Reflections on how Christians help each other to grow and mature in loving God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love their neighbor as themselves.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

"The Spirit and Discipline Make a Christian"

The following is the introduction to the presentation I'll give at the Wesleyan Institute this week. The Institute will be held at Faith Community UMC in Xenia, OH. My presentation will the the third of three plenary sessions on Friday. Paul Chilcote, Daniel Flores and I will provide some reflection on the meaning of the famous quote from John Wesley's "Thoughts Upon Methodism": "I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid, lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case, unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out."

Paul will speak on the meaning and role of doctrine in disciple-making, Daniel will address the spirit of Methodism and the work of the Holy Spirit, and I will give a presentation on the nature and role of discipline in the United Methodist way.

Here's the introduction to my remarks:

“Members of the household of God,

I commend these persons to your love and care.

Do all in your power to increase their faith,

confirm their hope, and perfect them in love.”1

John Wesley knew Christians, the people we call today disciples of Jesus Christ, are not born. They are made. Making disciples requires generous doses of grace and discipline. Wesley says in a couple of his sermons, “It was a common saying among the Christians in the primitive church, 'The soul and the body make a man; the spirit and discipline make a Christian'—implying that none could be real Christians without the help of Christian discipline.”2

Today God continues to provide an ample supply of grace and the Holy Spirit. The church has, however, been somewhat lacking in providing the discipline needed to open sin-damaged hearts to the healing, reconciling power of that grace. The result has been a church that is in decline in numbers and in mission.

Methodists have historically been people whose lives are guided by three books: The Bible, The Hymnal, and The Discipline. The Bible is the word of God containing all that is needed for salvation and life in the reign of God. The Hymnal contains tradition that has been handed down and lived by faithful disciples since the time of the Apostles. The Book of Discipline provides the guidance for living the life laid down in Scripture and tradition. It has been developed and changed over the years. The changes have been shaped by the church’s experience as it seeks to be a faithful witness to Jesus Christ and his coming reign on earth as it is in heaven.

Today the Bible continues to be primary as a source of faith and practice. The Hymnal is receding in importance and influence as more and more congregations turn to projection screens, praise music, and other sources for worship. The Discipline has become equated with church bureaucracy. It is the last place most people look for guidance for living as disciples of Jesus Christ in the world.

All this is to say that discipline is not generally associated with discipleship today. Today discipline is often more closely associated with polity and punishment. If you ask a typical member of a United Methodist congregation about what comes into their mind when they hear the word “discipline,” I suspect he or she may say something about the Book of Discipline. Or he or she may recount some memory of punishment for some childhood misbehavior. Neither of these likely bring to mind fond thoughts or memories. It’s fair to say that discipline has an image problem.

It’s also fair to say that if The United Methodist Church is going to take seriously its mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, then we must wrestle with the need for discipline. I say this because we know from Scripture and tradition that disciples cannot be made apart from discipline. This is why John Wesley wrote the lines at the beginning of his tract, “Thoughts Upon Methodism” we have heard today:

“I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid, lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case, unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.”

What does Wesley mean by “discipline”? To get at this we need to understand that for Wesley discipline is closely related to doctrine and the spirit of Methodism. For him, as you have heard from Paul and Dan today, discipline is the practical application of the doctrine and spirit of the Church and of Methodism. Wesley believed that doctrine is meant to be lived. This means that for the Methodists being a Christian meant much more than simply believing or giving assent to the creeds and the Articles of Religion. Christianity is both a religion and a relationship with the living God. It is a system of belief and a way of life. Wesley believed you can’t have the one without the other.

Discipline, therefore, is how you hold the two together. Charles Wesley puts it this way:

Unite the pair so long disjoined,

Knowledge and vital piety:

Learning and holiness combined,

And truth and love, let all men see

In those whom up to thee we give,

Thine, wholly thine, to die and live.3

Knowledge is gained through the study of doctrine. Vital piety is seeking after God and striving toward holiness guided by the spirit. Without discipline the two tend to go their separate ways.

Some pursue knowledge about God. But without piety they end up know about God without actually knowing God. They turn God and faith in to objects of study. This is a way of treating God like a thing and keeping God at a distance that can be managed and controlled.

Others pursue intimacy with God. These are the folks who, in Wesley’s time, were known as “enthusiasts.” Today we call them “religious fanatics.” They emphasize emotion and feelings and are suspicious of scholarship.

Both claim to “know” God. But the God they “know” is a God of their own creation. Those who emphasize learning tend to turn God into a distant character of history who has very little to do with the world as we know it. Those who emphasize holiness tend to see God as their good buddy who is intimately involved in their lives and the world. Both have glimpses of who God really is, but because they lack discipline and tend to act according to their own temperament and prejudices, this God is of their own creation. Because they do not practice the discipline of holding learning and holiness together, they cannot know the fullness of God revealed in Scripture, tradition, and in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

[1] The United Methodist Hymnal, in “The Baptismal Covenant,” §16.

[2] Sermon 122: Causes of the Inefficacy of Christianity, § 7

[3] A Collection of Hymns for the Use of The People Called Methodists, #461:5, The Bicentennial Works of John Wesley. Vol. 7:644.

Friday, April 17, 2009

50 Ways to Love Your Neighbor

Jesus said, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all you rsoul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is like it, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:30-31).

Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove have developed an excellent list of 50 ways you can love your neighbor. Check it out here: Fifty Ways to Love Your Neighbor

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Wednesday in Holy Week

This hymn is #13 in Charles Wesley’s Hymns for Our Lord’s Resurrection published in 1746.

Break forth into praise!

Our surety and head,

His members to raise,

Hath rose from the dead:

The power of his Spirit

Hath quickened our Lord,

That we by his merit

May all be restored.

Our Captain and King

With shouts we proclaim,

And joyfully sing

The wonderful name;

The Name all-victorious

We publish, and feel,

Triumphantly glorious

O’er Sin, earth, and hell.

The Power of his rise

We know and declare,

And rapt to the skies,

His happiness share;

In heavenly places

With Jesus we sit,

And Jesus’ praises

With angels repeat.

We sing of his Love

While sojourning here,

Till Christ from above

Our Savior appear;

The heirs of salvation

With triumph receive,

In full consummation

Of Glory to live.

Collect for Wednesday in Easter Week

O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Re: Are There Wesleyan Basics Worth Reclaiming

Kevin Watson has an excellent post in response to John Meunier's excellent post. Check it out: Deeply Committed

Tuesday in Easter Week

This hymn is #11 in Charles Wesley’s Hymns for Our Lord’s Resurrection published in 1746.

Come ye that seek the Lord,
Him that was crucified,
Come listen to the gospel-word,
And feel it now applied:
To every soul of man
The joyful news we show,
Jesus for every sinner slain,
Is risen again for you.

The Lord is risen indeed,
And did for us appear,
He hath been seen, our living Head,
By many a Peter here:
We, who so oft denied
Our Master and our God,
Have thrust our hand into his side,
And felt the streaming blood.

Raised from the dead we are
The members with their Lord,
And boldly in his name declare
The soul-reviving Word;
Salvation we proclaim
Which every soul may find,
Pardon and peace in Jesus’ name,
And life for all mankind.

O might they all receive
The bleeding Prince of Peace!
Sinners, the glad report believe
Of Jesus’ witnesses:
He lives, who spilt his blood;
Believe our record true,
The arm, the power, the Son of God
Shall be revealed in you.

Collect for Tuesday in Easter Week:

O God, who by the glorious resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light: Grant that we, who have been raised with him, may abide in his presence and rejoice in the hope of eternal glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be dominion and praise for ever and ever. Amen.

Monday, April 13, 2009

A Wesley Hymn for the First Week of Easter

This hymn is #7 in Charles Wesley’s Hymns for Our Lord’s Resurrection published in 1746.

Jesus, show us thy salvation,

(In thy strength we strive with thee)

By thy mystic incarnation,

By thy pure nativity,

Save us thou, our new-creator,

Into all our souls impart,

Thy divine un-sinning nature,

Form thyself within our heart.

By thy first blood-shedding heal us;

Cut us off from every sin,

By thy circumcision seal us,

Write thy law of love within;

By thy Spirit circumcise us,

Kindle in our hearts a flame;

By thy baptism baptize us

Into all thy glorious Name.

By thy fasting and temptation

Mortify our vain desires,

Take away what sense, or passion,

Appetite, or flesh requires;

Arm us with thy self-denial,

Every tempted soul defend,

Save us in the fiery trial,

Make us faithful to the end.

By thy sorer sufferings save us,

Save us when conformed to thee,

By thy miseries relieve us,

By thy painful agony;

When beneath thy frown we languish,

When we feel thine auger’s weight,

Save us by thine unknown anguish,

Save us by thy bloody seat.

By that highest point of passion,

By thy sufferings on the tree,

Save us from the indignation

Due to all mankind, and me

Hanging, bleeding, panting, dying,

Gasping out thy latest breath,

By thy precious death’s applying

Save us from eternal death.

From the world of care release us,

By thy decent burial save us,

Crucified with thee, O Jesus,

Hide us in thy quiet grave:

By thy power divinely glorious,

By thy resurrection’s power

Raise us up, o’er sin victorious,

Raise us up to fall no more.

By the pomp of thine ascending,

Live we here to heaven restored,

Live in pleasures never ending,

Share the portion of our Lord:

Let us have our conversation

With the blessed Spirits above,

Saved with all thy great salvation,

Perfectly renewed in Love.

Glorious Head, triumphant Savior,

High enthroned above all height,

We have now thro’ thee found favor,

Righteous in thy Father’s sight:

Hears he not thy prayer unceasing?

Can he turn away thy face?

Send us down the purchased blessing,

Fullness of the gospel-grace.

By the coming of thy Spirit

As a mighty rushing Wind,

Save us into all thy merit,

Into all thy sinless mind;

Let the perfect gift be given,

Let thy will in us be seen,

Done on Earth as ‘tis in Heaven:

Lord, thy Spirit cries Amen!

(Meter: 87.87 D, Tunes: austria, beach spring, hyfrydol)

Collect for Monday in Easter Week (BCP)

Grant, we pray, Almighty God, that we who celebrate with awe the Paschal feast may be found worthy to attain to everlasting joys; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

N.T. Wright: "The Church Must Stop Trivialising Easter"

Here's an excellent essay by one of my favorite writers, Bishop N. T. Wright:

The Church Must Stop Trivialising Easter

Friday, April 10, 2009

"It is finished." (John 19:30a)

Tonight Blakemore UMC will observe Good Friday with a worship service featuring the Seven Last Words of Jesus. Each of seven people will give a 5-7 minute homily on one of the words. I'll be speaking on the sixth word, "It is finished." It's challenging to speak about this verse in only seven minutes. It feels like I'm not finished. I suppose my message won't be finished until I acually preach tonight. Here is what I'm going to say:

“It Is Finished.”
John 19:30a

What does “it” mean? Is “it” Jesus’ life? Certainly these words from his lips mark the end of his life. But is his life finished? Well, because we read these words from a post-resurrection perspective, we know that his death on the cross is not the end of his life. His life is certainly far from finished. He is very much alive and well and active in this world. No. Jesus’ life is not finished.
Is “it” Jesus’ suffering? Certainly these words mark the end of his suffering on the cross. His death was real. His body and all of its systems ceased to function. His heart stopped beating. His breathing stopped. His brain shut down. The incredible pain he suffered on the cross was finished. But because the risen Jesus is very much alive, his suffering continues. He suffers with and for the world that he loves that is broken and inflicted by injustice, violence, disease, hunger, and greed. No. Jesus’ suffering is not finished.
Is “it” Jesus’ unjust death sentence? Certainly Jesus’ sentence was dutifully executed by the Roman soldiers, with the cooperation of the religious authorities. But as long as religious and government authorities believe it is right and just to take life, to kill in the name of God or of the state, Jesus’ death sentence is not finished.
Is “it” Jesus’ relationship with his disciples? Certainly on that terrible day his male disciples thought so. They all deserted him in his hour of greatest need. They fled and hid from the authorities they feared would do the same to them. The women were the disciples that stayed with Jesus to the end. They wept and prayed for him at the foot of they cross. They cared for his body and helped put it in the tomb. And they were the first witnesses to his resurrection. We know from the perspective of Easter that Jesus’ relationship with his disciples was not finished on the cross.
What does “it” mean? When Jesus said “It is finished” he told those present at Golgotha and us today that God’s work of salvation was accomplished. It is finished. There is nothing more to do.
Jesus’ proclamation from the cross of “It is finished” connected his work with God’s completing the work of creation described in Genesis 1:31-2:2

God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done.

It’s important to understand that the Greek and Hebrew words translated in English as “finished” do not mean that creation and salvation are static or inactive. Rather they mean that creation and salvation are complete and dynamic processes that invite human participation. We also need to be reminded that both are accomplished by God alone. In other words we cannot create ourselves, nor can we save ourselves. Creation and salvation are God’s work and are pure gift.
The Apostle Paul describes salvation in Ephesians 2:8 where he writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” And in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” Salvation is pure gift. All we need to do to get it is to accept it and then to live it. That’s what Paul means by “faith” and “in Christ:” Salvation is a new way of life, lived with Christ and participating with him in his working of preparing this world for the coming reign of God.
Before we can accept this gift of life as it was meant to be lived in the world that God is restoring to wholeness we need to die to the old life ruled by sin and death. Jesus described salvation life in Matthew 11:4-5, “… the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”
“It is finished.” What are you going to do about it? I’ll close with these words from Charles Wesley. You can find them at #346 in the Hymnal:

Sinners, turn: why will you die?
God, your Maker, asks you why.
God, who did your being give,
Made you himself, that you might live;
He the fatal cause demands,
Asks the work of his own hands.
Why, you thankless creatures, why
Will you cross his love, and die?

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

It's Time to Correct Our Eschatology

Here's an excellent piece from The United Methodist Portal:

Heavenly minded: It’s time to get our eschatology right, say scholars, authors

Monday, April 06, 2009

Reflections on the person of Jesus for Monday of Holy Week

Jesus, thy far-extended fame
My drooping soul exults to hear;
Thy name, thy all-restoring name,
Is music in my sinner’s ear.

Sinners of old thou didst receive
With comfortable words and kind,
Their sorrows cheer, their wants relieve,
Heal the diseased, and cure the blind.

And art thou not the Savior still,
In every place and age the same?
Hast thou forgot thy gracious skill,
Or lost the virtue of thy name?

Faith in they changeless name I have;
The good, the kind physician, thou
Art able now our souls to save,
Art willing to restore them now.

Wouldst thou the body’s health restore,
And not regard the sin-sick soul?
The soul thou lovest yet the more,
And surely thou shalt make it whole.

My soul’s disease, my every sin,
To thee, O Jesus, I confess;
In pardon, Lord, my cure begin,
And perfect it in holiness.

-- Charles Wesley

… What is the righteousness of Christ? It is twofold, either his divine or his human righteousness.

1. His divine righteousness belongs to his divine nature, as he is 'He that existeth, over all, God, blessed for ever': the supreme, the eternal, 'equal with the Father as touching his godhead, though inferior to the Father as touching his manhood'. Now this is his eternal, essential, immutable holiness; his infinite justice, mercy, and truth: in all which 'he and the Father are one.'

But I do not apprehend that the divine righteousness of Christ is immediately concerned in the present question. I believe few, if any, do now contend for the imputation of this righteousness to us. Whoever believes the doctrine of imputation understands it chiefly, if not solely, of his human righteousness.

2. The human righteousness of Christ belongs to him in his human nature, as he is 'the mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus'. This is either internal or external. His internal righteousness is the image of God stamped on every power and faculty of his soul. It is a copy of his divine righteousness, as far as it can be imparted to a human spirit. It is a transcript of the divine purity, the divine justice, mercy, and truth. It includes love, reverence, resignation to his Father; humility, meekness, gentleness; love to lost mankind, and every other holy and heavenly temper: and all these in the highest degree, without any defect, or mixture of unholiness.

3. It was the least part of his external righteousness that he did nothing amiss; that he knew no outward sin of any kind, 'neither was guile found in his mouth'; that he never spoke one improper word, nor did one improper action. Thus far it is only a negative righteousness, though such an one as never did nor ever can belong to anyone that is born of a woman, save himself alone. But even his outward righteousness was positive too. 'He did all things well.' In every word of his tongue, in every work of his hands, he did precisely the 'will of him that sent him'. In the whole course of his life he did the will of God on earth as the angels do it in heaven. All he acted and spoke was exactly right in every circumstance. The whole and every part of his obedience was complete. 'He fulfilled all righteousness.'

4. But his obedience implied more than all this. It implied not only doing, but suffering: suffering the whole will of God from the time he came into the world till 'he bore our sins in his own body upon the tree'; yea, till having made a full atonement for them 'he bowed his head and gave up the ghost.' This is usually termed the passive righteousness of Christ, the former, his active righteousness. But as the active and passive righteousness of Christ were never in fact separated from each other, so we never need separate them at all, either in speaking or even in thinking. And it is with regard to both these conjointly that Jesus is called, 'the Lord our righteousness'.

-- John Wesley, excerpt from Sermon 20: The Lord Our Righteousness (1765)

Friday, April 03, 2009

Adam Hamilton: The church offers ‘what’s desperately needed’

Mainline Protestants are uniquely positioned to reinvigorate the American church by bringing together the evangelical and social gospels, the Rev. Adam Hamilton says in an interview with local television news anchor David Crabtree.

Adam Hamilton: The church offers ‘what’s desperately needed’

Practical Atheism

Mark Galli, my favorite writer at Christianity Today, has written an interesting article about the new atheism. I think his analysis of the recent popularity of writers such as Hitchens and Dawkins is spot on. What's interesting about this article is Galli's assertion that the atheism that is a far greater threat to the Church is the practical atheism of many Christians:

Where to Find the Real Atheists