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
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…)
On February 15, 2017 Scot McKnight posted some reflections under the title “The Soul of Evangelicalism: What Will Become of Us?” As with a lot of things that are posted on the Internet I didn’t have time to comment on it at the time.
I’m one of those people that owes a debt of gratitude to evangelical Christianity. It was through evangelical Christians — primarily holiness and pentecostal and charismatic Christians — that I heard the Gospel of Christ and was nurtured in the faith. To be honest, I don’t really understand how Christianity can be anything other than “evangelical.” The word evangelical comes from the Greek word εὐαγγέλιον (euaggelion) which means “good news” and is generally translated “Gospel.” Christianity has good news to share about Christ. The desire to spread that message — with the notion that it is good news for everyone — is the evangelical impulse.
In that respect, I agree with this guy, “evangelical” is a good word: (more…)
Last month a Facebook acquaintance, who posts on the web as the Not So Hostile Pentecostal, had some nice things to say about this blog and web site in a post entitled Top Ten Blogs that You (Probably) Haven’t Checked Out Yet. The words of appreciation were a great encouragement to me. But it also caused me to reflect again on how silent I have become on this blog.
Here is what he said:
Commonplace Holiness is the blog of Craig L. Adams. Adams was a longtime United Methodist minister and now is a lay minister and servant at his current church, Mars Hill Bible Church. Adams is regularly a guest speaker at different United Methodist Churches and his blog still reflects the richness of the Methodistic-Wesleyan tradition. Although Adams blogs on a number of topics, I have been most interested in his thoughts on Entire Sanctification and holiness. Adams’ understanding of entire sanctification is refreshing to anyone who has only been exposed to the prideful and legalistic side of Wesleyanism. In fact, Adams is anything but legalistic or prideful. It was both Adams’ demeanor and his theological insights during our Facebook conversations that were influential in my conversion to a Wesleyan approach to sanctification. Additionally, Adams also takes old Methodist/Holiness books by authors such as Thomas C. Upham and Daniel Steele, and that are no longer in print (and are now in public domain), and types them out into an electronic format so that they are available for free to anyone. If you want to check out some great posts from a progressive Wesleyan and the people who have fed his soul, check out Commonplace Holiness here: https://craigladams.com/blog/
Lately I’ve mostly gone silent on this blog. It’s nice to know that those old posts have been helpful to him — and I suppose they may also have been to others. However, for a long time now I have been overcome by a sense that I just don’t have anything to say right now. I especially to do not have any strong desire to convince anyone of anything. And, that (I’m afraid) really does drive a lot of blogging — at least in the Christian world.
There are reasons that I feel I have nothing to say: some unresolved issues in my own mind. And, some of them are things I can identify and talk about a bit. So, here goes. (more…)
From my daily Bible readings:
“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).
“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).
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…)
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.
“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…)
I’ve been thinking lately about the things that keep me alive spiritually.
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…)
The only knowledge of the world that is available to us is probable knowledge. Everything in the world we live in is based on probability. We are forced to base our day to day decisions on what is probably true, what will probably happen, and so forth. I’m sitting in a chair. I suppose it might collapse. Any number of things might happen. A meteorite might come crashing through the window and kill me in the next few minutes. But, since neither of these things are the least bit probable, I need not worry about them — or even think about them.
I can’t wait for absolute certainty. I must act based on what I believe is likely to be true, what is likely to happen, and so forth. The Cartesian reconstruction (or Lockean reconstruction) of knowledge — arriving at certainty based on “sense experience” — is a mistaken quest. That kind of certainty is simply not available. (more…)
One of the remarkable things about the Bible is it’s willingness to expose the weaknesses, errors, and sins of its major characters. One of the especially endearing features of the Old Testament is its openness about its heroes flaws — and of the flaws and failures of the nation as a whole. This is a poor piece of propaganda for the nation — we see its sins and its errors and its flaws. It is not propaganda. It is not an apology for the nation at all. It is not a glorification of its heroes. We see them as deeply flawed. It is a glorification of God’s character and grace.
לֹא לָנוּ יְהוָה לֹא לָנוּ כִּי־לְשִׁמְךָ תֵּן כָּבוֹד עַל־חַסְדְּךָ עַל־אֲמִתֶּךָ
“Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness.” (NRSV)
Adam Clarke paraphrases the first part of this verse this way:
We take no merit to ourselves; as thine is the kingdom, and the power in that kingdom, so is thy glory.
In the Old Testament, even the official religion and ritual of the people comes under heavy criticism:
“Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation — I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1:10-17 NRSV) (more…)
I haven’t had much time to blog lately — as you may have noticed. This fall was unusually busy. I served on the teams for 2 Emmaus Walks and a Keryx Prison weekend. In addition to that I served on a Vital Church Initiative consultation team — with another consultation coming up next week. When all of this was added to my other involvements, it simply became too much to try to continue with my usual Internet activities. The Steele’s Answers and Hidden Life blogs have not been well tended either — even though they don’t demand as much time from me. (I find writing much more time consuming than editing.)
I like to post every day when I can. But, there are times when I can’t, and I don’t think blog breaks are bad thing. (more…)
Christian readers need to continually remind themselves: the Old Testament believers had no developed doctrine of the afterlife. Whereas, in much of Christianity the idea of the afterlife — of rewards and punishments in the world to come — dominates the thinking of believers. This has become such a commonplace idea in Christianity, we must consciously remind ourselves that it is missing (for the most part) from the thinking of the Old Testament writers.
It’s not just Christians who may be surprised — or even shocked — by the absence of this theme. There are some observers who have theorized that religion exists as a way of addressing the fear of death. If that were the case, it would be impossible to account for the Jewish religion in Old Testament times (or: the religion of the ancient Greeks at the time of Homer, either. Just read The Iliad sometime.).
Because the believers of Old Testament times had no developed doctrine of the afterlife, they tended to see the issues of right & wrong / rewards & punishments as playing themselves out in this life. You can see this clearly in the book of Proverbs, for example: do right and things will go well for you, do wrong and you will suffer. (more…)
Some Things Christians Could Agree Upon Even If They End Up Having To Agree to Disagree (About Gay & Lesbian Issues)
The controversy in the Church over the morality of same gender sex has flared up again lately with the appearance of a new wave of books on the subject. Now evangelical and (otherwise) conservative authors are advocating the moral acceptance of same gender sex — for those who are so inclined. (This includes one book that I find rather interesting myself.) And, there has been a strong and angry reaction against this — causing one publisher to be removed from the National Religious Broadcasters. While the controversy has entered a new stage, it still appears that Christians are bitterly opposed on this issue. In the United Methodist Church, there has been talk of schism over the issue — though I personally doubt that that will happen. All in all, Christians seem no closer to being able to agree with one another about the morality of same gender sex than they ever were.
There are two opposing views. I call them Side A & Side B. “To put the difference in simple, perhaps overly simple terms: SideB believes that gay/homosexual sex is immoral. SideA by contrast believes that gay/homosexual sex is morally equal to heterosexual sex.”
And, one might wonder, in the face of a disagreement so bitter, divisive and deep, whether there could possibly be any common cause among the disputants. Are there, in fact, some things Christians could agree upon, even if they find they disagree on the morality of same gender sex?
Well, yes. As a matter of fact, I think there are. (more…)
How would we want other people to think of you? Wouldn’t you want them to think the best?
For some people it becomes an obsession: wondering what other people think of them. It is a source of anxiety and shame. Most of the time the truth of the matter is: they don’t spend much time thinking about us at all. And, how much does it matter anyway? Should it?
That can be a disturbing line of thought. Many people I know were raised in a hellfire and brimstone religion, where the angry judgement of God was a prominent theme. Human sinfulness & depravity was held up as the basic fact of human nature. We are sinners. And, God is holy. God is offended and angry over our sin. God must condemn us. It is only right.
And, this message, resonates with something deep inside us. We know we are not the people we should be. We are often ashamed of ourselves. And, God must know of flaws and errors that we don’t. We are quick to condemn ourselves. Why wouldn’t God condemn us?
In fact, it is hard for us to imagine that God would think more highly of us than we think of ourselves. Isn’t it?
That is why the message of God’s love is always so hard to believe. If we are sometimes tempted to worry about what other people think of us — how much more worrisome the thought of what God might think of us. (more…)