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…)
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.
Christian faith is then, not only an assent to the whole gospel of Christ, but also a full reliance on the blood of Christ; a trust in the merits of his life, death, and resurrection; a recumbency upon him as our atonement and our life, as given for us, and living in us; and, in consequence hereof, a closing with him, and cleaving to him, as our “wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption,” or, in one word, our salvation.
— John Wesley, Sermon #1: “Salvation by Faith”
No faith can command a man’s final and absolute allegiance, that is to say, no faith can be a man’s real religion, if he knows that it is only true for certain places and certain people. In a world which knows that there is only one physics and one mathematics, religion cannot do less than claim for its affirmations a like universal validity.
— J. E. Lesslie Newbigin, A Faith for This One World? (1961) quoted in: Dallas Willard, Knowing Christ Today: Why we Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge HarperOne 2009 page 2.
Recently I mentioned that back in June, Richard Peck and Tim Tanton contacted me by email, asking if I would write a brief personal essay about my own perspective on sexuality issues. They said they were collecting such essays to be a part of an online forum of sexuality issues which would be hosted on UMC.org.
Well, the Forum is up and it is located here: Sharing in Faith: A Forum on Sexuality and the Church.
At the site it says:
Welcome to “Sharing in Faith,” where United Methodists can share perspectives on human sexuality and better understand one another’s journeys on this issue.
The perspectives are offered in the first person, not with the intent of persuading or dissuading but of helping people understand one another as persons of faith dealing with a challenging issue.
People are invited to share their own experiences on the forum. Some simple suggestions are given.
This is an opportunity to listen and learn from one another.
A recent article at The Atlantic entitled When Prayer Makes Anxiety Worse points to a problem that others have mentioned before: prayer may (and should) release us from our anxieties, but some types of prayer may make matters worse. It depends on what kind of God you believe in.
But for those who are anxious about everything, prayer can sometimes help and sometimes hurt. Past research on the mental-health benefits of praying have been mixed. Some studies have found that people who pray more are more satisfied and happy, others found no relationship to well-being, and still others found a negative correlation.
A new study published in Sociology of Religion suggests that prayer can help ease people’s anxiety, but whether it does so depends on the personality of the God they believe in. That is, whether someone has a relationship with what they perceive to be an angry, vengeful God or more of a friendly figure could determine whether prayer brings relief—or simply more stress….
What they found was that those who prayed more frequently felt “a secure attachment to God.” But those who thought God was distant and unresponsive were far more likely to show signs of anxiety-related disorders. This echoes an April study that found that people who believe God is malevolent are more likely to suffer from anxiety, paranoia, and compulsions.
I have found this to be true myself. When my focus is on my own anxieties and frustrations, my prayers can make my attitude worse. It is faith and trust that make prayer effective. As I trust God, I release my anxieties — I let go of them. My prayers need to focus on God and not on me. This is why praise is so important to prayer — like true worship, it puts our mind on God. As we re-affirm our faith in God’s character and God’s love, we put our anxieties in perspective. From that standpoint, we can, then, pray about them.
If prayer is making you more anxious — you are (to put it crassly) doing it wrong.
Hollywood publicist Michael Levine comments on the struggles of actor and comedian Robin Williams: “Very few people in this world reach the level of fame Robin Williams did and could understand the type of depression he dealt with…. There tends to be a lack of compassion — ‘So what, you’re famous’ — and it’s hard for people to then empathize. People like Robin often feel like they have to completely isolate themselves from the fishbowl they live in, and are so isolated they are afraid to ask for help.” Found here: Robin Williams worried about faltering career, struggled with survivor’s guilt, sources say.
Also: here is a list of quotes from Robin Williams: The Profound Quotes From Robin Williams That Helped Shape Our Generation. It includes the following: “No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.”
“For this purpose was the Son of God manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.” — 1 John 3:8.
O do not take any thing less than this for the religion of Jesus Christ! Do not take part of it for the whole! What God hath joined together, put not asunder! Take no less for his religion, than the “faith that worketh by love;’ all inward and outward holiness. Be not content with any religion which does not imply the destruction of all the works of the devil; that is, of all sin. We know, weakness of understanding, and a thousand infirmities, will remain, while this corruptible body remains; but sin need not remain: This is that work of the devil, eminently so called, which the Son of God was manifested to destroy in this present life. He is able, he is willing, to destroy it now, in all that believe in him. …. Do not distrust his power, or his love! Put his promise to the proof! He hath spoken: And is he not ready likewise to perform? Only ‘come boldly to the throne of grace,’ trusting in his mercy; and you shall find, ‘He saveth to the uttermost all those that come to God through him!’
— John Wesley, Sermon #62 “The End of Christ’s Coming.” (Last paragraph.)
Great words from Charles Wesley:
“Let us plead for faith alone,
faith which by our works is shown;
God it is who justifies,
only faith the grace applies.
“Active faith that lives within,
conquers hell and death and sin,
hallows whom it first made whole,
forms the Savior in the soul.
“Let us for this faith contend,
sure salvation is the end;
heaven already is begun,
everlasting life is won.
“Only let us persevere
till we see our Lord appear,
never from the Rock remove,
saved by faith which works by love.”
— Charles Wesley (See: “Let Us Plead for Faith Alone.”)
In this view, there is no separation between faith and works, or between faith and spiritual formation.
The same faith that sets us right with God is also the faith that: “conquers hell and death and sin, hallows whom it first made whole, forms the Savior in the soul.”
I see the development of my faith as a connected story. I don’t see it as a matter of once having a certain type of faith and then graduating or switching to another sort of faith. I am thankful to the people who shared the Gospel with me. I am seeking to extend that journey of faith the best I can — as honestly and truthfully as I can.
Yeah, I heard the Gospel among people who talked about entire sanctification in a way that led to some confusion and frustration. Yeah, there were a number of ideas I am sure I picked up from the conservative Christian culture that I later needed to revise or even reject. Sure — though I think I was always skeptical of that “Rapture” (“A Thief in the Night”) teaching that was so much a part of evangelical Christianity in those days.
As I said recently, I see my own faith journey as one story — even though it has taken some unexpected twists and turns.
It is only natural that faith grows and develops. And, the Church ought to be a place where people can explore new ideas and new understandings. It often isn’t, I know, — but I think it should be. New information always raises new questions. Sometimes new information forces us to develop and adopt new paradigms. It’s only natural. But, we should always be open to new information.
I look at it this way. (more…)
Carl Trueman on Christian liberalism: “That liberalism, political or theological, is not enjoying good health is obvious to even the most causal observer. The rise of religious extremism, particularly that of Islam, has present the Left with a series of choices which have pushed it towards incoherence. Theologically, the picture is little different: liberal Christianity is in decline as it does little more than offer a vaguely religious vocabulary for expressing ideas that are, to be frank, more compelling when stated in secular terms.” Here: Liberalism Reinvented.
Lauren Porter on prayer: “In essence, what I hear [Richard] Foster saying is this: We will never be holy enough to start praying. So, don’t wait till you feel holy to pray. Pray because you need the God who can make you holy. We don’t pray because we feel holy or spiritual. It’s as we pray that we become holy and spiritual.” Here: Just Pray. (more…)
The faculty of faith is not meant to kill the faculty of criticism and the instinct of curiosity, but rather to keep them keen and alive, and prevent them dying of despair. Faith is the mark of those who seek and keep on seeking, who ask and keep on asking, who knock and keep on knocking, until the door is opened. The passive, weak-kneed taking of everything on trust which is often presented as faith is a travesty of its truth. True faith is the most active, positive, and powerful of all virtues. It means that a man, having come into spiritual communion with that great personal Spirit Who lives and works behind the universe, can trust Him, and, trusting Him, can use all his powers of body, mind, and spirit to cooperate with Him in the great purpose of perfection; it means that the man of faith will be the man of science in its deepest, truest sense, and will never cease from asking questions, never cease from seeking for the reason that lies behind all mysteries.
— G. A. Studdert Kennedy , The Hardest Part (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1919), p. 83-84.
Found on the Internet: here.
O Lord my God,
teach my heart where and how to seek you,
where and how to find you.
Lord, if you are not here but absent,
where shall I seek you?
But, you are everywhere, so you must be here,
why then do I not seek you?
Lord, I am not trying to make my way to your height,
for my understanding is in no way equal to that,
but I do desire to understand a little of your truth
which my heart already believes and loves.
I do not seek to understand so that I may believe,
but I believe so that I may understand;
and what is more,
I believe that unless I do believe I shall not understand.
— Anselm (1033-1109)
Prayer is the sum of our relationship with God.
We are what we pray.
The degree of our faith is the degree of our prayer. The strength of our hope is the strength of our prayer. The warmth of our charity is the warmth of our prayer. No more nor less.
Our prayer has had a beginning because we have had a beginning. But it will have no end. It will accompany us into eternity and will be completed in our contemplation of God, when we join in the harmony of heaven and are ‘filled with the flood of God’s delights.’ The story of our earthly-heavenly life will be the story of our prayer.
— Carlo Carretto, Letters from the Desert.
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“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—” (Ephesians 2:8 NRSV)
Many Calvinists fear that any retreat from the conviction that God causes faith will make salvation a human accomplishment. If faith is something we do, then salvation rests on our deeds and no longer on God’s grace. If faith is viewed as our part in the process of salvation, then salvation must he viewed as a cooperative affair, and we should then describe ourselves as self-saviors in part.
But the flaw in this Calvinist fear lies in its improper understanding of the nature of faith itself. The Bible itself does not describe faith as a work that accomplishes a task, or as a deed that establishes merit, or as a lever that forces God to act. Instead, we find that genuine faith is something quite different. As Paul’s treatment of Abraham shows, the patriarch’s faith had no power over God, earned no merit before God and stood as the polar opposite to honorific deeds. Abraham believed God, and righteousness was ‘credited’ to him, not paid to him. God alone justified Abraham freely on the basis of Abraham’s faith (Rom 4:1-6). Since by its very nature faith confesses the complete lack of human merit and human power, it subtracts nothing from the Savior’s grace or glory. By its very nature, faith points away from all human status and looks to God alone for rescue and restoration.
— Jerry L. Walls & Joseph R. Dongell, Why I Am Not a Calvinist (2004) pp. 77, 78.