Posts tagged ‘John Wesley’

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?

Advertisements

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?

Blogging Hiatus

Lamentation at the Tomb, 15th century.

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Lent season, which begins a 46-day countdown to Easter Sunday. Although many associate Lent with Roman Catholicism, it is also celebrated by Protestant denominations such as the Church of the Nazarene, Methodists, and Lutherans. Lent is traditionally marked by prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. As someone who grew up in a Jewish household, I find these traditions familiar. They remind me of the practices which Jews engage in during the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, as we daven (pray) and fast; they also bring to mind the Jewish practice of tzedakah, obligatory acts of charity.

Lent is more than simply traditions. Lent is a time which spiritually prepares us to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday. Spiritual preparation can often come through exercising spiritual disciplines, practices which aim at bringing Christians into a state of holiness and purity. I think it is safe to say that throughout the history of the Church that such practices have not been necessarily easy to engage in, nor have they always enjoyed popularity. My friend David Brickner, executive director of Jews for Jesus, has for years engaged in the spiritual discipline of reading one chapter from Psalms each morning and meditating upon it. I have tried this discipline myself on and off over the years since he first shared it with me, and cannot say that I have had the discipline to maintain it.

Growing to maturity as a Christian requires more than simply proclaiming oneself a Christian. One must engage in spiritual disciplines designed to focus one on Christ, rather than on the things of this world. John Wesley devoted his life to the practice of such disciplines in his personal life, and to teaching others to engage in such practices themselves. Among the spiritual disciplines Wesley practiced and taught were: public worship of God, regularly searching the Scriptures, regularly participating in the Lord’s Supper (communion), private and family prayer, fasting or abstinence, feeding the hungry, welcoming in strangers, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, visiting those in prison, and sheltering the homeless.

I think it’s interesting to note that some of these disciplines directly benefit us in our walk with Christ, while others of the disciplines seem to directly benefit others (feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, etc.). Perhaps the message in that is that it isn’t about us, rather that it is about Jesus and doing the things He did, and treating others the way that He did. As Lent begins, I am beginning a fast from social media such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as placing this blog on hiatus. God has laid some exciting ministry opportunities (or may they are challenges) before me recently, and I choose to take Lent as a time to remove distractions in order that I might focus fully on Him, and on preparing myself to celebrate the Resurrection of His Son.

Whether you fast during Lent or not, I pray you too will engage in some sort of spiritual preparation. See you after Easter!!

My Favorite Five

It’s hard to believe that tomorrow is the final day of 2011. Another year has passed, and it’s been a great year for this little blog of mine. I am blown away by the growth in visitors in just one year, and grateful for the growing number of people who find enough worth in what I’ve been doing here to actually subscribe. I thought I would take a moment to look back and reflect on my personal favorite posts of the past year. These are my favorite five, in chronological order of their original postings.

1. Corporate Prayer. Almost a year later, I continue to devote lots of thought to how congregations can move beyond being local bodies full of people with individual prayer lives to being a body with a communal prayer life.

2. Phoebe Palmer and Entire Sanctification. This is perhaps my favorite post of 2011, because it represented my entrance into a new level of theological pondering on my part considering the holiness movement in America. That it turn led to a major paper written for one of my graduate courses at Trevecca Nazarene University. I later modified that paper and turned it into a series of posts, which can be found at the page titled Altar Theology or Altered Theology? Whether you’ve visited A Heart That Burns previously and never read these, or are visiting for the first time, please peruse these for my thoughts on the identity crisis I believe the Church of the Nazarene has faced for some time, and what I see as the solution.

3. Serving or Surviving? This post sparked a meaningful discussion on the question of whether the life of Nazarene churches are oriented towards the service of those outside the doors of the church, or oriented towards the survival of the church (and by extension — with an insight that has come since the original post — the specific traditions and sacred cows of a particular church).

4. God Never Gives Up on People … Should We? There are some things I write that the most human and selfish part of me resists every step of the way, because of how vulnerable and exposed they make my heart. This one burned — and still burns! — like battery acid. Although I stand by what I wrote here, oh how I wish that things could be otherwise when it comes to broken relationships.

5. Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Success. Although this wasn’t the lengthiest of posts in the past year, it just might be the one that has caused me to return over and over to consider the question I myself raised: am I achieving success by God’s standards?

BONUS POSTS: This year I had two guest posts,  both of them by pastor friends of mine. These were fantastic posts that addressed important topics.

1. About Banners by Herb Halstead. Herb addressed the unity that occurs when churches chooses to focus on the mission God has given the Body of Christ, and to set aside the banner of a particular denomination or doctrine.

2. Zombie Land by Jeff Skinner. Leave it to my friend Jeff Skinner — a truly creative preacher and church planter — to come up with perhaps the most unusual post on this blog all year. Don’t let the title of the post fool you … this one had some depth to it.

From the Archives: Quacking Like A Duck

The following post was originally published on July, 2010

You’ve probably heard the old saw, “if it looks like a duck and quacks like a  duck, it must be a duck!” One might think that this applies to Christianity as  easily as anything else, but this isn’t so. There are many who might claim  the name of Christian and fill your ears with language that sure makes  it sound like they are living the Christian life. I wonder if this isn’t mere  quacking, though. There’s much more than simply proclaiming oneself a  Christian and learning some phrases and words. Consider the following:

But the most common of all the enthusiasts of this kind are those  who imagine themselves Christians, and are not. These abound, not  only in all parts of our land, but in most parts of the habitable  earth. That they are not Christians, is clear and undeniable, if we  believe the oracles of God. For Christians are holy; these are unholy: Christians love God; these love the world: Christians are humble; these are proud: Christians are gentle; these are passionate; Christians have the mind which was in Christ; these are at the utmost distance from it. Consequently, they are no more Christians, than they are archangels. Yet they imagine themselves so to be; and they can give several reasons for it: for they have been called so ever since they can remember; they were christened many years ago; they embrace the Christian opinions, vulgarly termed the Christian or catholic faith; they use the Christian modes of worship, as their fathers did before them; they live what is called a good Christian life, as the rest of their neighbours do. And who shall presume to think or say that these men are not Christians? — though without one grain of true faith in Christ, or of real, inward holiness; without ever having tasted the love of God, or been “made partakers of the Holy Ghost!” — John Wesley, Sermon 37, “On the Nature of Enthusiasm”

Wesley was pretty adamant regarding inner holiness instead of outward display. Why such emphasis on holiness? Pastor Dale Tedder over at Shepherding Souls points out that in the New Testament alone, the word “holy” is applied to over 20 different things:

  • Holy angels
  • Holy servant
  • Holy Father
  • Holy One
  • Holy ones
  • Holy man
  • Holy Spirit
  • Holy temple
  • Holy ground
  • Holy place
  • Holy kiss
  • Holy law
  • Holy brothers
  • Holy scriptures
  • Holy hands
  • Holy people
  • Holy priesthood
  • Holy fear
  • Holy nation
  • Holy women
  • Holy prophets
  • Holy faith, and
  • Holy city

As someone raised in a Jewish household, who came to faith at a Messianic Jewish congregation, the concept of being holy has been something I’ve easily understood during my Christian walk.

“For I am the LORD who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God; thus you shall be holy,for I am holy.”Leviticus 11:45

In choosing the Jewish people as His own, the Lord called them to be holy as he was holy. How could the children of Israel, the Chosen People, teach the world of His glory  if they didn’t reflect an image of His holiness? The same holds true for the Church today. If we who call ourselves Christians do not live a life which is markedly different from those who do not know Jesus, what possible separation will the world see between us? My denomination — the Church of the Nazarene — has always been characterized by a devotion to holiness in living, a dedication to entire sanctification (Wesley’s concept of Christian perfection, which I’ve blogged on previously).

If Christians will not seek to turn away from the things which make us unholy, whether it is things we see or read or think about or say, are we the voice of Christ in this fallen world, or are we just quacking like ducks?

On Gossip

I started a new job recently, and during my orientation session a significant discussion was held on the subject of gossip. My orientation group was informed in no uncertain terms that employees who were found to be engaging in gossip would be disciplined, possibly even terminated from their position with the company. This certainly held no fears for me, as I staunchly detest gossip. Yet I found myself surprised to encounter a business that takes such a strong stand on the subject, and pleased to be part of an organization that values relationships so highly as to take a stance against gossip.

I’ve written previously on this blog on this subject, sharing how my grandfather chided me when I was a kid for gossiping about another child in the neigborhood. “When you gossip,” he told me, “you’re killing people! You’re killing yourself, you’re killing whoever listens to you, and you’re killing the person you gossip about.” I didn’t really understand what he meant until I was older, and was astounded to discover that my grandfather had actually been paraphrasing something from the Talmud.

In John Wesley’s sermon, The Cure of Evil Speaking, Wesley labeled gossip as a very common sin.

“… how extremely common is this sin, among all orders and degrees of men! How do high and low, rich and poor, wise and foolish, learned and unlearned, run into it continually! Persons who differ from each other in all things else, nevertheless agree in this. How few are there that can testify before God, “I am clear in this matter; I have always set a watch before my mouth, and kept the door of my lips!” What conversation do you hear,of any considerable length, whereof evil speaking is not one ingredient? and that even among persons who, in the general, have the fear of God before their eyes, and do really desire to have a conscience void of offense toward God and toward man.”

 Wesley admitted that the very commonness of the sin of gossip made it almost unavoidable, yet he was greatly concerned that the early Methodists should avoid evil speech. His Scriptural guide in this was Matthew 18:15-17, a passage in which Christ laid forth a blueprint for transparent relationships between Christians.

“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

How well do you personally live out this passage? I think many of us come up with all sorts of excuses for not following the express command of our Lord Jesus — I’ve been guilty of it myself. One customary excuse seems to be something along the lines of, “I’m just not comfortable approaching that person.” That may seem reasonable to our 21st-century ears, but Matthew 18 doesn’t concern itself much with our personal comfort zone so much as it does seeking the repair of broken relationships in the Body of Christ.

Wesley most certainly understood that circumstances might prevent one from communicating in person, and offered such alternatives as a personal, trusted messenger or writing a letter. Yet he also noted that the first step — approaching the one who has sinned against you — must be seen as compulsory, stating,

“It should be well observed, not only that this is a step which our Lord absolutely commands us to take, but that he commands us to take this step first, before we attempt any other. No alternative is allowed, no choice of anything else: This is the way; walk thou in it. It is true, he enjoins us, if need require, to take two other steps; but they are to be taken successively after this step, and neither of them before it: Much less are we to take any other step, either before or beside this. To do anything else, or not to do this, is, therefore, equally inexcusable.”

Do you find it challenging to obey this command?

Leonard Sweet on Holiness

I’ve been slowly working my way through Leonard Sweet’s The Gospel According to Starbucks. To be honest, very slowly, because the book simply hasn’t done much for me. There has been the ocassional paragraph that reaches out to grab me, such as the following:

God made each one of us special, but consider how quickly we get separated from our specialness. The biblical language for making special is “holiness,” or “set apart.” For example, God declares to Jeremiah that even as he is know he has also been “set apart”–hiqdis. From the Hebrew root qds, this verb indicates the act of setting something apart for a unique specific reason or use. In religious usage this meant setting something aside as special to Yahweh–that is, holy or consecrated. Once this special designation was made, that which was set apart was only for Yahweh’s use. Thus, according to Jeremiah’s calling, he is for God’s use–and God alone. The biblical call to holiness is a relational mandate that requires the connecting of the body, spirit, and soul that God has specially made and made special.

Do you agree with Sweet’s take on holiness? Does this fit with John Wesley’s conception of holiness?

“nothing higher and nothing lower than this,–the pure love of God and man; the loving God with all our heart and soul, and our neighbour as ourselves. It is love governing the heart and life, running through all our tempers, words, and actions.”

I think the two are not incompatible, especially as regards Sweet’s comment on holiness as a relational mandate. Wesley saw holiness not as a state of being, but as a relationship of loving God and others.

What do you think?

%d bloggers like this: