Our Turn to Be Odd

Our Turn to Be Odd

I suppose I’ve come full circle.

Growing up in a holiness church in southern Mississippi, I believed we Nazarenes, we Wesleyan holiness folk, were odd.

We didn’t smoke or drink or cuss or chew or dip—but neither did the local Baptists, Pentecostals, or most Methodists. So, our don’ts had enough company to keep us from standing out.

However, we went a little further than them when it came to avoiding the movies,  the carnival, card playing, the Sunday paper,  and bowling alleys—where I hear people did horrible things.

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Against the Odds – Why a Christian University in the Heart of Nashville is Thriving

Against the Odds – Why a Christian University in the Heart of Nashville is Thriving

As we go into the fall season, I am grateful for the strength of the university that I serve. We are seeing triple digit growth and are breaking all-time records for freshman enrollment, undergraduate enrollment, and total enrollment. The high-water marks of last year will soon trail the new numbers for this year.

Why? If you read articles about colleges, you’ll recognize that this pattern is not the norm. The pundits predict the demise of private Christian colleges. Tennessee has made community college free. Yes, we are competing with free. Everyone says tuition is skyrocketing and is out of control.

Church support for the Christian mission of a university is down. States are trimming funding for college. Many are declaring that a college degree is not worth what it costs, especially in terms of the number of years it takes to pay back a college loan. Liberal arts degrees are under attack as “too general” and “too vague” to offer a skill set that is marketable.

I read this stuff all the time. Most of it has been challenged statistically (and correctly) in studies done by the Council for Independent Colleges (CIC).

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Keeping the Sabbath

Keeping the Sabbath

Everybody I know is tired. You are tired. I am tired. Your work wears on you. Your expenditure of energy in people, places, and things drains you. Your spirit is fatigued.

You shoulder major responsibility. You make life-altering decisions. You hire and fire. You give counsel. You care for an elderly person. You keep an eye on a feeble neighbor. You bake a casserole for the funeral of a friend.

You listen to complaining people. You hammer nails. You chase a toddler all day long and then wake up three times a night to coax him back to sleep.

In addition to the work, you battle the monotony of doing the same things repeatedly. Laundry breeds in the closet. School homework is eternal.

Customers keep showing up. Things break and require fixing, again. Grass grows. Snow has to be shoveled. Reports are due by the end of the week.

Little ones hit the floor, feet and mouths running. Paperwork stacks up. Planes line up on the runway. Your inbox, mailbox, and voicemail are full. Bills stack up. Groceries disappear. Gas tanks plummet toward empty.

We’ve done these things all our lives, every week, most days. And we grow tired of the rat race.

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Misusing God’s Name

Misusing God’s Name

Bill trashed the name of God with casual regularity. “GD” to him was normal language. His parents swore; his aunts and uncles swore; his school buddies swore. It wasn’t that anybody set out to abuse the name of God; it was just their cultural language. It came with the territory.

In all honesty, Bill was ignorant about God’s command. He meant nothing by it—and no one had ever said a word to him about his profanity. Bill was uninformed about the seriousness of using God’s name.

Then Bill met a genuine, authentic, honest believer whose life was consistent, a new friend deeply devoted to God. Bill liked hanging around with this guy and soon began to experience God’s accepting love through him. He was under conviction because the very God he cursed actually cared about him. But Bill’s resistance ran deep, and he responded to God’s gentle prodding by pushing back. He intentionally started offending his new Christian friend, notching up the profanity, looking for every opportunity to embarrass him.

But something began to happen to Bill. Each time he cursed the name of God, he became aware of the presence of the God he cursed. He realized that he was actually addressing God, provoking a response of presence. And Bill was softened by the exchange.

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The Tall House

The Tall House

Dear readers,

Some pastors bring me great joy. Erik Gernand is one of them.

He may be the smartest man I know (because he married my daughter), but he is also my pastor.

Today’s guest blog post is longer than usual but well worth the read. It is a parable.

Enjoy.


A few Sundays ago, I shared a parable with our church as the message. To begin, I explained that I had been thinking a lot lately about culture, community, and the state of the church in America, which had led me to a particular passage of Scripture.

“After I read the Scripture, I’d like to share a parable with you,” I said. “Then, we’ll receive communion.

I read Galatians 6:1-5,9-10 aloud from The Message:

Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived.

Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.

So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith.

Then, I began the parable.

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The Best Advice I Ever Received

The Best Advice I Ever Received

Fred Sartin was my mentor. He was in his 80s when I was a teenager. He affirmed my call to ministry, took me with him to fill pulpits across Mississippi, gave me books, and told me constantly that my life could be grand in the service of God.

I was only 15 when he convinced the District Superintendent that I should be the next pastor of the New Salem First Church of the Nazarene. He was a constant cheerleader.

Fred was an odd bird. He believed that car air conditioning used too much gas, so he disconnected his air conditioning. Mind you, we lived in sweltering Mississippi.

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Holy Terror and Tender Love

Holy Terror and Tender Love

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:4-6)

For some reason, after reading this commandment, the words that linger with us are “but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments” (v. 6). These words lift an inch off the page and beg our attention. All the other words, words like “jealous God, punishing children . . . to the third and fourth generation,” are barely remembered once we finish reading.

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The God Who Tolerates No Rivals

The God Who Tolerates No Rivals

Do cell phone companies bug you as much as they do me? “Extend your contract—get one thousand bonus minutes!” “Switch and we’ll send you a check for one hundred dollars! Get your whole family to switch, and we’ll throw in text messaging! Get your town to switch, and we’ll make you mayor!” New gimmicks. New deals. Companies compete viciously, all for your cell phone loyalty.

Loyalty of the people is a prize of high value. Our liberated friends in the wilderness were surrounded by gods. Behind them were the gods of Egypt, who for a while looked quite powerful and efficient. Then they met the God of the plagues. In front of them are the gods of the Canaanites. These gods are seductive. They offer good crops, rain, victory over the tribe next door, and plenty of children. Who doesn’t want what’s behind those doors? Gods, gods. Which to choose? Where to place your loyalty?

One of the interesting things about Christianity is that our God does not stand in a line of world religions like club rush day and say, “Pick me; please pick me!” In the words of Jesus, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16).

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To Buy a Book

To Buy a Book

My institutional educational journey began in first grade and continued non-stop for 19 years. Something strange happened to me in year 20.

About the middle of August I had this irresistible urge to go buy a stack of books and start reading them. I suppose 19 years of getting your books and going through them worms its way into your habits.

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By What Authority?

By What Authority?

On July 18, 1996, an early morning Bible-quoting contest turned ugly in Dadeville, Alabama, ending with one man dead and another fleeing justice. Gabel Taylor, 38, died after being shot in the face. Police are looking for a suspect who was comparing his Bible knowledge with Taylor’s. It was discovered that their disagreement arose because they were quoting different versions of the same passage. The suspect reportedly retrieved his Bible and was angered when he discovered that he had been wrong.

True story. And as sad as this account is, it is not the first time a believer has sought to defend his or her interpretation of Scripture with an angry tirade. We live in a chapter of the Christian story in America that finds many people defending the authority of Scripture in ways that do great damage to the cause of God and the people for whom Christ died. They are the kind of Christians we wouldn’t want to be linked to. Could it be they misunderstand the issue at stake?

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