Monthly Archives: March 2023

When the Holiness “Gotcha Verse” Bites Back.

Folks in my tribe quote the last part of Hebrews 12:14: Without holiness no one will see the Lord. “Ah-ha,” we say, “you better be ‘holiness people’ or else!”

But too often we fail to cite the first part of that verse, which says: Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy. (Hebrews 12:14. The proof of holiness that will see the Lord is how we get along with one another. If our “holiness” is not demonstrated by our efforts to “live in peace with everyone,” then even self-proclaimed, “holiness people,” won’t see the Lord. If we are not living up to the holy criteria of Hebrews 12:14, the “ah-ha gotcha” surprise moment will be on us. 

The whole verse (not just the last phrase) is a game-changer. True holiness people make every effort live in peace and be holy (duh!). True holiness people don’t refuse to talk with other followers of Jesus. True holiness people don’t use hot-button trigger words, name calling or derogatory/foul language that contributes to division. True holiness people might not agree on every point, but we look for ways in which we can sit down at a table and seek the Lord together. True holiness people understand that a “holiness” that doesn’t make every effort to get along with others is no holiness at all

That’s not to say disagreements don’t arise. They do. Acts 15 begins with a disagreement among believers and the chapter ends when Paul and Barnabas agree to disagree regarding John Mark. Church work and getting along with people isn’t always easy. Sometimes folks turn their backs on the church altogether and leave or cause trouble (i.e. Demas and Alexander in 2 Timothy 4). We can’t control anyone’s unholy behavior, but true holiness people had better let the Spirit control our behavior. “Make every effort.”

If the evidence of being filled with the Spirit is the Fruit of the Spirit (See Galatians 5), then the demonstration of being filled with the Spirit is making an effort to live in peace with those with whom we disagree. This is true with in-person and on-line relationships. Hebrews 12:14 applies to social media bullies who claim Christ. It applies to pastors tempted to “like” volatile social media posts directed toward believers with whom we disagree. It applies to church leaders who simmer in anger rather than working out issues. It applies to all relationships for those of us who claim Jesus as Lord. No exceptions because without holiness no one will see the Lord.

Our tribe is right in concluding that Hebrews 12:14 is a dangerous verse. When a verse’s outcome indicates that some individuals will not “see the Lord,” it’s serious. No one wants to be the recipient of such judgment, nor should they want their worst enemy to receive that verdict. Jesus said we are to “Love our enemies”? As such, we need to be read Hebrews 12:14 with fear and trembling while holding a mirror and not binoculars. Rather than thinking this verse applies to others, we need to ask ourselves, “Am I making every effort to abide by the holy standard of living in peace with everyone?” If not, then the “gotcha” is going to bite us.

Nazarene March Madness (1973-2023)

Nazarene March Madness (for the last fifty years)

I was appointed as the selection committee of the Nazarene March Madness (OK… self appointed– by a three person committee— me, myself and I). It is totally, 100%, biased based on people I’ve known or respected. Your list of 64 will be different from mine. Cool. 

As you see, I broke it down into four categories. GS Bracket, Pastor’s Bracket; College President Bracket and Theologian/Bible Scholar Bracket. I could have had two more brackets: Missionaries and Lay people. Sorry for not having those brackets in my tournament. 

As if you needed any more evidence to the contrary, this confirms any doubt of my Nazarene nerdy-ness. To quote the great theologian (not on my list) Popeye: “I am what I am.

Here are my choices (and some reasons why): 

GS Bracket

  1. William Greathouse.  Three Words: Wholeness in Christ
  2. Eugenio Duarte. When you are the first General Superintendent from the continent with the most Nazarenes on the planet you lead the list.
  3. Paul Cunningham. He might have been the #1 seed if placed in the Pastor’s bracket.
  4. Nina Gunter. When you are the first female GS you make the top four
  5. John Knight. Great theologian and leader.
  6. David Busic was my predecessor at Lenexa Central. He was a great pastor and has always been a big cheerleader and support to me.
  7. Gustavo Crocker. First Latin American GS— probably should be higher.
  8. David Graves attended Lenexa Central while he was Sunday School Director and before becoming pastor at Olathe College Church. His wife, Sharon, was the best college age Sunday school teacher, I’ve ever had. 
  9. Jim Deihl. I could listen to Dr. Deihl preach for hours
  10. JK Warrick. Look up “holiness preacher” in the dictionary and you’ll see a picture of J.K. Warrick.
  11. Jerry Porter. Who are you discipling and who is discipling you? I heard that sermon four times (worth it, every time).
  12. Ray Hurn. He presided over my ordination. Of course, he makes my list.
  13. Gerald Johnson. If I’m going to put Carla Sunberg on the list (see below) I need to put her dad on the list. If I’m putting her dad on the list, Carla would want him ahead of her.
  14. Carla Sunberg. She has been an inspiration to many (and growing list of great) female pastors. 
  15. Eugene Stowe. He’s on the list, just because as a young preacher I thought his voice sounded a lot like the Lord’s must sound.
  16. Fili Chambo. Another one of Africa’s finest. He must be on the list.

College President Bracket

  1. John Bowling. 25 years of faithful leadership at ONU. 
  2. Deirdre Brower-Latz. Nazarene Theological College in Manchester. Anyone with a British accent gets their IQ increased by 10%. Deirdre doesn’t need the help, she already is such sharp and gifted leader. 
  3. Dan Boone. Author, Great preacher, Leader. 
  4. Theresa Woodruff. Interim President, Michigan State University. Teresa graduated from ONU with me in 1985. Her dad was my Old Testament professor at ONU. She is navigating through many challenges including the recent shooting.
  5. Jeren Rowell. As my DS, he was terrific. As seminary president, he is equally terrific.
  6. Larry Bollinger. Asia Pacific Theological Seminary. Larry and I took a trip to the Middle East when he was Director of Nazarene Compassion Ministries; and I was with Larry and Lynne in the Boston Gardens when the Boston Celtics won the NBA championship in 2008. I was hugged by more drunk Bostonians (not Larry or Lynne) than I care to remember. 
  7. Greg Chenoweth. ONU. The Family Center at Flint Central is called the Chenoweth Center after Gregg’s parents and we have a Chenoweth Scholarship for ONU students. Of course I have included Gregg, besides he is a great leader.
  8. Henry Spaulding. When at NTS, Dr. Spaulding and I led a senior seminar for a year or two. He gave the students “C’s,” I gave the student “A’s”
  9. Ron Benefiel. When I think of Ron Benefiel, I think servant leader. That alone, puts him on my list.
  10. David Spittal. He brought MNU through a challenging time and has been a great leader.
  11. William Prince. Of course, Uncle Bill makes the list. (He’s not my uncle).
  12. Lebron Fairbanks. President of a APNTS and MVNU. A two-fer… makes the list.
  13. Gordon Whetmore. Faithful leadership.
  14. Don Owens. See above and also a great missionary in Korea.
  15. Les Parrott. President of ONU during my days and saw great growth on the campus.
  16. Terrell Sanders. NTS President during a period of great blessings and success.

Theologian Bracket

  1. Mildred Wynkoop. Theology of love is one of the great works of the 20th century.
  2. Ray Dunning. Grace, Faith and Holiness is also a great work.
  3. Al Truesdale. I wouldn’t be here without the wisdom and insight from Dr. Truesdale. 
  4. Alex Deasley. Best Bible teacher I ever had.
  5. George Lyons. Dr. Lyons also had great impact upon me during my ONU years and the second best Bible teacher I ever had
  6. Paul Bassett. Best Church historian I ever had.
  7. Tom Noble. Influenced and is still influencing this generation of pastors. I just wish his theology didn’t cost $130 bucks for Volume 1!
  8. Diane LeClerc. Author of Discovering Christian Holiness among other things, Diane graduated seminary with me. Needless to say, she was the smartest in the class.
  9. Ralph Earle. Great Bible teacher and scholar worked on the original NIV translation.
  10. Timothy Smith. I’m partial to Church historians.
  11. Carl Bangs. See above
  12. Rob Staples. A great theologian and person!
  13. Mark Quanstrom— Great theologian, pastor and now pod-cast host.
  14. Andy Johnson. Taught and is still teaching a generation of great pastors at NTS! 
  15. Dean Flemming. His work on Philippians— outstanding!
  16. Alex Varughse. Great Bible teacher!

Pastor Bracket

  1. H.B. London Hosting a broadcast Pastor to Pastor and writing a host of books on pastoring earns the top spot.
  2. Ponder Gilliland. Bethany First Church and later president of SNU— was a leader in many ways.
  3. Charles Johnson. Pastor for 61 years of the Fitkins Memorial Church of the Nazarene and civil rights leader.
  4. Scott Daniels. Nampa College. Currently the best preacher in the Church of the Nazarene.
  5. Bob Huffaker. Grove City was the largest church in the denomination under his leadership. First USA/Canada church to be 3000+
  6. Don Wellman. Built Denver First Church to be the largest church in the denomination at the time.
  7. Earl Lee. Pastor at Pasadena First Church and author of Cycles for Victorious Living.
  8. Tom Nees. Pastored Community of Hope in Washington DC, before becoming what is now called USA/Canada Regional Director 
  9. Dave Roberts. Montrose, California. Dave graduated from NTS with me. Went to Montrose, California (I don’t know what the church’s average attendance was upon his arrival, but it has grown and grown. It’s the only church he has ever pastored. He is a superstar). 
  10. Shawna Gaines. Trevecca Community Church. The leading female pastor for denomination.
  11. Millard Reed. Nashville First (before becoming TNU President)
  12. Kerry Willis. Built the Harrisonburg Virginia pastor before becoming a DS of Philadelphia District.
  13. Ron Salsbury. Pastored Pismo Beach New Life for years and years.
  14. Rick Harvey. Cincinnati Springdale and now pastoring the largest CotN in the country.
  15. James Heyward. Salem Fields, Virginia. A great preacher and leader. Central Church’s revival preacher from two years ago. One word: Wow!
  16. Mark Hostetler. Pastored one church for the last 45+ years. Secretary of the Board of Trustees at ONU.

Lessons Learned while Waiting for the Death of a Friend

Our friend Lisa Marie came to live with Karla and me in November 2021 when the doctors thought she should not live alone any longer because of the progression of her cancer. (You can read about it my book, Got Cancer? There’s Help). She is nearing her final moments. Here are a few lessons we have learned on this last leg of her journey:

1. God is the decider, not me, on death’s timing. 
Rev. “Kevorkian” I am not. For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen. Romans 14:7-9

2. Pro-Life = Giving dignity in death 
This fact is just as important as giving hope in birth. Some in the pro-life crowd forget this. Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints. Psalm 116:15

3. Caring for the dying is more than a one-man job (one woman job).
One lady has put her life on hold and mostly moved in to help tend to Lisa. Other ladies have spent the night. Still others have brought in meals. All of this has been vital. We couldn’t have done it without them. It’s been amazing! Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. Philippians 2:4

4. The Gaither’s were right. I’m so glad I am part of the family of God. 
See the above list of individuals who have helped these last few weeks. It’s been Lisa’s church family (not biological; not friends from work or otherwise) who have cared for her in these closing moments of life. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.Galatians 6:10

5. Like all our possessions, our house isn’t our house. It’s God’s house.
We should have installed a revolving front door for these last few weeks. Hospice workers, pharmacy deliveries and visitors have been coming and going. Some of Lisa’s family have stayed with us too. Our house isn’t our house. It’s God’s house. Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home. Romans 12:13

5. Everyone deals with death differently. 
I anticipate that Karla and I will deal with Lisa’s passing differently than most since she will be the only person to die in our home. I’m not certain how one prepares for that eventuality. Maybe we can’t be prepared. Death will come and when it does, we will need to rest on scripture and God’s blessed assurance. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD. Job 1:21

Maybe the biggest lesson,

6. Make decisions based on having no regrets.
Karla and I will have no regrets about allowing Lisa to come live with us back in November, 2021. We didn’t know what our “yes” meant back then, but we are glad we said “yes.” Our lives have been changed for the better because of Lisa and her love for the Lord. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understandingProverbs 3:5

Thoughts Following District Credentials Meeting

District Credential’s meetings leaves me with mixed emotions. This week was no exception.  Some of the ministers-in-training hit it out of the park. Others swing and miss. It happens every year. There are those that completely know who we are and what we believe, while others leave me wondering if they have ever stepped foot in a Church of the Nazarene. Usually, I leave saying “Hooray” and “Ugh” in the same breath.

I received my first district license in 1989 on the Northern Michigan District. I was fresh out of Nazarene Theologian Seminary with my Master of Divinity degree. At the time, I was the only person on the entire district, District Superintendent Rev. Milton Hoose included, that had a Master of Divinity degree. 

Because of this fact, I was filled with trepidation when I showed up for my district credential meeting. Would the ministers on the Credential Board want to show this “whipper-snapper” what was what? Would they have any anti-seminary bias (It happens). Would they drill me with obscure Bible references? I didn’t know, so I studied up. I knew the Articles of Faith by heart. Could recited what Nazarene’s believe on every conceivable subject. Could give Biblical references to support our various responses. I was ready! 

I entered the room filled with men wearing suits and ties. I had on my best tie too (that’s what we wore back in the day). They looked stern and intimidating. I’m sure my knees were shaking. The first statement from one of the ministers came, “Golly Rob, you’ve got a M.Div from NTS. You should be asking us questions, not the other way around.” They proceeded to toss me softball type of questions, but seemed to be more concerned whether I liked living in Northern Michigan or not. I left the meeting thinking I could have been the biggest heretic in the world and that group of ministers would never know.

Our system isn’t perfect. Sometimes the candidates blow it. Sometimes the committee does. Sometimes the candidates answer the questions wrong. Sometimes the credential board asks bad questions. Sometimes the candidates say too little. Sometimes the members on the credentials board say too much. The system can be flawed.

Still I am thankful for the process. We hold our ministers-in-training accountable. Before ordination, we require that they meet with the board several times. Our society reflects too much of what the prophet Isaiah warned when he wrote, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness” (Isaiah 5:20). We need ministers who are able to discern good and evil; light and darkness; right from wrong. In the end, we get there.

This week also reminded me how we need to be praying for our ministers. Proclaiming the truth is tougher these days than ever. Navigating the cultural waters with Christ-like love and wisdom isn’t for sissies. In our dark and getting darker world, we need to pray that our minsters live into Jesus instruction to “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16). Sitting before a credential board can be intimidating. Standing before an angry agnostic, a broken believer, a hurting teenager, a troubled couple can be worse. We need our minsters ready. We need to pray that they are.

The Most Ignored Paragraph in the Church of the Nazarene’s Manual (by far)

What are the most ignored words in the Church of the Nazarene’s Manual? 

We have fundamentalists in our camp that do not understand our statement on Holy Scripture. Plenty of people who just flat out don’t get the “cardinal doctrine” of Article X on “Christian Holiness and Entire Sanctification.” In some circles the statement on social drinking is overlooked by Nazarene members. When the lotteries get over $500 million, some break our statement on gambling. Sadly, too many secretly ignore our stance on pornography. No one is naïve enough to think that every Nazarene fully adheres to every word in the Manual. 

Last week I posted on Facebook and Twitter the Church of the Nazarene’s statement on Social Media. It’s paragraph 933. It is the very last words in the Manual (before the indexes). You could correctly say the final, final, final words of the 2017-2021 Manual are these: 

Use of Social Media. First and foremost, the content that we share should be respectful. As in all interpersonal relationships, we believe that the content of our social media should also be a reflection of the sanctified hearts for which we strive. Clergy and laity alike must be mindful of how their activities on social media affect the image of Christ and His church and impact its mission within their communities. Our activities should be life giving and affirming and should seek to uplift all persons. (2017)

The statement regarding social media in the Manual of the Church of the Nazarene is the most ignored words in the book. By far. It is broken by members on a daily basis. Nothing comes close to the blatant disregarding of our statement on Social Media. Many of us have seen posts by District Superintendents, pastors and laypeople alike which ignored the instruction that “first and foremost, the content we share should be respectful.” Likewise, we’ve all seen substance shared on-line by Nazarenes which was not close to the final words of the Manual to be “life giving and affirming and should seek to uplift all persons.” 

People who would never in a face-to-face conversation say hurtful words, use their keyboard to spew hateful things. The sharing of gossip, rumors, name-calling, passive aggressiveness, veiled innuendoes, bullying, conspiracy theories or theologically sounding mumbo-jumbo hurts our witness as much as anything. All sides (right/left; conservative/liberal; republican/democrat; Calvinist/Wesleyan; any-side/all-sides) are guilty of misusing social media. Too often, our news feeds are jammed with unkind posts designed to build a following at the expense of our brothers and sisters who might vote different, worship different or look different. We have a lot of information. Not much wisdom. Even less grace. Mindless or hurtful posts take us further and further away from the loving kindness expressed in the Fruit of the Spirit.

Someone commented on my posting of the statement on social media that they didn’t know there was such statement in the Manual. Many know it, they just ignore it. A pastor friend recently said that the breaking of Manual Paragraph 933 is tantamount to “conduct unbecoming a minister.” Better stated it is “conduct unbecoming a follower of Jesus.” 

Social media is not evil per se. It’s a tool. Like all tools, it has the potential for good and bad. A saw can cut a board in two. That’s good, if building a house. It can also cut off your arm.  Usually that’s bad. How are you using this modern-day tool? For good or bad? I’m thankful for paragraph 933. I just wished that Nazarenes would read it, believe it, and follow its instruction. 

My 25 Day Insurance Policy (and thoughts on Death and Dying)

For the last 25 years, Karla and I have been paying $125 a quarter for a term life insurance policy. $125 every three months without fail. We thought the policy expired when I turned 63. But now, maybe, because, ahem, there’s a little more “snow on my roof;” probably a brain hemorrhage didn’t help; or maybe preacher’s years are like “dog years” and by that standard I’m nearly Methuselah’s age; our insurance provider says that on March 27, my policy is increasing to $750 a quarter. Unless your first name is Elon, that’s a rather significant increase. $750 bucks? No way. We made the decision that on March 27, 2023, we will no longer carry that insurance policy. 

Why tell you my insurance woes?  Consider this my own written 25 day insurance policy.
Should something mysterious happen to me in the next 25 days…
Should I keel over while taking a leisurely stroll… 
Should I slip on a banana peel… 
Should I meet up Professor Plum wielding a candlestick in the Conservatory …. 
Should I get a chicken bone stuck in my throat at the next church potluck….  

Please call the police. Something untoward may be afoot. I’m not saying that Karla would slip me a “Mickey,” but she didn’t look too sad when I had a recent nasty cough. She might be thinking, he’s looking sickly anyway… so…. Hmmm…

I’m pretty sure Karla wouldn’t knock me off for an insurance claim. I’m pretty sure… OK. OK. I’m kidding about all of this– except our policy is ending on March 26. That part is true. We purchased the policy when our kids were young. We didn’t want Karla to be terribly shaken financially should I meet with an early demise. It provided a bit of reassurance.

We’ve been having much more serious conversations these days concerning death and dying. That happens when the one sleeping the next room over is in hospice care and uncertain if she will be here on March 27. As many of you know, as Lisa Faulkner’s cancer progressed to the point she shouldn’t have been alone, she came to live with Karla and me. Now Lisa is in her final days or weeks on this planet. Death is becoming more real. Death is no joke. 

Lisa knows her relationship with Jesus is rock solid. She has a blessed assurance that no insurance policy could provide. She isn’t afraid of dying. But that doesn’t make these days easy. She doesn’t want to suffer. Her capabilities are changing. She’s unsteady. She doesn’t always think clearly. She’s not her bubbly self. There are other complications. Death isn’t for sissies.

When traveling through these difficult days, it’s not all dark. The Lord faithfully shines His light in the dark corridors of life to remind us of his loving presence. It’s knowing what the Psalmist knew: Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:25-26

The journey toward death is hard. Yet even as our flesh and heart fail, God is our strength. That means in our weaknesses, His strength carries us. God is our portion. That means everything we need for today, He provides. The Psalmist knew the key – while on earth, there is nothing to desire but Him; and once in heaven, there will be nothing but to glory in Him (no cancer and no need for $750 insurance policies either).