least once a quarter and, apparently, we saw that as a maximum rather than minimum frequency.   As a young pastor I followed that same schedule but over time I moved to a monthly observance, trying to find a middle way between seeing the sacrament as the featured act of worship at one extreme, and as a mandated add-on at the other extreme.

While I don’t think there is a right or wrong approach in how most churches observe the sacrament I do think that the freedom to vary the emphasis and approach and even mechanics of observing it can be an advantage for less liturgical churches.   Whether or not you agree with me here, I hope you’ll find some of these thoughts helpful.

Communion is more of a celebration than anything else.  We don’t believe Jesus dies again each time we receive communion and it isn’t only about shed blood and broken body.   Mainly, we’re celebrating the amazing love the Lord has for us.   Jesus willingly went to the cross because “God so loved the world.”  There, on that old rugged cross, he conquered sin and death.  His victory has become mine.  We don’t celebrate the brokenness and bleeding but we do celebrate the reason for it and what it has accomplished in and for us.  “We come today to celebrate the greatest act of love, the most beneficial sacrifice ever accomplished….”

Communion is the perfect platform for inviting people to come to Jesus.  As a young person I somehow had the idea that the Lord’s Supper could be hazardous to one’s health.  We were to examine ourselves and if we had experienced any spiritual failure we might be wise to skip communion that quarter.  Over time I began to understand that, while it was possible to receive communion in an unworthy manner (that is, without showing proper reverence) that, honestly, no one is worthy of receiving these emblems of the Lord’s body and blood.  Had we been worthy, he would have never had to go to the cross in the first place.  With that in mind, I began to see the sacrament as an invitation to Christ.  As I examine my heart and realize that there are spiritual failures I’m not disqualified from the bread and wine.  Rather, I’m being given an opportunity to avail myself of the mercy and grace of the Lord in a fresh way.  If I come, viewing my receiving communion as a substitute for repentance and faith I’m moving into the “unworthy” territory.  If I come seeking forgiveness and restoration, though, I find life in that sacrament.  “The Bible says we’re to examine ourselves before receiving communion.  So let’s do that.  If, as you consider your relationship with the Lord and find that things aren’t what they ought to be, that doesn’t mean you can’t receive communion today.  Instead, this is an opportunity to make things right with the Lord.  As you receive the bread and wine, receive Jesus into your life all over again.”

Communion is a great way to introduce your child to Jesus.  Honestly, I think our liturgical friends with their emphasis on “first communion” have a great approach.  However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t advantages to a less structured, low church approach.  As a pastor I allowed parents to bring their children forward to receive communion provided the parent agreed to have a discussion with that child about allowing Jesus to be their Lord and Savior before the day was over.  Symbols are powerful and children can grasp spiritual realities earlier than we might think.  I let parents decide if their children are “there” yet.  “Parents, I’ll let you decide when your children are ready to receive communion.  If you do allow your child to come today, I ask this of you: let’s agree that before this day is over you will sit down with your child and talk about the meaning of communion and how it is that a person places their faith in Jesus.”

Communion ought to be the focus of at least one service a year.  Baptism has been called the “entry sacrament” to our life in Christ.  Communion is the “continuing sacrament.”  One Sunday a year the church service should be all about the Lord’s Supper (World Communion Sunday is the first Sunday of October).   Sing songs about it, read the appropriate scriptures, and preach a sermon that reminds us why we celebrate communion.  Talk about our unity with believers across the ages and in the various traditions of Christianity.  Talk about God’s love for us and Christ’s willingness to die for us.  Remind people of its connection to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.  Tell them why the Lord’s Supper is called a “means of grace.”  Then, invite people to the table of the Lord.  Pastor, on this Sunday, you do all the serving, taking the role of Jesus, himself.  “Today is World Communion Sunday and we’re going to join Christians of many traditions around the world in receiving communion.  Before we do that though, let’s think about the meaning and purpose of this sacrament of the Church.”

I am a concerned Nazarene article

Here’s an article entitled “I am a concerned Nazarene” from our denominational publication “Holiness Today.” I think it strikes a balance by acknowledging the legitimacy of being concerned about the direction of the denomination and, at the same time insisting that those expressions of concern be, well, Christian in nature. After all, the Bible does give us some fairly specific instructions for dealing with disagreements within the church. If we’re followers of Jesus we ought to follow his directions in such situations.

Quote from P.F. Bresee concerning Nazarene doctrine

P.F. Bresee is considered to be the founder of the Church of the Nazarene.  He was one of the people instrumental in helping the various groups who came together to form the denomination to find common ground.  They didn’t agree at every point, but they agreed to allow people to arrive at their own understanding on a broad range of doctrinal issues while holding fast to certain core beliefs.  To find out what those core beliefs are, check out the “Agreed Statement of Belief” section around page 37 in the Manual of the Church of the Nazarene.

Concerning all the other stuff, Bresee urged tolerance governed by love.  I recently read something written by Fletcher Tink in which he quotes Brezee on this topic:

“On the great fundamentals we are all agreed. Pertaining to things not essential to salvation, we have liberty. To attempt to emphasize that which is not essential to salvation and thus to divide forces, would be a crime. An unwillingness for others to enjoy the liberty that we enjoy in reference to doctrines not vital to salvation is bigotry, from which the spirit of holiness withdraws itself.” (Bold by me)

I’ve heard various versions of the first part of this quote several times, but the second is new to me.  Apparently, Bresee isn’t just all warm and fuzzy on this topic.  Rather, he’s rather stern about it, saying those who insist on loading other stuff into the equation are practicing a sort of doctrinal “bigotry” and, because of that are operating somewhere outside the “spirit of holiness.”

I can’t help but wonder what he would think of some of the debates and finger pointing we see within our number today.

Why I don’t believe in hell

The subject, “Why I don’t believe in hell” is really just an attention grabber. What I mean is that I don’t think belief in hell is necessary for salvation. You see, I believe IN Jesus. I trust him to be my Savior and I’ve made him Lord of my life. Without him I’m hopelessly lost.

Beyond that, I really don’t want to believe hell exists, at least as a destination for human beings. Really, I’ve tried to not believe it exists but I can’t find a way to do so without abandoning Scripture on the topic and I’m not ready to do that.

Still, I don’t think believing in or doubting the existence of hell has any direct bearing on one’s salvation. I’m saved because I’ve believed in the right Person, not because I’ve believed all the right things. I don’t think I should use one’s views on hell as a sort of litmus test as to whether or not I think they’re saved.

I do think that, in some very specific cases, warnings of hell can cause a person to rethink their life and turn to Jesus for Salvation from that place. If a person believes hell exists and that they can potentially go there, then offering hope of being “saved” from that destiny can have a real influence on their response to the Gospel message.

On the other hand, if a person doubts hell exists then threatening them with hell is going to get me nowhere. They’ll probably think of me as quaint, superstitious, and hopelessly out of touch. At that point I can either spend a lot of time and energy trying to prove the reality of hell to them or I can try to prove something else to them; maybe that God loves them and has sent his Son into this world to make it possible for us to have a genuine relationship with him. I think that’s the more reasonable approach.

My denomination believes hell exists and that people are going there. Our church Manual states:

We believe in the resurrection of the dead, that the bodies both of the just and of the unjust shall be raised to life and united with their spirits—“they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.”

We don’t rejoice in that fact. We’d rather that people come to know the Lord, letting him transform their lives. We’re a lot more interested in helping people realize God’s transforming grace than we are in telling them they’re bound for hell. Again, in some cases, the warning might help a few seriously consider responding to the Lord’s offer to “save” them.

So, I don’t believe IN hell – that believing it is a part of my being saved. Still, to “be saved” means being saved from something doesn’t it? On the other hand I believe IN Jesus. My eternal hope is in him and nothing else and no one else.

Please note: there have been a number of nice comments to this article, but for some reason when I changed blog addresses they didn’t transfer. You can see them here.

What Nazarenes Believe

One of the first questions people ask about a church is “What do you believe.”  Since I want our alvinnazarene.org website to actually minister and serve as an outreach for the church I made the effort some years ago to put pertinent portions of the Manual of the Church of the Nazarene on the site, under the subject of “Our Faith.”  According to the server logs those pages receive many hits as people search for “What do Nazarenes believe about….”

Recently, our beliefs concerning the Bible have come under scrutiny from a small, but vocal group, so I’ve referred people to our Articles of Faith.  People don’t have to agree with what Nazarenes believe about the Bible, but they ought to be honest enough to not pretend that some denominational leader or pastor is being something less than “Nazarene” for believing exactly what our Manual says.  To attack a Nazarene for believing about the Bible what Nazarenes have believed about the Bible since 1928 is either an indication that one is ignorant about what Nazarenes believe or is somewhat dishonest.  Anyway, you’ll find that information under Article IV here: http://www.alvinnazarene.org/articles-of-faith-faith.html

The main purpose of this post, though, is not to rehash all that tired old stuff.  Rather, as I worked through this section of the church website, updating the information to be sure it meshes with the new 2009-2013 version of the Manual I’m impressed with how complete and well thought out it is.  Our theology is a “thinking man’s theology” and it is no where more clear than in the statements of our Church Manual.

As I think about issues like “Human Sexuality” and “War and Military Service” I’m proud of both my heritage and of the current application of our faith.

You’ll find lots of thoughtful material on how Christians apply Biblical principles to life in the Manual of the Church of the Nazarene.

http://www.alvinnazarene.org/our-faith-mainmenu.html