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?

PROBLEM

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.

PROLIFERATION

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?

RECONCILIATION

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.

BREAK THE BORDERS

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” http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/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, https://iphc.org/introduction/.

[10] http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/ (2016)

[11] 19,555,039 in attendance out of a 2016 USA population of 323,100,000, https://www.census.gov/popclock/

[12] https://www.wesleyan.org/north-american-worship-attendance-time-high

[13] https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/factchecker-are-all-christian-denominations-in-decline/

[14]http://s3.amazonaws.com/Website_GCFA/resources/Data_Services/documents/2016_Stats_Summary_with_2015_Comparison.xlsx

[15] http://www.nazarene.org/statistics

[16] http://fmcusa.org/genesis-conference-statistical-dashboard/

[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] http://www.missioalliance.org/the-scandal-of-the-wesleyan-memory/: 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] https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/why-im-no-longer-a-united-methodist/: Collin Hansen, editorial director of http://www.thegospelcoalition.org 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.

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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.

Unity

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

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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.

The Great Escape

*You get a cookie if you know the movie*

Tonight, Heather and I started getting addicted to watching a new show on TNT called The Great Escape. It was pretty intense, and we definitely enjoyed a changeup to the Amazing Race format.

But as I lay here in bed (not sleeping… curse you Mountain Dew, and your delicious green-ness!), my mind keeps turning back to this idea of escape… or more specifically, how we ourselves can’t.

There are a few blessed seasons of life where we may not face a ton of temptation, but whether we’re an old saint or somebody new to faith, Satan is always there trying to pull us away from God. He was there in the beginning poisoning our relationship with God in the Garden, he was in the desert trying to mess with God’s own Son, and today he’s still trying ruin the efforts of disciples and followers everywhere. One less soul in Heaven feels like a another notch on the belt for old Lucifer. There is simply no escape from his efforts to ensnare and entrap us. In the Bible, Peter even uses the image of a lion waiting to pounce to help describe Satan’s predatory passion for human failure.

It seems hopeless and perhaps tortuous, trapped like a fish with 100 lures in all directions, each more inviting than the last, but knowing that each could spell a broken relationship with God. The worst case scenario of look, but don’t touch.

What would you say if I told that though there is no escape from temptation (because Satan doesn’t take a vacation day), there is an escape from the pain of the failure and death of giving in to temptations? This is not freedom from consequences, and this is no quick fix that I refer to. No, sometimes we simply must sleep in the bed we’ve made for ourselves, poor decisions included. However, this is a rescue from the death of the wages of our sin. I refer to a healing and a restoration that comes from One who can heal all wounds. It is possible, one day, to know a freedom in your life that results from no longer being a slave to the temptations, choices, and sins that drag us down. This is the result of realizing that the ways of the world do not fulfill you and turning over the control of your life to One who would ask you to live by faith, not sight. Though it sounds like “following” gives you less control than striking your own path, it turns out that following God gives you more freedom (from bondage and pain), more joy (because of this freedom), and more hope (that there is light shining in the midst of your darkness). It can absolutely free you from the destructive patterns that choosing your temptations has gotten you into.

Turning your life over to Jesus Christ is absolutely the most transformative decision you can make. It will not keep Satan from tempting you or turn your life onto easy street, but it may just be the Greatest Escape you’ll ever experience. And the prize is worth far more than $100,000, too.

The Ultimate April Fools’ Prank

I’m a huge fan of April Fools’ Day. In fact, I am the type of guy who loves seeing the faces of people who just got pranked. Whether it’s America’s Funniest Home Videos, Punk’d, or Wipeout, seeing people get gotten is a favorite past-time of mine.

One year for Halloween I made a scarecrow and set it on my grandmother’s porch for a week or so before trick-or-treating would happen. Then, on the night of candy collecting I put on the scarecrow’s outfit and placed the candy bowl in my lap. You guessed it! Those grubby little paws would reach in, and I would scream till they reached their cars and drove off! TOO FUNNY!!

This year provides us April Foolers with a very unique opportunity, however. The funnest atheist holiday (as a great friend of mine called it) is combined with one of the holy days of the Liturgical Calendar, or Palm Sunday. I actually asked my pastor what he was planning for Sunday, and he said palm branches… I was floored! He is one of my fellow, prank-loving April Foolers! Perhaps he’s just throwing me off the trail though…

But as I got to chewing on the idea of these two divergent holidays converging this year, a thought occurred to me. Jesus was the greatest April Fooler of them all! I mean, if you’ve ever gotten mixed up in pranks you know how addictive they are. Once someone gets you then you want to turn around and get them back, only bigger! Then it just goes back and forth until somebody’s wife gets fed up with it!

Imagine this: It’s the first Palm Sunday (not that the ancient Jews called it that) and the people are basically coming out in droves for a huge welcoming party that they’re throwing for Jesus. If you close enough you’ll see the Pharisees there in the back. Those sniveling creatures are wringing their hands incessantly because they’re supposed to hold all the religious (and by extension social) power in the community, but here is this upstart on a donkey with the crowds throwing down robes and palms for his mule to walk on. They’re hanging on his every word. The Pharisees are furious.

John 12:19 says, “So the Pharisees said to one another, ‘See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!’”

So one of them gets the bright idea: “Won’t it be a great idea if we get all these worshippers and partiers to turn on Jesus by the end of the week?”
And another says, “What a great idea! He’ll never see it coming!”
Then a third says, “Maybe we could get them so turned around that they want to kill this one they’re calling the Messiah?”
There are cheers all around and much back-slapping. Well, except for that one guy who spends a little too much time actually living with the Scriptures rather than just proof-texting them, “Wait, guys… won’t that just fit into the prophecies?”
Guy #1 chimes in, “Oh you old so and so! Go back to your studies. Let the big boys make the devious plans.”
Cue snide laughter that goes on for a few seconds more than it should.

By the end of the week, of course, they succeeded. This triumphant entry became a huge defeat for Jesus’ followers and a huge win for the plotting Pharisees and their pharishcemes. From palms to Pilate, Jesus made it all the way into the hands of the Romans and death on a cross.

Ugh! Such arrogance! If only they had listened to this man they hated so much (but what villain ever truly listens to their adversaries??)! They would have heard that for at least a while Jesus had been planning the greatest April Fools’ prank that the world has ever seen! Early in His ministry Jesus went to the Temple before Passover and saw money-changers and merchants in His Father’s house of prayer. With a whip and a fiery spirit He cleared them out, so of course they whimpered about all the money they were going to lose. “Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.’” (John 2:19).

That right there! That moment! That conversation is when He let them know exactly what He was going to do! But they didn’t believe Him. So they thought for sure their prank would be better. They pulled off something unheard of! They ran one of the first successful political smear campaigns and in less than a week (and without the aid of the internet or John Stewart) got the King of Man a thorny crown.

So I can only imagine the party they were throwing for themselves as the disciples (well, those who hadn’t fled) lowered His body from the cross and laid it in a tomb… their precious Lord… I’m sure the champagne was flowing and the matzo balls were rolling. Like any good prankster, Jesus knew to wait to strike until they least expected it though. I’m sure that one Pharisee was keeping an eye out, the studious one. He tried telling them, but it’s hard to hear the shofar of your own impending doom when the harps of joy and arrogant victory are going strong.

True to His Word, three days after Christ died He took the shaped boulder blocking His grave and rolled it away in a blaze of radiant glory (it was blazingly radiant in my head anyways). From death to life He came forth! Up from the grave He arose! Victorious, powerful, and full of the Spirit He ascended back to life from the underworld with the keys of Hades and of Death in hand. The Temple was rebuilt in three days, just as He promised!

I can’t imagine how the crow tasted as those Pharisees heard the news. The prankers got pranked.

Yes indeed. Christ’s death was the ultimate April Fools’ Joke, because no grave can hold the one who gives life everlasting. May His example be inspiring to you on this Palm Sunday, I mean April Fools’ Day.

 

 

© 2012 by Jeff Brady