Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Charles Wesley Song or a John Wesley Sermon? by Terry Gardner

A Charles Wesley Song or a John Wesley Sermon?
On September 5th I found myself in Bristol, England in the Chapel where Charles Wesley led many of the 8,000 hymns he wrote.  While in the chapel our little band of 35 souls began to sing Wesley songs.  We sang, “Soldiers of Christ, Arise,” “Christ, the Lord, is Risen Today,” “A Charge to Keep I Have,” “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” and “Hark!  The Herald Angels Sing.”  Great songs all.
David Worthington, who helps oversee the Chapel and the Wesley museum, then asked this interesting question.  “You’ve just sung some great Charles Wesley songs, but when was the last time you heard a John Wesley sermon?”
I know of John Wesley as the founder of the Methodist Church, but what do I know of his preaching and life?  John Wesley’s popularity led to considerable wealth.  At a time when a single man could live comfortably on 30 English pounds a year, Wesley’s annual income was 1,400 pounds.  Wesley’s income was 46 times greater than his personal needs.  As a child the Wesleys had known terrible poverty in a world without any social safety net.  As a young man Wesley had just purchased some pictures for his room when a chambermaid came to his door.  He noticed that she had only a thin linen gown to wear for protection against the cold.  Instinctively he reached into his pocket to give her money for a coat but he had little left. 
John Wesley then asked himself:
Will Thy Master say “Well done, good and faithful steward?”  Thy hast adorned thy walls with the money that might have screened this poor creature from the cold!  O justice!  O mercy!  Are not these pictures the blood of this poor maid?
As a result of this incident Wesley did his best to live on 30 pounds per year and give away his excess wealth.  Each year his income doubled and each year he lived on about 30 pounds per year.  Even when his income rose to 1,400 pounds he still lived on 30 pounds and gave the excess to relieve the needs of others.
In 1744 Wesley wrote, “[When I die] if I leave behind me ten pounds … you and all mankind [can] bear witness against me, that I have lived and died a thief and a robber.”  When he died in 1791, the only money mentioned in his will was the miscellaneous coins to be found in his pockets and dresser drawers.  Most of the 30,000 pounds he had earned in life he had given away.
Christian History Issue No. 19 shares the following on John Wesley and money:
One Word Wesley Hated
John Wesley was known as the great preacher of God’s love and yet, there was one word that Wesley hated.  He described this word as “idle,” “non-sensical,” “stupid,” “miserable,” “vile,” and “diabolical.”  He said it was “the very cant of hell.”  Obviously no Christian should ever utter it.  This exceedingly evil word was … “afford.”  "But I can afford it,” replied the Methodists when Wesley preached against extravagance in food, dress, or lifestyle.  Wesley argued that no Christian could afford anything beyond the necessities required for life and work.  He based his reasoning on five main points:
1.  God is the source of the Christian’s money.  None of us really earns money by our own cleverness or hard work.  For God is the one who gives us the energy and intelligence.  He is the true source of all our wealth.  Wesley inquired of some Methodists who felt they were entitled to a higher standard of living now that they could afford it, “Who gave you this addition to your fortune; or (to speak properly) lent it to you?"
2.  Christians must account to the Lord for how they have used money.  Wesley urged people to use money wisely, because at any time they may have to give an account to the Lord for the way in which they have used the wealth He gave them.  Because no one knows when that might be, no one should ever waste money now, planning to make it up to the Lord later.  “How long are you to stay here?”  Wesley asked those who felt free to spend extra money on themselves.  “May you tomorrow, perhaps tonight, be summoned to arise and go hence, in order to give an account of this and all your talents to the Judge of the quick and dead?"
3.  Christians are trustees of the Lord’s money.  The money God has put into our hands is not our own, but His.  We do not own it; rather we are His agents in distributing it.  Thus we must use it not as we wish, but as He directs.  Wesley reminded his hearers of this truth by asking, “Can any steward afford to be an errant knave? To waste his Lord’s goods?  Can any servant afford to lay out his Master’s money any otherwise than his Master appoints him?”
4.  God gives Christians money for them to pass along to those who need it.  God’s purpose in giving us money is for us to help the poor and needy.  To use it on ourselves is to steal from God.  Wesley demanded of some comfortable Methodists:  “Do you not know that God entrusted you with that money (all above what buys necessities for your families) to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to help the stranger, the widow, the fatherless; and, indeed, as far as it will go, to relieve the wants of all mankind?  How can you, how dare you, defraud your Lord, by applying it to any other purpose?"
5.  Christians may no more buy luxuries for themselves than they may throw their money away.  God made us trustees of His resources so we may feed the hungry and clothe the naked in His name.  We should turn our extra money into food and clothing for the poor.  Just as it would be wrong to destroy other people’s food and clothes, so it is also wrong to spend money needlessly on ourselves.  Wesley said, “None can afford to throw any part of that and raiment into the sea, which was lodged with him on purpose to feed the hungry and clothe the naked.”  But if we are determined to waste God’s money, Wesley argued that it would be better actually to throw it into the sea than to spend it extravagantly.  At least throwing money into the sea hurts no one, while spending it needlessly on ourselves poisons all who see it with “pride, vanity, anger, lust, love of the world, and a thousand ‘foolish and hurtful desires.’”
It is easy to see why I prefer a Charles Wesley song to a John Wesley sermon!  I realize that John Wesley was extreme in some of his views.  But I have to admire his commitment to the poor and the clarity of his understanding that all Christians are not our own for we have been bought with a price … the blood of Jesus Christ.  We are God’s stewards and we will all give God an account for our lives including how we spent His money.  At the very least, before we spend, shouldn’t we ask “what would our heavenly Father think of this purchase?”  Will he say, “Well done?”  Can John Wesley inspire us to be better givers, even if we don’t fully measure up to his example?  The better we give of our life, time and treasure the more we will be like Jesus who gave up everything in heaven and on earth to save us when we were without God and without hope.
In 1776 the English tax commissioners wrote John Wesley that he’d failed to report his silver plate.  They were certain he had a fine set of silver given his remarkable income.  John Wesley wrote back, “I have two silver spoons at London and two at Bristol.  That is all the plate I have at present, and I shall not buy any more while so many round me want bread.

Friday, September 20, 2013

An Alternative Faith by Greg York

An Alternative Faith

Last Sunday morning, I was blessed to be part of a truly challenging (and for a typical “church Bible class,” pretty honest and open) discussion about the reality that faith is tough in this age.  Oh, it’s relatively easy for us to give our mental assent to a set of beliefs.  But that’s not the issue.  The difficult issue is trusting God.  And as far as Jesus and Paul and Peter and James (and pretty much any of the Biblical writers you want to cite) are concerned, what we call “faith” is ultimately a question of trust.  And more than that (here’s where it gets tough), “faith” is about acting as if you trust God in what he has said, what he asks, even demands, of us, what he has promised.  Faith/trust, then, is not about what happens between our ears, but about how we speak and act.

I’ve continued to think about that discussion off and on this week.

The problem is this: My faith/trust is not nearly as solid as I might want it to be.  Not nearly as solid as I certainly want others to think it is.

I’m not talking about not believing basic points of “the faith,” points that are about belief’s content.  God exists, Jesus is God-in-the-flesh, he is the source of salvation, and he calls us to love him with our whole being and love neighbor as self.

I don’t have issues with the content issue.  I have issues with the trust issue:  Do I trust God enough to live out his way?  Especially when it’s hard.

In that regard, I resonate with the words of Christian Wiman (My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer, 93):

“Faith steals upon you like dew:  some days you wake and it is there.  And like dew, it gets burned off in the rising sun of anxieties, ambitions, distractions.”

“Burned off in the rising sun of anxieties, ambitions, distractions.”  I think I just took a hit there.

I wonder if I’m not looking at this from the wrong perspective, though.  I’m defining faith/trust as if it’s all about me, all a function of something I do.

But maybe whether I live with trust in God isn’t just about me.  Maybe I’m so busy focusing on my response, that I’m not paying sufficient attention to what I’m responding to.  Maybe first and foremost this is about God.

My appreciation is growing for Paul’s words right at the beginning of 1 Corinthians, specifically 1.4-9:  I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind—just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you—so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  

And the way these folks were living out their faith/trust was pretty sorry.  No more or less sorry than the way I live out my faith/trust.  I can’t claim any superiority over them.  The specifics may be different, but the lack of enough trust to live fully God’s ways is pretty much the same.

And yet Paul actually says this to these people (and to us):  “He will…strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless (blameless?!) on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Really?  Have you read the rest of 1 Corinthians?  There’s a lot of blame that could be spread around in there.

But this isn’t about their faith/trust being perfect:  God is faithful.”

God is faithful.”

Maybe just as “we love because he first loved us,” we learn to trust him because he is first trustworthy to us, not waiting for us to earn his trust.

While pretty much always saying I don’t “believe” this, I think I’ve pretty much always operated in real time as if my relationship with God works like this:  If I can just be faithful enough, God will in turn be faithful to me.  (God is faithful only as a means of reward for good behavior, in other words; my faithfulness enables God to be faithful to me.)

Because that’s how I’ve operated, I’ve always had a hard time figuring out the line in the little hymn quote found in 2 Timothy 2.13: if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.  Being faithful is just part of who God is.  And he knows we aren’t always faithful.

So, I’m beginning to think that it’s the other way around from how I’ve operated: because God is faithful to me, I’m enabled to be faithful to him.

So, I wonder:  What difference would it make in my life—in what I say and do, in how I operate as an agent of God in this world—if my focus was on God’s consistent, constant trustworthiness rather than on my fickle faith?  Would I feel myself freed up to more aggressively pursue his ways if I learned to rest in his faithfulness/trustworthiness instead of being trapped in this no-win situation of trying to rely on my untrustworthy ability to choose the right?  Would I live more faithfully to God if I just accepted that he is faithful to me, that he will deal trustworthily with me according to his promises in Christ?  Would I live more faithfully to God if I quit trying to live into my own faithfulness and instead lived as if he is faithful to me?  Does it make a practical difference to live in response to God’s faithfulness?

I’m still thinking about all this and praying about it, but in the faith chaos that whirls around our hearts in this present age, is there any true alternative to us for a “rock to stand on” than the fact that “God is faithful”?

May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this (1 Thessalonians 5.23-24).

Thursday, September 12, 2013

People of the Book by Mike DeCamp

In recent weeks, I’ve encountered three unconnected, yet related, comments or phrases that have spurred my thoughts down a path that I’d like to ask you to consider.  I’d like to share each of those with you now, and then explain what is subsequently on my mind.

“Dust on your Bible leads to dirt in your life.”

I spotted this little saying recently on a sign outside of a church building not far from my house.  Basically, it is saying that when we neglect the infusion of God’s word into our lives, the void that is left fills up with those things that makes our lives into a mess.  While our Bibles gather dust, our lives gather the chaos of brokenness.

I know this is true. 

Psalm 119:9-11 How can a young person stay on the path of purity?  By living according to your word.  I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands.  I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.

I often read my Facebook news feed with a heavy heart when I read about the messes in people’s lives.  They just spew it all out there for the world to see:  The pregnant, single woman who cannot get the “father” to own up to his responsibilities.  The man who cannot find a good girl to date (no matter which bar he looks in for her).  The girl who’s “had enough drama” and is “done with it all” for the fourth time in four days (and that’s just this week).  And the list goes on.

If only they would realize that by keeping their lives according to God’s word, they could avoid so much of that mess and really live a satisfying and happy life!  If only.  If only they would realize that real joy comes from above and can exist in their life despite the rocks that life throws at them.  If only.

“You ‘Church-o-Christers,’ you really know your Bibles.”

This came up in a conversation that Nancy and I had with a couple of really good friends of ours.  We’d been out to a concert together, and we were talking about various worship issues in the church.  One of our friends had grown up in a different faith fellowship, and had only in recent years been attending a church of Christ.  The comment that my friend made was meant as a compliment.  She noted that while she had grown up with the Bible stories, those of us in the Church of Christ often knew the book, chapter, and verse in detail on a vast array of topics and issues.

That has been our reputation.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 – All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

1 Corinthians 8:1b – But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.

1 Timothy 4:16 – Watch your life and doctrine closely.  Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

I could add some more verses, but I think you get the point.  The Bible does contain what we need in order to be thoroughly equipped for the Christian life.  It applies to our lives and we can use it to guide our steps.  And, while we need to avoid being “puffed up” with pride in our Bible knowledge, we do need to watch our doctrine just as closely as we do the way we live our lives.

But, what I wonder is:  Is that perception of us is still true?  I wonder.  Just how well we do know our Bible these days?  Are we growing or declining in our biblical knowledge and understanding as a congregation…as a fellowship?  How well do you know your Bible?

Or, are you like the seven year-old boy who said this when he was told he was expected to go to soccer practice:  “I don’t know why they want us to practice; we already know how to play.”

“My kids often go to Bible class by themselves.”

Now, this one disturbs me.  This person shared with me that very often when they take their young children to Sunday School…here at Southeastern, it is often JUST the child and the teacher who are there. 

How can that possibly be?

Deuteronomy 6:6-9 – These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.  Impress them on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

The above verse may be “old law” and referring especially to the Ten Commandments, but I think the principle holds true.  We need to teach our children the word of God.  They need to understand more than the “stories.”  They need to know the heart behind the messages, and understand the Being behind the Book.  Why would parents neglect the opportunity of more Bible training for their children (and themselves) that is provided FOR FREE by our church every Sunday morning?

Is that extra hour of sleep really worth that much?  Really?

I recognize that this blog is read by folks well beyond the Southeastern Church of Christ family, and if it is spurring to them on as well, then that is wonderful.  However, I especially want this message to be an alarm clock ringing in the ears of our congregation.  I want it to wake us from our slumbering approach to our Bible study commitment. 

Southeastern family, our level of attendance at our Sunday morning and Wednesday evening Bible classes is scary low.  I want to ask you, as one of your selected shepherds, to recommit yourself to attending our classes.  We need you there.  We need your hearts, your minds, your strength.  We need your encouragement.  If we are going to be a people of the Book, then we best be people who are learning the Book.
If you have questions, concerns, or ideas about our Bible study programs, please see one of the ministers or elders and express yourself.

Please recommit yourself TODAY!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

A Funeral Better than a Feast? by Craig Hill

A Funeral Better than a Feast?

Last week, my wife Regina called me to tell me her Uncle Bob died.  He was old and full of years, and had been sick a long time.  But it was still hard and sad to hear that he had passed away.  I thought of his wife Sue and his Daughter Tammy, and I was sad.  Even now, I tear up a bit.  So Friday we gathered up our things for an overnight stay, gathered up our 15 year Son, and 23 year old Daughter, and drove to Lexington, KY.  We got there late Friday night, but Aunt Sue, Tammy, and many other family members stayed an extra 45 minutes past the end time of the viewing to greet us and mourn with us.

The next day, we had the funeral.  Uncle Bob’s Sister Charlotte gave a eulogy.  It was one of those that told a number of heartwarming stories that were funny and charming.  Others told stories about Bob too.  It warmed your heart.  Uncle Bob was an engaging man.  You had to notice he was in the room.  And this is perhaps the most important part; we heard people say: “He touched people’s lives.”

And of course, it made you think about your own life.  It made you reflect on what you do with your time.  It made me think about what my purpose is.  How do I touch people’s lives?  Do I?  When life is over, what will I have accomplished?  Will people say: “He touched people’s lives”?  And will it be in a good way?

Ecclesiastes Chapter 7, verses 1 to 4 says, “A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one's birth.  It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart.  Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.  The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.”

Really?  The day or our death is better than the day of our birth?  Better to go cry with people in a house of mourning, than to go to a party and have a feast?  Sorrow better than laughter?

Well, think about how your heart feels after a funeral.  You went and paid your respects.  You hugged loved ones.  You saw people you hadn’t taken the time to see in a while.  You told stories.  Maybe you created some new stories.

The key part of the scripture for me is: “for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.”  Reflecting on where my life is headed helps me do course corrections.  It helps me value what I have: family, home, and health.  You may or may not have those blessings.  But the biggest blessing is salvation in Jesus Christ.  That’s the most important thing to have when you die.  How else will I escape the grave?  Not by money, or intelligence, or fine dress, or by athletic ability.

Just Jesus.

So don’t hesitate to go to a funeral.  Go, cry, hug, reflect, repent, and make sure you're baptised and saved by Jesus.