Sunday, December 9, 2007

Our Two Advocates in Prayer

Due to the solitary (and, at times, arduous) nature of prayer it is easy to feel lonely as we plead for God’s revival blessing. However, that view is at odds with Scripture. In fact, in all Christian prayer we have two Advocates who pray with us. These Advocates take our feeble attempts at prayer and translate them to power before the Father. Let’s consider our two Advocates briefly.

1. The Lord Jesus is our first Advocate in prayer. In the New Testament we find Christ praying for Peter so the disciple’s faith wouldn’t fail (Luke 22.31-32). In the Garden of Gethsemane we see Christ praying for his apostles (John 17.5-19) and for all who would become Christians (17.20-26).

After the Lord’s ascension Christ never stopped praying for us. Heed the Apostle John:

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1Jn 2:1-2 ESV)

The word “advocate” in the original Greek is παρακλητος (“paraclete”). Joseph Thayer defines:

1) summoned, called to one’s side, especially called to one’s aid
1a) one who pleads another’s cause before a judge, a pleader, counsel for defense, legal assistant, an advocate
1b) one who pleads another’s cause with one, an intercessor
1b1) of Christ in his exaltation at God’s right hand, pleading with God the Father for the pardon of our sins
1c) in the widest sense, a helper, succourer, aider, assistant
1c1) of the Holy Spirit destined to take the place of Christ with the apostles (after his ascension to the Father), to lead them to a deeper knowledge of the gospel truth, and give them divine strength needed to enable them to undergo trials and persecutions on behalf of the divine kingdom

Charles B. Williams renders the above Scriptures as:

“My dear children, I am writing you this so that you may not sin; yet if anyone ever sins, we have One who pleads our case with the Father, Jesus Christ, One who is righteous. And He is Himself the atoning sacrifice for our sins; and not for ours alone, but also for the whole world.” (1Jn 2.1-2 WmsNT)

In his Commentary Adam Clarke speaks of Christ’s heavenly role as advocate as revealed in 1 John 2.1:

“We have an advocate with the Father - We still have him before the throne who died for our offenses, and rose again for our justification; and there he makes intercession for us. He is the righteous; he who suffered, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God. Do not, therefore, despair, but have immediate recourse to God through him.”

Christ’s ongoing prayer ministry for his saints is mentioned in two further passages:

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died--more than that, who was raised--who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” (Rom 8.31-34 ESV)

“The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (Heb 7.23-25 ESV)

Christ is praying for us continually! Allow this to soothe our souls. Do we trust Christ? Do we trust that Christ’s faith is perfect? Do we trust that Jesus, who always prays according to the will of God, could ever pray a prayer that his Father would reject?

2. The Holy Spirit is our second Advocate in prayer. Understand Christ’s testimony about the Spirit:

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”
(John 14.16-18 ESV)

The New Testament Greek for “another Helper” is αλλον παρακλητον (“another Paraclete of the same kind”). The Apostle Paul reveals the Spirit’s ministry of prayer for believers:

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
(Rom 8.26-27 ESV)

To quote Williams’ translation once again:

“In the same way the Spirit, too, is helping us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself pleads for us with unspeakable yearnings, and He who searches our hearts knows what the Spirit thinks, for He pleads for His people in accordance with God's will.”
(Rom 8.26-27 WmsNT)

Again, allow this to soothe our souls. Do we trust the Spirit? Do we trust that the Spirit’s faith is perfect? Do we trust that the Holy Spirit, who always prays according to the will of God, could ever pray a prayer that his Father would reject?

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Finding Out How God Communicates (Usually)

In Fetter Lane's last post we examined Wesley's criticism of too high an expectation for supernatural revelations of God's will. Today we will read his counsel on the common ways God expresses his path for us to follow.

Today we continue with John Wesley's Sermon # 37, "The Nature of Enthusiasm":
22. Perhaps some may ask, 'Ought we not then to inquire what is the will of God in all things?And ought not His will to be the rule of our practice?' Unquestionably it ought. But how is a sober Christian to make this inquiry? to know what is the will of God? Not by waiting for supernatural dreams; not by expecting God to reveal it in visions; not by looking for any particular impressions or sudden impulses on his mind: no; but by consulting the oracles of God. 'To the law and to the testimony!' This is the general method of knowing what is 'the holy and acceptable will of God.'

You could see this coming, couldn't you? Wesley said the Bible is the chief way of knowing the will of God. Does this disappoint you a bit? Were you hoping for an answer less obvious? I understand. The old saying is true, "Familiarity Breeds Contempt." We are all so used to the Bible that we can fall prey to taking it--the printed Word of God--for granted.

But what about those specific cases in our lives that the Bible doesn't answer. For example, how can the Bible help us to understand what college to go to? Consider Wesley's view:
23. 'But how shall I know what is the will of God, in such and such a particular case? The thing proposed is, in itself, of an indifferent nature, and so left undetermined in Scripture.' I answer, the Scripture itself gives you a general rule, applicable to all particular cases: 'The will of God is our sanctification.' It is His will that we should be inwardly and outwardly holy; that we should be good, and do good, in every kind and in the highest degree whereof we are capable. Thus far we tread upon firm ground. This is as clear as the shining of the sun. In order, therefore, to know what is the will of God in a particular case, we have only to apply this general rule.

24. Suppose, for instance, it were proposed to a reasonable man to marry, or to enter into a new business: in order to know whether this is the will of God, being assured, 'It is the will of God concerning me, that I should be as holy and do as much good as I can,' he has only to enquire, 'In which of these states can I be most holy, and do the most good?' And this is to be determined, partly by reason, and partly by experience. Experience tells him what advantages he has in his present state, either for being or doing good; and reason is to show, what he certainly or probably will have in the state proposed. By comparing these, he is to judge which of the two may most conduce to his being and doing good; and as far as he knows this, so far he is certain what is the will of God.
To me, this is an intriguing opinion: ask yourself, "Where can I be the holiest and put my best shots in for the Kingdom?" and then go for it! Far from releasing our responsibility to think, this view demands that we take a reasoned and calculated guess.

Wesley continues:
25. Meantime, the assistance of His Spirit is supposed, during the whole process of the inquiry. Indeed it is not easy to say, in how many ways that assistance is conveyed. He may bring many circumstances to our remembrance; may place others in a stronger and clearer light; may insensibly open our mind to receive conviction, and fix that conviction upon our heart. And to a concurrence of many circumstances of this kind, in favour of what is acceptable in His sight, He may superadd such an unutterable peace of mind, and so uncommon a measure of His love, as will leave us no possibility of doubting, that this, even this, is His will concerning us.
After I accepted the call to ministry I had to determine where to go to college. I had two choices: Warner Southern College in Florida and Mid-America Christian University in Oklahoma. During my senior year of high school I visited both, Florida first and Oklahoma last.

I didn't have anything bad to say about Warner Southern but felt no "pull" there. When I visited Oklahoma my questions were answered. I just "felt" this was the right place to be. I liked it there. I felt the school exuded a strong holiness factor. In fact, I was so comfortable there that during my visit I told another of my decison to attend college there.

I didn't have a vision, dream, or supernatural encounter. I just felt peace in my heart and I liked the place. I've never regretted my decision.

Let me conclude with one last quotation from Wesley's "The Nature of Enthusiasm":
26. This is the plain, scriptural, rational way to know what is the will of God in a particular case. But considering how seldom this way is taken, and what a flood of enthusiasm must needs break in on those who endeavour to know the will of God by unscriptural, irrational ways; it were to be wished that the expression itself were far more sparingly used. The using it, as some do, on the most trivial occasions, is a plain breach of the third commandment. It is a gross way of taking the name of God in vain, and betrays great irreverence toward Him. Would it not be far better, then, to use other expressions, which are not liable to such objections? For example: instead of saying, on any particular occasion, “I want to know what is the will of God;' would it not be better to say, 'I want to know what will be most for my improvement; and what will make me most useful?' this way of speaking is clear and unexceptionable: it is putting the matter on a plain, scriptural issue, and that without any danger of enthusiasm.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Hearing God When He Hasn't Spoken

There is a peril in Christianity: claiming that God has directed us supernaturally when, in fact, he has done no such thing. Now, I'm not against God using unusual or extraordinary means to reveal his will to us. However, we have to be careful lest we allow our imaginations to run wild and we confuse our thoughts with God's direction.

Wesley spoke of such danger in his Sermons, # 37, "The Nature of Enthusiasm":
20. The same sort of enthusiasm, though in a lower degree, is frequently found in men of a private character. They may likewise imagine themselves to be influenced or directed by the Spirit when they are not. I allow, 'if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His;' and that if ever we either think, speak, or act aright, it is through the assistance of that blessed Spirit. But how many impute things to Him, or expect things from Him, without any rational or scriptural ground! Such are they who imagine, they either do or shall receive particular directions from God, not only in points of importance, but in things of no moment; in the most trifling circumstances of life. Whereas in these cases God has given us our own reason for a guide; though never excluding the secret assistance of His Spirit.

21. To this kind of enthusiasm they are peculiarly exposed, who expect to be directed of God, either in spiritual things or in common life, in what is justly called an extraordinary manner: I mean, by visions or dreams, by strong impressions or sudden impulses on the mind. I do not deny, that God has, of old times, manifested His will in this manner; or, that He can do so now: nay, I believe He does, in some very rare instances. But how frequently do men mistake herein! How are they misled by pride, and a warm imagination, to ascribe such impulses or impressions, dreams or visions, to God, as are utterly unworthy of Him! Now this is all pure enthusiasm; all as wide of religion, as it is of truth and soberness.
Wesley didn't deny that God might use extraordinary means in revealing his will to his children; however, the English evangelist deemed it rare. Frankly, I don't believe God speaks nearly as much as some of his Christians believe that he does!

Christians can get down-right spooky when they get hyper-mystical. They can do bizarre things and look unhinged. They can get snookered by their own imaginations.

In the next post we will examine Wesley's counsel as to how to discern the will of God. It's a lot less spooky...and it makes a lot more sense!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Called, Justified and Glorified (Romans № 25 Part 3)

In our last of three posts concerning Romans 8.28-30 we will end with Paul's view of our comprehensive salvation. Let's read the last verse:
And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.(Rom 8.30 ESV)
Having dealt with foreknowledge and predestination in the former post, we have three more terms to define. There is a logical progression of thought in this chain of salvation, each link connecting to the other. They reach into the future but we can see our destination from here.

3. Called καλεω

There is a difference in how the Lord Jesus and the Apostle Paul used "called". Christ spoke of the kingdom of God in a parable, describing it as a wedding feast and concluded, "For many are called, but few are chosen." (Mat 22:14 ESV) In this instance, called means "invited to salvation" and chosen means "saved". In other words, people who hear the gospel are called to recieve the good news. This does not guarentee that they will become the chosen, those who respond favorably to salvation's call.

Conversely, when Paul speaks of "called", he means "chosen". It is an effectual call, one that is tied closely with God's omniscience of who will choose salvation. Thus, in Paul's terminology, all who are called are the chosen, the elect of God.

4. Justified δικαιοω

The logical progression from an effectual calling is justification. To justify, in Paul's vocabulary, is God's declaration of "Not Guilty" in his heavenly Court. As Wesley, preaching from the text, "And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness" (Rom 4:5 ESV), declared in his Sermons, # 5, "Justification By Faith":
The plain scriptural notion of justification is pardon, the forgiveness of sins. It is that act of God the Father, hereby, for the sake of the propitiation made by the blood of his Son, he 'showeth forth his righteousness (or mercy) by the remission of the sins that are past.' This is the easy, natural account of it given by St. Paul, throughout this whole epistle. So he explains it himself, more particularly in this and in the following chapter. Thus, in the next verses but one to the text, 'Blessed are they,' saith he, 'whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered: Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.' To him that is justified or forgiven, God 'will not impute sin' to his condemnation. He will not condemn him on that account, either in this world or in that which is to come. His sins, all his past sins, in thought, word, and deed, are covered, are blotted out, shall not be remembered or mentioned against him, any more than if they had not been. God will not inflict on that sinner what he deserved to suffer, because the Son of his love hath suffered for him. And from the time we are 'accepted through the Beloved,' 'reconciled to God through his blood,' he loves, and blesses, and watches over us for good, even as if we had never sinned.
Instead, the sinner who comes to God through Christ is imputed with the perfect active and passive obedience of Christ. (See my post, Righteousness in Christ, for a discussion of this wonderful doctrine.)

5. Glorified δοξαζω

The last term to define on this chain of salvation is an interesting one; it speaks to all of the Christian's hopes and dreams when he his mortal body is transformed into his resurrection body. The ultimate goal of salvation is to be with the Lord forever. In his Explanatory Notes for verse 30 Wesley comments on glorified, saying, "[Paul] speaks as one looking back from the goal, upon the race of faith. Indeed grace, as it is glory begun, is both an earnest and a foretaste of eternal glory."

While we Christians haven't experienced the Glories of the Presence of God as our departed saints have, the process has already begun. In the already/not yet aspects of salvation, we already have been made partakers of the divine nature (2 Pe 1.4) and this will come to ultimate culmination when faith becomes sight.

Praise the Lord!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Foreknown and Predestined (Romans № 25 Part 2)

In our last post on Paul's letter to the Romans we examined 8.28, one of the best known verses in the Bible. However, how does God work out all things to our good? Paul answers in verses 29 and 30:
"For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified." (Rom 8:29-30 ESV)
In this second of a three part installment we will begin looking at some powerful theological concepts. Christians have been debating them for hundreds of years and I don't expect that I'll put to doctrinal bed the issues involved. However, what follows is my best effort at trying to understand them.

1. Foreknew προγινωσκω
"For those whom [God] foreknew..." (Rom 8.29a ESV)
The omniscience of God is an amazing thing. God does not learn; he simply knows all things. David declares, "Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether." (Psa 139.4 ESV)

God knows everything about everything about everything. From eternity past he already knew who would entrust themselves to his Son and his Son's gospel. Some may feel that this word refers to God selecting people to be saved before the creation of the world. However, I think that goes too far and isn't required in defining "foreknew"--I believe it speaks of God's beforehand knowledge of those who, aided by his grace, would accept the Messiah freely. This leads us to our next point in the chain of salvation.

2. Predestine προοριζω
"...he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers." (Rom 8.29b ESV)
Predestination is a scary word for some Wesleyans; it sounds too Calvinistic. However, it is a biblical concept and one that needs to be placed in proper context.

The question that we need to ask is, "Predestined to what end?" Paul answers it: anyone whom God knew beforehand would become a Christian is predestined to become holy like Jesus. As Wesley preached in his Sermons, # 128, "Free Grace":
1. How freely does God love the world! While we were yet sinners, 'Christ died for the ungodly.' While we were 'dead in our sin,' God 'spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all.' And how freely with him does he 'give us all things!' Verily, FREE GRACE is all in all!

2. The grace or love of God, whence cometh our salvation, is FREE IN ALL, and FREE FOR ALL."
As a Wesleyan I do not believe that God, before the creation of the world, predestines some for salvation or others for damnation.
"The Spirit and the Bride say, 'Come.' And let the one who hears say, 'Come.' And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price." (Rev 22.17 ESV)

Wesley further exhorts in "Free Grace":

9. Call it therefore by whatever name you please, election, preterition, predestination, or reprobation, it comes in the end to the same thing. The sense of all is plainly this, — by virtue of an eternal, unchangeable, irresistible decree of God, on part of mankind are infallibly saved, and the rest infallibly damned; it being impossible that any of the former should be damned. or that any of the latter should be saved.

10. But if this be so, then is all preaching vain. It is needless to them that are elected; for they, whether with preaching or without, will infallibly be saved. Therefore, the end of preaching — to save should — is void with regard to them; and it is useless to them that are not elected, for they cannot possibly be saved: They, whether with preaching or without, will infallibly be damned. The end of preaching is therefore void with regard to them likewise; so that in either case our preaching is vain, as you hearing is also vain.

11. This then, is a plain proof that the doctrine of predestination is not a doctrine of God, because it makes void the ordinance of God; and God is not divided against himself. A Second is, that it directly tends to destroy that holiness which is the end of all the ordinances of God. I do not say, none who hold it are holy; (for God is of tender mercy to those who are unavoidably entangled in errors of any kind;) but that the doctrine itself, — that every man is either elected or not elected from eternity, and that the one must inevitably be saved, and the other inevitably damned, — has a manifest tendency to destroy holiness in general; for it wholly takes away those first motives to follow after it, so frequently proposed in Scripture, the hope of future reward and fear of punishment, the hope of heaven and fear of hell. That these shall go away into everlasting punishment, and those into life eternal, is not motive to him to struggle for life who believes his lot is cast already; it is not reasonable for him so to do, if he thinks he is unalterably adjudged either to life or death. You will say, 'But he knows not whether it is life or death.' What then? — this helps not the matter; for if a sick man knows that he must unavoidably die, or unavoidably recover, though he knows not which, it is unreasonable for him to take any physic at all. He might justly say, (and so I have heard some speak, both in bodily sickness and in spiritual,) 'If I am ordained to life, I shall live; if to death, I shall live; so I need not trouble myself about it.' So directly does this doctrine tend to shut the very gate of holiness in general, — to hinder unholy men from ever approaching thereto, or striving to enter in thereat.
Predestination is not about God choosing who will be saved and who will be damned. Rather, it's about ordering the lives of those he knows (beforehand) who will accept his Son so they will be made holy.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

One of the Hardest Things to Accept

Have you ever been so eager to receive something in the mail, or a telephone call, or an email, that you wondered if you would ever receive it?

That's torturous to undergo, but there is something harder for a perfectionist like me to wait for at times: a sense of receiving God's forgiveness.

I know the Scripture; the Bible is clear. The Apostle Paul unambiguously states:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
(Eph 2.8-9 ESV)
In his Explanatory Notes for verses 8 and 9 John Wesley elaborates on the missionary's meaning:
Eph 2:8 - By grace ye are saved through faith - Grace, without any respect to human worthiness, confers the glorious gift. Faith, with an empty hand, and without any pretence to personal desert, receives the heavenly blessing. And this is not of yourselves - This refers to the whole preceding clause, That ye are saved through faith, is the gift of God.

Eph 2:9 - Not by works - Neither this faith nor this salvation is owing to any works you ever did, will, or can do.
Forgiveness is freely given. When God forgives, God forgives. His Son made it possible for instantaneous pardon for any violator who repents of his sin. What becomes hard for a person, at times, is to receive God's promise so easily.

Why is it so easy to be so slow in accepting God's forgiveness? Here are some possibilities:

1. A continuing sense of shame. Obsessing over how horrible the sin was can continue to haunt a person after God forgave him his sin.

2. A misplaced sense of needing to earn it. Let's face it: in this life, we get things by deserving them. The world pays us in a myriad of ways--after we've earned it.

The problem, of course, is that God's forgiveness is never given because we deserve it. Grace, by definition, cannot be deserved. Grace--unmerited, free favor with God--can only be given because God provides atonement for our sins through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We will never deserve to be forgiven by God, never worthy enough to get that second, third, fourth chance.

God just gives grace to us because that's the kind of God, in Christ, he is.

Talk to yourself. Demand that you listen to yourself! Tell yourself the truth. When a person turns to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and truly repents of his sin, God forgives. Instantly.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Pull Up a Chair!

Would you like to sit in this chair?

Is this how we treat some people who attend our churches?

James, the half-brother of the Lord Jesus, gave some pretty straight instruction about welcoming people into our fellowship:

"My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, 'You sit here in a good place,' while you say to the poor man, 'You stand over there,' or, 'Sit down at my feet,' have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man."
(Jas 2.1-6a ESV)

John Wesley, in his Explanatory Notes, had a beautiful turn of phrase. Commenting on verse four, he said, "You reason ill, and so judge wrong: for fine apparel is no proof of worth in him that wears it."

In other words, worldly distinctions that separate people in public life have no business in the church. What a person is esteemed to be on the outside is to be checked at the door.

It doesn't matter what kind of car a person drives.
It doesn't matter what label is on his clothes.
It doesn't matter how much money he has in the bank.
It doesn't matter who he knows.
It doesn't matter how many "connections" he has.

All are to draw near to God in worship as one people.

I won't kid you; it's easy to cater to people that you think will get you somewhere, people that will help you accomplish your goals or make you feel good about yourself. The Church of God, however, is not about status or power. It's about people who have acknowledged their spiritual poverty and their need.

The cross of Jesus levels the playing field. It shouts to everyone, "You're all going to hell! But let me show you how to find eternal life in the One who died on me!"

Don't give an icy reception to "unattractive" seekers of God because those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled.

All of them.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

A Child of God!

Today at Awakening Theology I want to share with you a song from my church heritage. In the early years of the Church of God (Anderson), one of our prominent hymn writers, Barney E. Warren, penned a song that is one of my favorites. It's entitled A Child of God. I requested that it be sung last night at our Wednesday evening service. A Child of God boosts my spirit and brings me peace as I sing these comforting (and powerful) words.

Please read the words of shekinah:

1 Praise the Lord! my heart with his love is beaming, I am a child of God;
Heaven's golden light over me is streaming, I am a child of God.

2 Let the saints rejoice with my raptured spirit, I am a child of God:
I will testify, that the world may hear it, I am a child of God.

3 Let a holy life tell the gospel story, I am a child of God;
How he fills the soul with his grace and glory, I am a child of God.

4 Saved from sin today, ev'ry band is riven, I am a child of God;
Thro' the tests of life I have peace from heaven, I am a child of God.


I am a child of God, I am a child of God;
I have washed my robes in the cleansing fountain,
I am a child of God.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Lord, Take the Second Place in My Heart?

Where is God on your list of priorities? Can you say with King David, "As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God" (Psa 42.1b-2a ESV)?

Is Christianity an appendage you add to your life or is it your core from which everything else hangs?

Is Christianity something you do--one among many things--or is it something you are?

Wesley had a definite opinion about the place Christianity should have in each human heart. He preaches strongly:

"'Seek ye first the kingdom of God:' — Before ye give place to any other thought or care, let it be your concern that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (who 'gave his only begotten Son,' to the end that, believing in him, 'ye might not perish, but have everlasting life') may reign in your heart, may manifest himself in your soul, and dwell and rule there; that he may 'cast down every high thing which exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.' Let God have the sole dominion over you: Let him reign without a rival: Let him possess all your heart, and rule alone. Let him be your one desire, your joy, your love; so that all that is within you may continually cry out, “The Lord God omnipotent reigneth.'" (Sermons, #29)

Is that your definition of Christian commitment? If not then, according to Wesley, your definition is deficient. If the Trinity is not your supreme reason for existence then you have misunderstood Christianity.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Is Christian Truth Flexible?

Thus says the LORD: "Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, 'We will not walk in it.' (Jer 6.16 ESV)

In the United States there are two camps concerning the Constitution: one camp believes the document is to be read and understood as it was intended to be understood when first penned. The second camp believes the Constitution is a "living document" that needs to be re-interpreted as times change.

We have the same problem in Christianity. The first group believes the doctrine of The Faith stands given (Jude 3) while the second group believes that we should re-interpret the Bible to keep up with the changing times.

Is the Bible a living document? Should it be re-interpreted as time progesses and as attitudes and opinions shift in society? John Wesley would say, "No!" He preaches:

"How much more are they troubled at the injuries wicked men are continually offering to God!This was the circumstance which made the contradiction of sinners so severe a trial to our Lord himself: 'He that despiseth me, despiseth Him that sent me.' And how are these despisers now multiplied upon earth! Who fear not the Son, neither the Father. How are we surrounded with those who blaspheme the Lord and his Anointed; either reviling the whole of his glorious gospel, or making him a liar as to some of the blessed truths which he hath graciously revealed therein!How many of those who profess to believe the whole, yet, in effect preach another gospel; so disguising the most essential doctrines thereof by their new interpretations, as to retain the words only, but nothing of 'the faith once delivered to the saints!'" (Sermons, # 127, "The Trouble and Rest of Good Men")

Like it or not, we have a back leather cover for our Bibles. There are 66 books in the inspired list that Protestants acknowledge. Our mission is to figure out what the writer meant when he wrote to the original audience. We should never ask, "What does this passage mean to me?" Who cares what it means to us! Rather, our responsibility is to ask, "What has this passage always meant?"

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Religious, But Still Not Christian

"having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power" (2Ti 3.5a ESV)
Did you know that you can attend worship services, try to be a good person and still not be a Christian?

Wesley carefully distinguished between a religious person and a Christian. Listen to his explanation from his Sermons, #22:

And it is as impossible to satisfy such a soul, a soul that is athirst for God, the living God, with what the world accounts religion, as with what they account happiness. The religion of the world implies three things: (1.) The doing no harm, the abstaining from outward sin; at least from such as is scandalous, as robbery, theft, common swearing, drunkenness: (2.) The doing good, the relieving the poor; the being charitable, as it is called: (3.) The using the means of grace; at least the going to church and to the Lords Supper. He in whom these three marks are found is termed by the world a religious man. But will this satisfy him who hungers after God?

Will reforming the character and doing religious observations satisfy the soul? Is it enough? Will turning over a new leaf and participating in ritual transform the soul? Wesley answers:

No: It is not food for his soul. He wants a religion of a nobler kind, a religion higher and deeper than this. He can no more feed on this poor, shallow, formal thing, than he can 'fill his belly with the east wind.' True, he is careful to abstain from the very appearance of evil; he is zealous of good works; he attends all the ordinances of God: But all this is not what he longs for. This is only the outside of that religion, which he insatiably hungers after. The knowledge of God in Christ Jesus; 'the life which is hid with Christ in God;' the being 'joined unto the Lord in one Spirit;' the having 'fellowship with the Father and the Son;' the 'walking in the light as God is in the light;' the being 'purified even as He is pure;' — this is the religion, the righteousness, he thirsts after: Nor can he rest, till he thus rests in God.

Okay, maybe you attend worship services. Maybe you tithe. Maybe you serve on a board or committee for your congregation. Is your soul satisfied?

In my evangelicalism we have a phrase--"getting saved"--to describe what Wesley is describing. It's a relationship with Jesus Christ, attended by the Witness of the Holy Spirit, in which a person knows he is a child of God. It is the title to a book that Henry Scougal wrote, The Life of God in the Soul of Man.

Do you have a relationship with God? If not, may I suggest you begin one. Pray something along these lines:

"God, I believe Jesus, your Son, died on the cross for the forgiveness of my sins. I believe he rose again from the dead. Please forgive me of my sins; I turn away from them all. By your loving power I will live for you now. Thank you."

If you've prayed this prayer, tell somebody that you did. Find a good Bible-obeying church and serve the Lord locally in that church. May God bless you!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Wesleyan, and Still Not Married

"I married my brother [Charles] and Sarah Gwynne. It was a solemn day, such as becomes the dignity of a Christian marriage."
(John Wesley, Journal, April 8, 1749)

This blog entry is a very personal one for me; I rarely comment on myself because this blog is about classic Wesleyanism, not me. However, it's a timely topic that I will discuss. It's impossible not to be autobiographical in this post. Hopefully others will find comfort through reading it.

I am a minister of the gospel--and I am a single man, never married. I've never felt the call to lifelong celibacy. I don't desire to remain single. Yet singleness has chased me through my mid-thirties and it brings loneliness. I want a gold ring to adorn my left hand but, to this point, I am ringless.

I want a wife, children and the family pet; however, for whatever reason (be it my fault, her fault or nobody's fault) none of my relationships has led to the altar. I truly wonder if I ever will marry.

To be blunt, as I age further I don't want people to wonder, "Is Larry gay or something?" I certainly am not!

It can be difficult to be a minister and be single; it may actually hold you back because people want to see a pastor with a happy family. (I'm not suggesting I want to marry for strategic reasons; I'm just facing the ugly truth of reality and exposing what I guess to be a secret fear among single ministers.)

Singleness is a perplexing problem for the Christian. A Christian believes that his life is guided by the Holy Spirit; this would include something as important as marriage. Scripture teaches us:

"He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD."
(Pro 18.22 ESV)

However, what is he to say if such marriage appears never to come? He asks himself (or herself):

1. Am I not spiritual and mature enough for marriage, whatever that means?

If this is true then I'm confused because I'm sure plenty of rather unspiritual and immature people found righteous mates. I've seen plenty of married women sitting alone in the pews because their spiritually deadbeat husbands don't come to church. (Was that out loud? lol)

2. Is God keeping me single for ministry?

If he is then I think he'd give me peace about the single state; also, I haven't found such ministry that keeps me so busy to this point!

3. Is God preparing my perfect mate for me as we speak?

I don't mean to take lightly the Lord's timing; however, a little heads up from the Father would be nice!

I just don't find these answers to be satisfying. Perhaps they are all true but this list doesn't give me peace in my singleness.

Since my college days I've lived with the conviction that God doesn't select one person for another to marry. Now, I realize this is EXTREMELY touchy with singles--probably because it's so scary to consider--so I'd better lay out my argument.

The Apostle Paul is addressing widows in Corinth. He is speaking to the issue of remarriage for them and says, "A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord" (1Co 7.39 ESV).

Notice Paul's single qualifier; he says, "She can marry anyone but he has to be a Christian." [We must take into account what the New Testament teaches about marrying a divorced person, of course, but that's assumed.]

A single Christian can marry any other single Christian. We are free...and that's the problem! God doesn't guarantee a spouse.

What if we don't find her (or, in the case of ladies, him)? What if the other person doesn't agree? What if the feeling isn't mutual?!

I have no problem in a Christian praying for a spouse; I'm sure God honors such prayer with his divine wisdom and providence. However, the decision is a two-way street. Both people must agree to the proposition!

Perhaps it's my fault, my hang-ups, my failure to act during opportune times. Perhaps it's just life. God promised us joy in the Spirit but not happiness.

There's a difference.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Should We Legislate Morality?

On Fetter Lanes' 200th post we examine a big topic today. Should we Christians attempt to affect the passsing of laws on the local, state and federal level or should we devote ourselves to the salvation of souls?

I think this creates a false disjunction; I believe this isn't an either/or proposition but, rather, a both/and: I believe we should participate in government while never forgetting that the Church's mission is to bring sinners to Christ.

John Wesley saw no problem in working both sides of the street, sacred and secular, to achieve a better society. Here are his words from his Sermons, # 52:

"...that the making an open stand against all the ungodliness and unrighteousness which overspread our land as a flood is one of the noblest ways of confessing Christ in the face of his enemies. It is giving glory to God, and showing mankind that even in these dregs of time,

There are, who faith prefer
Though few, and piety to God."

And, he raises a common argument against his position and then refutes it:

"'But if the end you aim at be really to reform sinners, you choose the wrong means. It is the Word of God must effect this, and not human laws; and it is the work of Ministers, not of Magistrates; therefore, the applying to these can only produce an outward reformation. It makes no change in the heart.'

"It is true the Word of God is the chief, ordinary means, whereby he changes both the hearts and lives of sinners; and he does this chiefly by the Ministers of the gospel. But it is likewise true, that the Magistrate is 'the minister of God;' and that he is designed of God 'to be a terror to evil-doers,' by executing human laws upon them. If this does not change the heart, yet to prevent outward sin is one valuable point gained. There is so much the less dishonour done to God, less scandal brought on our holy religion; less curse and reproach upon our nation; less temptation laid in the way of others; yea, and less wrath heaped up by the sinners themselves against the day of wrath."

Besides, if a person truly believes it is wrong to legislate morality then he is an anarchist; to enforce any law is to legislate morality. If a person commits murder our society legislates morality by saying, "Murder is wrong. You're going to prison." Why, then, are Christians mocked when they oppose, say, legalized gambling?

Why can't American Christians both lobby Congress and evangelize sinners? Are we lesser citizens of the United States than secular people? Do we have fewer rights of citizenship?

I say no.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Follow the Rules!

We come across rules all of the time. Do this or don't do that. It's an inescapable fact of life.

And I think rules are fine for a local church.

Yes, I believe that church services should be places where seeking sinners find acceptance; however, I believe that local congregations should have high expectations for Christians.

I believe we often are reticent of making demands of our believers for fear that we will have folks leave us. However, how can we "go and make disciples" if we discipline them with nothing?

John Wesley had rules to be a member of his Methodist societies. If you didn't keep your vows then you were out. Think about this passage from his Journal for June 16, 1757:

"In the evening I preached at Sunderland. I then met the society and told them plainly that none could stay with us unless he would part with all sin; particularly, robbing the King, selling or buying run goods, which I could no more suffer than robbing on the highway. This I enforced on every member the next day. A few would not promise to refrain, so these I was forced to cut off. About two hundred and fifty were of a better mind."

It seems rather simple to me; join a Methodist society and vow and say "no" to sin. Refuse to give up sin and get kicked out of the voluntary group. Sounds reasonable. However, some today may find Wesley's action draconian in today's delight of slim demands or low expectation of Christian participation or behavior. However, I think he got it right. If a person voluntarily joins a group then he has to follow the rules.

Several years ago I went to see a karate instructor because I wanted to join his class. He made an insightful comment: They didn't seek me out, I sought them out. The implication was clear; there were rules and expectations that I had to follow. I understood. If I wanted to put on a gi and be a member then I had to be one of the larger unified group.

Why should a local congregation be any less?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Stupidest Post on This Blog!

There is no point to this post. Don't look for depth where none exists. I'm not attempting to educate; I'm not satirizing contemporary Wesleyanism. It's just a stupid parody.

Go ahead and laugh. You might like it! ;-)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Spill-Over Effect

Christianity holds out great promises for the Christian: God loves him, and wants to tell him so! In 1744 Wesley preached:

"'The love of God was also shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost which was given unto him' (Rom. 5:5). 'Because he was a son God had sent forth the Spirit of his Son into his heart, crying Abba, Father!' (Gal. 4:6). And that filial love of God was continually increased by the witness he had in himself (1 John 5:10) of God’s pardoning love to him; by 'beholding what manner of love it was which the Father had bestowed upon him, that he should be called a child of God' (1 John 3:1). So that God was the desire of his eyes, and the joy of his heart; his portion in time and in eternity." (Sermons, # 4, "Scriptural Christianity")

However, is this revelation of the love of God to do anything? Is it only for something for us to enjoy, a personal token of the Trinity's love for us? Not according to Wesley it wasn't. He believed that love given was love to give. There is to be The Spill-Over Effect.

He further preaches from the same sermon:

"he that thus loved God could not but love his brother also; and 'not in word only, but in deed and in truth.' 'If God,' said he, 'so loved us, we ought also to love one another' (1 John 4:11); yea, every soul of man, as 'the mercy of God is over all his works' (Ps. 145:9). Agreeably hereto, the affection of this lover of God embraced all mankind for his sake; not excepting those whom he had never seen in the flesh, or those of whom he knew nothing more than that they were 'the offspring of God,' for whose souls his Son had died; not excepting the 'evil' and 'unthankful,' and least of all his enemies, those who hated, or persecuted, or despitefully used him for his Master’s sake. These had a peculiar place, both in his heart and in his prayers. he loved them 'even as Christ loved us.'"

Are your public relations an indicator of your soul? Do you express the love of Christ to others that Christ expresses to you? Splash the blessings around!

Monday, February 12, 2007

It's All Free

Have you ever wanted something but sticker shock prevented you from purchasing it? What if I were to tell you that the best things in life are free; you couldn't buy them, anyway, and you're not required to try.

The best things you can have are God's blessings. Consider Wesley's words at the opening of Sermon 1, "Salvation by Faith":

"All the blessings which God hath bestowed upon man are of his mere grace, bounty, or favour; his free, undeserved favour; favour altogether undeserved; man having no claim to the least of his mercies. It was free grace that 'formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into him a living soul,' and stamped on that soul the image of God, and 'put all things under his feet.' The same free grace continues to us, at this day, life, and breath, and all things. For there is nothing we are, or have, or do, which can deserve the least thing at God’s hand. 'All our works, Thou, O God, hast wrought in us.' These, therefore, are so many more instances of free mercy: and whatever righteousness may be found in man, this is also the gift of God."

Since all blessings come in Christ [Eph 1.3] then we know that God isn't stingy. Paul further wrote that since God, "did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" (Rom 8.32 ESV)

The blessings of God is a waterfall that never runs dry!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

A Prayer For Holy Spirit Power

On Sunday, November 18, 1770, John Wesley preached the funeral of his old friend, George Whitefield. Toward the close of his address, he broke out in prayer:
O God, with Thee no word is impossible! Thou does whatsoever please Thee! O that Thou would cause the mantle of Thy prophet, whom Thou hast taken up, now to fall upon us that remain! 'Where is the Lord God of Elijah?' Let his spirit rest upon these Thy servants! Show Thou art the God that answers by fire! Let the fire of Thy love fall on every heart! And because we love Thee, let us love one another with a 'love stronger than death!' Take away from us 'all anger, and wrath, and bitterness; all clamor and evil speaking!' Let Thy Spirit so rest upon us, that from this hour we may be 'kind to each other, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God, for Christ’s sake hath forgiven us!'
(Sermons, # 53, "On the Death of the Rev. Mr. George Whitefield")


Saturday, February 10, 2007

A Wesleyan or "Just" a Christian?

There's something that's been on my mind for a while, something that I now want to talk to my readers about. I'll broadcast it today!

It has to do with my continual use of the word "Wesleyan". I'm not ashamed of the word and, further, I'm not ashamed to be called it. John Wesley is one primary theological influence.

Also, theological types understand me when I use the term. What do they instantly know? They think, "Okay, he's not a Calvinist."

However, many people who may stumble across my corner of cyberspace may wonder, "What's up with this? Is 'Wesleyan Christianity' some kind of cult? Does this guy think he's better than other Christians?"

I emphatically deny being better than other Christians. I don't use the term Wesleyan to distance myself from my Christian brothers and sisters of other traditions. I am saved by the grace of God just as any Christ disciple is.

It is the intent of this blog to spread the message of John Wesley and early Methodism that grew in the Great Awakening of the 18 century. However, let me be clear: John Wesley did not die for my sins on the cross. The Lord Jesus Christ did, and he is my master.

If anyone calls me a Wesleyan, that's fine with me. I am a theological hybrid of Methodism and the holiness movement of the 19 century. However, if someone simply calls me a Christian, I'll never be offended!

Thursday, February 8, 2007

The Nuts and Bolts of Christianity

Have you ever considered how many things are held together by nuts and bolts?

Christianity is the same way.

While there are many important doctrines over which Christians disagree, what are the essentials?

Paul gives us the answer:

"Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me." (1Co 15.1-8 ESV)

In short, we have to embrace the same gospel.

Yes, there are different issues that divide Christians' opinions. Calvinist or Arminian? Amillennial or Premillennial? Complimentarian or Egalitarian? Paedobaptism or Credobaptism? Etc.

While these doctrines are important (and they are--let's not kid ourselves with some false ecumenism that sweeps doctrinal differences under the catechizing rug) they are not the crux of the gospel.

What is the crux?

The Godhead is composed of a Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The Son of God, at the Incarnation, became the God-Man and was born of a virgin, Mary.
Jesus Christ lived a sinless life of perfect obedience to Torah.
He died on the cross as a propitiation, an offering of atonement for the forgiveness of the sins of the world (though only those who would believe on his name would receive the provision of forgiveness)*
He body and physically rose from the dead and later ascended into heaven as the victorious Conqueror of Sin.
He sent the Holy Spirit to fill his church.

This is what I believe is of supreme importance; all else, while important, may be disagreed about (and will be)!

*I recognize that some Calvinists will take issue with this statement. Because they believe in Limited Atonement they would say Christ died for the sins of the Elect, not the sins of the World. As a Wesleyan I disagree; however, I do not dispute their salvation even though I take issue with their definition.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Don't Treat the Gospel with Contempt

John Wesley was a serious man. The gospel, to him, was serious business and he treated it so. He records an event in Scotland in his Journal entry for May 20, 1776:

"I preached about eleven at Old Meldrum, but could not reach Banff till nearly seven in the evening. I went directly to the Parade and proclaimed to a listening multitude 'the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.' All behaved well but a few gentry, whom I rebuked openly, and they stood corrected."

Wesley put the ill-behaved under wraps, quickly, by a public rebuke. This may run counter-cultural to the philsophy of today:

Never make sinners feel uncomfortable.

Wesley didn't buy into that philosophy; the gospel was serious stuff to him. It had to do with the difference between eternal life and eternal death, heaven and hell, the sons of light and the sons of darkness. The gospel wasn't to be trifled with and it wasn't to be disrespected.

Was Wesley offended that some made light of him? Perhaps, but I feel that it went deeper than personal affront. I believe he became incensed that the rude gentry publicly dismissed the gospel with their behavior.

I'm the same way; yes, you may anger me if you make light of me, but don't make fun of my Jesus. I may rebuke you.

Monday, February 5, 2007

I'm Waiting For Wesley!

I have one more Christmas present yet to come. I am waiting for a 7 volume set of John Wesley's writings (7,488 pages) coming to me. It's on order from Christian Book Distributor and can be purchased here.
The set won't be released until March 1, 2007, so I've been waiting for weeks. I'm so excited!
It's possible that thousands of pages of John Wesley doesn't move you like it moves me. What gets you excited as you wait for it to occur?
Do we get exicted when we think of upcoming corporate worship services, thinking, "I'm going to enter the Presence of the Lord with his saints!"
Do we get giddy over the priveledge of pouring over his Word?
Do we feel a rush to realize we can pray to the Triune God at any moment?
Do we wait eagerly for Christ's Parousia, his Coming?
What gets us excited?
What should get us excited?

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Deliver Us From the Evil One Part 2

John Wesley had more experiences with the demonic recorded in his Journal. Let's consider two accounts in this post:

October 27, 1739

"I was sent for to Kingswood again, to one of those who had been so ill before. A violent rain began just as I set out, so that I was thoroughly wet in a few minutes. Just as that time the woman (then three miles off) cried out, 'Yonder comes Wesley, galloping as fast as he can.' When I was come, I was quite cold and dead and fitter for sleep than prayer. She burst out into a horrid laughter and said, 'No power, no power; no faith, no faith. She is mine; her soul is mine. I have her and will not let her go.'

"We begged of God to increase our faith. Meanwhile her pangs increased more and more so that one would have imagined, by the violence of the throes, her body must have been shattered to pieces. One who was clearly convinced this was no natural disorder said, 'I think Satan is let loose. I fear he will not stop here.' He added, 'I command thee, in the name of the Lord Jesus, to tell if thou hast commission to torment any other soul.' It was immediately answered, 'I have. L---y C---r and S---h J---s.' (Two who lived at some distance, and were then in perfect health.)

"We betook ourselves to prayer again and ceased not till she began, about six o’clock, with a clear voice and composed, cheerful look:

"Praise God, from whom all blessings flow."

October 28, 1739

"Returning in the evening, I called at Mrs. J---'s, in Kingswood. S---h J---s and L---y C---r were there. It was scarcely a quarter of an hour before L---y C---r fell into a strange agony; and presently after, S---h J---s. The violent convulsions all over their bodies were such as words cannot describe. Their cries and groans were too horrid to be borne, till one of them, in a tone not to be expressed,said: 'Where is your faith now? Come, go to prayers. I will pray with you. "Our Father, which art in heaven."' We took the advice, from whomsoever it came, and poured out our souls before God, till L---y C---r's agonies so increased that it seemed she was in the pangs of death. But in a moment God spoke; she knew His voice, and both her body and soul were healed.

"We continued in prayer till nearly one, when S---h J---'s voice was also changed, and she began strongly to call upon God. This she did for the greatest part of the night. In the morning we renewed our prayers, while she was crying continually, 'I burn! I burn! Oh, what shall I do? I have a fire within me. I cannot bear it. Lord Jesus! Help!'—Amen, Lord Jesus! when Thy time is come."

Satan seeks the destruction of souls. Don't cooperate with his desire; keep yourself devoted to Christ.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Deliver Us From the Evil One Part 1

Humanity has enemies--adversaries who want to destroy them. They are Satan and his demons; they seek the ruin of mankind. It may seem antiquated and old-fashioned by some, a subject that should have been left in the superstitious Dark Ages. However, I believe these entities are real, these spirits of malevolence exist.

With all of the evil in the world today you can't convince me there aren't unclean puppet masters who are yanking the strings of humanity.

Wesley gives us a chilling retelling of an event he witnessed in his Journal entry for October 23, 1739:

"Returning in the evening, I was exceedingly pressed to go back to a young woman in Kingswood. (The fact I nakedly relate and leave every man to his own judgment of it.) I went. She was nineteen or twenty years old, but, it seems, could not write or read. I found her on the bed, two or three persons holding her. It was a terrible sight. Anguish, horror, and despair above all description appeared in her pale face. The thousand distortions of her whole body showed how the dogs of hell were gnawing her heart. The shrieks intermixed were scarcely to be endured. But her stony eyes could not weep. She screamed out, as soon as words could find their way, 'I am damned, damned; lost forever! Six days ago you might have helped me. But it is past. I am the devil’s now. I have given myself to him. His I am. Him I must serve. With him I must go to hell. I will be his. I will serve him. I will go with him to hell. I cannot be saved. I will not be saved. I must, I will, I will be damned!' She then began praying to the devil. We began:
Arm of the Lord, awake, awake!
"She immediately sank down as sleep; but, as soon as we left off, broke out again, with inexpressible vehemence: 'Stony hearts, break! I am a warning to you. Break, break, poor stony hearts! Will you not break? What can be done more for stony hearts? I am damned that you may be saved. Now break, now break, poor stony hearts! You need not be damned, though I must.' She then fixed her eyes on the corner of the ceiling and said: 'There he is: ay, there he is! come, good devil, come! Take me away. You said you would dash my brains out: come, do it quickly. I am yours. I will be yours. Come just now. Take me away.'
"We interrupted her by calling again upon God, on which she sank down as before; and another young woman began to roar out as loud as she had done. My brother now came in, it being about nine o’clock. We continued in prayer till past eleven, when God in a moment spoke peace into the soul, first of the first tormented, and then of the other. And they both joined in singing praise to Him who had 'stilled the enemy and the avenger.'"

Let us pray, "And don't lead us into temptation but deliver us from the Evil One." (cf. Matt 6.13)

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Keep Your Communion Bread Soft!

There are times when funny things happen in the ministry. What's important is the cultivated grace of composure!

I've already blogged about William Dale Oldham; today I'd like to relate another story from his autobiography, Giants Along My Path:
The late I. S. McCoy used to tell of a meeting he and Dr. Riggle conducted in a rural community early in the century. In our group manufactured wafers were never used when communion was to be served. Instead some good woman in the church, often the pastor's wife, would make a small, flat, brown loaf of unleavened bread. This was sufficient for the entire congregation. For this particular communion service some dear sister volunteered to bake the bread, but she had evidently not had much previous experience in this field. When Dr. Riggle stood before the congregation and quoted the words, "And Jesus took the bread, and blessed it, and brake it," the bread simply would not break. Embarrassed, Riggle applied greater pressure but the loaf was stout and would not yield. In desperation he turned his back to the congregation, held the loaf along the edge of the communion table, and applied more pressure. No luck.

...McCoy quickly perceived that the situation called for reenforcements. Slipping to Riggle's side he whispered, "Give me the bread. While I am gone you sing, "His Yoke Is Easy and His Burden is Light." McCoy found a hammer in a back room, took it and the bread out behind the church where there was a rock to pound on, and a couple of minutes later re-appeared, solemn as a judge, with the bread broken in a hundred small pieces. Thus the "solemn" service continued." (pg. 153-154)
I'm glad for Communion wafers today; if you don't use them, pick your baker carefully!

Monday, January 29, 2007

Is Your Fire Still Burning?

Why do so many in the youth group fall out of worship attendance when they go to college?
Why do others get lax in their attendance, or drop out like the youth?
Why does Bible study go by the wayside?
Why is prayer so uninspiring, even dull or filled with doubt?
Why do conservative Christian universities grow liberal in time?

We Christians do ourselves no favor if we pretend that the believer's life isn't work. While it is to be lived in the power of the Holy Spirit, we must participate with him. The Bible acknowledges people can grow sluggish:
Let us stop getting tired of doing good, for at the proper time we shall reap if we do not give up. (Gal 6.9 WmsNT)
Heed John Wesley's words from his Journal entry for April 5, 1784:
I was surprised when I came to Chester to find that there also morning preaching was quite left off, for this worthy reason: 'Because the people will not come, or, at least, not in the winter.' If so, the Methodists are a fallen people. Here is proof. They have 'lost their first love,' and they never will or can recover it till they 'do the first works.'
The fire can die if you don't keep it supplied with wood. Then spiritual frost can set in for a long and dark winter.

Notice the warning to the Hebrews:
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Heb 10.23-25 ESV)
Why keep gathering with fellow Christians for worship, instruction and fellowship? Because you need it, and they need you.

Friday, January 26, 2007

One Question

If you could sit down with God and ask him one thing, what would it be?

Would it start, "Why...?"

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Reading the Scriptures "Devotionally"

I've never been up this road so I don't know what's on the other side.

Have you ever become so comfortable with Scripture--too comfortable with Scripture because you know how it ends at the back leather cover--that it fails to interest you?

In fact, have you stopped reading a passage because you know how it ends?


Have you ever tried to read Scripture but got distracted from trying to read, in context, the sitz im leben of the passage?

Have you distracted yourself by thinking, "Is this New Testament phrase in Aleph or B? Should I go with the Majority Text, here?" (Not that there's anything wrong with scholarship--far from it--but it can hinder a devotional time.)

There are two killers to devotional reading:

1. Familiarity with a passage.
2. Preoccupation with a scholar's tools of the trade.

By "devotional" I'm not speaking of lazy exegesis; rather, I'm talking about the need to soak in the Word without becoming overly distracted by the familiarity or the textual questions of the Bible. While a person can't divorce himself from such considerations--and I don't think it would be healthy to do so--he should strive to allow the Word to feed his soul without his BDAG or UBS 4th Ed. Cor. always by his side.

There is time for scholarship and there is time for devotional reading.

How do we answer problem # 1?

Perhaps the answer lies in forcing oneself to read unfamiliar passages of the Bible. After all, there are 66 books in the canon.

How do we answer problem # 2?

I still haven't figured that one out!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Are Wesleyans Modern-Day Judaizers?

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph 2.8-9 ESV)
The Judaizers of Paul's day gave him fits. They were a group of people who embraced Christianity--with a catch. To them, everyone had to be a Jew and still obey Torah. If someone were a Gentile then to become a Christian he had to convert to Judaism first, then to Christ.

We see a problem at a Jerusalem counsel:
But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, "It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses." (Act 15.5 ESV)
Paul didn't think much of their theology:
Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in--who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery-- to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. (Gal 2.4-5 ESV)
Today we begin our blog with a provocative question: are Wesleyans modern-day Judaizers? Not of Torah today, at least, in its entirety: I've never met a Christian who insisted we follow all of the ceremonial and ritual aspects of the Law of Moses to find salvation. No, this would be a modern spin: do Wesleyan Christian believers think they are saved by God's umerited favor (grace) or, in the end, do they believe that they are saved by their good works (i.e. the "Moral Law" of the Torah and the commandments of the New Testament)?

Well, first we must remove the all-or-nothing category; Wesleyans don't think as a block 100% of the time, anyway. However, do some Wesleyans believe they are saved by faith in Christ and their obedience to what is right?

This can be tricky to nuance because Wesley, himself, believed (as do grounded Calvinists) that true faith inevitably has good works that accompany it as an effect.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph 2.10 ESV)
Really, I'm asking, "Do Wesleyans believe that after they are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone their good works help them keep salvation with God?"

John Wesley would strongly disagree with that theological position. He preaches:
But in what sense is this righteousness imputed to believers? In this: all believers are forgiven and accepted, not for the sake of anything in them, or of anything that ever was, that is, or ever can be done by them, but wholly and solely for the sake of what Christ hath done and suffered for them. I say again, not for the sake of anything in them, or done by them, of their own righteousness or works: 'Not for works of righteousness which we have done, but of his own mercy he saved us.' 'By grace ye are saved through faith, — not of works, lest any man should boast;' but wholly and solely for the sake of what Christ hath done and suffered for us. We are 'justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ.' And this is not only the means of our obtaining the favour of God, but of our continuing therein. It is thus we come to God at first; it is by the same we come unto him ever after. We walk in one and the same new and living way, till our spirit returns to God. (Sermons, # 20, "The Lord Our Righteousness")
Wesley held that a Christian becomes a Christian and remains a Christian only because he is imputed with the perfect active and passive obedience of Jesus Christ while the Son of God lived on this earth. In other words, a believer is a believer not because of his good works but because he trusts in Christ's righteousness alone. (For a fuller treatment, see my post, "Righteousness in Christ".)

So, Wesley was no Judaizer but are some Wesleyans today? Undoubtably many are; however, many Christians, not just Wesleyans, are probably shaky in this area. Due to imprecise pastors and teachers (and a human tendancy to be lazy with theology) many Christians probably don't understand how they become and remain saved.

It's how sinners think. Sinners [those outside Christianity] believe their good works will earn them a spot in heaven. If we're not careful, new Christians can get (or keep) that impression, too.

Wesleyans may be called many things, but let's work to avoid being called "Judaizers" as much as possible!

Friday, January 19, 2007

From Life's Storage Box (Romans № 25 Part 1)

"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified." (Rom 8.28-30 ESV)

What events and experiences have you pulled from Life's Storage Box? If you're like me, you've pulled both good and evil happenings; things that help and things that hurt. Can God take these several events and use them for a constructive purpose?

For today's Romans' entry we will examine verse 28 of the passage:

"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose."
(Rom 8.28)

There is a textual variant here. A. T. Robertson alerts us of the difference in his Word Pictures:

"Rom 8:28 -
All things work together (panta sunergei). A B have ho theos as the subject of sunergei (old verb, see 1Co 16:16; 2Co 6:1). That is the idea anyhow. It is God who makes 'all things work together' in our lives 'for good' (eis agathon), ultimate good."
We could see this variation as:

"And we know that God works all things together for good to them that love God, to them that are [the] called according to his purpose."

It's the same meaning; For those elect in Christ (i.e. the Christians) God works out all of the events of our lives, both good and bad, ultimately to do us good. He uses everything in our lives (including our mistakes and sins) to bring us to the place in Christ where he wants us to be.

We don't know what we will pull from Life's Storage Box until heaven but, rest assured, God is at work.

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Prayer Partner (Romans № 24)

"Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God." (Rom 8.26-27 ESV)

One of the biggest mysteries in the Christian life is prayer. Prayer, in itself, isn't hard to understand: a person speaks to God. However, the dynamics of prayer are often hard to grasp. Some things can come to mind:

1. Why pray at all? If God knows everything then when tell him what he already knows?

"Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether." (Psa 139.4 ESV)

2. Why pray with perseverance? If God doesn't forget anything then why pray for something more than once?

"And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart." (Luk 18.1 ESV)

3. How does one pray with confidence that he's saying the right thing? This is the focus of the Romans' passage today. The Apostle Paul says that the Holy Spirit takes our limited ability at praying and translates it, so to speak, so as to pray according to the will of God.

The Spirit of God "groans" for us. I like how Charles B. Williams translates verse 26:

"In the same way the Spirit, too, is helping us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself pleads for us with unspeakable yearnings"

Christian, never believe for a second that you are without a prayer. Jesus is praying for you (Heb 7.25) and so is the Spirit!

Saturday, January 6, 2007

We're Being Delievered from Adam (Romans № 23 Part 2)

"And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience." (Rom 8.23-25 ESV)

In my last post entry I examined the subject of the physical universe, experiencing the aftereffects of Adam's sin, yearning for the new heavens and the new earth, the restoration of creation to what it was meant to be. Today we look at it from the perspective of Christians.

In our Christian lives we daily feel the tension between Already vs. Not Yet.


1. We already have been saved from our sins.
2. We already have become partakers of the divine nature.
3. We already are on the way to heaven.

Not Yet...

1. We are not yet delivered from the temptation to sin.
2. We are not yet delivered from people still fallen in Adam.
3. We are not yet living with our resurrection bodies.

Until the Day of Resurrection and Judgment we still have problems. We are waiting for better days ahead. As John Wesley wrote in his Explanatory Notes for vs. 23:

"And even we, who have the first - fruits of the Spirit - That is, the Spirit, who is the first - fruits of our inheritance. The adoption - Persons who had been privately adopted among the Romans were often brought forth into the forum, and there publicly owned as their sons by those who adopted them. So at the general resurrection, when the body itself is redeemed from death, the sons of God shall be publicly owned by him in the great assembly of men and angels. The redemption of our body - From corruption to glory and immortality."

Sailing isn't Smooth--Yet. But one day, faith will become sight.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

How Adam Messed Up the Universe (Romans № 23 Part 1)

"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now." (Rom 8.19-22 ESV)

The focus of this passage is the exact meaning of Paul's use of "creation". There isn't uniform agreement. Modern scholarship that I have consulted holds that the apostle is speaking of the physical universe, both animate and inanimate. As A. T. Robertson put it in his Word Pictures:

"The revealing of the sons of God (tēn apokalupsin tōn huiōn tou theou). Cf. 1Jo 3:2; 2Th 2:8; Col 3:4. This mystical sympathy of physical nature with the work of grace is beyond the comprehension of most of us. But who can disprove it?"

Our Wesleyan exegete, Adam Clarke, dismissed this understanding. However, at the conclusion of his remarks for Chapter 8 of Romans, he added the following:

"The restoration of the brute creation to a state of happiness has been thought by several to be the doctrine of Rom 8:19-25. In the notes on those verses I have given reasons against this opinion, and have proved that the Gentiles, and not the irrational part of the creation, are the persons of whom the apostle speaks; nor can any consistent interpretation be given of the place, if it be applied to the brute creation. But, although this doctrine is not contained in the above verses, it does not follow that the doctrine itself is not true. Indeed, there are several reasons which render the supposition very probable.

"1. The brute creation never sinned against God, nor are they capable of it, and consequently cannot be justly liable to punishment.
"2. But the whole brute creation is in a state of suffering, and partake of the common infirmities and privations of life, as well as mankind: they suffer, but who can say that they suffer justly?

"3. As they appear to be necessarily involved in the sufferings of sinful man, and yet neither through their fault nor their folly, it is natural to suppose that the Judge of all the earth, who ever does right, will find some means by which these innocent creatures shall be compensated for their sufferings.

"4. That they have no compensation here, their afflictions, labors, and death prove; and if they are to have any compensation, they must have it in another state.

"5. God, the fountain of all goodness, must have originally designed them for that measure of happiness which is suited to the powers with which he had endowed them; but, since the fall of man, they never had that happiness; and, in their present circumstances, never can.

"6. In reference to intelligent beings, God has formed his purposes in reference to their happiness on the ground of their rational natures. He has decreed that they shall be happy if they will, all the means of it being placed within their power; and, if they be ultimately miserable, it is the effect of their own unconstrained choice. Therefore his purpose is fulfilled, either in their happiness or misery; because he has purposed that they shall be happy if they please, and that misery shall be the result of their refusal.

"7. But it does not appear that the brute creation are capable of this choice; and it is evident that they are not placed in their present misery through either their choice or their sin; and if no purpose of God can be ultimately frustrated, these creatures must be restored to that state of happiness for which they have been made, and of which they have been deprived through the transgression of man.

"8. To say that the enjoyments which they have in this life are a sufficient compensation, is most evidently false; for, had not sin entered into the world, they would have had much greater enjoyments, without pain, excessive labor and toil, and without death, and all those sufferings which arise from its predisposing causes. Nor does it appear that they have much happiness from eating, drinking, and rest, as they have these only in the proportion in which they are necessary to their existence as the slaves of men. Therefore, allowing that they have even gratification and enjoyment in life, they have much less than they would have had had not sin entered into the world; and consequently they have been deprived of the greater portion of the happiness designed for them by their bountiful Creator.

"9. It is therefore obvious that the gracious purpose of God has not been fulfilled in them; and that, as they have not lost their happiness through their own fault, both the beneficence and justice of God are bound to make them a reparation.

"10. Hence it is reasonable to conclude that, as from the present constitution of things they cannot have the happiness designed for them in this state, they must have it in another."

I believe that Paul is speaking of the present state of affairs in the universe. Adam's sin in the garden of Eden did more than plunge mankind into estrangement with God; it further knocked all of creation out of kilter. Plants die and animals--on the food chain--kill each other off. Only the Day of Resurrection and Judgment/Restoration with "new heavens and a new earth" will restore things to the way they were before Adam decided to eat the forbidden fruit.