How to talk about THAT topic. A guide for parents.

Kate Ott (not me) is taking on a huge task that I don’t envy. Talking to parents about how to talk about sex. This is not your health class sex education. It is, in my opinion, the more important piece of that that many people on one side of the social equation believe that we should only discuss marriage and celibacy, and the other side of the equation that believe that we all ought to act like animals (at least mildly civilized ones). Yes, I am overstating both sides. Then again, both sides seem to do that when they discuss themselves and “the others”.

Ott is trying to bridge a gap that really needs to be bridged. Our kids are being left to, effectively, fend for themselves. Anyone who believes that there is a spiritual aspect to sex (which covers quite a number of faith traditions, not just Christianity) would benefit from Ott’s book.

I’d love to offer some quick tips from Ott’s book, Sex & Faith, but I won’t. Not because there aren’t any, but because there are so many. In a world that wants quick fixes, Ott does a good job of painting the picture for the reader, then bringing the reader into the picture. This requires patience on the reader’s side, but for something that is so essential, patience is good.

As a father of an adolescent, and two pre-adolescents, it would have been nice to have this book in my hands prior to my kids’ first foray in to sex education. That being said, it is helping me frame things in my own head, prior to discussing them with my kids.

Ott is not trying to, from my perspective, cram Christianity down anyone’s throat. In fact, she really does try to shy away from it. However, she still tries to tie faith with sex. She works at being open to non-Christian perspectives. In fact, her openness may actually put her in an uncomfortable position with those whose ecumenical positions are absolute.

Disclaimer: I received a e-text preview copy of this book, but received no other compensation.  

Ott, Kate. Sex & Faith: Talking With Your Child From Birth to Adolescence. [S.l.]: Westminster John Knox, 2013. Print.

Now What?

I find myself in a weird place. I’m not supposed to offend people with my faith. Okay. I’d like to not offend people at all. However, that does leave a person in an odd place. If, by my faith, something is a sin, and I truly believed my faith, I should call a spade, a spade. Right? Unless it is a sin. Then I’m just supposed to love them? I don’t want them to change?

The new mantra (with which I don’t disagree) is we need to love people into the faith. What if they don’t want to be loved into the faith? There’s the rub. If I believe that by not believing they are destined for anything other than the Heaven (i.e., afterlife), why would I leave it (or them) alone?

These are, frankly, all unanswerable questions. Plenty of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus have their answers to those questions. It still leaves me cold and sad. I love these people. I want them to be with me.

I’m not even sure why I’m writing this post, to be honest. I just feel the need to say something. I love you. I want you to spend eternity with God, me, and who knows who else? If I didn’t love you, I wouldn’t want you to be there. Yet, in the spirit of not offending, I’m now relegated to the dustbins of friendship.

Of course, someone will say, well, they weren’t much of a friend, were they? It isn’t about them being a friend. It is about me being a friend.

A Nazarene Movement

I wonder if it is time to dispense with the work "denomination".

As a member of the Church of the Nazarene, and gladly so, I see what is called a denomination as something more akin to a movement. I’m sure there are plenty of people who immediately shudder at the use of the word "movement", but I find that the work denomination adds to the separation between God’s people.

The Church of the Nazarene, for example, places itself under the "Wesleyan-Holiness" umbrella, which was a movement. It seems that much of what separates the church (specifically, the so-called Protestant section) is not core salvation issues (although some would disagree), but spiritual movements that have moved individuals to express their faith.

The Roman Catholic church, for example, has different "schools". From what I understand, much of what makes them different (Jesuits, Hospitallers, Carmelites, Benedictines, etc.) from other Roman Catholics is what "moved" them to express their faith. Some of them have developed additional layers of theologies, and others developed rules to live by.

Some Roman Catholic apologists point the finger at Martin Luther starting the disintegration of the Roman Catholic church, and the seemingly resulting infinite number of "denominations". However, the Roman Catholic church has its own historical issues in that area, specifically the split from the (Eastern) Orthodox church (and there was plenty of blame to go around on that).

The Church of the Nazarene is young as "denominations" go (est. 1904). One of the things it has done well is patiently (biblically, I’d say, long-sufferingly) work on keeping the theological tent as large as possible. That takes determination and humility.

Perhaps, that is the key. It takes humility to accept "movements", and pride creates denominations.

Isolation Versus Introversion

When reading my “assigned” bible reading the other day, I came across this passage:

Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire;
he breaks out against all sound judgment.

Proverbs 18:1 (ESV)

My first thought was, “wait a minute, I’m not seeking my own desire!” In truth, however, I am. My desire to maintain my sanity. For all the extroverts out there, introverts such as myself don’t “isolate” ourselves from people, it is just that people are exhausting.

What is being spoken of here is that peculiar form of isolation where a person sets himself away from others, so as to not interact, but yet make decisions that impact the isolationist and those “others”. The isolation that Proverbs 18:1 speaks against, versus the isolation of an introvert, takes the form of being against someone. The Hebrew sense is more akin to division/confrontation, rather than the removing of oneself that occurs with introverts. It is often difficult to differentiate the isolation of introverts from isolationists difficult, as the external behavior is much the same, especially to an extrovert.

How is an extrovert (or even another introvert) supposed to tell the difference? I think the end result (or what comes after the period of isolation) is the key. An introvert who has isolated himself, will come out of isolation better able to interact with others, and have more energetic interactions with others. Some introverts (like me, but not all) will have better emotional health, as well. At least for me, I find that if I drawn down the tank (so-to-speak) too much, I struggle with depression more (if I haven’t already fallen headlong into it), and the isolation puts me back on my feet.

However, despite the defense of isolation for the introvert, there is a danger when the introvert isolates himself when depressed. The depression may then take a life on its own, and the introvert may not be able to break free. Obviously, I’m speaking from experience. Again, how are you supposed to know when this is occurring? That is different from person to person (I know, not much of an answer). And here’s the real kicker, sometimes the introvert has to claw the way out of depression on his own, so actually be successful in recharging the introversion tanks.

It’s not easy living with us extreme introverts. A lot of what goes on in our heads never comes out. We don’t talk about the internal dialog, nor do we want to.

Determining the balance between healthy and unhealthy isolation for an introvert is a balancing act.

Be Not Afraid

1 Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and brought them to the top of a very high mountain. 2 He was transformed in front of them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light.

3 Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Jesus. 4 Peter reacted to all of this by saying to Jesus, “Lord, it’s good that we’re here. If you want, I’ll make three shrines: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

5 While he was still speaking, look, a bright cloud overshadowed them. A voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son whom I dearly love. I am very pleased with him. Listen to him!” 6 Hearing this, the disciples fell on their faces, filled with awe.

7 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Don’t tell anybody about the vision until the Human One is raised from the dead.”

Matthew 17:1-9 (CEB)

The above is the story of the Transfiguration, and it is often spoken of as an example of Jesus’ divinity. What struck me today was not the divinity of Jesus, but personableness of Jesus. The historic separation between God and Creation (even his treasured people, the Israelites) is pretty straightforward when on reads Exodus 19:18-25. The people (with exceptions) are to not even approach the metaphorical throne of God. We see God here as a distant God. When one comes face-to-face with God, as Moses did in Exodus 34:29-35, one is profoundly (and in Moses’ case, physically as well) changed, that separation is desired by those who have not been so touched, and graced, by God’s changing presence. In fact, in some ways, there seems to be a quiet desperation in the Israelites that says, Moses, you go take care of that God fellow. We’ll just stay here…away from Him…and you, by extension.

The three Apostles, Peter, James and John, immediately fall into the Israelite habit. The falling onto their faces, as much as it is a (deserved) act of homage, it is also an act of avoidance, similar to the game of peak-a-boo; I can’t see you, so you can’t see me. In the midst of all this, seeing Friends of God, hearing God’s voice, a blinding light, Jesus just says, “Get up.”

Hiding is no longer an option. On the other hand, there is no separation either.


Slandering & Evangelism

And when the town clerk had quieted the crowd, he said, “Men of Ephesus, who is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple keeper of the great Artemis, and of the sacred stone that fell from the sky? Seeing then that these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rash. For you have brought these men here who are neither sacrilegious nor blasphemers of our goddess. If therefore Demetrius and the craftsmen with him have a complaint against anyone, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another

Acts 19:35-18 (ESV)
I find it very interesting that the city manager had heard of Paul–if not heard Paul speak–and thus had either an opinion or a lot of information. Yet despite Paul preaching and teaching about Jesus, the city manager did not believe the goddess had been slandered. Of course, it could be that the city manager was trying to keep the peace (or regain it), but from what we know of Paul, it would seem that he somehow managed to speak the truth about Jesus the Christ without slandering other religions. Can we say the same?

I ask this with nothing in particular in mind, nor anyone. Even Paul’s famous speech on Mars Hill was respectful towards those with whom Paul disagreed. What makes this respectful stance of Paul very interesting (to me at least), is that he was the central villainous character earlier in Acts. He persecuted (quite violently) followers of  “The Way” (the initial name for Christians). However, after his conversion experience on the road to Damascus, his entire methodology changed.

It would seem that there are some lessons there.

Is There a Future for the Church of the Nazarene?

Let’s get the easy/hard stuff out of  the way. I LOVE my denomination. Okay, I love a lot of denominations, but I love mine. I do not love it over the Church, but that’s a discussion for another day.
Back on the 19th of September, I quoted Ed Stetzer (on Google+ & Facebook) regarding his views on the house church and mega-church models.

…I think that the megachurch is a growing trend and the house church is also a growing trend– at the same time. For what it is worth, I am excited about both. God has used the megachurch to reach Korea and the house church to reach China. Let’s hold our models loosely and our Jesus firmly.

Ed Stetzer

It was with great sadness that I read about Shaun King’s resignation from the Atlanta-based Courageous Church. It was an even heavier heart that I read his wife’s emotional response to the turmoil. I don’t know either Shaun or Rai King, but I can “hear” the breaking of their hearts. I also cannot help but feel that there was a tad bit of gloating over at Stories From the Revolutions: The Journal of the LK10 Community, but that really is an aside rather than the point. If Ed Stetzer is correct (and demographically, he probably is), what does that mean for a denomination like the Church of the Nazarene?

The Church of the Nazarene is a collection (in the United States, at least) of many churches, of many sizes. Most are not house churches (though, there are more every year, but still, not the fastest growing segment), nor are most mega-churches (though, we have a few of those, too). The Church of the Nazarene is primarily made up of churches with a population of 50 to 150. This range doesn’t fit into either “model”. As the demographics of the church head toward the “well-curve” of the house/mega-church extremes, where does a denomination that is more of a bell-curve fit?

It doesn’t. Ooops. I said it. We, the Church of the Nazarene, don’t fit.

I think I’m okay with that. No. I don’t think I’m okay with that, I am okay with that.

I don’t think the extreme of house/mega-church will last long, it really can’t. Neither one really fits American tendencies particularly well. They seem to, on the surface, but they have no particular balance. I could be wrong, but I do think the face of the American church will change…for the better. Mega-churches will have their mega-star pastors who hold their churches together by force of will or by almost in-human organizational skills (this, by the way, is a stereotype, and does not apply to all). House churches will rise and fall almost as much as breathing, especially as many (as shown far too often by history) will start to split/form based upon personalities and minor (and not-so minor) theological differences. Both seem (again, a stereotype) to be non-denominational either by intent or by nature, so there will often not be a larger body that can provide the balance that often seems to be needed to the local body.

For whatever reason, the Church of the Nazarene seems to live/survive/thrive between the extremes of house/mega-church. I strongly suspect that much of that is based upon our Holiness heritage. Much of what the mega-church seeks is a body driven to serve Christ in a huge way (at least in their words and mission statements). The Holy Spirit is the best driver of that, rather than human will and desire. The house church seeks/demands discipleship (rightfully so) of the body, but often seems to leave that to individual desire (not always bad), with little balance or boundaries (can lead to very bad things). The Holy Spirit brings those with open hearts to Christ to do His work in the world, shaping them more and more to be like Him. That is Holiness.

Once the dust settles, which it will, from the church-size wars, the Church of the Nazarene will still be here, preaching Holiness to His people who have been called and have answered, and preaching it to those called, but have yet to answer.


Loving Little

41“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.

Luke 7:41-47
This was one of my passages this morning. I continually struggle—being a fairly stoic person—with my denomination’s (Church of the Nazarene) Pentecostal/Evangelical/Charismatic roots. In many ways the Lutheran tradition I left matched more of my personality. However, it isn’t supposed to be about my personality, but my faith.

What really struck me was that perhaps I don’t love God enough, because I haven’t been forgiven of enough. Sounds strange, doesn’t it? God’s son, Jesus Christ, lived a sinless life, willingly surrendered his life on the cross, rose to life after death, and I haven’t been forgiven enough? Everything that I did and will do has and will be forgiven as long as I put my faith in him. Yet, I haven’t been forgiven enough?

Perhaps I am not fully aware of everything that has been forgiven. Even worse, perhaps I am not aware of the depth of my depravity that God has forgiven. Now, here is the part that I struggle with, and many struggle with. I am intellectually aware of what Jesus Christ for me on the cross. However, emotionally I am often too distant from that intellectual assent.

The Pursuit of Happiness

I’ve been annoyed lately (not always a good thing before writing a post). Probably centered around the Fourth of July (the formal U.S.A. Independence Day), there is always a spate of articles about the U.S.A. being founded on Christian principles, which is somewhat true. Then there is the argument over whether Thomas Jefferson was a Christian or Deist, and the new one was John Adams. Since John Adams berated his son John Quincy Adams for being a devout Christian (perhaps it’s an Adams thing, especially when one reads the letters between John and Abigail Adams), one could question how much Christianity was in John Adams’ faith.

The issue that has brought this to the forefront for me is homosexual marriage. Nope this is not a post on homosexual marriage itself, but the conservative/traditional/orthodox (and add fanatical/hateful/hurtful to many of those who have responded) response. Oddly, for me, this is not a theological post. The question that is asked by many, what right of happiness is there? Now, this question can be applied to homosexual marriage, polygamy, marijuana, and so on equally. Including (drumroll, please) religion.

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

The Declaration of Independence, Continental Congress, 4 July 1776

Note the “pursuit of happiness”. Wikipedia notes that some call this the best known English language sentence in the world. The school systems, secular institutions, and faith institutions have trumpeted this sentence for years. Thus we have declared that happiness is the most important thing/pursuit. Of course, Americans will pursue that which they think will make them happy. Currently, certain groups believe that having the right to “marriage” will make them happy. In truth, it might make certain things easier to obtain (like health care), but that won’t necessarily make any of them happier. Then there are those that believe that it is their obligation to support those who are pursuing happiness, which, in many ways, should be celebrated as concern for their fellow citizen.

Again, please don’t take any of this post as support for homosexual marriage, or even opposition to it. That is not the point of this post.

Ultimately, the issue comes down to the fruit of the harvest. The seeds that have been sown for generations is the “right” to “the pursuit of happiness”. Why is everyone so surprised at the result?

The Idle Idol of “Christ-like” Disciples

Yes, it is a provocative title. That’s kind of the point. I suspect that the immediate reaction of many who caught the title was outrage, disgust, or some other feeling of disquiet. Those that are Christian at least. Those who have had “Christ-like” Disciple or “they should see Jesus when they see you” repeated so many times, that it might almost appear like brainwashing.

I think I’ve poked enough with the sharp stick. The point is not to offend (okay, perhaps a little), but to focus on something that I find more than a tad disturbing. It is an echo of something that my denomination (The Church of the Nazarene) from a number of years ago, “saved, sanctified, haven’t sinned a day since.” I don’t want anyone to think that I do not believe in Entire Sanctification (or John Wesley’s term Christian Perfection), since I do strongly believe in it, but I am merely acknowledging (along with many others in the denomination), that we really messed that one up.

Perhaps it is my perfectionist tendencies, but when I see/read/hear “Christ-like disciple”, I hear, “be Jesus.” The problem is, I can’t.

“Well,” I hear the gallery say, “you aren’t Jesus. You just have to be like Jesus.”

Like that is so much better. Part of the issue is Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 5:17

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

What—exactly—is a new creation? How about the new is actually the intended creation without sin? Not news, I know, since that would seem to be Paul’s intent. Yet, one can easily look at Christians (like me), and say that this hasn’t happened, so the Bible isn’t true, or Paul is wrong (still ends up with the same result: the Bible isn’t true).

There is another option. It could be a God’s eye view of the person. In other words, while we are mired in the fallen world in our fallen flesh, all we see are the flaws. However, the innermost part of who we are is the part that has been cleansed and set free of sin. That part, through God’s grace and Holy Spirit, is working from the inside out. Perhaps from God’s eye view, all the flaws that we are so obsessed with, help make the inner cleansed part of us shine even more.