Thursday

Christ's resurrection frees us


"I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead." Philippians 3:9-11

Because I have chosen to follow Christ, I am more aware of Christ's sufferings during this week--Holy Week. I read a little extra in the Scriptures so that I can think about what he went through on each day. I watch "The Passion of the Christ" or the "Jesus" film to help me remember. When Easter comes we celebrate with our church family and then with our immediate family. It's fun to watch the little ones run after hidden eggs.

However, the resurrection stays with me all year round. Because of it, there is power to live as Christ wants. The above verse is one that I selected for my life's verse one year while we were struggling. It's a touchy verse. It starts off great and then the writer, Paul, gets into subjects like suffering and death. Those are not fun subjects.

At first glance, this verse is shocking. Are we supposed to suffer on purpose? Are we supposed to recklessly abandon all and seek martyrdom in every way that we can? I don't think so. Paul uses the phrase "like him." In response I ask, "How did Jesus suffer?" "How did he die?" The two answers that come to mind are lovingly and willingly. Christ was submissive. He did what God wanted him to do because God wanted him to do it--not for any glory that he might receive as a result.

Only a great love would cause someone to die for a world full of sinners. As one who has accepted God's grace through Christ, I must love others to the point of suffering. This, however, is not a doormat situation; nor is it justification for abuse. This love is a willingness to love others regardless of their actions. It means to forgive when wronged. It means to be patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not proud, rude or self-seeking. It means to not anger easily or to keep record of wrongs (see I Corinthians 13).

Like Jesus, I must face the challenge of loving everyone around me. Sometimes it's easy, other times it isn't. It is the power of Christ's resurrection that frees me to do this.

Wednesday

The Catholic Spirit

Jesus’ prayer in John 17 has intrigued me increasingly throughout the years that I have been in ministry: “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.”[1] With so many doctrines, theologies and personalities, how will this every happen?

In my discussion group at church, we frequently talk about differences in theologies. One day my pre-Christian lady exclaimed, “That’s what frustrates me about this whole Christian thing. There are all of these different theologies. What are you supposed to believe?” After thinking about my answer, I said that yes, there are many differences in opinions, but we all believe that Jesus is the one to whom we go for salvation. The rest is just doctrine.

I empathize with her frustration, and hope that we have not deterred belief. However, while there are all of those differing opinions within Christianity, I believe that it is possible for all of us to get along if we learn to drop our “black and white” thinking about non-essential matters and to rid ourselves of pride. Wesley expressed his frustration with the situation well: “But although a difference in opinions of modes of worship may prevent an entire external union; yet need it prevent our union in affection? Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, thought we are not of one opinion?”[2]

Wesley believed that believers could be unified. He encouraged people to realize that even though they believed their opinion to be correct, that it was possible to make a mistake, to be wrong.[3] It is difficult to imagine in our day that this could possibly be so as we argue with one another about creation, evolution, who’s going to heaven and who isn’t, etc.

“Every wise man, therefore, will allow others the same liberty to thinking which he desires they should allow him; and will no more insist on their embracing his opinions, than he would have them to insist on his embracing theirs. He bears with those who differ with him, and only asks him with whom he desires to unite in love that single question, ‘Is thy heart right, as my heart is with thy heart?’”[4]

Unfortunately, it seems that within Christianity, if someone offers a dissenting view (or even if they have a different way of expressing the same view) that person is looked down upon and deemed a heretic. If the brand of heretic is not acknowledged out loud, bitterness and anger simmer below the surface of a conversation and is let out through gossip and backbiting. This should not be.

I recently dealt with a situation in which this happened. My husband, Mike, is very sensitive to how Christians should express their beliefs and took to task a respected minister within the Ministerial Association by writing an opinion letter in response to a devotion that the minister wrote. Mike did not disagree with the minister he just disagreed with the delivery and said so. The response to this was one of anger. They felt that since Mike wrote for the newspaper occasionally that the paper should not have printed his article. They felt that it was a personal attack on them by the newspaper. Two ministers pulled out and will not write any longer and the rest are considering whether or not the Ministerial Association should continue writing devotionals. Another minister, not in the Association, wrote a letter to the editor saying that my husband was self-righteous and un-Christian. The fact that Mike is not paid to write editorials does not matter to these ministers. They are angry about being challenged.

Wesley said that the heart of a person with a catholic spirit will be enlarged toward all humanity “those he knows and those he does not…catholic love is a catholic spirit.”[5] When Christians have this attitude the Church can be a beautiful place—a place of friendship and love; a place that will attract those outside. Have we forgotten Christ’s words: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”?[6]

The reason I shared the above example is because it is an example of what is going on in Christianity. You can see it on the evening news from time to time or on Christian talk radio. You see it in the local church whenever someone can’t get their way. We seem to have the idea that everyone is out to get us. This may be the case in other parts of the world, such as China and other countries where Christianity is outlawed, but I fail to see how that thinking applies to us in America. Any persecution we suffer does not come close to meeting secretly in a basement and expecting at any moment for guards to beat the door down. These Christians are hauled off to jail and even murdered. We do not experience that in America. Why do we spend so much time arguing and in turning the culture against us? We are in a position to help others, but we are shooting ourselves in our collective feet, so to speak.

A culture of love is needed in the church today. Wesley said that “a (person) of a catholic spirit is one who…gives his (or her) hand to all whose hearts are right with his (or her) heart: One who knows how to value, and praise God for, all the advantages he (or she) enjoys…”[7] The one with a catholic spirit loves people for who they are and accepts them where they are. They seek to celebrate everyone in the body of Christ and also value them as God’s children. The only way I know how to do this is to ask God to rid me of any anger I might have toward other Christians and then refuse to let it return. I must pray for my fellow believers and choose to concentrate on their good points. If there is disagreement, I must calm myself and choose my words wisely. In this way, I will hopefully be able to live at peace with my fellow Christians and enjoy a catholic spirit.

[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Jn 17:20-21). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[2] Wesley, John, The Works of John Wesley, Vol. 5 (Kansas City, Missouri: Nazarene Publishing House), 493.

[3] Ibid, 495

[4] Ibid, 495

[5] Ibid, 503

[6]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Jn 13:35). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[7] Wesley, 503

Tuesday

The Nature of Enthusiasm

We are taught early in life that being enthusiastic is a positive attribute. I remember learning in youth group that the word “enthusiasm” meant having excitement in God. Indeed, “enthusiasm” as Webster defines it is “strong excitement of feeling.” But that is the second definition. The first definition is “a belief in special revelations of the Holy Spirit or religious fanaticism.”[1]

The first definition goes along with Wesley’s teaching. Wesley said that the meaning of the Greek word was uncertain. He calls it an uncouth word that some use in a good light (as in a divine impulse) and some use it indifferently like when referring to poets. “But neither of these is the sense wherein the word enthusiasm is most usually understood. The generality of men, if no farther agreed, at least agree thus far concerning it, that it is something evil…”[2] Wesley said that the nature of enthusiasm was “undoubtedly a disorder of the mind; and such a disorder as greatly hinders the exercise of reason.”[3]

Wesley classified “Christian” enthusiasts as those who 1) imagine falsely that they have grace; 2) imagine falsely that they have certain gifts; 3) think that they can accomplish an end without going through the given process (for example, understanding Scripture without reading it); and 4) those who imagine themselves the “particular favorite of heaven.”[4] Enthusiasts also lay responsibility on or give credit to God where none is due.[5]

A modern visual example of enthusiasm that came to mind are those men at football games who only wear shorts in freezing temperatures and paint their bodies with the colors of their favorite team. These men have abandoned reason in favor of the game. But we see enthusiasm in the Church as well and it must be addressed. For example, I was in the office the other day going over email when another reporter who was reading online news muttered something. I asked what was up and she read a quote from a man who had just lost his house in a recent tornado. The man said that the loss of his house and the houses of three others must be God’s will. I snorted and said, “When you can’t blame someone else, blame God,” and she agreed. This kind of enthusiasm degrades the loving nature of God and eliminates the fact that there are other forces at work in the universe because of the Fall. Instead, it is better to ask God to use tragedy to bring about good.

In my own life, I have dealt with, been taught by and have been at one time or another, an enthusiast. This has become more evident to me since starting this program. There have been numerous times in the past when I depended on “gut” feelings to make decisions. When I didn’t have that feeling, I worried because I interpreted that feeling as God’s voice. I remember one time when I was suffering from morning sickness and really did not want to be pregnant. I went into denial and wrote it off as the flu. I even thought that God had told me that I wasn’t pregnant. When I found out that I was pregnant I felt very foolish and asked for forgiveness. This child is a great blessing to me. I cannot imagine my life without him.

It seems like in the Church we want intensely mystical experiences that will light our pathway; we want to be guided by the Holy Spirit as if we were marionettes. This is not what God wants at all! God equipped us with a mind and an ability to think and reason. Why would he/she not want us to use those gifts?

In this sermon, Wesley gives guidelines about discerning God’s will. First, he said that anything we hear from God will comply with Scripture. And, secondly, where Scripture is silent on a particular matter, he said that it gives us a general rule to apply in any situation: “the will of God is our sanctification. It is his will that we should be inwardly and outwardly holy; that we should be good, and do good, in every kind and in the highest degree whereof we are capable.”[6]

In the past, discerning the will of God was an agonizing task for me. Wesley asks if it would “not be better to say, ‘I want to know what will be most for my improvement; and what will make me most useful?”[7] By asking this instead of asking “What is God’s will?” I will be taking a reasonable look at my gifts, talents and what would benefit God and others the most, rather than spending valuable time waiting for a “sign.” I want to discipline myself so that I will just obey reasonably, rather than waiting for a mystical moment.

Another time when enthusiasm could have become a problem was when I was a pastor’s wife. It was very hard to trust people because of the way they abused my husband. It would have been very easy to rely on the guidance of my own heart and become prideful by thinking that I was better than others.[8] This can lead to what Wesley calls a “devilish” temper. [9] This temper may become evident through fits of rage or may be turned inward. No matter what the outcome, the temper ruins our souls and wreaks havoc in the lives of people around us.

For me, the solution to stemming enthusiasm has been accountability, reading Scripture, heartfelt prayer and studying the works of people who have lived the Christian life successfully, like the patristic writers or other modern authors. Friends, who will sit down and sincerely ask what is going on, are a blessing. Learning about the responses of writers to similar situations helps me to respond in kind. Reading about their weaknesses helps me to be honest about mine.

From this sermon, I hope to avoid “enthusiasm” in my own life and I hope to also help others. I pray that God will grant me the compassion to do this.



[1] Merriam-Webster's Collegiate® Dictionary, Eleventh Edition (http://www.merriam-webster.com)

[2] Wesley, John, The Works of John Wesley, Vol. 5 (Kansas City, Missouri: Nazarene Publishing House), 468-469.

[3] Ibid, 469.

[4] Ibid, 470-476.

[5] Ibid, 470

[6] Ibid, 474

[7] Ibid, 475

[8] Ibid, 477

[9] Ibid, 477