UNwilling

aldersgate

On this day in 1738 John Wesley found his way to a gathering on Aldersgate street. Remembering it, he wrote this in his journal: “In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street….”

Unwillingly.

At Aldersgate, following a reading of Martin Luther’s preface to Romans, Wesley wrote that his heart was “strangely warmed.” He continued that he did, in that moment – from that moment on- trusted “in Christ, and Christ alone,” for his salvation.

And he went unwillingly.

The salvation for which Wesley trusted Christ from that day forward wasn’t just a warmed heart.  He rarely referred again to that specific event or day or moment, but the life he went on to live changed the world.

Wesley organized small groups to disciple one another.  The practices and disciplined life he had already been living, coupled with the warmed heart, brought many others into the fold of Christ. The small groups, the mutual accountability work done therein, would grow the members into people who followed Wesley’s example and followed Jesus.

Schools and hospitals were founded. Prisoners were ministered to. Some have gone so far as to allege that the Wesleyan revival helped England avoid the kind of bloody revolution France would face.

And Wesley went unwillingly.

In these days following #UMCGC, the 2016 General Conference of the United Methodist Church, we have a lot of unwillingness.

In response to much and loud and bitter dissension regarding, primarily, our church’s stance on LGBTQI matters, our bishops have called for a special commission to study the issue and present possible resolutions.

Many of us are not holding our breaths waiting for the conclusions reached by this commission. I, for one, am incredibly skeptical that resolution can be reached between the extremes within our denomination.

But then today I was struck by the word unwillingly.

My skepticism rests mostly on my presumption that many are resistant -no, beyond resistant – dead set against any compromise of their position.

But maybe, at least on this Aldersgate Day, that’s exactly the Wesleyan place to be.

Unwilling.

May all we United Methodists approach our future as unwillingly as Wesley approached the meeting on Aldersgate Street.

Look what happened that time!

#UMCGC and moving on to perfection

perfection meme

Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?

For at least the last 25 years, I have answered this question, “Yes, by the grace of God.”

The other seven members of my ordination class in the Texas Annual Conference in 1991 answered the same. As far as I know, every ordained United Methodist has answered the same way.

I was pretty sure that the eight of us didn’t have exactly the same understanding of what this question meant. No one asked. No explanation, no dissertation was required

I can tell you that I full on loved that question!  Fresh out of Asbury Seminary, I was deeply committed to living into Christian Perfection. Wesley’s teaching on perfection played an essential role in my choice of seminary.

When I was 27 I fully expected, by the grace of God, to be made perfect in love in this life.

Today, at 52 I still fully expect, by the grace of God, to be made perfect in love in this life.

My understanding of what it means, and towards what, particularly, I am moving, has changed. If it hadn’t, I would have serious reservations about my fitness for effective ministry.

I haven’t talked to anyone from my ordination class in at least 20 years.  This is partly because I have changed conferences; I am now a clergy member of the Central Texas Conference.

Occasionally I wonder what the 27 year old Steve Heyduck would think of the 52 year old version. There would be some serious disagreements. And yet, we are together. I wouldn’t be the me I am today had I not been him then.

I wouldn’t be committed today to being made perfect in love in this life were it not for my original commitment then. With 25+ years on this path, then, I have to think I’m closer now than I was then.  If I didn’t believe this, I would owe it to the Church to surrender my credentials and find another vocation.

 

Wesley’s Questions: #9

wesleys questionsPart of John Wesley’s genius, as the founder of the Methodist Movement, was the way he organized to make disciples. He established small groups everywhere he went. When these small groups met, they would go through a list of questions at each meeting. The questions were designed to guide the group members into a deeper walk with God.

Here is the ninth question:9. When did I last speak to someone about my faith?

If the good news of Jesus really is good news, isn’t it worth sharing?  Of course it is, but the typical United Methodist doesn’t want to be “that guy,” you know, the one who always locks down the conversation and heaven and hell and whether your faith is good enough to get you to heaven.

Rather than be “that guy,” many of us have turned our faith into something entirely personal and private. “My faith is between me and God!” we insist.  We respect other people too much to insert ourselves and our beliefs into their lives.

But again, if the good news of Jesus really is good news, then it IS worth sharing.

The beauty of this question is that it is asked in the context of a small group of people who are all trying to follow Jesus a bit better today than yesterday. If we do have faith in Christ, and if we are indeed trying to follow him better today than yesterday, then we are open to speaking about our faith to others.

A great place to start is to write out the story of your faith.  When did you first believe?  How has your relationship with God grown?  What are your biggest struggles, your greatest victories?  Where have you been most challenged to feel God’s presence?  How do you seek God’s presence when you don’t feel it?

Your answer to any of these questions will encourage you in your faith!  They will also offer you connections with other people.

Remember, you aren’t necessarily trying to convert people. You might be, like a pastor friend of mine always said, “Just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.”

What have you found in God’s love recently?  Would you be willing to share this with someone else?

W’s Q’s #4

wesleys questionsPart of John Wesley’s genius, as the founder of the Methodist Movement, was the way he organized to make disciples. He established small groups everywhere he went. When these small groups met, they would go through a list of questions at each meeting. The questions were designed to guide the group members into a deeper walk with God.

Here is the fourth question:

  1. Am I a slave to dress, friends, work , or habits?

 

Wesley knew better than to think that spirituality, or following Jesus, was simply a matter of spending time each day in prayer and bible study. He knew that following Jesus would affect every area of our lives: including the way we dress, our choice of friends, where and how we work, and habits we hold on to.

But the wording of this question reminds us that neither is following Jesus only about shopping at different stores, befriending a different group of people, etc.  The beginning of the question is as important to the disciple of Jesus as the ending: “Am I a slave…?”

In John 8:31-32 Jesus said “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teaching. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Following Jesus sets us free from all matters of bondage, including things like clothing, friends, work, and habits.

Perhaps the most basic way this question challenges us to grow is in facing the truth that everyone who follows Jesus doesn’t look exactly like us. They won’t all dress the same, have the same friends, work the same jobs, or have exactly the same habits.

I’m reminded of a story told by a deeply faithful Free Methodist college Professor.  His young adult daugther was in a relationship with a young man of the Dutch Reformed tradion.  Unlike the Free Methodists, Dutch Reformed do not carry the same social taboos on alcohol and tobacco.

Knowing the young man to be a committed Christian nevertheless, this professor told me how he and his wife sought to reach out across such different practices. If their daughter was serious about him, they would make every effort. They invited him to join them at the symphony.

The young man graciously declined. “While I very much appreciate the invitation, I would never dream of doing such a thing on the sabbath,” he told them.

When we find ourselves enslaved to some social particulars, we might set up barriers that keep us from fellowship, and that can poorly represent our Lord.

Dress, friends, work, and habits matter. They matter deeply.  But they are not lord of our lives. That place is reserved for Jesus.

W’s Qs #2

wesleys questionsPart of John Wesley’s genius, as the founder of the Methodist Movement, was the way he organized to make disciples.  He established small groups everywhere he went.  When these small groups met, they would go through a list of questions at each meeting. The questions were designed to guide the group members into a deeper walk with God.

Here is the second question:

  1. Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?

Many congregations have at least one of these people, but in one church I served her name was Esther.  Esther believed that she should always speak her mind, no matter who it hurt along the way.

I read in a Chuck Swindoll book of that same era that “honesty is a virtue, but it is not the highest virtue.”

I think this misconception of honesty – sharing my opinion no matter the personal or relational cost – is exactly what this second question of Wesley’s small groups intends to address.

Notice it asks, “Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?” (emphasis added) I think honesty in our actions will sometimes cause us to limit the words we use. Honest actions make us choose our words more wisely.

So, “Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?” Is a great question for any of us who would follow Jesus to consider regularly.  Additionally, we are most likely to grow more honest in acts and words when we hold ourselves accountable to someone else.

I believe that, at its best, honesty in acts and words means consideration for one’s own worth and that of others.

A Quiet Verse

About a month ago we started offering a GPS in our weekly worship guide.  GPS stands for “Grow, Pray, Study.”

Today’s scripture reading is Philippians 2.  I preached on a passage from this chapter yesterday, but today, reading the entire chapter, it got real for me as a reader and student of the bible, not just as a preacher.

This is what really caught me this morning: Philippians 2:13 says

God is the one who enables you both to want and to actually live out his good purposes.

I am stuck on this verse because at the moment it seems to me to unlock the very future of the church in the US!

Ask any pastor, and he or she will likely tell you that one of the greatest frustrations for pastors is the general cultural attitude most succinctly represented by this bumper sticker

The frustration is NOT that this doesn’t convey some truth about God’s grace. The frustration is that so many use this as a cop-out to miss out on the transformative power of God that is available with and by grace!

Sure, Christians aren’t perfect. Fine.  No argument.  But if you find yourself using this line as an excuse to refuse to change your behavior, that’s a problem.

If you claim the “Christians aren’t perfect” bit to fight learning to forgive others, that’s a problem.

If you throw down “Christians aren’t perfect” to justify the fact that you are no better a person, no more like Jesus, than you were a decade ago, that’s a problem.

This change God offers – God promises – is not on you!  It is on God, and God is stepping up to the plate.

And God will deliver. God will enable you both to want and to actually live out his good purposes!

Yes, you will have to make some changes, but God provides the lead and the power, the direction, and the ability.

And the God who offers this, provides this, is the God who made you and who breathed life into you.

Let this singular, quiet verse soak in for a while today, and see what God can do with it!

Say it like you mean it!

There is some wisdom in “fake it till you make it.” Would you join me in providing proof this Thanksgiving?

John Wesley, the father of methodism, struggled in his early years to find assurance of salvation. His worked harder than most at the spiritual disciplines hoping to find peace with God, yet it seemed.to laude him at everry turn. Finally, after seeing a band of Moravianswas and being deeply impressed with their assurance, he asked. Them how he might find the same.

“Preach it till you have it,” they told him, “then you will preach it because you have it.”  Fake it till you make it. Or, if this sounds better, sometimes our feelings follow our actions rather than the other way around.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. I hope yours is wonderful. However, most of us are in for some level of disappointment. We too often cook up grand ideas of how this year everything will be better than it ever has been.

This year, tomorrow, I invite you to join me in an effort to put expectations where they belong: on myself. Tomorrow I expect ME to speak gratitude. I will recognize and voice what I am thankful for, no matter what happens for which I am not thankful.

If I don’t feel grateful first thing out of bed, I will by the end of the day, because my feelings will follow my words.

Are you with me?