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?

OR...

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.

Already...

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.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Where Ya' Headed?

Where do these steps in the countryside lead?

These steps lead nowhere.

You could tire yourself out, climbing them up and down endlessly--and you still wouldn't have anything to show for your exertion.

Have you made any New Year's resolutions? Do you need to resolve a thing a two? I have a weight-loss goal for this year. I want 2007 to be different so that, God willing, if I see any part of 2008, it will be different than 2006.

Climb the right steps until you have no more steps to climb.

Where ya' headed?