On the occasion of ANU’s 20th anniversary celebration

DSCN6669“Agents of Positive Change”

by Gregory Crofford, PhD

Coordinator for Education and Clergy Development

Africa Region Church of the Nazarene

Transformation is what Africa Nazarene University is all about. For the last four years, ANU has encouraged today’s graduates to resist unworthy habits and – as individuals of integrity – to make a difference in their chosen fields of work, their families, communities, Kenya, Africa, and beyond. Living as agents of positive change is at the heart of the teaching of Jesus Christ. He calls everyone who would follow him to be salt that preserves the earth, yeast that permeates society, and light that brightens dark places (Matthew 5:13-15, 13:33).

The Church of the Nazarene, Africa Nazarene University’s sponsoring denomination, is a holiness church that traces part of its heritage to 18th century English evangelist and theologian, John Wesley. Wesley believed that the people called Methodists were to be different, known for love of God and neighbor. He insisted that the hallmark of a true follower of Christ was their beneficial impact on others. Wesley and his associates inspired people to avoid the compromises that yield quick gains but ultimately damage self and others. Hymn-writer Charles Wesley agreed with his brother, John, that education was crucial for enabling the pursuit of nobler things, pleading: “Unite the two so long disjoined, knowledge and vital piety.”

Africa Nazarene University stands on the shoulders of spiritual giants like the Wesley brothers, bringing to the 21st century their warmhearted approach to the things of God, including education. Yet for the Wesleys and for ANU, faith is never to be quarantined to Sundays. The transformation that the Holy Spirit works in our heart and character is contagious, touching those around us every day of the week.

ANU graduates have become known for their academic proficiency, solid work ethic, and integrity. It is a reputation that is hard-won but easily damaged. May the 2014 graduates of African Nazarene University join the ranks of ANU alumni to be change agents – salt, yeast, and light – to positively impact our world.

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This article appeared in Issue 002/October 2014 of Aspire, a magazine published by Africa Nazarene University.

Righteousness, wisdom, and service

PDL
I had the honor of helping induct 20 Africa Nazarene University honor students into the Eta chapter of Phi Delta Lambda. (L to R: Dr Jerry Lambert, Chancellor; Dr Greg Crofford, Regional Education Coordinator; Elysée Bayishime, and ANU Lecturer Rev Gift Mtukwa)

Address to Phi Delta Lambda

Africa Nazarene University chapter

Thursday, October 30, 2014

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INTRODUCTION

We are all teachers. It’s a bold statement, is it not? We are all teachers.

I have not had the opportunity to speak with all twenty of our inductees. My suspicion is that some have formally studied education and are planning a career in teaching. Others have studied different fields – counseling, media, religion, law, and more. They may never stand before a classroom as a teacher. Still, the statement stands: We are all teachers.

I freely admit that I am biased. No task has brought me more joy or made me feel like I am using my best skills than when I have been teaching. Most of my teaching has been preparing men and women for ordained Christian ministry. One year saw me unlocking for high school students the mysteries of French grammar. Lest teachers have too high an opinion of themselves, God has a way of cutting us down-to-size. Terry Pratchett in his book, Mort, recalls a conversation. Someone observed:

“It would seem that you have no useful skill or talent whatsoever… Have you thought of going into teaching?”

William Shakespeare once remarked: “All the world is a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” With apologies to Mr Shakespeare, let me reframe his thought: “All the world is a school, and you and I are the teachers.” I ask you: What are we teaching our students?

Yes, like it or not, you are a teacher and – like all teachers – you have students, pupils that you may not even realize have secretly enrolled in your class. Your students are the ones who watch you. It may be a co-worker on your job, a child in your class at the Vacation Bible School, a camper, a player on the football team you coach, or perhaps one day your own son or daughter. These are not formal classrooms, yet life is a school and school is always in session. Others hear your words, but what do they learn from your actions, from who you are?

Each of us could recall pivotal moments when one of our “teachers” in life taught us something unforgettable. Allow me to share a few of the lessons I learned from them, lessons that mirror the three words from the Phi Delta Lambda motto:

Righteousness, wisdom, and service

  1. Righteousness is 24/7.

It caught my attention, the little Blue Nissan, or as they called it back then, a Datsun 610. It was a Japanese import, much like the Japanese imports that fill the roads of Nairobi. I was 17 and had just secured my first driver’s license in the State of New York. Now I was beginning a gap year between high school and university, a year when I worked 4o hours per week at the grocery store, saving money to attend Eastern Nazarene College.

But I needed transportation to drive across town to work, and that little Datsun grabbed my heart. The “For Sale” sign on the window had a phone number, so I called and set-up an appointment with the owner. I kicked the tires and looked under the hood. It seemed to be in good condition. Eventually, I asked the question: “How much?” The owner told me the price, several hundred dollars, and I reminded him that I would also have to pay sales tax on the vehicle. “Don’t worry about that,” he said. “I’ll just write on the paper that you paid $ 100.00 for it, that way your taxes will be less.” I told him that I would need to talk with my father, and he understood. When I explained to my dad the owner’s offer to underreport the sales price, he replied: “Absolutely not, Greg. We’re Christians, and we will pay the rightful tax.” Later I brought the cash to the owner, and he handed me the car keys. “What should I write on the form for the tax assessor?” he asked. I told him what my dad had said, and he looked at me in disbelief. When I insisted that we must report the correct price, he shook his head and relented, but had this response:

“Your father is either very Christian or very stupid.”

Actually, I prefer to say: My dad that day was an excellent teacher, and what he taught me was simple: Honesty matters, and righteousness is 24/7.

The wisdom literature of the Old Testament has much to say on the topic. Psalm 33:5 reminds us that the Lord loves righteousness and justice. Likewise, in picturesque language, Psalm 85:10 tells us that righteousness and peace kiss each other, a reminder that when righteousness is absent, discord is never far away. Proverbs 16:8 is a values check, concluding: “Better a little with righteousness than much gain with injustice.”

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Phineas Bresee: Pastor to the People

18126212It’s a courageous act to put a hero under the microscope, but Carl Bangs does just that in Phineas Bresee: Pastor to the People (Beacon Hill Press, 2013). In this abridgment by Stan Ingersol of a more scholarly, larger work by Bangs, the portrait that emerges of Church of the Nazarene founder Bresee  is one of a powerful preacher, capable administrator and principled social activist. Though not without weaknesses and acquainted with failure, Bresee’s legacy is of an ordinary servant of the Lord set on fire by God’s perfect love.

As one who grew up in Upstate, New York, I found Bresee’s little known origins in Franklin, New York to be of special interest. Bresee as a teenager clerked in a store and one day was invited by the local Methodist pastor to come to church. Following the service, he attended a class meeting and there prayed through to faith in Christ. Knowing the importance of the class meeting to how early Methodism carried out discipleship, I was surprised to have never known this important tidbit about Bresee’s spiritual awakening. Throughout his ministry in both Methodism and later in the Church of the Nazarene, Bresee maintained this small groups emphasis as an important part of a larger constellation of prayer meetings and evangelistic services. It is only in the past two decades that Nazarenes have rediscovered this lost part of our heritage.

For readers unfamiliar with Bresee’s story, it will be surprising to see the twin emphasis he placed upon holiness and temperance, the latter indicating unremitting opposition to the production and consumption of alcohol (p. 115). Some of the most impassioned pleas on the floor of Nazarene General Assemblies in the later part of the twentieth century were on the subject of alcohol, especially against proposals to soften the total abstinence stance of the denomination. The denomination maintains its tee-totaling stance in solidarity with those who have been damaged by alcohol’s excesses. Pastor to the People is a reminder of the long pedigree that this stance has among the people called Nazarenes.

Phineas Bresee’s way with words shines through at various points in Bangs’ biography. In a 1903 sermon on Isaiah 4:2-6, he cautioned the church against moral compromise (p. 175):

Without holiness and the presence of him who dwells only in holy hearts, the church is soon a conquered church driveling for show; a beggar holding out a dirty hand for the world’s pittance; or a ballet girl dancing and singing for the world’s amusement and pay; or a blind old Samson grinding at the mill — brought out occasionally for the amusement of the Philistines. God’s holy people are neither players for the world’s amusements, nor caterers to the world’s taste.

This is a message as timely at the beginning of the 21st century as it was at the rise of the 20th.

His formidable skills notwithstanding, I was glad to see Bangs humanize Bresee by including not only stories of success but also accounts of failure, including the closing of the Methodist Simpson Tabernacle (pp. 124-27) and his short tenure at the independent Penial Mission (p. 136) where as one of the pastors he was unceremoniously asked to leave. Even the inclusion of an side remark that Bresee was a poor singer who would start songs in the wrong key and expect instrumentalists to fix the problem (p. 175) helps the biography steer clear of hero worship.

Phineas Bresee: Pastor to the People at just over 200 pages is an accessible introduction to the man and ministry that helped set the Church of the Nazarene on its course for the next 100 years. It is a helpful read for anyone who wants to understand the theological and practical worldview of Nazarenes, especially those in North America.

A prayer for the Class of 2014, Southern Africa Nazarene University

SANU Chancellor Dr Loren Gresham was with us for the 5th graduation ceremony.
SANU Chancellor Dr Loren Gresham was with us for the 5th graduation ceremony.

I was honored to offer this prayer of dedication for the graduating class:

Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit –

You have promised in your Word that you will never leave us, you will never forsake us. Today, we stand in testimony that your promise is true. You knew each graduate when they were but a child of promise as you knit them together in their mother’s womb. From their earliest days, through primary and high school, and now to this day of academic victory at Southern Africa Nazarene University, through it all, Lord, you have been with them, and we give you praise and heartfelt thanks.

We know, Father, that in the darkest moments of human history, your solution to problems has always been people. When men and women had gone astray, you sent prophets to guide them back to yourself. When it seemed like the forces of darkness would overwhelm all that you had created, you sent your Son, the light of the world, born of a virgin, to crush the serpent’s head.

So today, Holy Spirit, we reaffirm our part in that great struggle, confident that greater is the One who is in us than the one who is in the world. We consecrate to you these graduates of Southern Africa Nazarene University who now take up the fight against disease through the healing arts, against ignorance through the classroom, and against sin and evil through the church’s loving message of transformation for individuals, communities and nations. We send them forth today into a Cause greater than themselves, knowing that their Savior and Sanctifier – the one who stayed with them this far – is not about to abandon them now.

As they go forth, we offer this earnest prayer for their safe-keeping. Guard them in moments of temptation from selfish choices that promise much but deliver only broken relationships and self-hatred. Encourage graduates, Lord, when they refuse moral compromise and end up paying the price. Remind them of the lessons that they have learned from faculty and staff in this University, that if one must choose, it is far better to forfeit this world’s applause than to forfeit one’s integrity.

Today, we pray for their joy and prosperity. God of flourishing, may these graduates know abundance in every way – abundant life in Christ, joy and laughter in their homes, food on their tables, a spirit so overflowing with your love that nothing but kind words and blessings will be on their lips for brothers and sisters less fortunate than themselves. We pray that lips which bless sincerely may be accompanied by hands that give generously.

We pray, oh Lord, for their relationship with you, that it will grow deep and wide. May you fill them with all the fullness of God and the peace that comes through a heart surrendered to the sweet control of the Holy Spirit. When times of trouble and sorrow come, as they surely must, wrap your arms of love around them and be their comfort.

Further, we dedicate them to service in your Body, the Church. Whether vocational or lay ministers, may they find a place of labor and meaningful contribution in your Church. Make of each one a positive example to younger ones in the community of faith who look up to them and will pattern their own behavior on theirs.

Thank you, Jesus, for the sacrificial way in which mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts, brothers and sisters, grandmothers and grandfathers have supported our graduates. May you bless them today. Give them the satisfaction of knowing that today, they are rightfully proud of their graduate.

Finally, heavenly Father, I leave our graduates in your hands. Guide them and spur them on to excellence in their respective fields, that when their time comes one day to meet you face-to-face, they will leave this nation, this continent, and this Earth a better place than they found it, a little more like God’s Kingdom, the Kingdom that we still pray will come. I pray not only that they will be Christlike disciples. I pray that you will make them Christlike disciples who change the world.

We give you thanks, O Triune God, for each graduate and leave them now in your tender care. For it is in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that we offer this prayer,

AMEN.

Beyond self: Gathered to worship

Southland5The first line of Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life may be its most profound: “It’s not about you.” Nothing that the church does together underscores this truth more than worship. When the people of God worship together, we are collectively caught-up into the presence of the Eternal One who far surpasses our minuscule, temporal selves.

Sunday is sacred because – ever since the resurrection of Jesus on that first Easter morning – it has been the one time each week when collectively we set aside all distractions. It is on this day that we celebrate the Risen Christ, focusing on God. The hymn by William Kethe calls us to forget self and directs our attention instead to divine Royalty:

Oh, worship the King, all glorious above,

Oh, gratefully sing His pow’r and His love;

Our Shield and Defender, the Ancient of Days,

Pavilioned in splendor, and girded with praise.

The heart of worship: It’s all about God

Note where the focus lies. Each person in the room – be it a small store front with a low ceiling or a sanctuary in a high-vaulted cathedral – directs his or her attention heavenward. Self fades away in the bright light of the God who has no equal. Like the prophet Isaiah, worship properly understood transports us beyond ourselves and takes us to another dimension where we catch a glimpse of the majesty of the King: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of heavenly forces! All the earth is filled with God’s glory!” (Isaiah 6:3, CEB).

This is the first and most important aspect of worship: It is God-directed. Worship entices us to bow our knee before God, funneling our attention not self-ward but heavenward, celebrating the blessings of God with grateful hearts. And yet as we lose ourselves in God’s majesty, something amazing and paradoxical transpires:

 Steadfast refusal to focus upon ourselves in the end transforms us!

We see this boomerang effect in Ephesians 3:14-21. Paul offers a prayer, yet it is not a hurried petition, a rote recitation. Rather, it is a prayer that breathes the essence of worship:

“This is why I kneel before the Father.” – v. 14 (CEB)

Paul takes on the role of worship leader, submitting as creature to Creator, bringing us collectively into the awesome presence of Almighty God. Importantly, this God is Triune in nature and being. As Paul genuflects before the Father, he asks Him to strengthen our “inner selves” through “the Spirit” (v. 16). He invites Christ himself to live in our hearts “through faith” (v. 17). Oh, the mystery of the Three-in-One God! And not surprisingly, where this Three-in-One God abides, love is never far away:

“I ask that you’ll have the power to grasp love’s width and length, height and depth, together with all believers. I ask that you’ll know the love of Christ that is beyond knowledge so that you will be filled entirely with the fullness of God” (v. 18-19).

If there was any doubt about the corporate setting of Paul’s prayer, it evaporates in v. 21: “Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus for all generations, forever and always. Amen.”

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Break down every idol: Cleansing the Temple

Greg_18This is the sermon I preached yesterday at the installation of Rev Alolfo Tembe as the new Principal of the Seminário Nazareno em Moçambique in Maputo, Mozambique.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture passages are from the Common English Bible (2011).

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SCRIPTURE READING: 2 Kings 23:24-25

“Josiah burned those who consulted dead spirits and the mediums, the household gods and the worthless idols – all the monstrous things that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem. In this way Josiah fulfilled the words of the Instruction written in the scroll that the priest Hilkiah found in the LORD’s temple. There’s never been a king like Josiah, whether before or after him, who turned to the LORD with all his heart, all his being, and all his strength, in agreement with everything in the Instruction from Moses.”

– PRAYER –

I.  INTRODUCTION

We are a holiness church. What does that mean? It means that we are called to be the righteous people of God, set apart for God’s sacred use. We understand that 1 Peter 1:16 – “Be holy, because I, the LORD your God am holy” – is not a command for the distant future. It is God’s expectation of us right now.

Yet for the disciple of Jesus, both saved and entirely sanctified, it is not enough to point to 2 experiences in the past, no matter how meaningful and wonderful those experiences may have been. We must constantly present ourselves before God. Like the Psalmist, we must pray:

Examine me, God! Look at my heart!

Put me to the test!

Know my anxious thoughts!

Look to see if there is any idolatrous way in me,

then lead me on the eternal path!

- Psalm 139:23-24

 

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When necessary, use words: the power of preaching

black female preacherPreachers today get a bad rap.

“Don’t preach at me” figures on the list of most popular comebacks, along with “Stop judging me.” In modern usage, to preach at someone is to set oneself up as superior, to condescendingly render a verdict on another’s behavior. It is the pop star Madonna pleading with her father: “Papa, don’t preach.”

Yet preaching wasn’t always devalued. There was a time when “preacher” was a term of endearment, a little less formal than “Reverend” but respectful nonetheless. As recently as 1996 in the film “The Preacher’s Wife,” Courtney Vance portrayed Reverend Henry Biggs, an African-American pastor who – while insensitive to his wife’s needs – was nevertheless committed to his work, selflessly serving the members of his inner-city flock. Being a preacher was cool.

So if the term “preacher” has lately fallen on hard times, why do the people of God continue to use it? To answer this question, let’s briefly look at what the New Testament has to say about preaching and its importance to the life of the Body of Christ, the church.

John and Jesus: the preaching cousins

A good place to begin is with the second cousins, John and Jesus. John went into the wilderness and took up a simple lifestyle, wearing clothes made of camel’s hair and eating locusts and wild honey (Matthew 3:4). People streamed to John and he baptized them with water as a sign of their abandoning their sinful ways. Yet the baptizing followed preaching. We don’t have a lot of detail about what John preached, but it wasn’t for the faint of heart. He urged people to produce good fruit, proof of their changed ways. He called religious leaders “snakes” (Matthew 3:7), demanded that tax collectors not collect more than they were required, and warned soldiers not to accuse people falsely or to extort money. Instead, he told them to be content with their salary (see Luke 3:7-14). John’s boldness in preaching knew no social boundaries, and he paid for his boldness with his head (Matthew 14:1-12).

Yet John was always a warm-up act for the main attraction. About Jesus of Nazareth, John testified: “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less” (John 3:30, NLT). Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus passed his test in the wilderness, resisting the temptations of the devil (Matthew 4:1-11). After this testing, what did Jesus do? He immediately began to preach: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (4:17). In fact, the kingdom of heaven and the parables Jesus drew from everyday life became the staple of his magnetic preaching. Just before returning to heaven, Jesus commanded his disciples to preach the Gospel (literally, “good news”) to all creation (Mark 16:15). We preach because it is the command of our Lord to do so.

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