One Wesley-an Order

In an exciting new opportunity and direction to pursue, I was privileged to present my first academic paper at a conference today at the 2018 Wesleyan Theological Society. The theme of the conference is “Borders: Bane or Blessing”, and in the ecumenical studies category I have fallen hard on the side of borders being a bane for wider Methodist Gospel effectiveness in America. Some of you may get a kick out of what is essentially my call for one, unified, Wesleyan Methodist Nazarene Holiness denomination instead of the many (unnecessary) factions we have today. Truly, I believe our overall Gospel effectiveness as spiritual descendants of Wesley depends on it. Hope you enjoy. I’d love to dig deeper and discuss it further with you in the comments. As always, thank you for reading. We’re all in this together.

How Are the Borders amongst Wesley’s Spiritual Descendants Hurting Their Work?


Two young Anglicans in the 18th century dreamt of purer and holier living in Christ eventually birthing what would become a global movement of holiness of heart and mind and perfected sanctification made possible in the lives of true Christians. John Wesley described a Methodist as one whose, “…joy is full, and all his bones cry out, `Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, according to his abundant mercy, hath begotten me again unto a living hope of an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, reserved in heaven for me.’”[1] From the vision, architecture, hymnody, and, yes, method of John and Charles Wesley grew a religious movement that at one point encompassed over 16.9% of the American population in its membership.[2] However, through years of divisions, arguments, and borders erected amongst Wesley’s spiritual descendants, the spiritual witness and gospel effectiveness of the people called Methodists is greatly diminished.


At the time the key founder of Methodism died, though he had hoped to simply reform his precious Church of England, John had nearly 50,000 people registered in class meetings across Britain.[3] At an estimated population of 8 million at that time[4], this movement had reached more people than he could have imagined, but its real flourishing would soon be happening on the American Continent. Under the administration of Asbury, Coke, Vasey, Whatcoat, and the faithful work of numerous sanctified believers, Methodism’s dramatic expansion could only be counted miraculous. It was not without incident, however.

As early as 1792 the first schism happened “when James O’Kelly rebelled against the appointment system and formed the Republican Methodists.”[5] Roughly 100 years after Methodism’s inauguration on American soil it had faced at least 11 denominational splits[6]. Each of these secessions cited the power of bishops, the evils of slavery, the emphasis or lack thereof upon entire sanctification, and loose behavioral standards such as membership in secret societies or style of dress, social justice issues such as the evils of alcohol or womens’ rights, or some combination of these as their reason(s) for leaving the Methodist Episcopal Church.

Yet the mainline of the Methodist Episcopal Church seemed unperturbed enough as to continue past these splits without enough major reform to heal the rifts.

Additionally, this record of schisms doesn’t include independent holiness groups and associations practicing some form of Methodism[7], under that name or not, that formed in the wake of revivals headlined by Methodist preachers. Many of these groups, official denominations or not, also faced further splits, continuing the dilution of Wesley’s holiness teaching and dream of unity, echoing Christ’s own call for the same. Despite these borders, by 1860, the statistical heyday of Wesleyan Christians, one in three American church-goers were Methodist in one form or another![8]

There have been mergers and collaborations happen among many of these groups leading to mainline groups such as the United Methodist Church, even as some splits have also continued. Subsequent new denominations such as the Church of the Nazarene and The Wesleyan Church have formed, repairing wounds made by the schisms of the past or bringing previously denied groups into the fold, if tangentially. There are also some Pentecostal groups still following a form of Methodist polity.[9] The Pew Research Center suggests that collective Holiness and Methodist church attendance now encompasses only 5.5% of the American population.[10] This squares with the World Methodist Council’s statistics showing nearly 6% of the American population attending its member churches as of 2016.[11]

Statistical analysis researchers live by the reminder that correlation does not imply causation, and there is nothing prescriptively causative in the meager statistics presented and used for this study. They are illustrative of the fact that the spiritual descendants of Wesley have besmirched the legacy of holiness, fervent life change, and Gospel effectiveness he left for his followers to continue multiplying by their arbitrary borders. This presentation is less concerned with exactly why such vast declines in effectiveness have happened after a period of such rapid growth at its roots. The working premise is that a lack of commitment to theology, forms, and polity laid forth by Wesley resulting in such a mutilated Methodism has something significant to do with the problem. A dilemma spanning two continents, over 200 years, and roughly 15 main streams of spiritual heritage will not be solved with statistics, no matter how dashing the presenter.

The only core branch of this American, pan-Wesleyan family tree that reported growth in overall attendance, new conversions, and baptisms is The Wesleyan Church[12]. Other core branches such as the United Methodist Church[14], Church of the Nazarene[15], African Methodist Episcopal Zion, and Free Methodist[16] Churches all stagnated or outright declined[17], if they reported anything at all (AME) Though each of these show some gains in other parts of the globe, the North American conferences of these denominations are not necessarily paving the way forward with sterling records.

Although there are healthy or at least healing spots in these records, the broader Wesleyan body of Christ in America is undoubtedly still bleeding from amputations not appropriately carried out or healed in the past two centuries.

Statistics are simply numbers. The Church has, or at least should have always, been about human hearts restored to God through faith in Christ by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Each statistical decline is a heart not reconciled to God and fellow human beings. Each new addition is a heart waiting for discipleship and the ecstatic hope of sanctification. Each trend is a wave of the populace letting the Church know she is or isn’t meeting their needs. Each trend is a group of hearts that Wesleyans share the love of Christ with or push away in our lack of truthful hope and love.

The essence of the problem represented by these statistics and concerned quotes is that minimal fruitful effort has been done to right these wrongs. Each successive generation, as Witherington implies[18], has gone further astray from the primal, electric movement that Wesley founded by specific methods applicable to all who would seek a truer faith. It got so bad that, as Schenck notes[19], the very soul of Methodist care for the other was replaced by protective borders of the heart to save the insiders from those who were yet outside. Today the problem has only metastasized to the point where a born and raised Methodist could find more of what Wesley taught outside of Wesleyan streams than inside it[20]. For some reason, each main branch of this desiccated facsimile of what Wesley founded appears content to continue producing diminishing returns, else why would they continue each moving away from each other?


Moses learned the practices of confession and restitution at the feet of the Lord on Mt Sinai. The number of times he humbled himself at the feet of God and the feet of his rebellious brethren are an example to any who would seek to rebuild bridges. In part of the Mosaic covenant laid out at the beginning of Numbers there is a word of exhortation to any who sinned against a brother or sister by doing harm, “They must confess their sin and make full restitution for what they have done, adding an additional 20 percent and returning it to the person who was wronged.[21]” Can there be any doubt that the collective Methodist offspring have done grievous harm to each other by sins of pride, stubbornness, and injury by schism? When will full confession and reconciliation be sought?

In a potential positive turnaround, portions of the Wesleyan tribes have entered into full Communion agreements with each other. The AME, AMEZ, AUMP, CME, UAME, and UM Churches are leading the way in ecumenicalism. However, churches often keep track of what they value, but the publicly available records of each of these denominations shows that apparently none of them are tracking pastoral sharing or membership movement in and among this new consortium. What good are full Communion agreements if they do not produce actual, intentional unity in practice? It is not enough; in fact, it is more like removing the razor wire at the top of our borders only to find out somebody electrified them in the meantime. These agreements give the appearance of drawing others close, but without actionable results they actually create further tension by their disappointment and lack of effectiveness.

There are such radical examples of reunification presented throughout our Holy Scriptures. Abraham and Lot settled the differences amongst their men to part peacefully. Jacob and Esau met joyfully on the road after years of abandoned relations. Moses bowed before the Lord and the people of Korah’s rebellion to sue for peace. Ruth stayed with Naomi when it would have been easier not to. David brought Saul’s grandson Mephibosheth back to court and restored to him all the titles and possessions of his family although there was no need. Hosea provided money to his wife’s lover just to continue caring for her. In the New Testament Paul made amends with John Mark and even counted Barnabas an equal in ministry later in his life (Col 4:10, 1 Cor 9:6). Peter crossed cultural, religious, and moral lines for the time to build relationship and extend grace to Cornelius’ household. Of course, he learnt that necessary ability first hand after denying Christ three times and receiving gracious reconciliation from the Lord.

These examples, prefigured Old Testament stories or New Testament apostolic interactions, are only feeble shadows compared to the miraculous grace poured out by Christ to His creation by His blood.

If God is willing to promise and fulfill the creation of new hearts within believers, if Christ’s resurrection destroys the death of sin within Adam’s progeny, if the Spirit continues to sanctify and miraculously work today, then why are the people called Methodists, founded in part to promote the promise of holiness, not actually living out the pursuit of these promises by seeking the same deep reconciliation taught in the Bible and enacted by Christ?

In the over 200 years since Wesley his followers have strayed from their simple mission to get entangled in perhaps important but non-essential concerns that have only caused harm to the work and witness of his descendants.

This does not deny or decry efforts that have been made in the direction of unification; this simply suggests that they are not enough. This does not deny that amid schism there have still been gains in different places and times across the country; it does acknowledge that statistically the developing parts of the world are far more effective at spreading the Gospel through Methodism than the Americans. This does not deny that theologically excellent advances have been made across the breadth of American Methodism in its various forms; undeniably, though, these advances have not translated into similar practical excellence of life change rendering the theological advances rather moot.

It is time for a fresh wind of true reconciliation, repentance, humility, and bridge-building. Full Communion is irrelevant if it does not change wider Methodist practice, especially with other Methodists. Once upon a time, following Wesley’s lead, Methodists lived with a holy dissatisfaction at life to strive for personal and corporate life-change without exception for denominational border, but today pan-Methodist culture appears to operate with a denominational dissatisfaction without exception for changed life aside from a few statistical pockets. This status quo must go the same way of a sinner’s heart, cleansed and justified in God’s light for purer and holier work. Theodore Runyon provides a mission statement for a fresh way forward: “Moreover, this holy dissatisfaction is readily transferable from the realm of the individual to that of society, where it provides a persistent motivation for reform in the light of ‘a more perfect way’ that goes beyond any status quo.”[22]

Now is the time to reject the status quo of denominational barriers and pursue deep reform.


Without doubt, not a single one of the borders amongst Wesley’s spiritual descendants has actually increased or helped the work of the larger witness of the pan-Wesleyan movement. Each border erected has been built over the gaping wound of schism, and wounds cannot heal with the excessive pressure of reinforced walls and the necrotic foundations of attitudes that find healing an unworthy pursuit. Yet not one of these borders was erected because of a truly necessary issue in the scope of Methodism’s raison d’etre. Mildred Bangs Wynkoop reminds all who call themselves Wesleyans, “We who would aspire to a more authentic Wesleyanism should explore again and again those areas in holiness theology and practice which are biblically central and unchanging and skirt those areas which are tentative and subject to constant openness of mind.”[23].

Our great spiritual father himself said, “Our main doctrines, which include all the rest, are three – that of repentance, of faith, and of holiness.”[24]

It seems difficult for a denomination to only be concerned with repentance, faith, and holiness, yet when the Gospel of Christ is distilled down, all else is extra! The Churches concern themselves with schools & universities, publishing houses, social justice initiatives, charitable concerns and more, which are well and good if they derive from Wesley’s main doctrines and lead people to them. If any of these or other concerns endemic to the Church become an end to themselves apart from repentance, faith, and holiness, then they have technically ceased to be concerns the Church NEEDS to deal with. Mission drift has been tolerated for 200 years too long.

Though the issues seemed so important at the times of each schism – the strength of the episcopacy, lay representation and authority in denominational decisions, the itinerancy of ministers, support or opposition to slavery, lack of holiness promotion, other social justice issues like women’s rights or membership in a lodge or consumption of alcohol, and more were actually separate issues from Father Wesley’s main concerns of repentance, faith, and holiness. Simply because of cultural pressure the Methodist Churches are actually contemplating further schism over another issue not central to the cause of unity with Christ over sexual identity. Yet for all of these “stands for truth”, by and large Wesley’s spiritual descendants in America are serving less than 6% of the population, and that’s a number that is shrinking. In other parts of the world where they do not have the luxury of meddling with theological intricacies and must focus on basics such as repentance, faith, and holiness, the pan-Methodist Churches are statistically growing in typically mind-blowing Wesley-an fashion. Yet the American Methodists continue to operate with the arrogance that led to each schism initially and appear unwilling to do enough hard work of humility to seek reunification with one another. Is Methodism’s statistical insignificance in America so unsurprising?

Christ actually gave us the clue to helping change the world and see lives transformed with holiness: Unity.[25] The American Methodists will continue a statistical slide into obscurity[26] if they do not make intentional, enveloping overtures at merging at executive and grassroots levels with Abraham’s generosity, Jacob’s penance, Moses’ humility, Ruth’s perseverance, David’s promise keeping, Hosea’s pity, Paul’s appreciation, Peter’s words, and Christ’s sacrificial nature.

Armed with these Biblical qualities, a renewed vision for Wesleyan essentials, a mission focus for life-change to the exclusion of extraneous details, and an acknowledgment that there is far more that Methodists share than what divides them[27], a full Wesleyan Methodist Nazarene Holiness merger is the only solution to repair the damage of the borders amongst Wesley’s spiritual descendants and turn pan-Methodism again into a culture shaper, a world leader, and a true light in the darkness rather than a dimming ember.

Pie in the sky? Utopian? Impossible? Only if repentance, faith, and the radical transformation of holiness isn’t truly possible for individuals, communities, or yes, even whole denominations.

[1] John Wesley, in his sermon “A Plain Account of Christian Perfection”

[2] William Wallace Bennett’s a History of Methodism for our Young People (1878) cited a collected American Methodist (made up of at least 3 cited streams of Methodism) Sunday attendance of 6,528,209 out of a total population of 38,558,371 in the 1878 US Statistical Abstract of the United States = 16.93%

[3] Haines and Thomas, An Outline History of The Wesleyan Church, p. 26

[4]Michael Warren. A chronology of state medicine, public health, welfare and related services in Britain 1066 – 1999

[5] Haines and Thomas, p. 33

[6] African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (1796/1821), Primitive Methodists (1811), African United Methodist Protestant Church (1813), Reformed Methodists (1814), African Methodist Episcopal Church (1816), the Protestant Methodists (1828-1830), the Wesleyan Methodist Connection (1843), Methodists Episcopal Church, South (1845), Congregational Methodists (1852), Free Methodist Church (1860), Christian Methodist Episcopal Church (1870)

[7] Black and Drury, p. 31.

[8] ibid. p. 22

[9] International Pentecostal Holiness Church,

[10] (2016)

[11] 19,555,039 in attendance out of a 2016 USA population of 323,100,000,






[17] The AME Zion Church the final core denomination used in this study as one of the World Methodist Council member churches, did not provide comparative statistical data.

[18] Ben Witherington III, The Problem With Evangelical Theology: Testing the Exegetical Foundations of Calvinism, Dispensationalism, and Wesleyanism, p. 172.: “The problem has not been primarily with Wesley or his immediate theological successor Richard Watson. The problem has been with their successors, very few of whom were experts in the Bible and many of whom cut their theological teeth on non-Wesleyan teething rings, for example, on German idealism.”

[19] Dr. Ken Schenck suggests, “In the twentieth century, however, as the rest of evangelicalism reacted against the social gospel, many grass roots Christians in the Wesleyan tradition found their intuitions turn against helping the needy, against helping immigrants, against anything associated with liberalism, including care for God’s creation.”

[20] Collin Hansen, editorial director of writes, “I left [Methodism] to find the theology of George Whitefield and Howell Harris that converted the Welsh… to learn the spiritual disciplines that sustained the Wesleys amid their conflicts with established church leaders and quests to reform British society… to find the spiritual zeal that made my grandfather belt out the Methodist hymnal by heart as cancer ravaged his body.”

[21] Numbers 5:6-7, NLT

[22] Theodore Runyon, The New Creation: John Wesley’s Theology Today (Abingdon, Nashville 1998). p. 168.

[23] Wynkoop, A Theology of Love, 2nd ed. Beacon Hill Press, 2015.

[24] John Wesley, The Works of John Wesley. Nazarene Publishing House and Zondervan Publishing House. Quote from volume 8, p. 472.

[25] John 17:21, NLT: “I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me (emphasis mine).”

[26] Remember, 33% of the population to 6% in roughly 150 years

[27] Among the American member churches of the World Methodist Council, the collected Articles of Religion/Faith only show variance among half a dozen points – the rest are all shared in wording and ideal among 20 articles.


Wild Wanderings – pt 2 – Mistrust

Part 2 – Mistrust

**This is part two of a Lenten Series called “Wild Wanderings” recapping lessons with my students at iLuminate Youth at Hanfield UMC. Last week we explored our radiant transformation as evidence for encountering God’s miraculous power. We continue building on that foundation here.**

Our operative definition for faith is “choosing to believe in something we cannot see or don’t understand,” and there can be no doubt that God is invisible and beyond understanding. Despite that, millions of people the world over claim some adherence to a deity or multiply deities. There can be no verifiable evidence in the sense of scientific proof for God, but the entire idea of faith belies a need for evidence (though it would be encouraging!). However, so many of the believers of various world religions claim undeniable experiences that it’s hard to dismiss the idea of God altogether.

For us, in a Christian church drawing its line to the Methodist denomination, belief in the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition is taken for granted. Belief is not the same thing as truly trusting that the miracles, myths, legends, testimonies, and reports of God’s action in our world are actually true. Belief alone is different than trusting that despite the evil at work in our world there is both a current and prophesied hope for the reconciliation of all peoples and things to each other and the pure righteousness of God. Belief will not guarantee that I will live as though God is real, alive, and still active in our world and lives. Belief is not trust.

Relationship builds trust.

If we look at Scripture we see within the covenant God made with the nation of Israel upon its exodus from Egypt that God was interested in a back-and-forth relationship with Israel, not just a one-sided obedience. The people were divinely rescued from slavery, divinely carried to safety, and divinely provided for in the wilderness – God was intent on participating in relationship with the people. From the get-go, if God is God in all love, holiness, justice, righteousness, grace, etc, we must acknowledge our lack of standing before the Majesty – Lev 15:31 sets this up: “their impurity would defile my Tabernacle that stands among them.” In the midst of repeated covenantal requirements for Israel to obey, we see the heart of God behind them – that we would become reunified with God, holy as God is holy.

Through the people’s lack of investment in the relationship they did not build foundational trust with Him. A flash-in-the-pan of miraculous outpouring proves nothing because this on its own does not cause belief, though it can inspire it. Trusting faith is built as we repeatedly respond to the God who is miraculously acting on our behalf.

Because Israel did not stay in relationship with God (pray, follow, seek, crave, etc) they did not trust God. Because they did not trust God (that the power displayed on their behalf was for their benefit, that the God who acted on their behalf desired their return to God’s loving arms, that this relationship was reciprocal and required their obedience) they did not hold up their end of the covenantal bargain.

There are multiple ways that the Israelites failed in their obedience. Keep in mind, Ex 40:34-48 describes how God’s presence was continually with them in the Tabernacle when they made camp and in the cloud over them as they travelled. These people literally walked with God everywhere they went, but it is apparent that we can still ignore and deny His presence even when it is immediately beside us.

As the nation journeyed from Mt Sinai towards Canaan to enter the land God had promised them, Numbers 11 describes how the people got bored with the Heavenly manna God provided every morning. They wanted meat, and they even took the time to complain loudly to Moses that (although they had been slaves) at least in Egypt they had fish and meat when they wanted it. The sin of the nation here is that they did not trust God’s goodness or providence for them – they wanted meat instead. In the story Moses reminded God they needed enough to feed the over 600,000 soldiers and their families when God replied, “Has my arm lost its power (11:23)?”

God provided enough quail to feed the people many times over. Remember the foundation of the covenant was relational restoration with God which would have made them holy as they held up their end of the bargain. However, God had already provided manna on a daily basis. The people did not need the quail and their indulgence in it was a lack of trust in God – those who ate it died in their impurity.

One might think that this act alone would re-re-re-remind the Israelites who they’re in covenant with (the Creator of the Universe, Holy God). In the very next chapter Aaron and Miriam, Moses’ brother and sister, additional leaders in the nation, revealed their own lack of trust in God. They complained about wanting Moses’ kind of spiritual power (completely denying it is God’s power in Moses and not Moses’ own power). As a result, she got leprosy (but after following the purification rituals was cleansed).

Three strikes, and you’re out. Israel made it to the edge of the Promised Land, but they wanted to be really sure. Numbers 13 describes the journey of the 12 spies that were sent to investigate the land. Though the fruits of the land were as plentiful as promised, the people were bigger than expected, they had a fresh test: trust God and enter the land or run? 10 of the spies recommended running while Joshua and Caleb attempted to get the people to faithfully walk into Canaan.

At this point the fake news of the day won and the people rebelled against God and Moses’ leadership – there were not going to enter the Promised Land and even threatened to stone to the two truth-tellers, Joshua and Caleb. God boomed from the cloud and the people quieted down really quickly, but Moses prayed and interceded on their behalf to ask God not to plague them. God spared them, but this act of mistrust in God earned them a severe punishment. For each of the 40 days the spies spent in the land the nation would spend one year in the desert wandering. In fact, this ensured that the adults of the rebellious generation would pass away before the nation entered, because their faithlessness had been proven enough thus far in the journey.

Is that enough? Does that not prove that if God makes a promise, a covenant with us, that trusting Him and holding up our end is better than not?

The problem is that God’s children here were acting like.. children. So the next morning after this punishment was announced (and a wise, duly chastened child might come back to mommy or daddy with a handmade apology card and even try messing up the kitchen to fix breakfast-in-bed and prove their apology and love) the nation of Israel loaded up and headed…towards Canaan?! They didn’t do exactly what God said – they doubled down in their sin and thought they could just savvy their way back into God’s good graces. Savvy is not the same as obedience! Moses came to them and pleaded (essentially), “You idiots! The Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant are still here. Don’t do it! The whole reason you’re in trouble is for not listening to God!”

He actually said, “Do not go up into the land now. You will only be crushed by your enemies because the Lord is not with you (Num 14:42).” He then tells them if they go to the Promised Land the inhabitants of the land will chase and/or slaughter them…which is exactly what happens when they don’t stay with God’s presence.

This Lent, this season of fasting and attempting to get back in touch with God, this time of acknowledging our own wild wanderings and attempting to have them redeemed, let us remember a few things.

1) God’s arm has not lost its power, even today.
2) The fact that we exist and breathe indicates
His already miraculous involvement in our lives
3) Regardless of how difficult the circumstances may be
(especially because we usually make the circumstances poor ourselves),
it is better to begin trusting God and stop going our own way
4) Sin is an act of rebellion against the covenant with God,
and mistrust is the first step on that journey

The question I asked the students: Do you come clean when caught in sin, or do you double down?

The solution is to simply stay with God’s presence. The formula is tried and true, but rarely practiced – crucify the ego (be humble), pray, read God’s word, look for opportunities to love others and serve. That first step is the trouble – humbling ourselves to acknowledge our sin, ask for forgiveness, and stop doing the stupid thing, is such a key (as the people of God ignored repeatedly in our story today). So I challenged the students to find somebody more spiritually mature than themselves – a friend, pastor, sibling, parent, teacher (just somebody they trust) – and confess a sin, then ask this person to pray with them asking God for forgiveness.

We are in this journey together – each of us are simply trying to find a way out of the wilderness of sin and separation from God. Life is hard enough without willfully compounding our problems as the ancient Israelites did. Rather, let’s pursue God together, and when we do find glorious moments of His presence, let’s not willfully leave. None of this will be able to spark belief in God, but hopefully something has helped strengthen your trust in God and lead to a stronger degree of faith.

Go with GOD,

Wild Wanderings p1


Part 1 – Radiant Obedience

Have you ever wished there was a way to pull out of the rat race and collect yourself? When you do find that time, is anyone able to know or see the evidence of it in/on you?

In the Christian Church there is a tradition of reckoning the year a little differently than the usual calendar. Advent, leading up to Christmas, begins the Christian year which follows with Epiphany then Lent leading to Easter and so on. We are currently in Lent – a season of pondering, reflection, and self-denial to continue becoming our best selves.

The tradition derives from the desert. In the Bible the desert is not only a very real place and situation to survive through – it also becomes a metaphor for trial, suffering, and a potential place to meet God. This year for Lent I am hoping to help our students meet God, but first we must get to the desert.

Our first lesson of Lent began with the Israelites receiving no end of miraculous help from the Lord to deliver them from slavery in Egypt. In return, God simply asked for obedience – God is the Almighty, humans are mere creations. God is refreshing the promise with His people to lead them out of Egypt back home to Canaan. Exodus 13:11 begins with Moses, their leader, reminding the children of God, “This is what you must do when the Lord fulfills the promise he swore to you and to your ancestors…”

God’s promises are conditional, and their fulfillment is reliant upon our obedience.

As miracle after miracle delivered them out of slavery, it would seem a no brainer that the witnesses and beneficiaries of God’s awesome might would unquestioningly follow the law to the letter! Just days after they literally crossed a sea on its dry seabed, however, the children of God were doing what so many children do best… complaining. Moses plead to God on their behalf and continued leading them home to the land that had been promised to them.

At Mt Sinai they stopped for a rest and for the covenant between God and His people to be fully realized and sanctified. While Moses was up on the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights, one would hope the rest of the people were preparing themselves to meet God? Praying and fasting as their leader was doing up on the mountain? Perhaps even preparing for a journey to their new homes? No – the people convinced the 2nd in Command to build them an idol to a false God.

What was it God wanted? Obedience. Rather than put in the hard work to see their long-term promises of God fulfilled, the people wanted short-term satisfaction. One of the ideals of Lent is that our short-term satisfaction is usually less fulfilling than God’s long-term promises, so in this season we often will put aside our short-term satisfaction for that deeper goal – a fast.

For what purpose?

Moses received the Ten Commandments from God during that initial 40 days on the mountain, but as he saw the idol worship of the people he threw the tablets down and shattered them in his anger. As usual with anger, consequences occur for the angry. In yet another act of power from God, Moses is forgiven and pleads for God’s continued presence with the nation – which God immediately answers. If Moses would stand in a certain place in a certain way and not look at God too soon (this all requires obedience), then Moses would actually see God on the mountain as He passed by Moses. “But you may not look directly at my face, for no one may see me and live (Ex 33:20).” Meeting God is not without challenge or consequence, yet not all consequences are negative.

Moses met God there, chiseled a new set of tablets, received the fresh law from God, and spent another 40 day fast on the mountain (that’s 80 days total receiving nourishment from God rather than eating human food, and nearly a quarter of a year for the people without their leader present). When he finally returned to the people what Moses did not realize was, “…that his face had become radiant because he had spoken to the Lord (Ex 34:39).”

He was transformed.

My question for our students: Does anybody know that you’ve spent time with God?

We so often want out of the race of life, a break where we can simply let our guard down and be ourselves without proving anything to anyone. This time is not the same thing as concerted time with God, and likewise will not yield the life transformation so many of us are seeking. One breeds short-term satisfaction while the other brings fulfillment on a soul-level from God.

Yet, even meeting with God has conditions, much like His promises of blessing. We want the results, but are we willing to do the work of obedient faithfulness, seeking results on God’s terms?

This Lent, I do want freedom for you. I do want a chance for you to catch your breath. However, I want us to experience truer transformation from God. I am not yet who God envisions for my destiny, even as God already loves me. I am not yet done with sin, even as God continues to purify and sanctify so that I may one day see sin only in my rearview mirror. I am not yet the obedient child God desires (more like a petulant teen most of the time), yet God still offers miraculous intervention and forgiveness as He did for Israel.

This Lent, will I join those people in the desert by patiently waiting for God to move (devoting ourselves to prayer, Scripture, worship, etc), or will I join those people distracting themselves with idols (money, entertainment, tech, etc…)? After this season of preparation, when we celebrate Resurrection at Easter, will I come out of the desert radiantly transformed due to God? Or will I appear no different as before, albeit with the pain of resentment in my eyes for not having met God?

It all hinges on our obedience to God’s urging, teachings, and Scripture.

He IS present with us as with the Israelites. He IS working miracles on our behalf. He IS bringing us into a promise that we cannot imagine! He IS ready to transform us. Each of these things happen on His gracious terms in direct proportion to our obedience as Moses modeled.

Follow God, and we will be radiant. Scripture, prayer, fasting, serving others in Christ’s name. A time-tested formula to pursue long-term promises from God rather than short-term satisfaction.

We’re in this together; let’s help each other. Your good is my good, and I will continue seeking your good in every way I can. If you don’t hear it from anyone else this week, I love you. See you Sunday. And let’s seek radiant transformation together, this Lent.


An illustration:


Part 1 of 6.

(Story summary of Exodus chapters 13-34. Direct quotations from NLT.)

Cheering for School

Regardless of where you land on the American school system, governmental standards, or the best way to teach kids, when it all comes down to it I just want my son to learn and develop into a healthy, fulfilled, and outward focused person. This is our hope and prayer for him.

With driving on the road, living arrangements, his own anxieties, and occasional other issues, we have bounced from school to school since he began. This isn’t necessarily conducive to his learning or fulfillment, etc.

After lots of prayer, and feeling God impossibly open doors that we were not planning to even explore, we now find ourselves in a position to be intentional about his school choice. We began sixth grade this week at The King’s Academy in Jonesboro, Indiana. This morning I dropped he and his friend off at a local church camp for the vision retreat King’s does every fall. As we drove in the driveway was lined with older students clapping and cheering for these younger students arriving. I dropped these two off at the front door where there were even more older students clapping and cheering as they walked through. I wish I could capture the joy on their faces or bottle up the excitement pouring off of my son or at least forever remember the biggest smile I’ve seen on his face in a long time. It was like a gauntlet of welcome and cheer, and my eyes wouldn’t quit leaking as I was suddenly overcome with emotion! My son has never been this excited for anything school related (except for the end of the day).

There are a number of reasons that Heather and I have been confirmed in discerning God’s will for getting off the road delivering campers and entering ministry at Hanfield United Methodist in Marion. Seeing his face this morning and hearing him say this will be the best day of school ever, is the best reason yet.


The Church loves talking about the Prodigal Son – the redemption, forgiveness, and celebration are irresistible. How often do we examine the older brother and repent of our contributions of dis-unity in themodern Church? This message is a call to Unity.

Preached on 7/2/17 at Hanfield UMC.

Towards A Theology of Play


Towards a Theology of Play

There is plenty of research and writing about the need for enjoying one’s Sabbath time. After a summer of driving my students hard towards a better understanding of God (believing that what we think about God determines how we act and live our lives) by exploring His attributes I wanted to give them a Sunday “off” at youth group. The purpose was less to explain the need for a Sabbath and have one (though we did) than to simply hope to redeem time off for these students. I’m a parent – I wish my son wouldn’t like to almost exclusively play (to my chagrin I realize my cultural conditioning in that statement). On the other hand, our culture makes much of work and commitments while making fun of those who seem to spend their time playfully. The generation coming up is perhaps more stressed than at any other time in history!

Despite this, I’m gaining a bit of a bookish reputation with my new youth group. Since I got here in April we’ve played a few games, but I find this to be a far less important aspect of youth group than helping teach our students a more vibrant faith (Vibrant faith is contagious, disciple-making faith). I’m having fun, I make our youth meetings fun even while we’re doing lessons, and I’m hearing from most all of these students that it is a direction they’re quite pleased with. Let’s be real though, many students come to youth group simply for a breather from “life” and to have some fun in the midst of their busy lives, especially now that school has started.

This past Sunday we had a game night. There was junk food galore, board games spread around, foosball upstairs, some football tossing outside, and an impromptu dodgeball game targeting those of us gathered at the different game tables. We had a blast. With about fifteen minutes left, though, I pulled them aside for a “Gotcha!”

Promised Play

Rather than playing (ha!) into cultural stereotypes glorifying work to the demonization of play, I wanted to help redeem the idea of play for our students and give them an ordained view of playtime (in community).

Psalm 104 celebrates the glory of God’s creation and the diversity of His creativity. Specifically, vv 24-26 speaks of something (Leviathan) created for play! Indeed, you can’t look at some of the creatures in our world and not see a playful Creator God!

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Cosmic Resurrection – Lesson Recap, 4/9/17

So often I think we Christians sell ourselves short around Easter and the resurrection. Don’t get me wrong, I love Reese’s Eggs (get behind me, Satan!), surprising our son with some Easter bunny gifts, and worshiping together with God’s people on the day that exemplifies a Christian’s reason for existence.

We so often hear people at Church talk about Christ dying for our sins, willingly suffering in our place, or rising again on the third day. I think we’re missing the forest for the trees here. Yes, Christ did those things, although we could debate each of them till we’re blue in the face with different theories of atonement or how the harrowing of Hell looked (it’d make a great movie!). As Bunny says in Rise of the Guardians, “Easter is new beginnings, new life… Easter’s about hope.” So often we still focus on Christ’s suffering and forget that it points our way forward… it changes everything. I wanted to attempt to help our students get beyond the suffering or even just personal resurrection – hopefully after this lesson they can begin to see that God’s work is so much bigger than their own eternity even while tying in the definition of faith.

I began our lesson with this fantastic clip from The Skit Guys:

Our Risen Savior: Peter and John on Easter Sunday Video « The Skit Guys

In this clip at least, Peter and John represent two worldviews, neither necessarily wrong or right. Peter presents a more worldly, business-like view: this is the problem, here are some solutions, let’s get it done. Christ is missing, we disciples can go recover His body, and GO! John appears to be less of a do-er and more of a thinker: Christ is missing, but did He give us clues about this and does it mean anything deeper?

By the end of the video both are putting the pieces together of the breadcrumb trail that Christ left them: parables (The Kingdom of Heaven is like…), lessons (I will rebuild this Temple in three days), and encounters (This day you will join me in paradise)… He is who He said is, the Messiah, and He is Risen!!

So what is faith? How do we go from a purely earthly understanding of the problem to something more mystical and unseen? For the purposes of our time together, faith will be defined as: Believing in something we can’t see or don’t understand. Shortly after this video could have taken place, all the Disciples were gathered together and Christ appears in their midst (Poof!). Thomas, now called Doubting Thomas because of these infamous words, said that he wouldn’t believe Christ was resurrected unless he could put his hand in the wound in Christ’s side and his finger in the holes in Christ’s wrist. Christ obliges in this moment and Thomas finally believes. Then Jesus told him, You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me (John 20:29, NLT).”

Nearly two millennia later, faith is all we have to go off of – faith in God, faith that Scriptures passed down are still what God intended, faith that the events recorded happened at all, etc. This isn’t entirely preposterous; we hold faith in many things – that the light switch will turn on the lights, that the air we breathe is clean enough to survive, that the drugs the doctor is injecting us with is actually for our benefit, that… the list could go on. Just because the origin of our faith resides in the ancient past does not mean it must be any less true or actual. So, can we, as a group, believe that Christ did come back from the dead? Yes?

So what is the significance of that?

We first looked at 1 Peter 1:3-6, NLT:

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see.

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while.

Followed by 1 Corinthians 15:12-23, NLT (especially focused on 17-19):

16 And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. 18 In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! 19 And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.</p>

So because Christ is risen we have great “expectation” and hope in Him – we are no longer guilty of our sins because of gracious forgiveness, our salvation invites us into paradise with Christ as with the thief on the cross, and we have another life to look forward to after this one is over.

The 1 Cor passage referenced above concludes by mentioning death entering the world through Adam and being defeated a new Adam, Christ. This calls to mind the perfected state and intent of our Creation in the Garden, but we rebelliously told God we didn’t want that. To this day the struggle plays out in our every day lives when we’re told not do “the things” and insist on coming back to them again and again “like a dog to its vomit” (Jesus, what a gruesome metaphor!). “Beyond the reach of change and decay” lies a promise that will not be broken and that our sinful ways cannot corrupt. Why? Because Christ rose! There’s that personal resurrection piece that must be mentioned on Easter, but it’s such a small part of it! Our sin in Adam corrupted all of creation like a cancer that begins in one cell and eventually ravages the entire body, so did our sin eat away at the Good Creation we were so long lovingly crafted to be. Christ’s resurrection and defeat of death does so much more – it promises the defeat of the death of ALL of Creation, and the resurrection of the world! Yes us, but we are specs of sand for what God is interested in resurrecting!

One final passage, from Revelation 21:1-5, NLT:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”
And the One sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!”

Yes, Easter is about our forgiveness and resurrection into paradise someday, but that’s such a small piece of the story! If that is all we care about we’ve missed so much of what Christ implored us to learn (Love God, Love Neighbor, Make Disciples)…frankly it’s selfish!! And as God is so self-giving, Christ so self-less, Holy Spirit so self-sharing, how can we call ourselves children of God and still act so selfishly to think the cross and empty tomb are just for me? The defeat of death and the resurrection of Christ are only the first indications of a much a larger promise!! The entire world will be made new and Heaven (God’s presence) will be with us on this ball we’re currently living on! Earth will be renewed and resurrected! The cosmos will be redeemed from the disgusting disregard with which we have treated it (insert landfill, strangled fish, and oil spill photos here…). If Easter is only about us we’ve missed the point. Is your faith big enough to understand Easter isn’t really for you at all? It is for all of us and more! God is interested in resurrecting! The whole cosmos will be made new! If your idea of God isn’t able to work cosmic resurrection, it may not be a big enough (or orthodox) view of God!

The students are always given a practical piece of homework – this week, because of your faith and the promise implicit in the resurrection of Christ, be an agent of renewal to someone this week that you don’t normally associate with. Find somebody walking around like a zombie, a person living life as though life’s over, somebody dead in their spirit, and try to breathe new life to them. Maybe they just need a smile or a Polar Pop. Maybe they need a friend to talk to them or better yet to listen. Maybe they need someone to stand up for them. Maybe their home life is dangerous and they need a safe place (your house?). Whatever the case may be, if you call yourself a Christ-ian, then do something Christ-like and work to defeat the little deaths that surround us every day.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Go with GOD.
If you don’t hear it from anyone else this week, I love you.