Fridays Are for John Wesley

From John Wesley’s journal on December 7, 1779:

I preached in Rotherhithe Chapel, a cold, uncomfortable place, to an handful of people, who appeared to be just as much affected as the benches they sat upon.

Wesley has never struck me as someone with any great amount of brevity, but there is some humorous irony in the comparison of an unresponsive congregation to the pews upon which they sat. I would venture to say that few preachers have not at least once in their career been confronted with unyielding faces and arms crossed across chests (whether in reality or metaphorically). It can be very daunting, yet Wesley never let this shake him. In fact, it’s interesting as one reads his journals to note the places that he went back to and the reactions on different visits. John Wesley had an abiding faith in the grace of God to change hearts — and certainly that faith was rewarded on many occasions!

During my time as a missionary, it was often difficult to proclaim the Gospel to an unresponsive or hostile audience, much as it was for Wesley. If there’s a lesson to be learned from him, it’s that our responsibility is in declaring the Gospel — God does not hold us responsible for the reaction of those who hear. We must be faithful in the declaration of the Word.

Question: Have you ever dealt with an audience that seemed unresponsive to the Word, and if so how did you handle it?

The Roundup

Here is a quick roundup of some of what I’ve been reading lately. 2012RoundupFlyer_photo_small1

  • The subject of Biblical inerrancy versus plenary inspiration continues to be discussed within the Church of the Nazarene, despite the fact that the denomination’s acceptance of the latter has not changed since 1908. Al Truesdale contributes a fantastic article to the latest edition of Holiness Today on Why Wesleyans Aren’t Fundamentalists.
  • John Meunier shares some nagging questions here about whether the Church truly spends enough time and energy proclaiming the message of the Gospel.
  • For those of who enjoyed my review of Francis Chan’s Erasing Hell and want to dig deeper into the subject, Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed has a review of Ed Fudge’s study Hell: The Final Word.
  • Through the BookSneeze program, I’ve recently acquired a copy of Miraculous: A Fascinating History of Signs, Wonders, and Miracles by Kevin Belmonte. I am finding it engaging thus far, so look for an upcoming review post in the near future.
  • Here’s an engaging post on why Methodists oppose the death penalty.
  • More reason to shop at Family Christian Bookstores.
  • The Wesleyan Church recently revised its vision and mission statements. What’s really impressive is this statement from Dr. Jo Ann Lyon, the sole General Superintendent of The Wesleyan Church: “Our current statements use insider-language that assume too much from our audience. We are realigning our vision and mission to inspire our audience and clearly guide the organization.”

Fridays Are for John Wesley

Wesley and Accountability

While still a student at Oxford, John Wesley started a group that met regularly for the purpose of keeping each other spiritually accountable — what scoffers called “The Holy Club.”  His time as part of this group was foundational to the Methodist societies Wesley and his brother Charles would later form, and the principle of spiritual accountability was one that Wesley cleaved to his whole life. Wesley’s diary from 1729 or so contains a list of over 20 questions that the Oxford group asked themselves regularly, and that Wesley later gave to the various bands and societies.

1. Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I really am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?

2. Do I confidentially pass on to others what has been said to me in confidence?

3. Can I be trusted?

4. Am I a slave to dress, friends, work or habits?

5. Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?

6. Did the Bible live in me today?

7. Do I give the Bible time to speak to me every day?

8. Am I enjoying prayer?

9. When did I last speak to someone else of my faith?

10. Do I pray about the money I spend?

11. Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?

12. Do I disobey God in anything?

13. Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?

14. Am I defeated in any part of my life?

15. Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy or distrustful?

16. How do I spend my spare time?

17. Am I proud?

18. Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisees who despised the publican?

19. Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold a resentment toward or disregard? If so, what am I doing about it?

20. Do I grumble or complain constantly?

21. Is Christ real to me?

What do you think of these questions? Are there questions you would add or remove?

12 Days of Christmas Freebies

It’s definitely beginning to look a lot like Christmas. How do I know? Because the time has come for WorshipHouse Media’s annual 12 Days of Christmas Freebies. Click the link to see the calendar of giveaway days and score some cool stuff. Last year, they gave away an assortment of videos, one of which I’ve used on several occasions to underscore the point that there are no unqualified people when it comes to Kingdom work. Today they’ve started things off with a very creative animated presentation of Matthew 5:13-16. Don’t delay — click the link and get some free Jesus swag right now!

Fridays are for John Wesley

Welcome to what I hope to make a regular weekly feature here on A Heart That Burns. Each Friday will be devoted to a brief look at some of Wesley’s journals, sermons, or other writings. Enjoy! 

As one reads through the journals of John Wesley, one is struck by the unflinching manner in which Wesley enforced standards among the early Methodist societies. Consider this entry from January 27, 1742:

After diligent inquiry made, I removed all those from the congregation of the faithful, whose behavior or spirit was not agreeable to the Gospel of Christ: Openly declaring the objections I had to each, that others might fear, and cry to God for them.

It’s notable that the standard used by Wesley was the Gospel. This entry is not untypical, and it’s also notable that throughout his journals, Wesley never dwells at length on such incidents.

I found, after the exclusion of some, who did not walk according to the Gospel, about eleven hundred, who are, I trust, of a more excellent spirit, remained in the society. — Monday, February 1, 1742.

I read over in the society, the Rules which all our members are to observe; and desired everyone seriously to consider, whether he was willing to conform thereto or no. That this would shake many of them, I knew well; and therefore, on Monday, 7, I began visiting the classes again, lest “that which is lame should be turned out of the way.” — Sunday, March 6, 1743

… The number of those who were expelled the society was sixty-four: — Two for cursing and swearing. Two for habitual Sabbath-breaking. Seventeen for drunkenness. Two for retailing spirituous liquors. Three for quarreling and brawling. One for beating his wife. Three for habitual, willful lying. Four for railing and evil-speaking. One for idleness and laziness.  And, Nine-and-twenty for lightness and carelessness.  — Saturday, March 12, 1743

Clearly, Wesley was not a man who saw any accomodation with sin. It causes me to think about whether this is true of our churches today, be it the Church of the Nazarene or other Wesleyan denominations. In fact I jokingly mentioned this to a United Methodist pastor friend, whose response was, “Try that in a church and tell me how it works out for you.”

Sadly, I think that we are far from the standards that Wesley held to, and that the Church suffers much for it. We have lost the concept of reproval — gentle criticism or correction — and we seem to have lost the ability to draw a line in the sand beyond which sinful behavior among the Church will be tolerated.

What do you think? Are our standards too low?

Book Review: The Searchers

On a dusty road outside Jerusalem, two friends were walking together, discussing events  that had occurred recently. As they walked, they were joined by a seeming stranger who would turn out to be someone they knew quite well. They were about to have a startling encounter with God.

Thus begins Joseph Loconte’s The Searchers, an examination of faith in the midst of a world of doubts. Loconte frames Man’s search for answers with the story of two disciples who meet the risen Jesus on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, described in Luke 2:13-35. The story is used as a narrative resting point for an examination of the quest for truth, yet Loconte — a history professor at King’s College in New York City — hardly confines himself to solely the Biblical record as he plumbs the depths and meaning of the tale. Ranging widely through not only history but also literature, philosophy, politics, and film, The Searchers examines the reasons to believe.

Drawing its title from John Wayne’s 1956 film “The Searchers,” the tale of a Civil War veteran who spends years searching for his kidnapped niece, Loconte’s book pushes the reader to ask difficult questions about what our reactions should be when “a great crisis sweeps into our lives, when our dreams turn to powder.” He notes that there is something within humans, an impulse to connect with God — the same impulse that turns the frightened, disillusioned Cleopas and his unknown friend on their walk to Emmaus into bold, unfearing messengers who proclaim the risen Christ.

This impulse, Loconte tells us, seems irrestible in art, literature, and film. Citing such movie classics as Babette’s Feast and great  works of literature such Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, the author unveils the parallels that connect us to the encounter on the road to Emmaus, and a God who is hidden yet desperate in His desire to reveal Himself and His Son to us. Perhaps the strongest material in the book is how Loconte grapples with the poison of religion, remarking,

By the poison of religion, I don’t mean the problem of Christians who live safe, middle-class, unremarkable lives. The real danger is the pretend factor, the haze of religiosity that tries to conceal the shallowness — and the deepening rot underneath.

The answer to this — and the target at which The Searchers points us toward — is our own authentic encounter with Jesus, causing our hearts to burn within us every bit as much as the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The King’s Corn: A Tale About Integrity

An aging king woke up one day to the realization that should he drop dead, there would be no male in the royal family to take his place. He was the last male in the royal family in a culture where only a male could succeed to the throne – and he was aging. He decided that if he could not give birth to a male, he would adopt a son who then could take his place but he insisted that such an adopted son must be extraordinary in every sense of the word. So he launched a competition in his kingdom, open to all boys, no matter what their background. Ten boys made it to the very top.

There was little to separate these boys in terms of intelligence and physical attributes and capabilities. The king said to them, ‘I have one last test and whoever comes top will become my adopted son and heir to my throne.’

Then he said, ‘This kingdom depends solely on agriculture. So the king must know how to cultivate plants. So here is a seed of corn for each of you.Take it home and plant and nurture it for three weeks. At the end of three weeks, we shall see who has done the best job of cultivating the seed. That person will be my heir-apparent.’ The boys took their seeds and hurried home. They each got a flower pot and planted the seed as soon as they got home. There was much excitement in the kingdom as the people waited with bated breath to see who was destined to be their next king.

In one home, the boy and his parents were almost heartbroken when after days of intense care, the seed failed to sprout. He did not know what had gone wrong with his. He had selected the soil carefully, he had applied the right quantity and type of fertilizer, he had been very dutiful in watering it at the right intervals, he had even prayed over it day and night and yet his seed had turned out to be unproductive.

Some of his friends advised him to go and buy a seed from the market and plant that. ‘After all,’ they said, ‘how can anyone tell one seed of corn from another?’ But his parents who had always taught him the value of integrity reminded him that if the king wanted them to plant any corn, he would have asked them to go for their own seed. ‘If you take anything different from what the king gave you that would be dishonesty.’

‘Maybe we are not destined for the throne. If so, let it be, but don’t be found to have deceived the king,’ they told him. The d-day came and the boys returned to the palace each of them proudly exhibiting a very fine corn seedling. It was obvious that the other nine boys had had great success with their seeds. The king began making his way down the line of eager boys and asked each of them, ‘Is this what came out of the seed I gave you?’

And each boy responded, ‘Yes, your majesty.’ And the king would nod and move down the line.

The king finally got to the last boy in the line-up. The boy was shaking with fear. He knew that the king was going to have him thrown into prison for wasting his seed. ‘What did you do with the seed I gave you?’ the king asked. ‘I planted it and cared for it diligently, your majesty, but alas it failed to sprout.’ the boy said tearfully as the crowd booed him.

But the king raised his hands and signaled for silence. Then he said, ‘My people behold your next king.’ The people were confused. ‘Why that one?’ many asked. ‘How can he be the right choice?’ The king took his place on his throne with the boy by his side and said, ‘I gave these boys boiled seeds. This test was not for cultivating corn. It was the test of character; a test of integrity. It was the ultimate test.’

If a king must have one quality, it must be that he should be above dishonesty. Only this boy passed the test. A boiled seed cannot sprout.’ Never!!

When the subject of how the Christian life can be perceived by others, my wife sometimes likes to tell about an unchurched friend whom she went through high school with. He once remarked to her that what he respected most about her was that she was the same girl on Friday as she was on Sunday. What she believed and lived didn’t waver, and that made quite an impact on someone who didn’t have a very positive view of “church folks.”

To live a life of holiness requires no small degree of integrity, a characteristic that is not necessarily viewed as much of a virtue these days.  Yet anyone who even begins to claim that the Bible is the benchmark by which their life is lived must see integrity as a non-negotiable. To the ancient Israelites, the Chosen Ones, to be people of integrity was a command that came directly from the Lord.

“You shall have only a full and honest weight; you shall have only a full and honest measure, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. For all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are abhorrent to the LORD your God.”  (Deuteronomy 25:15-16)

It’s clear that the biblical perspective is that integrity flows from the heart, aptly illustrated by Proverbs 4:23-27.

“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you. Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Keep straight the path of your feet, and all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.”

What are some ways that integrity plays out in your Christian walk?

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