A Methodist Experiment

Kevin Watson at http://deeplycommitted.com has started an experiment to see how much social capital Methodist bloggers have. This experiment was prompted by the feeling among some Methodist bloggers that United Methodism does not always do as good of a job as it could at getting the Wesleyan message out there, particularly on-line. So, he wants to see how many views a YouTube video can get if Methodist bloggers work together to promote it. The experiment is to see how many hits the video will receive in two weeks.

If you want to participate you can: First, watch the video below. Second, copy and paste this entire post into a new post on your blog and post it. Third, remind people about this experiment in one week.

Based on the results of the experiment, Kevin will get in touch with the folks at Discipleship Resources and let them know the ways in which Methodist bloggers are often an underused resource.

Cluster Headaches

Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a fan of the new cluster model being introduced in my conference. On the surface it seems a positive move, but I believe in practice it will not be as beneficial as believed. Why? Geography. The idea is that United Methodist churches will ‘cluster’ together to do ministry in their community. While that may work with churches in a large city, it will not with those of us in smaller communities. The closest UMC to me is about 20 minutes away in a neighboring town. The communities are not the same. We are suppose to have four or more churches involved. If that is the case, that means we will have churches from four different communities. I could go on, but basically I feel it will be next to impossible for multiple rural area churches to come together and have a cooperative ministry to each individual community. With the price of gas, and the “time crunch” issues I believe there is a potential that individuals will choose either the cluster ministry or local church ministry, but not both.

I guess Google feels the same way. When I opened up this email from my DS about the cluster kickoff, I also noticed that Google had placed an advertisement to “End cluster headaches.” How did they know??? Perhaps I can bookmark this site for later use…

Revisiting Holiness part 2

Here is the first article and third article in this series.

One of the mistakes I made when I viewed holiness was believing it was a matter of will power. Holiness seemed like something I could attain if I could work hard enough. Since I felt it was all about my will power, I found myself focusing on the ‘easier’ sins….language, stealing, killing, etc. I made sure not to do those. Yet, the more subtle sins, lust, anger, etc were more difficult. I found myself constantly going to God asking for forgiveness in a sin-repent, sin-repent cycle.

It didn’t help to observed those in the holiness traditions either. It seemed like holiness was about how you dressed, or that you didn’t drink or swear. It was this view of holiness I rejected and I even remember the day I rejected it.

I was pastoring a small United Methodist Church and my wife and I went out to a fast food restaurant after the service. As I stood in line some other people that had just finished their service came into the same restaurant. I didn’t know what church they were from, but I could tell from their dress it was some type of holiness church. I realize that this might sound judgmental, but as I looked at them that day, I did not see joy. I didn’t even see love.

I was already moving away from holiness and the realization that those who were much holier than I was didn’t have any more joy or love caused me to finally believe that there had to be some other way. That was over fifteen years ago. And to be honest, I kept trying to understand what would bring me joy and cause me to love. What I’ve discovered is holiness, at least the kind that Wesley preached about, is the very thing that can bring joy and love.

Wesley maintained that without holiness, one could not be happy. He writes in sermon 45 (The New Birth):

 

For the same reason, except he be born again, none can be happy even in this world. For it is not possible, in the nature of things, that a man should be happy who is not holy. Even the poor, ungodly poet could tell us, Nemo malus felix: “no wicked man is happy.” The reason is plain: All unholy tempers are uneasy tempers: Not only malice, hatred, envy jealousy, revenge, create a present hell in the breast; but even the softer passions, if not kept within due bounds, give a thousand times more pain than pleasure. Even “hope,” when “deferred,” (and how often must this be the case!) “maketh the heart sick;” and every desire which is not according to the will of God is liable to “pierce” us “through with many sorrows:” And all those general sources of sin — pride, self-will, and idolatry — are, in the same proportion as they prevail, general sources of misery. Therefore, as long as these reign in any soul, happiness has no place there. But they must reign till the bent of our nature is changed, that is, till we are born again; consequently, the new birth is absolutely necessary in order to happiness in this world, as well as in the world to come.

One of the things I had overlooked in my study of Wesley was how he connected justification with regeneration (The New Birth). Collins terms this regeneration “initial sanctification.” This is where holiness starts. Another thing I had overlooked was this regeneration and the subsequent holiness wasn’t something I had to work up, but rather something God gives as a gift. Just as justification is a gift, so is regeneration.

This was a huge omission for me. I will write more about it in part 3 of this series.

Revisiting Holiness part 1

I don’t honestly know where to begin. My journey with holiness has been strained over the years. Of course, as a young Christian, I believed in the importance of holiness…I just couldn’t live up to my own expectations. As I attended seminary, I started viewing holiness (and the holiness tradition) as based on antiquated rules and regulations. Jesus, after all, came to forgive us of our sins and that IS Good News! Even though my seminary was founded on the basis of the holiness movement, I found myself shying away from even using the term.

Holiness was not a good term for me. It had negative connotations and way too much baggage. I began focusing on other areas of the Christian life. 1 John 1:9 was very good to me! I would tell people that God loved them…more than they knew. Every week we would pray about our sins; the things that held us captive, brought us down, and gave us shame. We would pray for forgiveness. The wonderful grace of God through Jesus was more than enough to cover all of our sins.

I still believe that too. I still believe that God loves all. Yet, I think I stopped short. I believe there is even more wonderful news than Jesus forgiving us. It took re-reading sermons by John Wesley to remind me of that Good news. Yet, it didn’t start there.

It started in a Doctoral class with Ken Collins. Ken said that not only did John Wesley preach that through Jesus we were released from the guilt of sin, but we were also released from sin’s power and domination. Ken’s new book The Theology of John Wesley: Holy Love and the Shape of Grace goes into even more detail on this point.

While I remembered something about Wesley preaching along those lines, I decided to check it out for myself. What I found in Wesley is still difficult for me to come to terms with because I believe Collins is right about Wesley. If Wesley is right, then there is good news for all who struggle with sin. God not only forgives us of our sins, He also empowers us to be victors over that sin.

I know many who read this will reject this whole thing as idealistic. Yet, what is the alternative life? A life characterized by failure, guilt, shame, and imprisonment by the sins that surround us. That is not “abundant life” (John 10:10). Yet, it is a life that describes many Christians I know. Since forgiveness is preached and not “new birth” or regeneration, most Christians never realize the gift that God is yearning to give to them.

In the second installment of this series, I will concentrate on what this gift is, and then discuss why I think I reacted so negatively to holiness all these years.

John Wesley on the Importance of Fasting

First Wesley voices his concern that Methodists are not fasting like they did at one time:

 

14. It would be easy to show, in how many respects the Methodists, in general, are deplorably wanting in the practice of Christian self-denial; from which, indeed, they have been continually frighted by the silly outcries of the Antinomians. To instance only in one: While we were at Oxford, the rule of every Methodist was, (unless in case of sickness,) to fast every Wednesday and Friday in the year, in imitation of the Primitive Church; for which they had the highest reverence. Now this practice of the Primitive Church is universally allowed. “Who does not know,” says Epiphanius, an ancient writer, “that the fasts of the fourth and sixth days of the week” (Wednesday and Friday) “are observed by the Christians throughout the whole world.” So they were by the Methodists for several years; by them all, without any exception; but afterwards, some in London carried this to excess, and fasted so as to impair their health. It was not long before others made this a pretence for not fasting at all. And I fear there are now thousand of Methodists, so called, both in England and Ireland, who, following the same bad example, have entirely left off fasting; who are so far from fasting twice in the week, (as all the stricter Pharisees did,) that they do not fast twice in the month. Yea, are there not some of you who do not fast one day from the beginning of the year to the end? But what excuse can there for this? I do not say for those that call themselves members of the Church of England; but for any who profess to believe the Scripture to be the word of God. Since, according to this, the man that never fasts is no more in the way to heaven, than the man that never prays. (John Wesley from CAUSES OF THE INEFFICACY OF CHRISTIANITY Sermon 116)

I wonder what he would say to us today….