Commonplace Holiness Holiness woven into the fabric of life...

Love Your Enemies

From my daily Bible reading:

IF“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” — Matthew 5:43-48 NRSV.

Love your enemies. This is the most sublime piece of morality ever given to man. Has it appeared unreasonable and absurd to some? It has. And why? Because it is natural to man to avenge himself, and plague those who plague him; and he will ever find abundant excuse for his conduct, in the repeated evils he receives from others; for men are naturally hostile to each other. Jesus Christ design’s to make men happy. Now he is necessarily miserable who hates another. Our Lord prohibits that only which, from its nature, is opposed to man’s happiness. This is therefore one of the most reasonable precepts in the universe. But who can obey it? None but he who has the mind of Christ. But I have it not. Seek it from God; it is that kingdom of heaven which Christ came to establish upon earth. See on chap. iii. 2. This one precept is a sufficient proof of the holiness of the Gospel, and of the truth of the Christian religion. Every false religion flatters man, and accommodates itself to his pride and his passions. None but God could have imposed a yoke so contrary to self-love; and nothing but the supreme eternal love can enable men to practice a precept so insupportable to corrupt nature. Sentiments like this are found among Asiatic writers, and in select cases were strongly applied; but as a general command this was never given by them, or any other people. It is not an absolute command in any of the books which they consider to be Divinely inspired.” (more…)

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Jesus’ Baptism

From my daily Bible Reading: 

IFThen Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.” — Matthew 3:13-15 NRSV.

“John is immediately aware of Jesus’ identity and insists on his own inferiority (v. 14). He acknowledges the honor of Jesus and thereby maintains his own honor. Although this major event (i.e., Jesus’ baptism) does not “fulfill” Scripture, it is a fulfillment of “righteousness,” a term that can also be translated as “justice,” a major theme in Matthew (5:6, 10, 20; 6:1, 33). This is no routine baptism (v. 16); revelatory signs accompany it, including open heavens and the Spirit’s descent (implying God’s own approval of Jesus). It is not clear here that anyone other than Jesus witnesses the Spirit’s descent, but the announcement of the heavenly voice is in the third person, suggesting a wider audience (v. 17). Note that God acknowledges Jesus as “my Son” in preparation for the testing of Jesus as Son of God (4:1–11).” (more…)

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A Savior

From my daily Bible reading:

IFShe will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” — Matthew 1:21 (NRSV).

JESUS. The same as Joshua, יהושע Yehoshua, from ישע yasha, he saved, delivered, put in a state of safety. See on Exod. xiii. 9; Num. xiii. 16….

This shall be his great business in the world: the great errand on which he is come, viz. to make an atonement for, and to destroy, sin: deliverance from all the power, guilt, and pollution of sin, is the privilege of every believer in Christ Jesus. Less than this is not spoken of in the Gospel; and less than this would be unbecoming the Gospel. The perfection of the Gospel system is not that it makes allowances for sin, but that it makes an atonement for it: not that it tolerates sin, but that it destroys it.

— Comments by Adam Clarke (1762-1832).

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Jacob’s Blessings

From my daily Bible readings:

IF“Then Jacob called his sons, and said: “Gather around, that I may tell you what will happen to you in days to come. Assemble and hear, O sons of Jacob; listen to Israel your father.”” — Genesis 49:1-2 (NRSV)

Jacob offers a fierce blessing to his sons. His words of reproach, counsel, and comfort cut and soothe with the clarity of truth and anticipate the future as cast from his sons’ characters. This is a powerful activity shared from parents to children, children to parents, and among friends as well! When said with loving and righteous intention, the blessing of truth-telling invokes the powers of forgiveness, empowerment, and transformation.

When words of blessing are intoned at the end of a worship service, truth is invoked — we are claimed as God’s own with all the responsibility and grace that entails.”

— Comments from The Wesley Study Bible.

This great man was now one hundred and forty-seven years of age; though his body, by the waste of time, was greatly enfeebled, yet with a mind in perfect vigor, and a hope full of immortality, he calls his numerous family together, all of them in their utmost state of prosperity, and gives them his last counsels, and his dying blessing. His declarations show that the secret of the Lord was with him, and that his candle shone bright upon his tabernacle. Having finished his work, with perfect possession of all his faculties, and being determined that while he was able to help himself none should be called in to assist, (which was one of the grand characteristics of his life,) he, with that dignity which became a great man and a man of God stretched himself upon his bed, and rather appears to have conquered death than to have suffered it. Who, seeing the end of this illustrious patriarch, can help exclaiming, There is none like the God of Jeshurun! Let Jacob’s God be my God! Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his! Reader, God is still the same: and though he may not make thee as great as was Jacob, yet he is ready to make thee as good; and, whatever thy past life may have been, to crown thee with loving-kindness and tender mercies, that thy end also may be peace.

— Comments by Adam Clarke (1760-1832).

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A House of Prayer for All Nations

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In Mark 11 we read that when Jesus entered Jerusalem — that final time — he “entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.” It was a provocative thing to do. Mark tells us that this incident is one of the primary reasons the religious leaders wanted to kill Jesus. It was a strong protest against the way religious service was being conducted.

And, then come these remarkable words:

He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”

And, as I read this passage I say to myself: if that was the case then, how much more now! Our various places of worship — wherever they may be — are intended to be places of prayer for all people. They are meant to point to God. They are meant to bring people into connection with God. They are meant for all people. Is that what they are? (more…)

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Reflections on the Song of Solomon

“The voice of my beloved! Look, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills. My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Look, there he stands behind our wall, gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice. My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.” (Song of Solomon 2:8-13, NRSV).

Bible-2

It seems strange to some people that words like these are found in the Bible. It goes against what we think we know of the Bible.

These words are from a book of the Bible few people know about. This little book of the Hebrew Bible is variously called ” Song of Solomon” or “Song of Songs.” It is a long poem about erotic love. Really, it seems to be a collection of poems that have been brought together into one. A church group would not want to do a verse-by-verse study of this book because of the frankly erotic imagery in the book.

It’s about sex. It has at least an R rating. (more…)

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John Wesley: “Those Who Are Without”

John Wesley (1703 –1791)

John Wesley (1703 –1791)

I added some bold type to the following quote:

…I have no authority from the Word of God ‘to judge those that are without.’ Nor do I conceive that any man living has a right to sentence all the heathen and Mahometan world to damnation. It is far better to leave them to him that made them, and who is ‘the Father of the spirits of all flesh;’ who is the God of the Heathens as well as the Christians, and who hateth nothing that he hath made.

“Perhaps there may be some well-meaning persons who carry this farther still; who aver, that whatever change is wrought in men, whether in their hearts or lives, yet if they have not clear views of those capital doctrines, the fall of man, justification by faith, and of the atonement made by the death of Christ, and of his righteousness transferred to them, they can have no benefit from his death. I dare in no wise affirm this. Indeed I do not believe it. I believe the merciful God regards the lives and tempers of men more than their ideas. I believe he respects the goodness of the heart rather than the clearness of the head; and that if the heart of a man be filled (by the grace of God, and the power of his Spirit) with the humble, gentle, patient love of God and man, God will not cast him into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels because his ideas are not clear, or because his conceptions are confused. Without holiness, I own, ‘no man shall see the Lord;’ but I dare not add, ‘or clear ideas.’

— John Wesley, Sermon #125: “On Living Without God”

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Christ & Nonchristians

questioningQuestion: What do we do with the fact that there have been billions of people who died before Christ came to be among us on this earth? Or what about those who never learned about the saving power of Christ? How is it fair that these never had a chance for salvation? What guidance do the Scriptures give us on this issue, and what has the historic Church said about it?

For many years I have been fascinated by the Wesleyan theological tradition — which happens to be the theological tradition of the United Methodist Church and many other denominations. And in studying this, I discovered that the historic Methodist approach to this issue is a bit different from the ideas commonly heard in the evangelical world today.

Bishop Willard F. Mallallieu (1828-1911)

Bishop Willard F. Mallallieu (1828-1911)

As evidence I point to these paragraphs from Bishop Mallalieu’s article “Some Things That Methodism Stands For” published in 1903. He is discussing Methodist beliefs about the atonement. Bear in mind that Bishop Mallalieu’s whole thesis in this article (and the book from which it was drawn) is “back to the Bible and the Wesleys”. In the second paragraph he addresses these issues. (The bold type was added by me.)

Again, Methodism has always had a theory of the atonement. At least it has steadfastly believed that in the fall of Adam all his posterity has been disastrously affected; that moral depravity has touched every soul; that this depravity has been universal rather than total. Then it has held that the atonement is coextensive with the needs of man, and that the claims of Divine justice have been so fully satisfied that God can be just, the moral government of the universe vindicated, and at the same time all can be saved who comply with the easy terms of redemption’s plan. All prison doors are open, all chains and shackles unloosed, so that any soul may be delivered from the bondage of Satan, and come to enjoy the freedom of the sons of God.

Experimentally, Methodism, from the very first, has had a plain, practical, Scriptural faith. Starting on the assumption that salvation was possible for every redeemed soul, and that all souls are redeemed, it has held fast to the fundamental doctrine that repentance towards God and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ are the divinely-ordained conditions upon which all complying therewith may be saved, who are intelligent enough to be morally responsible, and have heard the glad tidings of salvation. At the same time Methodism has insisted that all children who are not willing transgressors, and all irresponsible persons, are saved by the grace of God manifest in the atoning work of Christ; and, further, that all in every nation, who fear God and work righteousness, are accepted of him, through the Christ that died for them, though they have not heard of him. This view of the atonement has been held and defended by Methodist theologians from the very first. And it may be said with ever-increasing emphasis that it commends itself to all sensible and unprejudiced thinkers, for this, that it is rational and Scriptural, and at the same time honorable to God and gracious and merciful to man.

The basis for this view is here: (more…)

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The Goodness of God’s Creation

My current stroll through the Bible is slow enough that it allows me to notice and think about things. I’m reading about a chapter a day, and that gives me the chance to mull it over in my mind.

IFLike this:

“God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” — Genesis 1:31 NRSV

This verse appears at a significant place. It is a summing up statement, coming at the end of the sixth day it is also a statement about the whole world that God had created. The seventh day will be a day of rest.

So, it represents God’s evaluation of the world that has been created: “very good” (ט֖וֹב מְאֹ֑ד).

How often I have lost this perspective of the essential goodness of the world. Part of this is my scientific background, by which I learned about the concept of entropy. Entropy is random disorder. The second law of thermodynamics asserts that natural processes favor the increase of random disorder. With the apostle Paul I have a strong sense that the world is in “bondage to decay.” (Romans 8:21 NRSV). I see the cruelty of life more often than I appreciate its beauty and wonder. I used to have trouble singing: (more…)

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Ryan Danker: What is Christian Perfection?

When I am away from the Internet, lots of good things still get posted, of course.

Like this:

Here is another video in the Seedbed 7 Minute Seminary series. This is a presentation by Dr. Ryan Danker, Assistant Professor of the History of Christianity and Methodist Studies at Wesley Theological Seminary.

Dr. Danker discusses the historical sources of John Wesley’s doctrine of Christian Perfection. This is maybe not the best first introduction to the idea.

[kad_youtube url=”https://youtu.be/BQ1KMocOCoo” ]

There is also a study guide for purchase: PDF Discussion Guide.

 

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How the Black Church Bucks the Trend of Decline

churchLGPeople who write about the current religious scene in the USA are quick to comment on the rise of the “Nones” (people with no religious affiliation), the decline of the mainline church (steep), and the decline of Christianity in America in general (not as steep but noticeable.) I think the rise of the “nones” is not much of a story — people no longer go to church because its the thing to do — we’ve known this for a long time. These people are not necessarily — or even likely to be — atheists or secularists. They are that demographic that used to attend church — or identify with a church while rarely attending — who now don’t.

It’s not a crisis when people don’t come to church. It’s a crisis when the church stops spreading the Gospel of Christ. The Great Commission was never: “let people come to you.” It was: “go into all the world and make disciples.”

The more evangelical (its hard thing to measure precisely) segment of the church seems to be holding its own — maybe. (I personally wonder how much evangelical and conservative decline might be related to the resurgence of hard line Calvinism — but, again, that would be hard to measure.)

But, Adelle M. Banks reports in the Relifion News Service that this is not so much the trend in the black Church: Black churches bucking the trend of decline. She writes: (more…)

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Staying Alive

I’ve been thinking lately about the things that keep me alive spiritually.

Conservative-Evangelicals-Misunderstood-MillennialsWhen I left the active ministry in the United Methodist Church I did it out of loyalty to my wife and family, and out of a disillusionment with the system under which I had been serving.

But like a lot of things that don’t start well, it has turned out well. I tell people: “I still do all the things I used to love, but I no longer go to meetings, and no longer deal with Bishops or District Superintendents.”

I never understood the concept of retirement and I still don’t.

Fortunately, I’ve managed to remain busy since I left the United Methodist itinerancy. (more…)

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Church is Not an End in Itself

Someone recommended an out-of-print book to me as the best thing she had read on pastoral care. I am not so actively involved in pastoral care anymore, but I was interested in the book and found a used copy through Amazon.

cultivating wholenessIn the early chapters of the book I read this:

Religious communities do not exist as an end in themselves, they are created in response to a call. Faithfulness to the call comes first. Community follows. Religious communities share a common vision or goal that is supported by theological understanding and nurtured by religious observance and spiritual practice. Secualr communities, too, bond through shared missions that are reinforced through ritual.

While religious communities differ in their theological expression and religious practice, Christians and Jews believe their communal experience is intrinsically rooted in their faith experience. Both groups study the Hebrew Scriptures and other sacred writings for guidance in their communal life. Both Christians and Jews acknowledge that those in their communities are able to love and accept each other and care for the world because God first loved them.

— Margaret Kornfeld, Cultivating Wholeness, A Guide to Care and Counseling in Faith Communities (page 17).

This is a valuable and important statement — and when churches loose sight of this they also lose their continued reason to exist. (more…)

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The End of My Blog Break? Maybe

blog-breakI don’t apologize for taking blog breaks — and I’m not now — but, I must admit, this has been a rather extended one. My last post here was in May. So, I’ve been away a lot longer than usual. I am often too busy in the summer to spend much time on the Internet — though I find it intellectually stimulating at other times. I like to work outside at various gardening projects when the weather permits. I spend more time outside, just generally. I often fill pulpits in the summer. I just don’t have time for Internet activities.

But, this time, there was something more. I just got to feeling like I didn’t have anything to say. (more…)

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Praying With A Sincere Heart – Psalm 17:1-5

Wesley Study BibleThe Wesley Study Bible contains this little overview of the themes of Psalm 17:

Has anyone ever said to you, “Life is not fair,” and you thought, “Well, it should be!”? Life is filled with ups and downs, times when what seems fair to you is not fair to another. Psalm 17 begins with “Listen to what’s right, LORD; pay attention to my cry!” (17:1a). This is a prayer for deliverance from the wicked and for the freedom to live in God’s righteousness. While life is not fair all the time, it is right at all times to pray to God for deliverance from wrongdoing and for justice for all the children of God.

The Psalmist (David, we are told) begins by declaring his own faithfulness. Why would God want to listen to those who are not faithful to God’s purposes? Why would God listen to the deceitful? Surely God hears the prayers of the repentant and remorseful, but sincerity of heart is always a precondition of effective prayer. (more…)

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