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Wrestling with Fred: “Ministers”

Frederick Beuchner is one of my favorite authors. His insights into the spiritual life, with Christ at its center, have been very formative to me. I recently signed up for a daily Buechner quote – great!

Wrestling with today’s quote from Fred …

“Ministers have their heads in the clouds, which is just where you should have your head when your mind is on higher things … Ministers are as anachronistic as alchemists or chimney sweeps … The perspective of ministers is so hopelessly distorted and biased that there is no point in listening to them unless you happen to share it.”

Hmmm…

1 Corinthians 2:13-15 comes to mind. Here, Paul says This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” 

So, to the world, we believers are perceived as “hopelessly distorted and biased” fools. It should come as no shock that people without the Spirit will not listen. Because the cannot listen. In Jesus’ terms, they don’t have “ears to hear”.

The simple, Biblical truth is that Spirit must precede the embrace of truth. We can’t make Spirit happen – only God can. But, we are promised that “the gospel … is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). Gospel -> Spirit -> Truth. Any alteration or deletion from this process will prove impotent.

GospelSpiritTruthI’ve been a minister for decades. Sometimes I fall into the trap of believing that I’m some kind of  divinely appointed DA for the Lord, guiding testimonies in the court of public opinion. If I do my job right, I’ll be able to lead the “jury” to my appointed conclusions. That’s why I’ve been lured into my share of (what I have found to be counter-productive) social media rants, thinking that my clear delineation of spiritual realities through Spirit-taught (Biblical) words will win the day.

Oops. Fred reminds me to embrace the spiritual, Spirit-taught realities: Don’t be surprised or angry when (not if) the Biblical truth you share is misunderstood and rejected. It will be – it’s written in stone.

Before we all resign our pulpits, let’s remember Paul’s other words in the same chapter: “We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began” (1 Cor. 2:6-7). To this end we preach … head fixed in the clouds, rejoicing with the faithful, and experiencing the collective sanctification that will shape us into a community that first lives and then proclaims the gospel … through which the number of anachronistic fools will swell. 

– EO

 

 

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I Have Until Friday?

Read Amos 7:1-9

I have a hypothetical situation for you. Suppose God came to you with a choice: He was either going to send Jesus to return right now, or on Friday. If He returns right now, you are changed to your immortal body in the twinkling of an eye, and all the features of heaven are yours to experience, right now! Or, if you wait until Friday, you have three days to make one last appeal to the unbelievers in your life … and then you get the blessings of His coming.

Which would you choose?

By the way, this isn’t very hypothetical (except the Friday part). The Apostle Peter tells us that “the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly … The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come, like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise, we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:7-13).

I thought about this passage from the New Testament while reading Amos 7. Here, Amos is privy to a vision of a God-initiated infestation of locusts, in judgment of the people of Israel. Amos says, “O Lord God, please forgive!” The LORD relents. Next, Amos sees that God is preparing another act of judgment – this time a catastrophic fire. Amos cries, “O Lord God, please cease!” The Lord relents. Amos knows they are guilty. Amos knows they are deserving. But He begs the Lord for mercy, and they receive it because of Amos’ intercession.

Are you ready to stand in the gap between the promised judgment of your righteous God, and the hell-bent people around you? Would you do all you can to delay that final verdict and sentence on their sin? I guess the question isn’t, “are you ready?”, but rather “are you doing it?” … because this is our situation right now. Actually, we may not have until Friday. It may be in the next five minutes.

But maybe God will relent on His own? Maybe the universalists are right – that everyone will enjoy God’s favor, because He’s a God of love, and our “sin” ain’t so bad? Verses 7-9 put an end to such talk. Yes, God has twice shown mercy to His sinful people, but this time…

“Behold, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass by them [e.g., extend my mercy and wait] and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam [cf., Israel] with the sword.”

Image result for "everyone goes to heaven" signA plumb line is “a ​piece of ​string with a ​weight ​attached to one end, used either to ​test if something ​vertical is ​exactly ​straight”. God is going to, once and for all, measure the people. It will be based His standards, his right-ness, His holiness. On that day, if you don’t “measure up”, your destruction is upon you.

“But nobody’s perfect! Who will be able to stand up against the measure of God’s plumb line?” Only one has ever been perfect- Jesus, the Christ. He offers you His righteousness for the plumb line test. In fact, He offers His righteousness to everyone you know. Have you let them know that it’s available? You may want to get that word out …

Because it may be useful on Friday.

A bit more on this text tomorrow…

– EO

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2015 in Advent 2015, Amos, Eschatology, Evangelism

 

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Meet: John Wesley

Wesley- Needs to be Re-Introduced

– by Filomena Saxton

john-wesley-registerIf anyone needs to be reintroduced to the 21st Century’s minds and hearts, it is John Wesley. When my son got interested in Wesleyan faith practices and doctrines, I realized how little I knew of the man or the thinking behind him. I was surprised considering I help run a Christian inter-denominational mission where I come across many students with many faith practices such as Baptist, Presbyterian, Catholic, Pentecostalism, Lutheran and others. Not only that but we witness to atheist, Buddhist, Muslim, and the general seeker. So when I tried to think through the many shades to my son’s new found controversial dogma- – I realized I needed to do my research.

Even though his name is not mention much, at least in my circles, “John Wesley is one of the major figures of Christian history” (Noble, 2010). Today, seventy million people regard themselves as standing in the ‘Wesleyan’ tradition. In his day, John Wesley proved to be an effective evangelists who viewed his movement as not one to usurp the Church of England, a church where he was ordained and served, but wanted it to act as a renewal. His many converts were organized into societies. At John Wesley’s death in 1791 his followers numbered 79,000 in England and 40,000 in America, but by 1957 there were 40 million Methodists world-wide. Wesley wrote numerous theological works and edited 35 volumes of Christian literature for the edification of the societies. Influenced leaders like William Wilberforce and Charles Finney and His revivals was accredited by bringing about transformation not only in the individual but in society at large.

HolyClubOxfordLife Overview and Accomplishments

Born 1703, the 15th child to Samuel and Susanna, Wesley’s parents were devout and taught religion and morals faithfully to her nineteen children. Many believe that John got his faith practices, “methods” form his mother who provided strict discipline to her children. At 16, John attended Oxford and soon was then ordained an Anglican Minister. In 1733, his brother Charles started a group called the Holy Club- a group John and George Whitfield were dedicated members. Members had to take vows and promise to lead holy lives, take communion once a week, pray daily and visit prisons regularly. This newly formed group spent three hours every afternoon studying the Bible and other devotional material. They would hold each other accountable by asking each other questions, 22 in total, to facilitate self-examination and accountability to holy living. Some of the questions …

Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I really am?

Am I honest in all my acts or words or do I exaggerate?

Do I confidentially pass on to another what was told in confidence?

Can I be trusted? [i] (See endnote for more)

wesley_preach_470x352This internal piety and outward discipline was starting to have an effect on these band of brothers. Shortly after, Wesley loans Whitfield a book, The Life of God in the Soul of Man by Henry Scougal, which as Whitfield states “showed me that I must be born again, or be damned!” In 1735, George Whitefield started to preach and was having remarkable success, especially in the industrial city of Bristol. In 1737, Whitfield’s preaching electrifies Bristol and London with thousands packing churches to hear him. Publishes six sermons, while opponents publish against him. His preaching was so successful and the need was so great he asked Wesley to help him preach- hesitantly John accepted.   Hundreds of working-class poor, oppressed by industrializing England and neglected by the church, were experiencing emotional conversions under his fiery preaching of John Wesley!

Wesley: A Man for His Time

During the time of Wesley, British society began to decay from the top which reaches full bloom by the end of Wesley’s life. To understand the effect the Great awakening had on British Society and the challenges for its converts a look at Eric Metaxas description of the age is informative.

1997-7059_HOR_F_3120“It was a society of cruelty, vulgarity, and hopelessness, and prostitution. A society where decay came from the top. King George III read the bible to his kids but his sons were a symbol of depravity. As Metaxas states, “There was an almost sublime bestiality to George’s sons, a cadre of pleasure-choked buffoons who set the behavioral bar so low for the rest of society that one suspects they had perhaps thrown it into the basement. His son, the Prince of Wales, bedded seven thousand women, incurred heavy debts from gambling. In parliament alcoholism was epidemic- and fashionable. Leading political statesman were regularly drunk during in the House of Commons. Alcoholism from the elite to the poor was pervasive and abundant.

“Prostitution was rampant, 25% of all unmarried women in London were prostitutes. Brothels that exclusively provided services with girls 14 and under. Public executions were a popular form of entertainment and when no hangings presented themselves…they resorted to animal cruelty.

“The British aristocracy at the end of the eighteenth century was, among other things, exquisitely selfish and gave no more thought to the conditions of those below them It simply wasn’t fashionable to do so. The English nobility took its cues from its Gallic counterparts across the Channel and had been doing so for almost a century. The fabled excesses and decadence of the wealthy and noble classes of prerevolutionary France were mirrored expertly by their English counterparts.” [1]

jwHorsebackIt was this society that Wesley, and his Holy Club’s brothers, tried to reform. The preaching of the gospel led to a revival all over England. It was so controversial to be a Methodist convert, a Wesleyan or Whitefield, follower since it was so against the ethos of the time that it placed oneself in line for public ridicule and scorn. Still people like William Wilberforce in England and Charles Finney in the America’s were not only being saved but using their political power and social influence to bring about transformative social reforms such as the end of slavery and programs for the poor.

Wesley’s Place in History- An Enigma?

True, Wesley was a man for his time and his legacy and impact has lasted generations. There are not many notable theologians in Christian history that can boast of their evangelist work like John Wesley nor many who can unite the “theoria and praxis” as he did for his followers.

chperfectBut the questions many are asking “was he a significant theologian?” [2] As many scholars have pointed out such as Noble, “the eighteenth century is not well-known for front-rank theologians”.[3] When one tries to make sense of his doctrine one sees his Arminianism which one can reject or accept it. But it is his less known doctrine that have us all- dismissing him. Christian Perfectionism is the main one that is the most controversial. Reading and studying his statements and writings on it, as well as writings from his disciple Charles Finney, one is really left with, at least I did, that there are precious nuggets that the Reformed tradition can learn from. Many of Wesley’s, even Arminian thinking, seems to me to be a reaction to Reformed Theology that has lost its salt and has moved to a place where John Calvin himself would reject.

(This summer, The Evangelical Orphan will feature several postings from my students at Phoenix Seminary. They have be encouraged to meet long-lost relatives from our ecclesiastical family, and introduce them to us all – in class, and through this blog. We’re hoping these offerings will serve as a whet for your ongoing appetite to learn more about our history. Enjoy! -bh)

[1] Metaxas, Eric (2009-10-13). Amazing Grace (Kindle Locations 1411-1416). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

[2] Noble, T. A. (2010). John Wesley as a theologian: an introduction. Evangelical Review Of Theology, 34(3), 238-257.

[3] Noble, T. A. (2010). John Wesley as a theologian: an introduction. Evangelical Review Of Theology, 34(3), 238-257

[i] Am I a slave to dress, friends, work or habits? Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying? Did the Bible live in me today? Do I give it time to speak to me everyday? Am I enjoying prayer? When did I last speak to someone else of my faith? Do I pray about the money I spend? Do I get to bed on time and get up on time? Do I disobey God in anything? Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy? Am I defeated in any part of my life? How do I spend my spare time? Am I proud? Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy or distrustful? Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisees who despised the publican? Is there anyone I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold a resentment toward or disregard? If so, what am I doing about it? Do I grumble or complain constantly? Is Christ real to me?

 
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Posted by on July 24, 2015 in Church History

 

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Ezekiel, Paul, and Hard Foreheads.

My lectionary readings today have me in Ezekiel 2, and Romans 1. Oy.

It seems clear that interest in God is declining in the Western world. This, of course, saddens me, because there is nothing but blessing to be found in coming to the Father through Christ, and being filled with the Holy Spirit. God is nothing but good, and living our lives in re-connection with this good God is, well, fantastic. The church is called to proclaim this opportunity to the world. But the world doesn’t receive it. Instead, they often lash back at the church, calling us ignorant, superstitious, killjoys, and even evil.

Why are people so bent against a revelation from God that is such good news? This still surprises me.

It shouldn’t.

ezeThe word of the Lord has come to Ezekiel in chapter 1. After falling on his face before a heavenly vision of the glory of God, Ezekiel is lifted to his feet in chapter 2, and commissioned to proclaim God’s truths to the house of Israel. “The descendants are impudent and stubborn…whether they hear or refuse to hear, they will know that a prophet has been among them…the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me; because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and stubborn heart.” After this warning, it should be no surprise that the people will reject the revealed truths of God.

The Apostle Paul teaches in Romans 1 that man can know, honor and thank God, but instead “they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened…they became fools…they exchanged the truth about God for a lie.” Therefore, “God gave them up” to their lusts, and to debased thinking.

Since Eve passed the fruit to Adam, our world has been broken and bent. There is still glory to be seen everywhere you look. There is still godliness being experienced in the lives of those who believe. But, apart from God’s activity of grace, the brokenness remains imbedded in the “hard foreheads” and “stubborn hearts” of our race.

forehIn short – we’re called to proclaim the good news of God in Christ. But we should have no expectation that people will buy it. Quite the opposite – it should not only not surprise us when we’re mocked and rejected…it should actually boost our faith in the Word of God, which promises this very result.

That’s hard duty. But, as God tells Ezekiel, Behold, I have made your face as hard as their faces, and your forehead as hard as their foreheads. Like emery harder than flint have I made your forehead. Fear them not, nor be dismayed at their looks.”

A hard-headed gospel for a hard-headed world. That’s our call. Let’s roll.

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2015 in Discipleship

 

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Don’t Get All Religious On Me Again!… 4th Monday of Advent – 14.12.22

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you” (1 Pet. 4:12-14).

xmas vacIt’s the Monday before Christmas day. Family gatherings have begun to take place. For those of us who truly believe in the fullness of the Christ of Christmas, these gatherings can be awkward. The Word of God is clear: We should share the gospel of Christ. Especially on the day we celebrate His coming! But we know that we’re to share the gospel with those in our families who don’t believe. But we know that conversations like these can engender ill will, even hostility.

Enter Luther: “Should you not believe in and confess this name, then the world would love and esteem you, for there is no name hated more by the world than the name of Jesus Christ. Not that it cannot mention his name or hear it mentioned, yea, the worst and bitterest enemies of this name hear it and boast of it the most.”

Cultural Christians, religious unbelievers, are a mixed bag. Do you have these in your family? The ones who think it fine to speak of Jesus, almost authoritatively, and even to attend the occasional church service (especially around the holidays). But they are hostile to the Biblical call to wholeheartedly follow Christ.

ToleranceIn our society which battles relentlessly for political correctness and religious pluralism, it has become the cultural imperative that we not only let people believe whatever they want to, but we are obliged to honor their beliefs. “God, on my terms!” they argue…and who are we to counter their ideas?

Yet our ideas are countered, seemingly without hesitation. Atheists, agnostics, and the pseudo-religious types slander our gospel presentations, says Luther, “because we do not let this name be considered as an ordinary name…because we believe, preach, and confess that Jesus Christ…is the only Savior of the world, who saves from sin….and that only those who know him as such does he deliver from sin and death, and they only obtain grace and eternal salvation. This the people of the world cannot tolerate.”

So, we’re faced with it again: Do we risk putting a damper on the holiday by referencing the fullness of what the coming of Jesus demands of our lives? Or do we shelf the gospel for the sake of “peace on earth, good will toward men?”

cb and linusIn the spirit of Advent…would you share the gospel if you thought Jesus would be arriving for His second coming on Thursday? I would guess yes.

Knowing what you know now about the truth of the gospel, wouldn’t you want people to keep bringing it up if you weren’t a believer? I know I would.

Praying that all of us can be bold carriers of the gospel this holiday season … and that the Spirit of glory and of God will rest upon us, making our lives and words divinely fruitful!

E     *     O

 

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See Those Lights? No? Third Thursday of Advent – 14.12.18

politicalI made the mistake yesterday of “getting into it” with someone in the comments section of a blog. I felt indignant that my ideas were being both misunderstood and belittled. By the end of the exchange, I had sinned on several fronts. Not only did I share poorly chosen words, but my spirit was flustered, and my conscience was stained. Overall, a bad exchange.

In my angst, I began doing some reading. I found an interesting article about the theory of motivated reasoning. In the article, the author breaks down reasons why, even when given considerable evidence, we can be very slow to change our minds because of our pre-existing beliefs. “All we can currently bank on,” says the author, “is the fact that we all have blinders in some situations. The question then becomes: What can be done to counteract human nature itself? Given the power of our prior beliefs to skew how we respond to new information, one thing is becoming clear: If you want someone to accept new evidence, make sure to present it to them in a context that doesn’t trigger a defensive, emotional reaction.”

Minds don’t change easily.  Which leads us to today’s text from 1 Peter, and Martin Luther’s commentary thereof.

“Even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Pet. 3:14-16).

n278s Turning AwayWhat do you think, Martin Luther? “The method by which [for the sophists] it must be shown that the faith is a right one, must agree with reason and come from the brain. But our faith is above all reason, and it alone is the power of God. Therefore, if people will not believe, then be silent; for you are not responsible for compelling them to hold the Scriptures as the Word or Book of God. It is enough that you give your reason from the Scriptures. But if they take exceptions … when you hear people of this stamp, who are so blind and obtuse as to deny or doubt that this is God’s Word, then be silent, speak nor more with them, and let them go.”

If you are an unbeliever reading this blog, you probably feel terribly patronized by Luther right now – after all, we’re right, and you’re obtuse. I apologize for that rhetoric – sort of. But the Biblical truth states that … well, we are right (not because we’re brilliant, but because God by His grace has revealed truth to our hearts and minds), and you’re … well, just unable to see it. And we can’t make you able to see it. Only God can do that.

Christmas_Lights_021A holiday analogy for you. Say you had a blind friend. No, wait, let’s expand that – you live in a colony of people who are all blind. But you have undergone a surgery – one that has been available to everyone in your town. But most people don’t think that it’s really available, or that it really works. But you believed. And now, you can see.

Now, suppose you are taking a group of blind friends for a walk through your neighborhood. You were just like them a few days ago, but now you can see the Christmas lights! So you enthusiastically tell them what “light” is, and then tell them about “colors”, and describe all the “beautiful” homes to them. And, you remind them that they could be enjoying these sights, too.

How do they respond? They say there’s no such thing as the surgery, or light, or colors. You must be making it up. You’re either self-deluded, or insane. The fact that they can’t see them doesn’t mean that you don’t. But, clearly, no amount of arguing is going to change their minds. The only way they will change is if they have the surgery done.

Some will believe in the surgery because of your testimony. Some simply won’t believe, and will remain blind. As the scriptures say, “Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb. 11:6).

I’m so thankful that I can see the lights. I do want others to see the lights. It seems, though, that the more I talk about the lights with some, the more hostile they become. It seems to make them angry, for some reason.

But I can’t be hostile back! Gentleness. Respect. Gracious silence. And mercy and compassion for them in their blindness. I will pray that their hearts will be moved – so they will truly long for and receive the vision that is freely given to those who believe. And, in the meantime, enjoy the lights, and be thankful!

E     *     O

 
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Posted by on December 18, 2014 in Advent 2014, Evangelism

 

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