John Wesley: A Leader For Today

John Wesley: A Leader For Today

Primary Influences Upon John Wesley’s Life

John Wesley’s greatest influence was undoubtedly his mother. From the training and education she provided him as a young boy, to the advice that she provided him as a grown man, John Wesley’s foremost guide was his mother. Her strict yet caring hand guided him into maturity and into the ministry. It was his mother who made him feel he was a ‘brand plucked from the fire,’ purposed to do great things. From his mother, Wesley found purpose and meaning, but no spiritual solace.

The mystics, such as Law and a’ Kempis, guided Wesley through the next phase of his life. Although his mother still brought direction at times of difficulty, Wesley was away from home and influenced by the teachings of these men. In the writings of Law and a’ Kempis, Wesley hoped to find peace from his burning fear of death. The writings of the mystics formed in Wesley the hope of seeking after God and finding inner assurance and peace.

Wesley would be tormented for many years with his fears until he was brought into contact with the Moravians. Through men like Bohler, Wesley was confronted with the truth of God’s saving grace through faith. The influence of the Moravian’s led to Wesley’s experience at Aldersgate. Here, Wesley gained the assurance and peace he had so longed for his entire life.  These influences help mold Wesley’s theology changed the face of religion around the world.

Impact Upon My Life and Ministry

John Wesley stands as a symbol of faith and dedication to God in the midst of great turmoil. As Wesley and the Methodists began their preaching across England, they were met with great persecution. It is John Wesley, and men and women of like character, who inspire me to pursue God no matter the cost. John Wesley was a man who devoted his life to serving God. Examining his life challenges me to devote more time and effort to the work God has placed before me. Ministry is not a job, it is a choice to live my life in service to God and His people. Wesley knew this and practiced it without fear or hesitation. To have the courage and the dedication to serve God with all his heart and soul and strength is one challenge Wesley lays before the feet of all Christians.

Lessons for Today’s Church

Wesley was a revolutionary who brought correction to God’s people at a time of corruption. I fear that the Church today has drifted away from service that pleases God to service that pleases people and the culture. John Wesley never sought to divide the Church but to Sanctify her, yet many misguided leaders have ripped the Church apart in pursuit of approval from the dominant culture. Wesley sought unity, but never at the price of moral compromise. He is a good example of how we must care for the lost by reaching out without compromising the message. Sadly, however, too many Churches are consumed with attendance and too many leaders are consumed with popularity. The Church could learn much from John Wesley’s life, but will She?

Christians Never Called to Kill

Christians Never Called to Kill

The NY Times demonstrates their own ignorance and religious bigotry toward Christians in this article by Jeremy W. Peters and Lizette Alvarez that says,

“Republican congressman read his colleagues a Bible verse from Romans that calls for the execution of gays.”

The article repeats the anti-Christian propaganda that distorts the Scripture giving the impression that it endorses the killing of gays.

Representative Rick W. Allen of Georgia, the Republican who last month read the Romans verse that says of homosexuals “they which commit such things are worthy of death” as the House was about to vote on a gay rights amendment, has not apologized.

At a time when media outlets and Liberal politicians are bending over backwards to “prove” that all these terrorists do not reflect the “true” Islam, the teaching of the Koran, or the Prophet Mohammad, we find articles like this that are willing to deform the Christian Scripture to impugn all Christians.

The verse these authors use to attack Christians is Romans 1:30, but of course these authors are either unaware or unwilling to recognize the context of that single verse.

Romans 1:26–32 (ESV)

26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

Let me state this as clearly as possible. Despite the hatred and bigotry being disseminated by the reporters for the NY Times, NOWHERE in the New Testament is it taught and NEVER is there a call to kill anyone in the name of Jesus. In fact, the passage in question teaches the EXACT OPPOSITE of what is claimed by the NY Times. The passage teaches that all have sinned and deserve death (not by human hands, but by God’s judgment). All people are guilty of sin that leads to eternal separation from God.

The Apostle Paul goes on to say clearly that we all share the guilt of sin, and therefore, we have no foundation to condemn someone else, without also condemning ourselves.

Romans 2:1–5 (ESV)

2 Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

No Christian can condemn a gay person. Certainly no one reading Romans would see this as a call to kill them!  All people have sinned, and those who seek God will be given grace through Jesus Christ who died on our behalf.

Romans 2:6–11 (ESV)

He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality.

The passage is an exhortation to seek to do good to others, not evil.

That the NY Times hires writers who hate Christians, the Gospel,and God Himself should not then come as a surprise; Romans tells us this will be the case for all those lost in sin. But, there is hope in Christ as we strive to share the Gospel of salvation and peace.

In the Gospel is revealed a way of reconciliation for us, through Christ. O! what love was it that bestowed upon us such an inestimable gift as that of God’s only dear Son, to make reconciliation for us through the blood of his cross! And here it is particularly to be noticed, that God does not so much offer to be reconciled to us, as he invites us to be reconciled to him. The address which his ministers are commissioned to make to men, is, “We beseech you in Christ’s stead, Be ye reconciled to God.” The great obstruction to friendship between God and us lies altogether on our part. Not a single moment would God retain his anger against us, if we humbled ourselves before him, and besought his favour for Christ’s sake. But, though importuned by him, we continue obstinate in our alienation from him. Still, however, the Gospel follows us with invitations and entreaties to lay aside our enmity, and to accept his proffered mercies. Be thankful for this marvellous kindness vouchsafed unto you: for, if once you be taken into the eternal world, there will be no longer any forbearance on the part of God; but his wrath will burst forth against you, and burn even to the lowest hell to all eternityn. It would be terrible to have all the creation for your enemies: but to have the Creator himself your enemy, and that for ever and ever, O! how inconceivably terrible will this be! Well! bless your God that this need not be your fate, nor shall be, if only you will throw down the weapons of your rebellion, and implore mercy at God’s hands for Christ’s sake.

Charles Simeon, Horae Homileticae: Romans, vol. 15 (London: Holdsworth and Ball, 1833), 27–28.

Jesus the Prophet of Peace

To find out more about the language of peace in the Christian Scriptures, please read my paper,“Jesus the Prophet of Peace: The Language of Peace in the Christian Scripture”. presented at San Diego State University, sponsored by the Department of Religious Studies, as part of a is 2-day “Symposium on Scripture, Hermeneutics and Language.” The event involved scholars from the Islamic, and Christian faiths, each presenting papers on their sacred scriptures.

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* Image from TerraSanta.net.
Throwing in the Towel on Jesus

Throwing in the Towel on Jesus

Robert was once a Southern Baptist pastor and now he is a professed atheist.  A friend wrote him a letter of concern, and following begins Robert’s “Letter to a Christian Friend.”

Dear Friend,

I thought that you might be surprised, as most of my old friends and my family have been. It is difficult for most Christians to believe that a former southern baptist minister could be an Atheist. You responded very much like a lot of them and did so with concern, love, an obvious bias that I understand, and some false assumptions. I have no problem explaining my journey to you or anyone who has a sincere desire to know, but you really need to keep an open mind, because as you already have in your e-mail, you will be tempted to assume some things that simply are false. Nothing that you wrote that supports your faith is new to me and I think you know me well enough to know that. They are convictions I once held myself. I think you also know the answer to some of the questions you posed; especially the one about whether or not I ever was a Christian. You, of all people, know better than to ask such a question. As arrogant as this may sound, if I wasn’t a Christian, then no one is.

Let me answer some of your other direct questions. I do not believe in anything supernatural or spiritual, therefore I do not believe in a god. Christianity at it’s core is a religion based on faith (believing without evidence). In fact there is no evidence that the God of the bible exists, there is only personal experience. This is how there can be so many different religions and so many different Christian denominations that can claim to have the truth. None of them have the truth, they have belief without evidence. So, to your question about death and an afterlife….when I die, I’m dead, gone, that’s it. No I will not see my wife and children somewhere in a “spiritual place.” No such place exists…

As you can imagine, Robert has received a lot of replies to his open letter defending his new found Atheism. I would like to make a few observations of my own that, for me, reflect the core of Robert’s dilemma.

1. Convictions are a poor substitute for Conversion:  What I find most striking in Robert’s response is that nowhere does he discuss a historical relationship with Jesus.  Instead, what Robert describes is giving up one set of philosophical convictions about “god” for another set of convictions about the “absence of god.”   I think Robert reflects a great swath of Western Faith that relies heavily on adhereence to s set of convictions that have limited emphasis on a personal encounter with Jesus.

2. Evidence  is meaningless without an Encounter: I am not surprised Robert rejects the existence of the supernatural because clearly he never had an encounter with YHWH.  He became a professional pastor, bought into a system of religious beliefs, but nowhere did he ever experience a personal encounter with Jesus or the power of the Spirit.   How do I know?  Because Robert says so.  His circular reasoning is based on a false syllogism, “God is supernatural, I have not experienced the supernatural, therefore God does not exist.”  In the end, Robert’s atheistic faith is still based on a narcissistic worldview instead of a external relationship.

3. Conversion and Encounter are the key. The Apostle Paul is an early example of how these two elements stand at the center of Faith in Christ.  Paul was a Jew who killed Christians for a living.  He killed Christians based on a very strong set of convictions, rooted in the Old Testament evidence about God.  The evidence never changed and Paul’s convictions about God were right on target.  What changed for Paul was his encounter with Jesus and his conversion through the Holy Spirit.

Robert’s story is a lesson for all those who preach the Gospel of Jesus.  There are many “Roberts” in our churches.  Many have been created by false pastors and leaders who have relied on convictions and evidence to the exclusion of conversion and encounter.  But just as bad are those who fight endlessly to change the convictions of how we “do” church.  How many blogs have you read that argue that the only real way to “do” communion is with a meal?  How many websites have you read that rail against any who “do” church in a big building and insist that the “house” is the only place where God dwells?  In reality, all of these trendy arguments are focused on changing people’s convictions and they will eventually lead to even more disillusioned “Roberts”.

If you are struggling with the inability to “worship” YHWH, the answer will not be found changing your location, changing the size of your congregation, or changing your style of worship. The answer is found in a personal encounter with Jesus and a conversion of the heart empowered by the Spirit.

The Church is Not Your Sugar-Daddy

The Church is Not Your Sugar-Daddy

The church in the West is undergoing rapid change.  We are shifting from an Enlightenment worldview to a Post-modern philosophy.  The positive side of change is a stripping away of cultural encumbrance that has kept us from fulfilling the Gospel.  The downside of our current transformation, is that we are all-too-often exchanging one cultural norm for another.  One form of church is torn down, only to be replaced by a newer more culturally acceptable form.   One set of political mores, is replaced by another.

One example of transformation comes under the rubric of Social Justice (ie. poverty, homelessness, AIDS, etc…).  In serving the needs of the world, one of the key purposes of the Church–Evangelization of the lost–has been replace with the purpose to befriending the lost.  The call to demonstrate the mature love of Christ has been supplanted by a childlike fascination with wordly-compassion.

Tokunboh Adeyemo writes a salient response from an African perspective in this article entitled, “Contemporary Issues in Africa and the Future of Evangelicals”

To the world, the Church has the responsibility of witnessing for Christ and discipling the nations (Acts 1:8; Matthew 28:19). This does not preclude works of charily which are an intrinsic part of the good news. However, caution needs to be exercised in this area. The Church is not an organisation for social and political asylum, nor are we to use divine resources to bribe people into God’s kingdom. Since the Church is in the world but not of the world, she should not be indifferent to the social, political, and economic struggles of mankind; neither should she sacrifice her ambassadorial function at the altar of social involvement. Our Lord Jesus Christ liberates the total man: the material and the non-material. Thus he says: ‘If the Son, therefore, shall make you free, you shall be free indeed’ (John 8:36). The Biblical sequence begins with an internal spiritual regeneration and reconciliation of man to God, manifesting itself in an external physical transformation and reconciliation of man to man in society. The task of the Church therefore is to confront (not maintain dialogue with) the world with the claims of Christ as deposited in the Bible. This mission, central to the heart of God, his Son, and the apostles, must be the mission of evangelicals to the world. The New Testament Church was a missionary Church; and so must be ours. We must go forth (i) with a thorough-going Biblicism which does justice to the claims of the Scriptures, and (ii) with a Biblicism that is both contemporary and relevant.

* World Evangelical Fellowship. Theological Commission., vol. 2, Evangelical Review of Theology : Volume 2, electronic ed., Logos Library System; Evangelical Review of Theology (Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Paternoster Periodicals, 2000, 1978), 12.

Does the love of Christ include tangible expressions of kindness? Yes! But, our mission is more than alleviating the temporal pains of this world. We, the followers of Jesus, have a greater call to give the world a hope beyond the ‘now’.  We are ambassadors of God’s Kingdom to this passing world and we must live accordingly.

Lest we forget…

Thirst is not quenched by micro-loans for building wells, but by the eternal wellspring of the Spirit.

Jesus replied, “Everyone who drinks some of this water will be thirsty again. 14 But whoever drinks some of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again, but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up to eternal life. (John 4:13-14))”

The hunger for meaning is not satisfied by wheat–bread, but through Jesus–bread.

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. The one who comes to me will never go hungry, and the one who believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But I told you that you have seen me and still do not believe…

50 This is the bread that has come down from heaven, so that a person may eat from it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats from this bread he will live forever. The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

52 Then the Jews who were hostile to Jesus began to argue with one another, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves. 54 The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood resides in me, and I in him (John 6:35-36; 50-56).

The longing for love is not fulfilled in giving trinkets and bobbles, but in the person of God who IS love.

Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been fathered by God and knows God. 8 The person who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 By this the love of God is revealed in us: that God has sent his one and only Son into the world so that we may live through him. 10 In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

11 Dear friends, if God so loved us, then we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God resides in us, and his love is perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we reside in God and he in us: in that he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world (1 John 4:7-14).

I know how some folks will respond, “this kind of faith is not practical.”  But therein lies the problem.–Faith in the West is impotent.  The power of Christ, through His Spirit, to transform the world has been entrusted to preachers, politicians and pop-stars.  The church must not give Her grand place in the Kingdom to become the Sugar-Daddy to the world.  Do we really believe it?  Are we able to live it!

Only 4% Replant

Only 4% Replant

Ed Stetzer did some research for the North American Missions Board and released a study that said only 4% of churches in the US reproduce or plant other churches.  So if you want to know why the Church is not growing in the US… that stat says it all.

So when I set out to plant Reunion Church, I committed from the start that I would not just focus on building one church, but building God’s Kingdom through generational discipleship and planting many churches.

  • As a professor in San Diego, I am teaching the next generation of planters.
  • As a coach, I am working to guide church planters from a variety of backgrounds and locations.
  • As a mentor, I am using my church as a training ground to build, grow and send new leaders.

So less than one year out from our Easter 2015 launch, Reunion has been blessed to send out our first church planter. From our beginning in August 2014, John Darrow came aboard as our Next-Up Church Planter. As a part of our Eldership, he spent the next year and a half being coached, mentored and prepared by God to launch out on his on church planting venture. On, January 10th, 2016, John and Irina were commissioned to plant Church of the Cross.

Ironically, I have not had any positive feedback from other church planting groups who tell me it was a mistake to replanted so fast. We don’t have a full-time staff and not even a full-time pastor to lead the charge.

“You won’t succeed?”

I think the opposite is true; most churches don’t replant fast enough. Most planters are too focused on their own growth, building their own staff, and forget that building a church is first and foremost about Kingdom growth. With a strong volunteer team in place that supports our vision, I am convinced we are on the right track and I am excited for the future of church planting out of Reunion Church.

With our first replant out the door, we are focused on another crop of 4 young leaders. Each at a different phase, but each one in the pipeline to be our next church planter.

Pray for us and consider joining our Family to grow the next generation of church planters.

Christmas is Truth in Action

Christmas is Truth in Action

If you watch the news, you would think Christmas is one of the most controversial or despised holidays, but in truth the majority of Americans love to celebrate this tradition. According to Pew Research, 9 in 10 Americans celebrate Christmas; nones, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and Christians in significant numbers all take time each year to commemorate this national holiday.

Christmas is not just a personal celebration; it is a time for family and community to come together. It is a public festival where individual homes and entire neighborhoods post elaborate displays, almost 75% of Americans are open to Christmas decorations on Government property and over 80% find gift-giving brings them joy.

But more important than embracing social conventions and public traditions, is what Americans believe about the historical nature of Christmas. The graphic below indicated that the majority of Americans accept the historical accuracy of key aspects in the biblical account; Jesus laid in a manger, wise men guided by a star, angels announcing the birth and Jesus born of a virgin. In fact, only a tiny percent of people reject all of these key elements.

FT_15.12.23_5factsXmas4

But celebrating these holy days is not enough… knowing and accepting these historical facts is not enough.  Christmas must be for us truth in action.  A real life illustration may help us connect these Christmas dots.

In these past few years, studies have suggested that some Christians, like heavy metal Christian rock star Tim Lambesis, have walked away from their faith. For some, the facade of faith is just a means to commercial success or social acceptance. There are certainly a complexity of reasons why some these people rejected their Faith, but one Christian turned atheist explained his reason for walking away stemmed from a disconnect between beliefs and action. Years after turning away from God, and then turning back to God, Mike McHargue observed,

mike_mcnaughtenWhen you lose God through rational analysis, you contemplate life from a materialistic philosophy. This perspective shows you that man’s ideas about God are flawed. I believe again, but I also believe no church sect has figured out the Great Mystery. I have doctrinal beliefs, but I know some of them may be wrong. I just don’t know which ones.

In the midst of emotional conflict, McHargue abandoned the hope of God made certain in the Bible, rejected the materialism of Atheism, and eventually embraced a new faith; a ‘Faith of Confusion.’ McHargue’s new faith begins within himself and is rooted in the unshakable confidence of his own uncertainty. He concludes in his article,

mike_mcnaughtenAtheism doesn’t pretend to have answers to every question. Losing God changed me. I no longer feel like I have to have answers to all the questions we face in life. I’m happy to look for an answer without finding one, and I’m comfortable with uncertainty. My faith is an act of simple trust now.

What I know is less important than what I do. Knowing Jesus is not an abstract set of information or a construct of dogma. Being a Christian comes down to the simple of act of dropping my nets when I hear the words, “Come, follow me.”

In short, McHargue argues that the truth which undergirds his beliefs doesn’t matter as long as he takes action on what he believes today.

So what does all this have to do with Christmas?

McHargue’s faith journey is a microcosm of how Americans celebrate Christmas. Like McHargue, many Christians have made one of two mistakes.

  1. We have either concluded that the truth of Christmas means so much that all tradition must be rejected or…
  2. that the truth of Christmas is irrelevant as long as we enjoy the traditions.

Both approaches lead to error and ignore a third approach where Christianity is equally both truth and action; Faith is both doctrine and praxis. We cannot have a lasting Faith that diminishes the value of truth for the sake of action, or action for the sake of truth (James 2:17). In relating this to Christmas, it is a season where both truth and tradition matter. Insofar as “tradition” reflects the necessary action that corresponds to the truth of Jesus Christ, we can make two important statements.

First, the truth of Christmas matters. The Bible does not give a smorgasbord of events where we pick and chose the ones we like and reject the ones we find uncomfortable. From the miracle of Jesus’ first incarnation and the promise of His second; and all that lies between, accepting the historical truth of Scripture is the necessary foundation of our Faith.

Second, the tradition of Christmas matters. By tradition, I do not necessarily mean the specific practice of decorating trees or giving gifts (although these are fine ways to commemorate the day). By tradition, I refer the larger practice of the Church setting aside a season to celebrate the first incarnation of Christ and finding ways to demonstrate that truth by reaching to the world.

Christmas is, and must be, truth in action.

For God, Christmas is the truth of His love demonstrated in the condescension of his Son Jesus to take on human flesh so He might bring reconciliation to mankind (John 3:16; Phil. 2:6). For the Christian, Christmas must be the truth of Jesus as our savior manifest in our love to the people we meet each day; a tangible love that points people to the truth that gives us hope.

Christmas without truth ceases to be Christmas. Christmas without action ceases to be Christmas. Christmas is truth in action.

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