The Knowable Mystery

When we think of great people in the Bible, we are all going to have our favorites.  Characters that appeal to us, that speak to us, that mean something to us.  Moses, Noah, David, Ruth, Ester, Mary, so many names of people that may speak to us.

But one of the names that is one many of our lists is Paul.  Paul has a dramatic conversion story, travels the world preaching, and wrote many books that make up the New Testament.

Paul is one of the most important figures in the Bible and in world history.  He was the first to take the Gospel into Europe.  He started churches across the world.  He brought the Good News to Gentiles.  Through His love of devotion to Jesus, he literally changed the world.  Look at what he says, though, in 1 Corinthians 2: 1-5, is important to him:

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 3 And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. 4 My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.

21818_433630803383117_578966460_n.jpgYesterday Erin Hicks, our Associate Pastor here at St. Matthew’s shared a quote from John Wesley that this passage reminded me of.  Wesley said this -. “If we could once bring all our preachers, itinerant and local, uniformly to and steadily to insist on those two points, ‘Christ dying for us’ and ‘Christ reigning in us,’ we should shake the trembling gates of hell.”  That is the truth of the Gospel.  Jesus dying for us (and being raised for us) and reigning in us every day, through the power of the Holy Spirit.  That is what truly counts, that is what is all about.

And that is what Paul preached over and over again.  As he says in this text – I decided to know (or preach) nothing Jesus crucified.

Paul says, I didn’t worry about the mysteries or these lofty words.  Jesus.  Crucified.  Resurrected.  Returning.  As we as part of our communion liturgy -as we proclaim the mystery of faith: Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.

And this mystery, it is a knowable mystery.  We don’t “understand” it, who can really understand the power of resurrection and the cross.  But we can know it.  Because it is true.  And this truth sets us free.

In other words, all of this is to say what matters most.  Not mysteries that none but God truly know.  Not opinions, no matter how well thought out.  Not preferences or likes or dislikes.  Not the worry and fears of this world.  Paul didn’t focus on any this.

He focused on Jesus.  He loves us.  He died for us.  He will return for us.  That’s the truth of the Gospel.

The folks all around us, their need is not really the answers to all the mysteries of the world.  Their need is Jesus.  Christ, and Christ alone.  That’s our hope, and the hope for the world.

Today, may we know Jesus, and Him crucified. And may we know that nothing compares to that.

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Coasting

imagesSometimes in life we have to stop and take a moment of reflection.  It’s important for us to assess where we are.  How are we doing?  The question is sometimes asked, how is it with your soul?  How are things?

Sometimes we can get really comfortable in our lives, in our faith. And think that everything is just fine. We can just start coasting.  Sure, I love Jesus, Jesus loves me. It’s all good.  No worries. Everything is perfect.

Am I as faithful as I should be?  No, but it’s ok, Jesus loves me.

Are there areas of my life that, if I have to be honest about, that I’ve gotten lazy in and am just coasting?  Sure, but it’s ok, Jesus loves me.

Yes, He does love us.  Make no mistake about it. But, because He does love us, there’s so much more He wants us to become. As a loving parent longs to see their child grow and do great things, so does God long for us to the same.  Listen to what Paul writes today in 2 Corinthians 13:5-8:

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test. But we pray to God that you may not do wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth.

Test yourself today.

Know that God loves you, no matter what.  You are loved, you are vital to Him, you are special. But, because He loves you, He really wants you to do great things.  He knows what you are capable of.  He knows your potential.  He knows what He can do through you and in you.

He loves you. And He wants to see you grow into the amazing child of God that He has created you to be.

So, today, here’s some helpful questions for self examination that John Wesley gave to his early followers. I took a moment to ask myself these questions today, and I didn’t always like what I saw. But, through God’s grace, I know that He’s not done with me, and today, through God’s grace, I am going to be more faithful than I was yesterday.

Don’t coast. Be faithful.  And in being faithful, you will find life.

1. What known sins have you committed since our last meeting?
2. What temptations have you met with?
3. How were you delivered?
4. What have you thought, said, or done, of which you doubt whether it be sin or not?
5. Have you nothing you desire to keep secret?

And here’s the great thing about asking this questions.  You now what we find at the end of the question?  Grace.  Mercy.  Love.  Peace.  You find forgiveness.  When we ask ourselves these questions, we find the grace of God, waiting there for us the entire time.  You are loved more than you’ll ever know. Today, live in that grace! 

Don’t forget, you can click here to download Asbury’s mobile app and read these devotionals, as well as listen to my sermons on your smart phones.

Why I’m a Methodist

I’m a big social media guy.  I’m pretty plugged in to Facebook and Twitter, in particular, and sometimes with that, I’ll have a post that really resonates with people.  This particular post is the one that probably resonated the most.

One of my things that I tell folks is don’t use Facebook to complain. But, I want to share with you a pet peeve of mine. It irritates me when folks introduce me to someone else and they say – he’s a “Methodist.” It always make me feel like that implies that “a less than Christian” or not really Christian. I try my best to never segregate or separate of the Body of Christ, and I’m pretty sure that the one thing that Asbury folks know is that we love Jesus above all else. I honestly don’t care about anyone’s denomination. If your heart has been warmed as my heart has, then give me your hand. Sure, I’m a Wesleyan, a member of the United Methodist Church, but my loyalty above all things is to Jesus Christ. Rant over. LOL

umc-cross-and-flameThis really connected with people, and not just Methodists. There seems to be a desire sometimes to separate and divide the body of Christ, when it’s not at all necessary.  And, in situations like this, I really get annoyed about being looked at as “less than” Christian or not fully Christian.

I remember when I returned to the Methodist church after a couple of years in other traditions, a couple of friends pulled me aside and said that they were really worried about me. They just couldn’t understand why I would choose to enter such a tradition as Methodist!  Why would I choose to be a part of a denomination that, in their mind, wasn’t fully Christian!

But, that’s sort of how it’s always been.  The very word Methodist was a slur against John Wesley and his followers. They lived such a “methodical” and holy lifestyle; people would mock them by calling them “Methodists.”  So, Wesley took the name and embraced it, naming his movement after this slur.

Why is that the case?  I’m not sure.  Perhaps it’s the fact that Methodists “don’t immerse” (actually at Asbury we immersed almost 40 people last year and I have about 7 immersions this coming Sunday).  Or perhaps it’s because we are often seen as pretty open minded and willing to have a conversation.  There could be a million reasons why.

But, here is the thing. I’ve been a part of many different churches of different denominations.  I enjoyed most of my time in each one. I made the choice to be a part of this one.  As someone who really does love and adhere to Holy Scripture, it really does bother me when I’m seen as a “less than” Christian.

There is much be admired about each denomination of which I’ve been a part. I love the emphasis that our Baptist friends place upon scripture. I think that Presbyterian systematic theology is beautiful. I love the freedom of worship found among many of our Charismatic friends. And the centuries-old liturgies of our Catholic and Anglican friends always move me.

But, I am a Wesleyan. I am member of the United Methodist denomination. While we are far from perfect (as is every single denomination) there are many, many reasons why I chose to be a part of this tradition.

And why we are not “less than” Christians.  We are:

Biblical

One of the misconceptions about Methodists and fellow Wesleyans is that we don’t “believe” the Bible. I actually had a friend ask me if we Methodists used the same Bible as they did.  I said, jokingly, that no, we had our own special Methodist Bible.

I love the Bible, and it is my (as well as my church’s) rule of life.  Where do I get that from?  From John Wesley.  This is what he said about the Bible in his preface to his sermons:

“He came from heaven; He hath written it down in a book. O give me that Book! At any price, give me the Book of God. I have it; here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri!”

The Latin phrase means “a man of one book.”  A man of the Bible. The Methodists were often called “bible-bigots” for our deep love and use of the scripture.

It says this in the United Methodist Book of Discipline about our view of scripture:

“The Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.”

May I have a different interpretation of some passages than others do?  Yes.  But, don’t we all?  Don’t we each have different interpretations at times?  But, please don’t think that I “don’t believe in the Bible.”  It is God’s inspired and written word, which reveals to us God’s holiness, His grace, His heart, our sin, His salvation, and His return and victory.

Yes. I believe in the Bible. And that’s one reason why I’m a Methodist.

Evangelical

The Wesleyan movement started out as a revival.  John Wesley said to his preachers:

“You have nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore spend and be spent in this work. And go not only to those that need you, but to those that need you most.  It is not your business to preach so many times, and to take care of this or that society; but to save as many souls as you can; to bring as many sinners as you possibly can to repentance.”

There is nothing sweeter than seeing someone make that first-time decision to place their trust in Christ and His mercy and grace. As a Wesleyan, there is not a single thing, moment, conversation, event, anything that I will not use as a means to show God’s grace and love.

Now, my evangelistic style may be different.  I do focus a lot on grace and love. But, listen to what Paul says in Romans 2:4:

“Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?”

We are driven to repentance by the kindness of Christ.  My gracefulness and emphasis on mercy is all about seeing more and more people come to know the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

My job is to help save souls. And that’s one reason why I’m a Methodist.

Practical

John Wesley didn’t write books of theology.  He wrote sermons.  He was a practical man, teaching and preaching a practical faith. We are a practical people.

I prize the mission of the church above all things.  I want to meet people where they are.  I am not focused on the ritual, or the mode, or the tradition.  I’m focused on Jesus above all else.  That’s who Wesley was and that’s at the heart of our DNA.  Practical people trying to impact others with the Gospel.  More in love with Jesus than with anything else.

For instance, when you join our church from another Christian denomination, you know what?  We accept your baptism.  You know why?  Because we know we aren’t the only church.  There are lots of churches doing lots of good work all around.  They are on our team.  We work together.  We are on the same side. That’s who we are and what we believe. And I love that.

We are practical. And that’s one reason why I’m a Methodist.

Graceful

One of John Wesley’s foundational doctrines was original sin.  We have all sinned.  Me.  You.  Each of us.  This is what it says in Romans 3:23:

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”

And since we have all sinned, we are all in need of grace. Why am I Methodist?  That key word.  Grace.  God give us grace after grace after grace.  Our entire walk with God is based upon that.  We have to know that He loves us based off what He has done, not upon what we have done.  It’s grace.

And our walk with each other must be the same.  If I am sinful and in need of grace, then so are you. And if I want God to give me grace, then I must, must, must give you grace.  We are all just beggars looking for bread.  We all need grace.  We all must give grace to each other, as God has given us grace.

John Wesley said this in a letter he wrote:

“The longer I live, the larger allowances I make for human infirmities. I exact more from myself, and less from others. Go thou and do likewise!”

He understood that he was sinful and in need of grace. If he, a man of God, needed grace, we must all need grace.  It’s only grace that changes lives.  It’s only grace that changes the world.

It is grace that leads us to salvation.  And it is grace that saves us.

We are a graceful people. And that’s one reason why I’m a Methodist.

Holiness

But, just as we understand that we are all sinful and in need of grace, we are all also called to understand that we are called to be more and more faithful each day. We are called to be, well, holy.  As it says in 1 Peter 1:14-16:

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

We are called to be holy.  Salvation is not simply a one time conversion experience (justification) but an ongoing, lifetime experience where we grow closer and closer to God and are renewed by the power of the shed blood of Christ, and the Holy Spirit.  By His grace we are made more faithful each day (sanctification).

Now holiness is not perfection, we will always remain imperfect.  But it is this: we are called to be different.  We are not called to remain the same. God’s grace must, must, must work on us, change us, renew us restore us. We are called to be more faithful today than we were yesterday.  We are called to be holy. We are called to be faithful. We are called to be different.

The Christian experience is not just a one time conversion experience, but it is a lifetime of God’s grace at work in our life, helping us to be more and more faithful. We are saved through grace. And God’s grace continues to work on us, until we draw our final breath.

I believe passionately in growing daily in God’s grace.  I believe in holiness.  And that’s one reason why I’m a Methodist.

So, I hope this helps you understand that, yes, we are as Christian as you, We love the Bible and love Jesus and want to see the entire world come to know Him as Lord.  I love the Body of Christ that is bigger than any one church or denomination.

But, I love my denomination.  Warts and all.

And that’s why I’m a Methodist.

A Wesleyan Appreciation of Calvinism

I am a Wesleyan. There is no doubt about it. While our polity and some things within our United Methodist Church may frustrate me, I am a Wesleyan.

I am a United Methodist.

By family. (I was raised United Methodist.)

And by choice. (I returned to the UMC after college after worshiping in a variety of churches, and after having joined a Southern Baptist Church, and serving as Youth Pastor in a Southern Baptist Church.)

I returned home because of many factors, but mainly because of the Wesleyan notion of grace to all and for all, and the Wesleyan notion of holiness of heart and life.

So, I am a deeply committed Wesleyan.

That said, in today’s theological landscape, I have a growing admiration for many of the dominant evangelical thinkers of this day, who also happen to be Calvinist. I have a deep and abiding respect for Calvinism. While at Mississippi College, probably my most meaningful and enjoyable religious experience was as part of the RUF (Reformed University Fellowship). I actually audited a class at RTS (Reformed Theological Seminary) in Jackson, and worked on staff at Twin Lakes Camp, which is owned and operated by First Presbyterian Church, Jackson.

So, have been exposed in many ways and through many years to Calvinist thought. And while I do not agree with it, I deeply respect it.

In today’s evangelical world, Calvinism is becoming the dominant strain of theology. From such noted preachers and authors as John Piper, Matt Chandler, Tim Keller and Mark Driscoll to large-scale college events such as Passion, and even to Christian artists like Lecrae, Calvinist theology is the one that is being espoused.

And as Wesleyans, we don’t like it. We don’t understand it. Because we feel (and in my opinion, rightly so) that our theology is better. More hopeful. Just a better theology.

So, it’s easy for us to say, well, the only reason why folks like Calvinism is because it gives “easy answers.” It’s easy to lay everything at God’s feet. No work required by us. And while I do think there is some truth that, I think that misses what’s going on. I see my students at Asbury being attracted to it, and frankly, my favorite author and preacher at this point is Tim Keller. I give his book, “The Meaning of Marriage,” to everyone that I can. It’s probably the best book on marriage I’ve ever read.

So, I just wanted to share what I think is happening, and why Calvinism is so appealing to so many folks.

First, I think one of the things that is attractive to Calvinist theology is that they truly take the reality of sin and depravity seriously. Now, do they go overboard? Yeah, they take it too far. But, they stress over and over again that we are each sinful. We are each broken and in need of salvation and grace.

We can’t earn it. And sin affects everything, all of creation, every act of our lives, every thought we take, all of it.

They nail down the fact that we are sinful.

And that hits folks were they are. People, especially teenagers today, are living a life of excess, and they really do understand that all is not right. At the end of the day, they are broken, they are in need. The lives that they live leave them empty. They make wrong choices. They are sinful.

So am I. I am a broken, sinful man in need of God’s redeeming grace. They talk about sin and the reality of its affects on humanity it personal terms. We don’t, or if we do, we do it badly.

Calvinists spend time reflecting on their sin and need for Christ. We spend time talking about how good we are. Calvinists feel as though they are undeserving of God’s grace. We can sometimes act like God is sure lucky to have us on His team. Boy, He sure lucked out when we chose Him.

I’m not saying that we need to hammer sin. But, if we are not really sinful, then what did Jesus come to “save” us from?

Second, closely linked to sin, is their emphasis on Jesus. I really don’t like Mark Driscoll. He’s arrogant and is often in need of a huge dose of humility. But you know what he does time after time after time? He takes it back to Jesus. He takes everything back to Jesus and our need for Him and His grace and salvation. It all comes back to Him.

And as much as I don’t care for Driscoll, he’s right. It all comes down to Jesus. And our Calvinist friends do that so much better than we do. You can come to Annual Conference, and many local churches, and not hear one word out about our absolute need for Jesus. Sometimes we focus on Jesus’ call to us to help others, which is so important. But, as much as we are the hands and feet of Jesus, there are some things (many things, like the problem of human sin) that we can’t fix or really even help. If Jesus is mainly a great moral example and an example of God’s love, then He is symbol that offers no practical hope. If He is the Son of God and the Savior of humanity then He offers hope in every situation.

We don’t talk about how Jesus truly and utterly changes lives. They do. I have put it like this: To the mother of three who’s losing her job and her family, her question is this, can Jesus help this?

We have to be able to answer that question. They can. That’s why they are “winning.”

And last, whether they do or not, it appears to many that our Calvinist friends take scripture more seriously than we do. They tend to approach scripture and let it “speak for itself,” while we tend to come to scripture and an attitude of “yeah, but.” It can seem like we try to explain it away and show our superior intellect, while many Calvinists just say, “It says this. So let’s just try to do that.”

And that is attractive to many, many people.

So, to say that people are attractive to Calvinism because of “easy answers” is, I think, a great misreading of the situation.

There is much that we can learn from Calvinism to spark a revival of Wesleyan thought. My prayer is that with all that we do, we can point folks to Jesus Christ, for He is where life is found!