Jesus said: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” — Luke 13:34 NRSV.
From the autobiography of Hannah Whitall Smith (1832–1911) — a 19th century Quaker-turned-Wesleyan-holiness-preacher:
“My children have been the joy of my life. I cannot imagine more exquisite bliss than comes to one sometimes in the possession and companionship of a child. To me there have been moments, when my arms have been around my children, that have seemed more like what the bliss of heaven must be than any other thing I can conceive of; and I think this feeling has taught me more of what are God’s feelings towards his children than anything else in the universe. If I, a human being with limited capacity, can find such joy in my children, what must God, with his infinite heart of love, feel towards his; in fact, most of my ideas of the love and goodness of God have come from my own experience as a mother, because I could not conceive that God would create me with a greater capacity for unselfishness and self-sacrifice than he possessed himself; and since this discovery of the mother heart of God I have always been able to answer every doubt that may have arisen in my mind, as to the extent and quality of the love of God, by simply looking at my own feelings as a mother. I cannot understand the possibility of any selfishness on the mother’s part coming into her relation to her children. It seems to me a mother, who can be selfish and think of her own comfort and her own welfare before that of her children, is an abnormal mother, who fails in the very highest duty of motherhood . . . Since I had this insight of the mother-heart of God, I have never been able to feel the slightest anxiety for any of his children; and by his children I do not mean only the good ones, but I mean the bad ones just as much.”
[Only three of Hannah’s seven children lived to adulthood (one went on to marry the philosopher Bertrand Russell — from whom she was divorced after he had an affair.)]
For a long time, I felt like I was kind of a nomad. I am still reminded of the fact every time someone asks me “Where are you from?” It’s not supposed to be a difficult question.
But, I don’t really know.
I will often reply: “I’m from around.”
At times I have had a real sense of rootlessness. Things are different now, but I haven’t forgotten.
I guess you have to know my life to understand the problem. (more…)
Many of us who are interested in the theology of John Wesley are also fascinated by the connections that seem to exist between Wesley’s theology and the theology of the Eastern Orthodox church. For example, the Eastern Orthodox teaching of theosis seems to mirror strikingly Wesley’s teaching on Christian Perfection.
But, then, there is also the fascinating story of John Wesley and Gerasimos Avlonites (also known as Erasmus of Arcadia), an 18th century Greek Orthodox bishop — and friend of Wesley’s. Gerasimos Avlonites originally hailed from Crete. Ted A. Campbell describes him as “a native of Corfu and a subject of the Latin and Catholic Republic of Venice, [he was] exiled from his ecclesiastical see in Ottoman-dominated Crete, [and] brought his own pietistic sense of Christian unity to his interactions with European Protestants who were also evolving a pietistic sense of Christian identity in the mid-eighteenth century.”
Arnold A. Dallimore refers to the relationship of John Wesley and this man when writing on the life of Charles Wesley:
John Wesley showed him kindness but had one of his men write to the Patriarch of Smyrna inquiring about him. He received word that Erasmus was the Bishop of Arcadia on the Isle of Crete. Wesley also heard the same from Amsterdam, and accordingly accepted him as a link in the supposed chain of the apostolic succession.
John Wesley spoke highly of Gerasimos Avlonites saying: “He had abundant unexceptionable credentials as to his episcopal character.” (more…)
I consider politics to be a necessary evil.
Maybe that’s too strong a statement. Someone might reply to me that the Christian message itself has political implications — and they would surely be right. Obviously, the Old Testament prophets — just to cite one obvious example — had a political message about justice and fairness (in addition to a moral message about right and wrong). Jesus’ message of the Kingdom of God finds its roots in the message of the prophets. I’m all in favor of spelling out the political and social aspects of the Christian message. Really. I am.
And, politics is unavoidable. Where two or three are gathered together, there — pretty soon — will be politics in their midst. People have differing ideas and goals and agendas. If people gather together to accomplish something, then, soon these differences will arise. Sides will emerge. Issues will emerge. The question will be: who will prevail.
So, while there is national politics, there is also community politics, church politics, and family politics. I know that. And, there is no avoiding it.
But, here’s my problem with it: (more…)
From a sermon by N. T. Wright, preached at Cathedral Church of Durham on Christmas Morning 2007:
Because what we are promised, in that strange phrase at the heart of John’s prologue, is a new kind of power: to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God. Power to become children! There’s a paradox for you: power to become powerless, authority to be under authority. Ah, people will say, but children of God; yes, but the meaning of the word ‘God’ is now being redefined, in this very paragraph, so that we only really discover who God is when we look at Jesus, Jesus the helpless baby, Jesus the one who reveals God’s glory when he dies on the cross, Jesus the only begotten Son who has revealed the invisible God. And when we hear that gospel word, and discover that something new is happening within us, something is stirring which feels very like faith, and hope, and love, we know that a new kind of life has taken hold on us, meaning that we have indeed been born again, whether a moment before or a lifetime before, have been made new with a life which death cannot touch, a life which will lighten our path through whatever darkness lies ahead, a life which doesn’t spring from mere human possibilities – born, says John, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. Power to become children: that’s the promise of new birth, full of grace and truth.
“Part of the art of listening to scripture is learning to hear the multiple overtones in a single, simple phrase. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, says John: and we learn, and learn again, every Christmas, to hear in that great and simple statement all the glory of the new world, with its new possibilities: new life in Mary’s womb, new life within the increasingly dangerous public world which does its best to squash the rumour, and new life, please God, in our own hearts and lives and families and work. And the Word became flesh and lived among us. That is what we celebrate today: the new reality which leaves us no longer at ease in the old dispensation, but determined to live and rejoice and be part of his transforming work of new creation, so that though the world declares that it can’t see God and doesn’t know who he is we may declare, in what we are as well as what we say, that God the only Son, the Word made flesh, close to the Father’s heart, has made him known and will make him known. May that be true in us and through us this Christmas time and always.
The rest of the sermon can be found here: Power to Become Children.
A saint is capable of loving created things and enjoying the use of them and dealing with them in a perfectly simple, natural manner, making no formal references to God, drawing no attention to his own piety, and acting without any artificial rigidity at all. His gentleness and his sweetness are not pressed through his pores by the crushing restraint of a spiritual strait-jacket. They come from his direct docility to the light of truth and to the will of God. Hence a saint is capable of talking about the world without any explicit reference to God, in such a way that his statement gives greater glory to God than the observations of someone less holy, who has to strain himself to make an arbitrary connection between creatures and God through the medium of hackneyed analogies and metaphors that are so feeble that they make you think there is something the matter with religion.
— Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, p. 24
I am one of those pastors who came into the Christian ministry a clear sense of call. I could point to a particular moment in my life when I sensed God’s calling on my life. It was both surprising and overwhelming at the time. But, over time, it became the settled conviction of my heart that God was calling me to preach the Gospel in some way. And, I need to make that clear: in the earlier stages of my life the call I felt was toward preaching. When I started out I had very little conception of what pastoral ministry was and what it might entail. I had come to Christ at the invitation of an evangelist at a holiness camp meeting. The message of Christ had made a profound change in my life for the better. And, I wanted to share that message with others. I felt that a great favor had been done for me — a message of hope had been given to me — and I wanted to extend that favor to others. My attitude was the same as that expressed in the often quoted line from D. T. Niles: ““Evangelism is just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.”
Biblical preaching had been crucial in re-directing my life. So, it was something I assumed would be the focus of my future ministry — and it was something I wanted to learn to do well.
I sure have met a lot of people over the years for whom evangelical Christianity — and, I might add, holiness Christianity particularly — was an oppressive reality in their lives. It was something imposed upon them. It was a almost-constant threat of Hell. It was legalism. It was a rigid authoritarian mindset from which they later emerged with relief.
I get that. I have heard the story so often — in so many different forms. I understand.
But, that is not my experience. (more…)
“Moses said, ‘Show me your glory, I pray.’ And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The LORD’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.'” — Exodus 33:18, 19 NRSV.
“At this moment, it is not Moses the religious-political leader of Israel speaking, but Moses the mystic, the ardent lover of God. The public need has been met: God has promised twice already to go up with the people into the Promised Land. You would think Moses would be satisfied, but instead he presses for one more thing: a favor for himself alone, a glimpse of God’s exquisite beauty. Of course God is flattered. Who would not be thrilled to know that a lover through many years and many domestic crises still finds one desirable, desirable just for oneself, when the children’s needs have been met and there is nothing to be sought or gained but the simple joy of intimacy? It is only in that request for a private revelation that God feels the purity of Moses’ love. Of course God capitulates, happily, even to the point of indignity. For as the whole Bible makes undeniably clear, God is a perfect fool for love — fool enough even to become human, to live and love as we do, and to weep because he loves; fool enough to suffer and die on a cross.”
— Ellen F. Davis, Getting Involved with God: Rediscovering the Old Testament
The verses that come before this set the scene. The opening verses of this chapter remind us that Amos was a man of prayer. He was an intercessor. He was not a politician. He was not even what we might call a “social critic.” Nor did he come with some sort of political solution to the problems of Israel. He spoke the word God had given him. His saw the inequities and sins of the northern kingdom (called Israel or Ephraim). But, when he saw the prospect of destruction, he prayed for the people: “Sovereign Lord, I beg you, stop! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!”
A prophet is a person of prayer. A prophet is a person who desires mercy. A prophet is a person who speaks the truth.
Twice Amos has seen a vision of destruction for the northern kingdom of Israel. Twice he has called out to God for mercy. This sets the scene for the image that is introduced now: (more…)
Here we see the prophet Amos at prayer. Most often, in the book of Amos, we hear the prophet’s voice denouncing the nations and predicting their coming doom. Here we see him at prayer for the nation of Israel — pleading for them to be spared.
We often find mixed emotions among the prophets — I think of it particularly with Jeremiah, sometimes called the weeping prophet. In Jeremiah’s prophecies we find prophetic denunciations mixed with genuine expressions of sorrow for the fate of the nation.
Here we see Amos the intercessor praying that the nation of Israel will not be completely destroyed.
These verses introduce us to the record of four visions of the prophet Amos. They are: (more…)
Today I share with you this excellent presentation by Dr. John Oswalt, distinguished visiting professor of Old Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary, on “Being Holy.”
Dr. Oswalt’s full bio can be found here: Dr. John Oswalt. As it says there: “[Dr.] Oswalt is an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church, with membership in the Kentucky Annual Conference. He has served as a part-time pastor to congregations in New England and Kentucky, and is a frequent speaker in conferences, camps and local churches.”
This video is an early entry in the ongoing “Seven Minute Seminary” series, from the Asbury Seedbed. You can find many more of these videos here: SeedBed. All of these are interesting — and I (not being a big fan of videos in general) especially appreciate the time limit.
In 7 minutes and 42 seconds Dr. Oswalt does a masterful job of explaining what the Bible means when it calls us to live a holy life. I couldn’t have done better myself.
This was posted on my old blog on March of 2013. I have resisted the temptation to tone down the sentiments expressed here.
Right around the time I formally retired from the United Methodist ministry, I surprised myself. I recognized that I was still a Christian. In a way, nothing had changed. Yet, somehow it had.
And, that’s how it still is. I still hunger for worship. I still interpret life by reference to the Bible and the historic beliefs of Christians. I still want to lead others to Christ. I still want to pray. I still love to preach. I still wish I could teach the Bible.
It’s all pretty weird in a way.
Things went bad in the last full time parish I served in the United Methodist Church. The issue had to do with my wife and my family. If it had had to do with me and my conduct of ministry that would have been bearable — but, the attack centered on my wife and family. And the Bishop of the Michigan Area of the United Methodist Church sided with the church against my wife and family. (more…)
Several years ago I read a column by Donald W. Haynes — and its content has stayed with me. Haynes used to write a regular “Wesleyan Wisdom” column for the United Methodist Reporter. (I always appreciated what he had to say.)
The one I’m thinking of was titled “Like Wesley, do we seek an ‘inward witness’?” It appeared in November of 2012. It was about the experience of the assurance of salvation. First, Haynes talks about Wesley’s religious life prior to his famous Aldersgate experience. Was he seeking God? Certainly. Was he seeking a holy life? Certainly. Did he have faith? Yes. But, there was a vital and missing element: an experience of inward assurance. It was this that he found at the prayer meeting at Aldersgate. Haynes writes:
Wesley’s doctrine was sound and his self-discipline was exemplary, but he still lacked what Paul called “witness of the spirit.” Wesley admitted later that he did not understand his father, when the old Anglican on his death bed in April 1735 told him that “inward witness” was the “strongest proof of Christianity.”Surely, many of us know how Wesley must have felt. In the years since revival altar calls gave way to confirmation classes, very little has been said in most United Methodist churches about an experience of assurance that one’s sins are forgiven. Evangelical United Brethren and Methodist children once learned a little chorus: “I’ve got the peace that passeth understanding down in my heart . . . down in my heart today.” The second stanza was the same except the last line, “down in my heart to stay.”
How many of us must confess—while we believe that God loves us, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died to save us from our sins, that the Bible is the Word of God, and that we are to reach out with deeds of kindness and acts of mercy—we still have a missing link in our relationship with God? Deep in our soul, there is an empty spot which only the Holy Spirit can fill. Is this not the Achilles heel of multiple millions of Christians? Is this not one important clue to the net loss of 650,000 United Methodists already in the 21st century?
I originally posted this on my old blog on March of 2013. I have made a few, minor editorial changes.
In a book entitled What We Talk About When We Talk About God, Rob Bell speaks of a time when he was troubled by doubts about God.
One Sunday morning a number of years ago I found myself face-to-face with the possibility that there is no God and we really are on our own and this may be all there is.
Now I realize lots of people have questions and convictions and doubts along these lines — that’s nothing new. But, in my case, it was an Easter Sunday morning, and I was a pastor, I was driving to the church services where I’d be giving a sermon about how there is a God and that God came here to Earth to do something miraculous and rise from the dead so that all of us could live forever.
I can’t really comment on this passage extensively, because I’m not absolutely sure I fully understand it myself:
Lovers and friends have two desires. One is to love so much that one enters the other to make a single being. The other is to love so much that with half the earthly globe between them, their union would not suffer any diminishment. Everything that we desire vainly here below is perfect and real in God. Those impossible desires are within us as a mark of our destination, and it is good for us when we don’t hope to accomplish them.
Love between God and God, which is itself God, is the link of a double virtue; this link that unites two beings to the point where they are indistinguishable and really are one soul, the link that extends itself across the distance and triumphs over an infinite separation. The unity of God where all plurality disappears, and Christ’s abandonment of belief in being found, yet without ceasing to perfectly love his Father — these are forms of divine virtue of the same love, which is God Himself.
God is so essentially love that unity, which in a sense is its actual definition, is a simple effect of love. And corresponding to the infinite virtue of unification of this love is the infinite separation over which it triumphs, which is all of creation, spread through the totality of space and time, made of brutally mechanical matter, interposed between Christ and his Father.
— Simone Weil, “The Love of God and Affliction” Awaiting God (pp. 37-38). Fresh Wind Press. Kindle Edition.
The oneness we desire in love is something we never fully experience in this life. But, it is a pointer. It points us to who we really are as beings created in the image of God. It points us to God — in whom alone are we will find the fulfillment of our deepest longings and desires. Thus, having unfulfilled desires is a good thing — and important aspect of being human.