Have a Heart Strangely Warmed

From ministrymatters.com

 

JOHN WESLEY’S RULE OF LIFE

  •  Photo: Adam Davenport

John Wesley is a saint. He wasn’t sinless, though I think he is now. He lived life in the throes of God’s grace to a degree and with a level of zeal that let him accomplish amazing things. Consequently, and due to many other coincidences supervened by divine providence, I am, and many of you reading this post are, Methodists.

In Rev. Adam Hamilton’s new book, Revival: Faith as Wesley Lived It, we see a picture (in chapter 2) of Wesley the Oxford man, full of zeal with his Holy Club.

At Oxford, the small band of Christians Wesley was mentoring shared his longing for holiness. For Wesley and his friends, holiness included a complete yielding of one’s life to God, a desire to become like Christ in heart and actions, acts of compassion for others, and a resolution to live one’s life for God’s glory. Among the ways Wesley pursued this quest for holiness was rising at four or five o’clock in the morning for private prayer; fasting two days a week until mid-afternoon; and meeting with others to study the Bible and other Christian writings; and to hold each other accountable. Wesley and his friends attended public worship and received the Eucharist weekly. They read and meditated upon Scripture daily. They actively pursued acts of compassion and mercy for the poor, the prisoners, and the elderly, and they sought to achieve lives of simplicity (49-50).

Wesley wanted not just to believe the Christian faith, nor only to understand it intellectually. Wesley wanted holiness. He wanted God. He wanted “to become like Christ in heart and actions.”

Rev. Hamilton’s paragraph above is packed with practices that have the spiritual dynamite to revive us. He lists at least 9 distinct pieces of Wesley’s pursuit of holiness:

1. an intention to yield one’s life to God completely, for God’s glory, and become like Jesus Christ
2. rising at 4 or 5 a.m. to pray
3. fasting two days a week until 3 p.m.
4. meeting regularly to discuss Scripture and other Christian texts
5. accountability at those regular meetings
6. weekly reception of the Eucharist
7. reading and meditating on Scripture daily
8. acting in compassion for the poor, prisoners, and the elderly
9. pursuing simple living

This is a radical list. Wesley was a radical. Elaine Heath of Perkins School of Theology has suggested that the early Methodists lived a quasi-monastic spirituality. We can see this in Wesley’s own routine. He had what emergents and new (and old) monastics call a “rule of life.”

Often when Wesley’s story is told, we stake everything on the Aldersgate experience. But in directing our attention to the Holy Club, Rev. Hamilton shows us that Wesley was training to receive the further grace of Aldersgate for a long time. He was already living in the flow and rhythms of grace. Wesley was one of those who hunger and thirst for justice — and Jesus Christ promises that such will be satisfied (Matthew 5:6).

Do we dare to live like Wesley? Do you dare embrace such a radical rule of life, involving both plentiful time for devotion and prayer and relationship with the poor and hurting? What could be more important than these?

Does Wesley’s life seem constrained or constraining to us? Holiness is freedom not constraint. It makes your heart, soul, mind, and strength bigger not smaller. Holiness is horizon expanding. In a holy rule of life, we are bound in order that the grace we so receive may make us free.

We discover freedom that is not only freedom from sin, but a freedom that is positive fulfillment in God.

A Eucharistic way of life

St. Paul writes: “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:1-2, RSV).

Wesley shows us how to do this as we witness his rule of life. This is probably the most important thing about Wesley for Methodists. It is why I call Wesley a saint — he shows us how to offer ourselves utterly to God.

Our self-offering, like Wesley’s self-offering, follows the pattern of Christ’s self-offering. Our self-offering is joined to Christ’s self-offering in every act of the Christian life, from prayers throughout our days, to our attitude when we read Scripture, to the ways we are in relationship to the poor. Paradigmatically this takes place in the Eucharist, as our lives and self-offerings are woven into Christ’s self-offering while we pray:

Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and wine. Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ, that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood. By your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to the world, until Christ comes again…

Dare we, Wesley-like, give ourselves to God until Christ comes again?

Nerves of Steel

Yesterday, we heard about an American hero.  When a Southwest Flight lost part of its engine, the pilot, Tammie Jo Shults, calmly and without fear landed the crippled plane.  She is lauded for saving over 140 lives.  I am not sure if she is a person of faith but I am reminded of all of those whose life on this earth was about to end and those with faith always face it with calm and without fear.  Our lives will face times when we could be filled with fear or we could face them with calm and courage.  I believe with all of my heart that those who have faith and who practice and live out their faith will not be knocked down, will not be destroyed. We can face the storms of life unafraid because the strength of Christ fills our souls.  I pray you are working on your faith and your life has the same calm courage.

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.  – 2 Corinthians 4:8-10

Always think on God

I shared this devotion a while ago, but I really really really really like it.  I encourage you and invite you to try praying this way:

A morning devotion by John Wesley

John Wesley would get up very early in the morning to assure time for examination and devotions and would go to sleep only after an evening examination and devotion.
Here is a sample that I invite you to use today:

MORNING SELF-EXAMINATION:

1.  Was God my last thought before sleeping and my first thought upon waking?

2.  What tasks and encounters will I face today, and how may I prepare myself to bring honor and pleasure to God in them?

MORNING SCRIPTURE and REFLECTION

1.  Read Philippians 2:3-11

2.  Thank God for all the blessings given to you.  Pray for God’s help in all the situations you are facing.

MORNING PRAYER:  Dear Jesus give me the mind that was in you.  Put in my heart that spirit of meekness and humility that you showed as you served the poor and the outcast and as you poured yourself out for others.  Keep me this day from seeking praise and affirmation from people; keep me from longing to be thought of as somebody in terms of the empty toys of the world.  Make it my whole and single desire to be somebody in your eyes.

 

EVENING SELF EXAMINATION

1.  Have I done anything today without considering how it might advance God’s purposes, whether in small or large ways?

2.  Have I been quick and eager to do what good I could do this day?

3.  Have I sought God’s purposes in all my interactions with other people today?

EVENING SCRIPTURE and RELFECTION

1.  Read Romans 15:1-3

2.  Confess the day’s sins and shortcomings, receiving God’s forgiveness and love.

3.  Read Psalm 51:1-17

EVENING PRAYER:  The Lord’s Prayer.

Psalm

Sometimes the simple reading of a Psalm is a wonderful way to rejoice in the Lord.  I share David’s Praise and may you say it as you praise God today!

145 I lift you high in praise, my God, O my King!
and I’ll bless your name into eternity.

I’ll bless you every day,
and keep it up from now to eternity.

God is magnificent; he can never be praised enough.
There are no boundaries to his greatness.

Generation after generation stands in awe of your work;
each one tells stories of your mighty acts.

Your beauty and splendor have everyone talking;
I compose songs on your wonders.

Your marvelous doings are headline news;
I could write a book full of the details of your greatness.

The fame of your goodness spreads across the country;
your righteousness is on everyone’s lips.

God is all mercy and grace—
not quick to anger, is rich in love.

God is good to one and all;
everything he does is suffused with grace.

10-11 Creation and creatures applaud you, God;
your holy people bless you.

They talk about the glories of your rule,
they exclaim over your splendor,

12 Letting the world know of your power for good,
the lavish splendor of your kingdom.

13 Your kingdom is a kingdom eternal;
you never get voted out of office.

God always does what he says,
and is gracious in everything he does.

14 God gives a hand to those down on their luck,
gives a fresh start to those ready to quit.

15 All eyes are on you, expectant;
you give them their meals on time.

16 Generous to a fault,
you lavish your favor on all creatures.

17 Everything God does is right—
the trademark on all his works is love.

18 God’s there, listening for all who pray,
for all who pray and mean it.

19 He does what’s best for those who fear him—
hears them call out, and saves them.

20 God sticks by all who love him,
but it’s all over for those who don’t.

21 My mouth is filled with God’s praise.
Let everything living bless him,
bless his holy name from now to eternity!

Here I Am, Send Me

On Monday evening, 110 persons voted to merge Flowing Grace UMC with Fourth Street United Methodist Church.  It was exciting as over 90 percent of the people voted in favor.  God has blessed two congregations with the opportunity to grow and do new and exciting ministry together.  As I celebrate the discernment to move forward, I was struck by the connection to the Confirmation Sunday worship.  One of our Scriptures was Isaiah 6:1-8:

6 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”

At the end of the vote, one of our Confirmation students ran in after practice in order to vote.  He took the call to be sent and wanted to participate in the vote.  He is taking his discipleship very seriously as did a number of other youth and Confirmation students.  I was thrilled.  While this is an exciting time it is also a challenging time.  We face potential changes and a lot of work to be sent by God.   I pray that we all will do as our students have done and go forth, answer the call and move forward as God would have us go.

I am sure that wherever God sends us, it will be wonderful!

God bless!

More snow? Really?

                                                                      – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Did you wake up this morning and almost cry when you saw the snow on the ground?  Did you promise to move away from Illinois by next year?  Did you wonder if our weather systems will ever be the same?  Or did you just slouch your head in disgust?   Yes, most of us are wondering where Spring is.  We were teased by the warmth the other day only to find our sidewalks covered once again, our windshield wipers stuck to the windows and the need to drag out our winter coats once again.  Arrrggghhhh!

I was having similar thoughts.  Even though I am moving and so am not planting my garden as diligently as I would in years past, I still have the urges to be outside, grill a few burgers, see the Spring flowers emerge and breathe in the fresh air of a new season.  Then on my way out the door I heard a few kids laughing and running, sliding and trying to make snowballs.  They were reveling in the snow.  They took what was to me a big bother and turned it into wonder and joy.  One child leaned back his head to catch a few flakes.  Another made a snow angel.  As I watched them I was thrust back in time to when something that now is a bother was a big fun event.  The nuisance of snow for me was a playground for me in the past.  So, I leaned back my head and caught a few of the large flakes this morning and they were delicious.  As they melted on my tongue I gave thanks to God for the moment and for the laughter of the children.  I still wasn’t happy about wiping off my car, but I am choosing this day to live in joy, the joy of the Lord.

A Random Act of Mercy

Note:  This will be the only devotion for the week.  I am taking a break from the devotions to rest and replenish.  We will begin again on April 9.  Please visit www.upperroom.org for devotions in the meantime.

I received a call from Laura the other day.  She said she didn’t know why she was telling me what she was going to tell me but that I had asked people to do Random Acts of Mercy and asked that people tell me so she felt pulled to call.  She went on to tell me a wonderful story of generosity.  I asked and begged to be able to share this and she agreed.

Laura was in line at Walmart.  She normally does not shop there but needed a few things and so found herself there in line.  A woman in front of her was paying for some food and things with a LINK card or something like that.  It wasn’t working for her and they tried numerous times.  Finally, she asked if she could just put the items aside and she would try to go find some cash through a cash machine or something.  It was apparent to Laura that she did not have much money.  So, she jumped and said, “Don’t do that.  I will get it” and she proceeded to put her own credit card into the machine without knowing what the woman had purchased or how much it was.  She just knew she needed help.  Laura didn’t know why she did it, she just felt the urge to help.  The woman said she could not accept but Laura was too quick (probably because she is a physical therapist) and paid anyway.  The woman asked for her address so she could pay her back but Laura refused and told her she was simply happy to do it.  After a special hug from the woman Laura finished her own shopping and was about to leave.  However, she was stopped by the manager who seemed very moved by all of this.  “I have never seen anything like that before.  That was amazing.  Can I give you a hug?”  Moved by her generosity the large man hugged Laura in gratitude for her actions.  As Laura was leaving the doors, he came running up to her again and just had to let her know one more time how amazing it was and that he never sees that.

Without thinking, the Holy Spirit guided Laura to share her love to a stranger.  She did not know her story, she did not judge her circumstances, she merely shared love.  The woman was changed, the manager was changed and I believe there were many other witnesses to that moment than Laura even knew.  There was even on greater witness, God.  I am sure God was saying, “Well done good and faithful Laura.  Well done.”

After she told me this story, I asked her how much the groceries cost.  She said over $150 but she didn’t care.  She didn’t even think about it.  I was thinking it was like $40.  Her gift to this stranger will most likely cause ripple effects for good in those who were witnesses but I know it will bring a joy unthinkable to the one who offered the gift.  Laura’s investment in this woman was not just for her, but it was an investment in the Kingdom of God and when we do that, we find the blessings.  Laura just bought $150 of happiness that cannot be found in any material purchase for herself.

Thank you Laura for calling me even when you really were hesitant and sharing this incredible story.  Thank you also for being brave and letting me share it with all who will listen.  I am inspired to do more and I pray others will as well!

Jesus is alive and He is real!  He was shopping with Laura at Walmart!

Good Friday

Good Friday is God’s way of drawing us closer to God’s self.  This being the case, I am not sure I want that.  Getting closer to God means I get drawn closer to the cross.  This means I have to witness his suffering and death and realize my role in it.  It means I must accept my own cross and bear its burden for God’s purposes.  The way to the cross is difficult.  I am not sure I want it.  As I contemplate this, I think of a picture of my sister.  She is maybe 1 or 2 and my father is holding her hand and helping her to pick up her toys.  She is bawling because she does not want to pick up her toys but my father, with a loving smirk on his face, is helping her to learn to be responsible even when she does not want to.  He knows that this lesson will serve her well in life and wants to lovingly teach her.  Our Creator God does the same for us.  We are drawn to things we do not want but when we get there, we realize how much better our lives are because we learn to do the things that can be difficult or things we do not initially want to do.  God holds our hands with a loving smile even when we are kicking and screaming….all the way to the cross.

(Confession:  I also like the picture because my sister is crying in it…Father forgive me!)

From www.umc.org:

The source of our term for the Friday before Easter, “Good Friday,” is not clear.  It may be a corruption of the English phrase “God’s Friday,” according to Professor Laurence Hull Stookey in Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church (p. 96). It is the common name for the day among English- and Dutch-speaking people. It is a day that proclaims God’s purpose of loving and redeeming the world through the cross of our Lord, Jesus Christ. It is a day that is good because God was drawing the world to God’s self in Christ. As seen in John’s gospel, particularly, God was in control. God was not making the best of a bad situation, but was working out God’s intention for the world — winning salvation for all people. We call it “good” because we look backward at the crucifixion through the lens of Easter!

Maundy Thursday

I love my family.  I love my dog.  I love my neighbors.  I love my church family.  The question that Christ is calling us to consider is might we love the other with the same intensity and commitment?  Can I love those who think differently than I do?  Can I love those who have stolen from me?  Can I love those who annoy me?  When Christ calls us to wash one another’s feet, we believe it to be those we are in community with and like.  After all, Jesus washed the feet of his friends.  However, when we look at the totality of Christ’s ministry, it is a call to something much more audacious and even scary.  He loved the lost, the lonely, the desperate, the angry, and the violent.  He loved the sinners on the cross next to him.  He loved the soldiers who arrested him and brought him to his death.  He loved those who denied him and hid from him.  This Maundy Thursday, as we eat the bread and juice and are filled in our stomachs, our hearts are being tempted to be filled so much to love beyond our circles to a world in desperate need.

See you tonight at 7pm.

From umc.org:

Maundy Thursday is an alternate name for Holy Thursday, the first of the three days of solemn remembrance of the events leading up to and immediately following the crucifixion of Jesus. The English word “Maundy” comes from the Latin mandatum, which means “commandment.” As recorded in John’s gospel, on his last night before his betrayal and arrest, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and then gave them a new commandment to love one another as he had loved them (John 13:34). This is why services on this night generally include the washing of feet or other acts of physical care as an integral part of the celebration.

While John’s gospel does not record the institution of the Lord’s Supper among the events of this night, the other gospels do. Christians therefore keep this night with celebrations both at the basin (foot washing) and at the Lord’s Table (Holy Communion).

Sacred Space

Moses, when he encountered God on the mountain through the bush that burned without being burned up, was told to take off his shoes because he was standing on holy ground.  The ground itself was nothing special and probably was pretty ordinary at best.  However, God made it holy by God’s very presence.  It became a sacred space for Moses as he communicated with his Creator.  Holy week reminds us that God comes incarnate into the world and in so doing, creates sacred space by His very presence.  We do not need a place on a mountain with a burning bush to understand it as holy.  God’s presence in Jesus Christ tells us that we must make every space, every relationship and every moment sacred.  I suppose that means we can no longer wear shoes!

While we are to look at the world as sacred, it is still a good and righteous practice to carve out space that has an even bigger understanding of sacred for you.   Do you have a room where you always do your prayers or devotionals?  Do you have a place that when you enter, you immediately feel the peace of Christ?  Do you have a chair that is your sacred prayer chair and when you sit in it, you are flooded with the memories of time with God?

This week find a sacred space for just you but also treat the world and those in it as sacred as well!