If we are to follow God, if we are to trust God, we must have some assurance about God’s character. It is only natural that Bible often spends time with this issue. If we are to trust in God we need some assurance also of God’s power. Is God able to uphold us through the difficulties of life? To me, these are the issues addressed in Psalm 135:7,8.
Which brings me back to the circumstances that made Psalm 135 so vivid to me in the first place. I started reading and meditating on this psalm on a stormy morning. There was a thunderstorm raging outside. And, it is clear that the Psalmist saw the power of God in the thunderstorm. It was not an unruly, threatening natural event — somehow the thunderstorm was also under the sovereign power of God.
So there is no need to ultimately fear what would otherwise seem powerful, unruly or chaotic — all the powers of this world are under God’s overruling power. They reflect the power of God — for God is the Creator of all that is. (more…)
I remember the morning (a few years ago) when Psalm 135 became memorable to me. I started reading and meditating on this psalm on a stormy morning. There was a thunderstorm raging outside. And, I slowly read these lines:
“He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth; he makes lightnings for the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses.” (v.7 NRSV)
So, now, when I read this again, I am reminded of that morning.
But, for now, let’s begin at the beginning. Notice how it starts. (more…)
“PRAYER has been defined, ‘an offering of our desire to God for things needful, with an humble confidence to obtain them through the alone merits of Christ, to the praise of the mercy, truth, and power of God.’ And ‘its parts are said to be invocation, adoration, confession, petition, pleading, dedication, thanksgiving, and blessing.’ Though the definition be imperfect, yet, as far as it goes, it is not objectionable; but the parts of prayer, as they are called, (except the word petition,) have scarcely anything to do with the nature of prayer. They are, in general, separate acts of devotion; and attention to them in what is termed ‘praying,’ will entirely mar it, and destroy its efficacy.
“It was by following this division, that long prayers have been introduced among Christian congregations, by means of which the spirit of devotion has been lost: for, where such prevail most, listlessness and deadness are the principal characteristics of the religious services of such people; and these have often engendered formality, and frequently total indifference to religion. Long prayers prevent kneeling, for it is utterly impossible for man or woman to keep on their knees during the time such last; where these prevail, the people either stand or sit. Technical prayers, I have no doubt, are odious in the sight of God; for no man can be in the spirit of devotion who uses such: it is a drawing nigh to God with the lips, while the heart is, almost necessarily, far from him. (more…)
There are times when God seems absent. It seems that direction and blessing are gone. We have no sense that our prayers are being heard. We may be in a time of stress and trial, where there seems to be no relief in sight. Service that formerly brought us joy becomes dry and unrewarding. And we ask: Why?
At this point, the theological knowledge of God’s Omnipresence doesn’t help. This tells us that God is theoretically present. But, since the evidences of God’s favor seem missing from our life, this theoretical knowledge is no comfort. If God is present, why does God seem to be standing apart from us?
The Psalms often speak of these times. There is no denial here. The reality is that God’s most devoted followers sometimes go through dark times when God seems absent.
I have often reflected on this. It seems strange to me, but it is true: there have been seasons of blessing and seasons of darkness. I don’t know why. There have been times when I seemed to be living under a curse. Then, there have been times of blessing. And, it often doesn’t seem to make sense. I’ve never been able to connect these times of curse with moral faults either — something I notice Job’s companions tried to do for also him — and failed. Times of darkness happen unexpectedly, without warning or underlying reason. (more…)
This is one of several items I re-blog every once in a while. And, here’s why. It illustrates one of the huge gulfs between contemporary Methodism and the original Methodism that arose under the leadership of John Wesley. Methodism originally combined: serious Biblical study, impassioned preaching, a personal experience of faith, a serious discipline for spiritual formation and the service of God in the world.
This is from a letter by Adam Clarke to a young man contemplating the ministry. Readers will find this advice a bit (ehem!) challenging. Actually, I think it is good advice myself, though I’d (of course) update the reference works, and have to acknowledge I’m quite a bit more “rusty” on biblical languages (and thus much more reliant on secondary sources) than I wish I were.
First (after the divider rule) I quote Adam Clarke at length. Then (after the next divider) I give some reflection on why I think these remarks are important. (more…)
But, there are also times when I feel confident that I know the way — that I know the will of God — at least reasonably well.
Psalm 25:4,5 suggests that I really don’t know the way unless I seek to know it. It further suggests that the process of seeking God’s will may take me some time and effort.
Verses 4 and 5 show us the positive value of these times of waiting: it’s a time to seek God’s will and direction. (more…)
I tweet a lot of links and many of them are critical of dictation and inerrancy approaches to the Scripture. I love the Scriptures and I love preaching and teaching the Scriptures, so this may seem strange. In fact, they are closely related to one another. In a sense, I don’t really have an intellectual campaign against Biblical inerrancy — my objections are empirical. My only objection to fundamentalist and inerrancy approaches to the Scriptures is that, in detail, they don’t work.
Recently Greg Carey, professor of New Testament at Lancaster Theological Seminary posted a blog entry entitled “Where Do ‘Liberal’ Bible Scholars Come From?” It’s a good piece, and I think he is making a good point: Bible scholars become “liberal” (to the extent that they do) from reading and studying the Bible. The Bible itself undermines the fundamentalist view of the Bible. Carey writes:
Though I understand it differently, I love the Bible as much as I ever have. I’m just as passionate for Jesus and for the gospel as I ever have been, though I understand them differently too. But I can say this: Reading the Bible is a terrific cure for fundamentalism. That’s exactly how many of us so-called liberal Bible scholars got our start.
Then Peter Enns picked up on this and began a series at his blog: “I was always taught the Bible says X, but I just don’t see it.” (more…)
Where do John Wesley and his early followers fit in the familiar end-time schemas of a-millennial, post-millennial and pre-millennial (and it’s pre-trib, mid-trib, post-trib flavors)?
People looking for information about this find that there is very little available.
Here’s the reason: John Wesley doesn’t fit any of these schemas exactly. He has been claimed by both pre-millennialists (Christ returns to establish an age of peace and righteousness on earth) and post-millennialists (an age of peace and righteousness on Earth is established through the advancement of Christian faith, and then Christ returns). And, individual quotations from his works can be lifted out both to support or refute both viewpoints.
First, let me note Wesley’s approach to the book of Revelation, as a way of introducing and illustrating the problem. (more…)
The themes in this section of the Gospel of John resonate well with the themes I am often addressing at this web site. Jesus calls his followers into a life of obedience — and promises the power and presence of the Holy Spirit to them.
In the Gospel of John, we see Jesus preparing his disciples for the days to come with a long discourse: it begins in Chapters 13 and runs through chapter 16, with a closing prayer added in chapter 17. The passage under discussion today is just a brief snippet from that longer discourse.
This passage is memorable because in contains of the promise of the Holy Spirit. But, it is framed on either side by a challenge to keep Christ’s commandments. (more…)
“Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ He took Peter and the two eons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me. Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.'” — Matthew 26:36-39 (NIV)
There is something mysterious about Jesus’ struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane. There was a depth of suffering there that is impossible to imagine. In the gospel of Luke we are told that while he prayed “his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke 22:44 N1V). It is hard to conceive how one we know of as the Son of God could be in such emotional torment. He says to his closest followers: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” There is something incomprehensible about the sorrow of the Savior. Like the disciples, we observe the scene of Gethsemane, as it were, at a distance. There is something here into which we cannot enter. It is beyond us. (more…)
The message of the Wesleys and of the subsequent “Methodist” movement was a message of radical faithfulness to God. It affirmed an optimism of grace which believed that people’s lives could be changed by the power of the Holy Spirit and that society could be changed — through the impact of prayer and through the impact of people who were filled with love for God and love for others. It was a movement that saw a progressive and liberating movement in Scripture that made it clear to them that the institution of slavery — the buying and selling of human beings — was wrong. It allowed them to see that God was calling both men and women into the service of Christ. It was a radical message of inward and outward holiness.
It can be hard to sustain a radical message. (more…)
Some time back I posted this list compiled by Kevin Jackson of the Wesleyan-Arminian blog: Women Leaders in the Wesleyan Movements. I did it to make a point: support for Women in Ministry in the Wesleyan movements goes back to the days of Wesley himself — back to the very beginning of the movement. And, in this regard to holiness denominations were (generally speaking) more radical and far ahead of the Methodist Episcopal —> Methodist —> (+ EUB) —> United Methodist Church. Though, of course, the Methodists got on board too.
The revivalists were there first.
That is a paradigm shift for a lot of people. The acceptance of women in ministry in the Wesley-related movements was well ahead of the modern, secular feminist movement — and is, in that sense, unrelated to it! The more radical, Bible-thumping, revivalistic branches of the Wesleyan movement accepted the idea of women in ministry long before the official acceptance of this by the United Methodist Church. (more…)
In the early part of his 2012 book How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels, N. T. Wright remarks on how the Church has not always allowed itself to hear the full witness of the Gospels to Christ. I won’t attempt to reproduce the argument here: read the book.
Wright begins by discussing some ways that the Church’s teachings unintentionally got off track. And, as he is discussing how these various theologians of the past attempted to defend orthodoxy in a way that misconstrued some of the Bible’s teachings, he says on page 37 that “the eighteenth century saw great movements of revival, particularly through the Methodist movement led by John and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield.” and, he goes on to say: (more…)
In this passage Jesus is continuing the series of antithesis statements he began in verse 21. In these he fleshes out what he means by coming not to to destroy the law but to fulfill it. He goes beyond the law — not relaxing it, but pushing it further — pushing it toward its spiritual fulfillment. Jesus forces us to consider more than just outward fulfillment — he challenges us at the level of our motivations — our inner lives.
In verses 21-37 the issues were: destructive anger, covetous sexual desire, divorce, and the swearing of oaths. Here the issues are vengefulness, enemies, peace, and universal love for all. Here the issue is how we treat — and think about — each other. This passage can be seen as a unit because of its closely related themes.
This is also one of those passages in the New Testament that uses the word τέλειος — often translated “perfect” — which gave rise to the phrase “Christian Perfection”— often used by John Wesley (and his followers) to talk about the spiritual life. The phrase was misunderstood from the beginning and still is today — and it’s easy to see why. Looking at verse 48 in its context may help to sort out some of the confusion.
But, our goal in looking at this passage is much larger than that one issue — it is to understand how Jesus interprets the Old Testament law and applies it to life. (more…)
Jesus has already stated that the purpose of his ministry was in no way to destroy the Law and the prophets (that is, the Old Testament) but to fulfill them. In this passage he begins to flesh out what that means. He seeks to bring the Old Testament law and teaching into its fulfillment by expounding its inner intent and purpose for the people of his own day.
In “fulfilling” the law, he fills it up with meaning, demonstrating how it reveals to us the will and purpose of God. It is for this reason that the Israelites meditated upon the law — seeking not just to keep it but to understand its inner meaning.
This passage begins a series of antithesis statements: “You have heard that it was said…”But I say….” In doing this he in no way seeks to undermine the importance or authority of the Old Testament’s teaching. He is stating the inner intent of the law — the spiritual significance of the law — for the moral and spiritual lives of the people. Notice that his sayings in these verses do not relax the law — in fact, they make them more demanding. In Jesus’ teaching the issue is not just murder, but destructive anger and rage. In Jesus’ teaching the issue is not just adultery, but the lust that makes people into objects. The issue is not the words of an oath, the issue is basic honesty.
Jesus seeks to establish among his disciples a righteousness greater than that of the Scribes and Pharisees — not more meticulous, but more in line with the will and purpose of God revealed behind the letter of the law. (more…)