Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Feast of Saint Nicholas

Today, December 6, we celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas.  -  Yes, St. Nicholas, as in St. Nick, or Santa Claus, as he has come to be known.  Of course, much of the image of Santa Claus these days makes no reference to the true Santa (Saint) Claus (Nicholas).  Nevertheless, Santa has his origin in this Saint of the Church, who was a real bishop of the Church in the fourth century.

A number of years ago, Religion and Ethics Newsweekly did a story about the good bishop.  I first saw it posted on the Sacramental Nazarenes Facebook page (a few years back).  I thought I would share it with the readers of this blog.

There is much more to the story of St. Nicholas, of course, including the claim that he was involved with the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325 (though the early lists of bishops present at the council do not include his name).  There's the story of his defending orthodoxy and punching Arius.  And speaking of "Ho, ho, ho," there is his insistence on the word "homoousios" rather than "homoiousios" (see the extra "i" in the latter?).  You see, the latter means that Jesus is "of a similar substance" with the Father, while the former means that He is "of the same substance."  It was "homoousios" that made its way into orthodoxy and the creed we confess on Sundays.  Jesus is not just like God.  Jesus is fully divine.  -  And so, if you want to know if the guy in the red suit is the real St. Nick, just ask him the question found in this meme:

I also want to recommend a book for parents who's children are getting close to "that age."  It is a book written by Harold Myra and illustrated by Jane Kurisu, titled "Santa Are You for Real?"  It was published in 1997 by Tommy Nelson (the children's imprint for Thomas Nelson, Inc.).  -  My wife and I read this book to both of our children as they were growing-up, and we have recommended it to other parents over the years. 

Finally, as an aside for my fellow Sci-Fi nerds, it has been pointed out that, according to this icon, below, it may well be that Santa Claus is really a Klingon and possibly an ancestor to Lieutenant Commander Worf!  I'll let you be the judge!  -  Just in case, and in good Klingon fashion, on this Feast of St. Nicholas I wish you all Qapla'!

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Return of My Prayer Beads

During a Pastors' Continuing Education Retreat in 2006, I took the opportunity to make a set of Anglican Prayer Beads.  (For more information on Anglican Prayer Beads, their design and how to use them, click here.)  -  I was introduced to these beads through my (then) sisters and brothers in the Order of St. Luke.  (I was a member of the OSL for several years.)  -  You can read that story in my 2007 article, “Wesleyan-Holiness Prayers with Beads," published in OSL's Sacramental Life (19.3).

During the creation of my prayer beads, I also created a set of prayers that fit nicely with my Wesleyan-Holiness theological tradition.  Thus, the title of the article!  (I've printed those prayers, below.)

The truth is, though I do still occasionally pray those prayers with my beads, more often than not, I have reverted to more traditional prayers.  So, I pray the Jesus Prayer with the weeks (the little round beads): "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me (a sinner)."  And, for the cruciform beads (the four larger beads), I pray the Trisagion, "Holy God,  Holy and Mighty,  Holy and Immortal One, Have mercy upon us."

The prayers have been very helpful.  I would often pray while driving from place to place.  They help to bring focus upon the Lord and His grace.  They also bring a sense of calm and peace in God's presence.  -  Like Morning and Evening Prayer, they have been a means of grace for me.

However, sometime back, the strand broke!  I think it became brittle, since I usually keep the beads in the car where they will get considerably hot and considerably cold, depending on the weather.  -  I've gone quite a while without them, and I have missed them!

So, today (Thanksgiving Day), I finally took time to re-string and repair my beads.  -  I am so glad to have them back!  Just having them in my hand becomes a prayer, and, of course, I'm looking forward to actually praying with them!

For those who would like to pray using the "Wesleyan-Holiness prayers," I have printed them, below.  For those who would like to use the more traditional prayers, I have included them, above.  (The prayers other than the weeks & cruciform prayers remain the same.)  -  May God's blessings be upon all who decide to take up the discipline of praying with Anglican Prayer Beads!

The Cross
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The Invitatory Bead
O God make speed to save us,
O Lord make haste to help us,
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.  Amen.

The Cruciform Beads
“The Collect of Purity”
Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love You, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.
The Weeks
May the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; (and may your whole spirit, and soul, and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.)*
He who calls you is faithful, and He will do this.
(1 Thessalonians 5:23-24; my version)

The Last time through:
The Invitatory Bead
The Lord’s Prayer

The Cross
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

*Some may wish to leave off the parenthetical part for the sake of brevity.  (I usually do.) 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Feast of Clive Staples (C.S.) Lewis

According to For All the Saints: A Calendar of Commemorations (Second Edition), edited by Heather Josselyn-Cranson, November 22 is the day we remember C.S. Lewis.  The following was written by O. French Ball:

C.S. Lewis, scholar, teacher, writer, philosopher, debater, and reluctant Christian, was born in Belfast, Ireland (now Northern Ireland) in an ostensibly Protestant home.  Educated in England, the young Lewis disavowed the faith into which he had been baptized, becoming, so he thought, an atheist.  He remained in England most of his life, studying and teaching at Oxford, and later accepting an appointment as professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Magdalene College, Cambridge.  Lewis is best known in America as the author of a series of children's books, The Chronicles of Narnia, and a science fiction trilogy, all reflecting his journey into the Christian faith.

Lewis' life was characterized by a kind of angst that always placed before him a vision of the unattainable.  In his book The Weight of Glory he began using the German word Sehnsucht (longing, hunger) to describe this feeling.(320)  He eventually began to understand Sehnsucht as a longing for God.  In 1929 he "admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England."(321)  He discovered that his longing was no longer pointless, but was leading him God-ward.  He came to believe that Sehnsucht is characteristic of all humans - a vision of something attainable only in another realm or on another plane of existence.

Lewis' life was lived surrounded by scholars and academics.  He was good friends with J.R.R. Tolkien; together, with several other friends, they formed a society they called the "Inklings," a society of "persons of ink" - that is, writers - who hadn't an inkling of what they were doing.  Apparently this was a very congenial and boisterous group.  In 1956 Lewis, up until that time a confirmed bachelor, married an American woman, Joy Davidman Gresham, a Jew by birth, who had converted to Christianity partly through Lewis' writing.  Based on Lewis' appreciation for double meanings of words, one wonders whether the title of his 1955 book, Surprised by Joy, was in any way influenced by meeting his future wife.  Their happiness was cut short by her death, on July 13, 1960, of bone cancer.  Lewis never fully recovered his own strength following Joy's illness and death.

Lewis' death, in 1963, was overshadowed by the assassination, that same day, of President John F. Kennedy.  Writer Aldous Huxley also died that day.

In addition to his popular writings, Lewis was known, particularly in England, for his theological works.  A debater by inclination and training, he never tired of questioning his life, his faith, and his environment.  His work is an example of the Christian faith examined through the intellect and imagination of one of the giants of twentieth century.
320.  C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949), 12.
321.   Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich,  
          1955), 237.

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Collect for the Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost

LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy household the
Church in continual godliness; that through
thy protection it may be free from all adversities,
and devoutly given to serve thee in good works,
 to the glory of thy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord. 

The Feast Day of Phineas F. Bresee

Today is the commemoration of Phineas F. Bresee, principle founder of the Church of the Nazarene.  As a means of celebration, the Heartland Church invited others from our zone to join them, last night, to watch the movie, Phineas F. Bresee: Pastor to the People, newly produced for the Church of the Nazarene.

Prior to watching the movie, I read to them the hagiography for Bresee published in For All the Saints: A Calendar of Commemorations, Second Edition.  The book was published by the Order of Saint Luke and edited by Heather Josselyn-Cranson.  I was privileged to have written the piece on Bresee.

Below is the hagiography, followed by the prayer for the occasion (the prayer was written by Daniel Taylor Benedict, Jr):

Phineas Franklin Bresee was born to Phineas and Susan Brown Bresee in Franklin, NY, on December 31, 1838.  At 16, Bresee experienced his own "warmed heart" through a personal faith in Christ.  Soon thereafter, he sensed a call to ministry and was granted a Methodist exhorter's license.  He was ordained a deacon in 1859 and an elder two years later.(301)

In 1867, in Chariton, Iowa, Bresee "entered into the blessing of entire sanctification."(302)  Bresee had been struggling with doubt.  The altar call after his sermon that night produced only one seeker; Bresee, himself.  ". . . [A]s I cried to [the Lord] that night, he seemed to open heaven on me, and gave me . . . the baptism with the Holy Ghost . . . it not only took away my tendencies to worldliness, anger and pride, but it also removed the doubt."(303)  That experience of Christian Perfection would have a huge impact on Breese's ministry.

Bresee served rural charges, and then large, urban churches in Iowa(304) and, after 1883, Los Angeles and Pasadena, CA.  He was appointed presiding elder in West Des Moines (1864)(305) and in Los Angeles.(306)  Further, Bresee served as a delegate to multiple General Conferences.(307)

Me, behind Bresee's pulpit with
my Bresee bobble head
Education was important to Bresee, as was seen by his serving on the board of Simpson College(308) and the University of Southern California.(309)  Later, Bresee became the president of Pacific Bible College (now Point Loma Nazarene University).(310)

By the mid-1890's, Bresee's commitment to the message of holiness led to his role as vice president of the National Holiness Association (NHA).  The experience of holiness also brought a passion for the poor.  The Church's first miracle after baptism with the Holy Ghost at Pentecost was upon a beggar, and so, Bresee reasoned, the priority of a Holy Ghost-baptized church ought to be the poor.(311)  This passion led him to withdraw from the MEC's appointive system in 1894 to serve with the Peniel Mission.  However, while away, preaching for the NHA, Bresee was ousted from the Mission.  he was now left without the Mission or a MEC appointment.(312)

Thus, at the request of a number of southern California's Holiness people, the Church of the Nazarene was organized on October 20, 1895 as a "Christian work, especially evangelistic and city mission work, and the spreading of the doctrine and experience of Christian holiness."(313)  Bresee was the general superintendent of a growing holiness denomination.  A series of mergers with other regional holiness groups established the church as a national denomination in 1908 at Pilot Point, TX.(314)

Bresee served as the denomination's senior general superintendent until his death on November 13, 1915.  He left behind his wife, Maria, six children, and what would become the largest denomination in the Wesleyan-Holiness wing of Methodism.

Common Prayer for Pastors, Bishops and Abbatial Leaders

Gracious God, our Shepherd, we thank you for raising up Phineas Bresee as bishop and pastor in your church.  Remembering his faithfulness and care, fill all shepherds of your church with truth in doctrine, fidelity in Word and Sacrament, and boldness and vision in leading the people, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, on God, now and forever.  Amen.
301 Ingersol, Stan. Nazarene Roots: Pastors, Prophets, Revivalists & Reformers. Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City. 2009. p. 87-88.

302 Bangs, Carl. Phineas F. Bresee: His Life in Methodism, the Holiness Movement, and the Church of the Nazarene. Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City. 1995. p. 71-73, 77.

303 Girvin, E.A. Phineas F. Bresee: A Prince in Israel. Kansas City, MO. Nazarene Publishing House. 1916. p. 50-52.

304 Ingersol. p. 88.

305 Kostlevy, William C., Ed. Historical Dictionary of the Holiness Movement. Lanham, Maryland, and London. The Scarecrow Press, Inc. p. 28-29.

306 Bangs. p. 286.

307 Ingersol. p. 88-89.

308 Ibid. p. 88.

309 Kostlevy. p. 29.

310 Ingersol. p. 91

311 Ibid. p. 88-89.

312 Kostlevy. p. 29.

313 Bangs. p. 195-196.

314 Kostlevy. p. 29.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Are Nazarenes Protestant? The Wesleyan Position of Catholic and Reformed

In a post, below, you will find a video from Seedbed by Dr. Larry Wood where he explains the place of John Wesley in the Protestant Reformation.  -  In a post on Facebook, my friend and colleague, the Rev'd. Tom Miles, made a post about how he explains to his students (at Nazarene Theological Seminary) that we really are NOT Protestant.

Below, I will post his comment in its entirety.  I will follow that up by a few additional comments.  (I would note, here, that I love that he ends his comments by using one of my favorite quotes from the late +Rev'd. Dr. William Greathouse.)  -  Here is Tom's post:


Is the Church of the Nazarene a Protestant denomination? Well, for starters, there is little doubt that the vast majority of pastors and laypersons in our churches would readily affirm that we are indeed Protestants. To the extent that self-identification counts for something, it would seem that we are Protestants.

I would suggest that the answer depends upon one's definition of "Protestant." There is a fairly popular and widespread understanding that "Protestants" are those branches of western Christianity that broke ties with the Roman Catholic Church during the sixteenth century. If one's definition of "Protestant" is "any western Christian church that is not Roman Catholic," then churches in the Wesleyan theological tradition are certainly "Protestant" denominations.

But I would argue that we ought to consider a more carefully nuanced definition of "Protestant." For one thing, the sixteenth-century Protestants split with the Roman Catholic Church because they were "protesting" something. Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the other leading Protestant reformers were protesting what they understood to be theological errors regarding salvation and Christian epistemology within the Roman Catholic Church. The Church of England, on the other hand, broke with Rome because Henry VIII was upset over the pope's refusal to grant him an annulment--hardly the same kind of "protest" that the Protestant reformers were making.

Unlike the continental Protestant traditions, which embarked on a thorough theological revisioning from the outset, articulating careful theological delineations between themselves and the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of England vacillated between Roman Catholic and Protestant sympathies for a few years before eventually settling on a middle course that rejected "extreme" positions of both the Protestants and the Roman Catholics in favor of a via media that is often summarized as "neither Roman Catholic nor Protestant, but both catholic and reformed."

Historically, our heritage lies in the Wesleyan Evangelical Revival that took place in England during the eighteenth century. Both John and Charles Wesley insisted that the Methodist movement was a revival within the Church of England and was to remain in the Church of England. They urged the Methodists to continue to attend worship at their local Church of England parish, where they would also be able to receive the Lord's Supper; in fact, the Wesleys were careful to use "lay preachers" who were not ordained (and therefore could not offer the sacraments) for Methodist society meetings and evangelical preaching--which meant that, by the Wesleys' intentional design, the Methodists had to rely on the Church of England for the sacraments. Furthermore, Methodist society meetings were not to be scheduled at times that would conflict with services in the local Church of England parish. Thus, during the Wesleys' lifetimes, the Methodists were not a "church" because they had no ordained ministers of their own. Unlike the Dissenters and Independent churches that flourished in England as protesters against the established Church of England, both John and Charles Wesley were committed to the Church of England and understood their movement to be thoroughly Anglican--even if their intentions of keeping the Methodist movement within the ecclesiastical boundaries of the Church of England were eventually ignored after their deaths. The Wesleys' emphasis on the interior spiritual life--especially the doctrine of Christian perfection--was influenced by previous Anglican writers, including William Law and Jeremy Taylor.

Theologically, the Articles of Faith of the Church of the Nazarene are based very closely on the Methodists' Articles of Religion, which are in turn an abridgement (by John Wesley himself) of the Church of England's Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion. Many of the key theological terms and turns of phrases in our Articles of Faith can be traced back to the Church of England's Thirty-Nine Articles. Some congregations in the Church of the Nazarene base their worship services on the liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer, and a few congregations actually use the Book of Common Prayer in worship. Many of the rites contained in The Church Rituals Handbook (put together in 1997 by Jesse Middendorf, published by Nazarene Publishing House) are adapted from the Book of Common Prayer. Although our Article of Faith on entire sanctification has no parallel in the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Wesleys' understanding of Christian perfection (as noted previously) was deeply influenced by Anglican writers William Law (particularly his books A Practical Treatise Upon Christian Perfection and A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life) and Jeremy Taylor (whose books The Rule and Exercises of Holy Living and The Rule and Exercises of Holy Dying were especially influential). The deep catholicity expressed in the opening paragraph of the Manual's "Historical Statement" likewise reflects the Church of the Nazarene's deep Anglican roots.

Given both our historical roots and our theological roots, the Wesleyan tradition is unquestionably Anglican.

From where Anglicans stand in the "middle way" between Roman Catholics and Protestants, there are "extremes" on both sides that Anglicans wish to avoid. On the Roman Catholic side, for example, we reject the insistence that the Bishop of Rome--the pope--has primacy as the spiritual leader of all of God's Church, and we reject the doctrine that papal teachings ex cathedra are infallible. On the Protestant side, we are best off avoiding the overemphasis on sola scriptura, which dismisses the role of the "tradition of the Church" and, when taken to its ultimate conclusion, seems inevitably to lead to fundamentalistic approaches to Scripture. This, it seems to me, is the fatal flaw of Protestantism.

On the positive side, we have been enriched by both Roman Catholics and Protestants. From the Roman Catholics we get our deep respect for the tradition of the Church (as enunciated in the opening paragraph of the Manual's "Historical Statement"), a high view of the role of sacraments, and an appreciation for our general superintendents as "bishops" in the Church--and not merely political leaders who campaign for election (as is the case in many Protestant denominations). From the Protestants we gain our strong emphasis on the importance of the "new birth" as well as the vital spirituality that the Pietists encouraged.

"It is time the Church of Jesus Christ overcame the disjunctions created by the 16th-century Reformation. What is called for is the 'evangelical catholicism' of John Wesley's 'middle way' in which the two historic Christian traditions were synthesized. In this synthesis the English Reformer not only recovered for the Church a viable doctrine of holiness but also pointed the way to a scriptural view and practice of the sacraments that is both apostolic and catholic." --William M. Greathouse, former General Superintendent, Church of the Nazarene, in "Foreword" to Rob L. Staples, Outward Sign and Inward Grace: The Place of Sacraments in Wesleyan Spirituality.


I think that Tom did a great job expressing this position!

 A couple of additional considerations came up in our subsequent conversation.  -  First, Tom pointed out that the Manual for the Church of the Nazarene nowhere identifies us as Protestants.  In fact, that term was replaced by the term Christian in 2005 (where it was situated in a section in the Appendix).  -  Nevertheless, it seems that those who handle the denominational website (and perhaps, too, I think in the "Nazarene Essentials" and "One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism" editions of Holiness Today) do identify us as Protestant.  Of course, it must be pointed out that the two HT volumes are expected to make changes over time.  Perhaps, especially as the latter volume changes when the new Manual comes out, it could make this change in wording (if, indeed, it is actually referenced in that volume!).  It should also be pointed out that neither the website, nor HT carry the authority of the Manual.

Second, Tom points out that the "Historical Statement" in the Manual starts with the early church and catholicity, and then immediately moves in the second paragraph to the Wesleys and Methodism--without even giving a tip of the hat to the Protestant reformers.

Third, I would like to see the fact that Wesley, himself, in his context, identifies himself (and Anglicanism) as Protestant over against the Church of Rome.  I believe that this could be addressed, but I have not seen it specifically taken up.

Fourth, I pointed out that the World Methodist Council, of which the Church of the Nazarene is a member denomination, uses the terminology of "evangelical, catholic and reformed," which points to the Anglican via media.
Finally, I want to express my thanks to Rev'd. Miles for graciously agreeing to allow me to post his comments on my blog!

John Wesley and the Protestant Reformation

Today is Reformation Sunday and, indeed, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.  But, where do we Wesleyan Christians fit in the larger picture of the Reformation?

In the following video from Seedbed, Dr. Larry Wood explains the place of John Wesley in the Protestant Reformation.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Commemoration of James Arminius

Today, October 19, is the "feast day" (the commemoration) of James Arminius . . . at least for those in the Methodist tradition who are following For All the Saints: A Calendar of Commemorations.*Actually, interestingly enough, Arminius was not a part of the original edition of this book.  Calvin, on the other hand, was in that book.  To be fair, Calvin is a part of the established calendar of Feasts for The Episcopal Church, upon which Methodists would naturally draw.  Nevertheless, I found this omission odd given that we Wesleyans are Arminian! 
I argued that point back when the second edition was being put together.  Consequently, I was asked to write the hagiography for Arminius.  (At the time, I was still a member of the Order of St. Luke.)  What follows is the hagiography that appears in For All the Saints.  -  I invite you to join with me in commemoration of James Arminius!**

Jacob (or James) Arminius, Dutch pastor and theologian, was born the son of Harmon and Elborch Jacobsz in Oudewater, Holland in 1559. He received his early education at Utrecht. In 1575, Arminius' mother and siblings were killed during the Spanish massacre of Oudewater.  Through the generosity of friends, Arminnius was able to study at the University of Marburg and, from 1576 to 1581, at the University of Leyden.  Through the support of the Merchants' Guild of Amsterdam, Arminius went on to Geneva where he studied under Theodore Beza from 1582 to 1586, including a year at Basel.  Returning to the Netherlands in 1587, he began a fifteen-year pastorate in Amsterdam.  There he was ordained in 1588.  In 1603 he received his doctor's degree from Leyden and became the university's professor of theology.
When the United Netherlands (Dutch Republic) became independent, Calvinism became the official state religion.  However, Arminius could not accept the popular predestination position.  Instead, he attempted to modify Calvinism so that God could not be viewed as the author of sin and so that human choice might be safeguarded.  Arminius, facing much opposition, was reluctant to express anti-Calvinistic views, but, as time went on, he was accused for what he refused to say and write.

Arminius urged the government officials to call a national synod so that he might openly present his positions.  However, in 1609 he became ill and died, nine years before the synod was called.  The year following his death, Arminius' followers presented a Remonstrance over against the five points of Calvinism.  They "held that Christ died for all men [sic], that salvation is by faith alone, that those who believe are saved, that those who reject God's grace are lost, and that God does not elect particular individuals for either outcome."
Arminius taught that Christ is the object of God's decree.  The predestination of individuals is conditional, depending upon their acceptance or rejection of Christ.  In other words, God, according to divine foreknowledge, has predetermined to save all who place their faith in Christ and continue in that faith.
Although condemned by those of a Calvinist persuasion at the Synod of Dort in 1618, Arminian teaching has, nevertheless, gained permanent standing in John Wesley and the Wesley/Methodist tradition.
The suggested collect for the day is as follows:

God our Teacher, from whom comes all true knowledge: So bind your words to our lives and write them on the tablets of our hearts, that we may not be swayed by false winds; and grant us faithful guides like your servant James Arminius, that our path to you be made straight  and sure through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.
*This is the second edition, edited by Heather Josselyn-Cranson. Order of Saint Luke P. 2013.
**Cf., the article as found in the book for all citations.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Collect for the Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost

Lord, we beseech thee, grant thy people grace
to withstand the temptations of the world, the
flesh, and the devil, and with pure hearts and
minds to follow thee, the only God, through Jesus
Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels

Today, September 29, is the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels.  Here is short video that I posted on Facebook about this Feast Day.

Today's Collect, as found in the book of Lesser Feasts and Fasts - 1997 is as follows:

Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of angels and mortals: Mercifully grant that, as your holy angels always serve and worship you in heaven, so by your appointment they may help and defend us here on earth; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Sacramental Nature of Baptism

It caught me by surprise!  I didn't realize that I was that far along, but, during Morning Prayer, I finished singing through Wesley Hymns (edited by Ken Bible), once again. 

The last hymn in the book is wonderful.  It is a baptismal hymn, and it, of course, expresses a very Wesleyan understanding of holy baptism as a sacrament.  In fact, it does such a good job, I think I will quote it during my upcoming workshop on the Sacraments for the Southwest Indiana District Church of the Nazarene.  It fits very nicely with our new Article of Faith on Baptism.

What this hymn does is remind Wesleyan Christians (especially Evangelical ones) that we are not quite like many of our "Evangelical" sisters and brothers when it comes to our understanding of the sacraments.  Instead, we stand in line with our Methodist and Anglican forefathers, back to the Ancient and New Testament Church.

Many of our Evangelical sisters and brothers (e.g., Baptists), view holy baptism (and holy communion) as a mere ordinance.  (I say mere, because ordinances they surely are.  Even the hymn uses that term.  However, they are not merely so.)  As a mere ordinance, our sisters and brothers of these traditions view baptism as something that, while commanded by Christ, is exclusively understood to be a testimony by the one being baptized concerning what Christ has done in his/her life by faith.  (The very sad and frustrating thing is, as I have been trying to help my son find a good church home while in college at Olivet Nazarene University, I have just recently read a website statement on baptism from a NAZARENE CHURCH that echoes this very Baptist, i.e., non-Nazarene/non-Wesleyan, understanding of baptism!)

We Wesleyans would affirm that, when a convert is being baptized, s/he is, indeed, testifying to what Christ has done in her/his life by faith . . . BUT we believe that this testimony is secondary.  Along with our forefathers in the faith, we believe that holy baptism is primarily God's work.  That is to say, we believe that baptism is not just an ordinance.  It is also a sacrament.  Whether the one being baptized is an infant or an adult convert, when we come to the waters of baptism with faith in Christ, God is present and at work.  Further, as the hymn makes clear, we believe that the whole of the Holy Trinity is at work in this sacrament.

Charles Wesley says it so well:

Father, Son, and Holy Ghost

1. Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
In solemn pow'r come down!
Present with Thy heav'nly host,
Thine ordinance to crown,
See a sinful soul of earth!
Bless to him the cleansing flood!
Plunge him, by a second birth,
Into the depths of God.

2. Let the promised inward grace
Accompany the sign;
On this newborn soul impress
The character divine!
Father, all Thy name reveal;
Jesus, all Thy name impart;
Holy Ghost, renew and dwell
Forever in his heart!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

WAS Election Results

The Wesleyan-Anglican Society has recently held its annual elections, and the results are in!  Congratulations to the following officers of the Society:

Daniel McLain Hixon
Daniel McLain Hixon was confirmed in the United Methodist Church, then attended a number of different churches before finding his way back to the UMC by way of The Episcopal Church and the liturgy.  He is, now, an ordained elder in the UMC and serves as the pastor of Saint Francisville UMC.  Daniel has a B.A. in Political Science from LSU and an M.Div. from Southern Methodist University.  He enjoys reading, hiking, and travelling.  In addition, Daniel writes his own blog, Gloria Deo.
 Joe Foltz
Joe Foltz is an elder in the Church of the Nazarene and the pastor of Olive Hill Church of the Nazarene in Kentucky. He came to Kentucky after serving congregations in Missouri and Michigan. While in Missouri, Joe also served in the General Secretary’s office at the Church of the Nazarene Global Ministry Center.  He has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Mount Vernon Nazarene and a Masters of Divinity from Nazarene Theological Seminary. Joe has presented papers at the meeting of the Wesleyan Theological Society and has been published in Holiness Today, Folio, and Nazarenes Exploring Evolution.  Joe and his wife Audra have two sons, James and Jonathan.  -  Joe maintains his own website, here.
Brent Neely
Brent D. Neely is the pastor of the Cape Elizabeth Church of the Nazarene in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.  He has a BA in Christian
Ministry with a minor in Biblical Languages from Eastern Nazarene College, and an M.Div and Certificate in Spiritual Formation from Nazarene Theological Society. He enjoys graphic design, website design, and other forms of art that invites the viewer to connect with something beyond themselves. He also enjoys connecting and meeting up with others and hearing the stories of how God has worked in their lives.  -  Brent blogs at this site.
Additionally, I was re-elected as President of the Society.  -  My bio for the election read as follows:
Todd Stepp is an elder in the Church of the Nazarene, currently serving as Senior pastor at Heartland Church of the Nazarene (Floyds Knobs, IN) and Main Street United Methodist Church (New Albany, IN).  Additionally, he is scheduled to begin serving as an Adjunct Professor of Worship (online) at Wesley Seminary, Indiana Wesleyan University, this Fall.  Todd has a B.A. in Religion from Trevecca Nazarene University, an M.Div. from Nazarene Theological Seminary, and a D.Min. in Worship and Preaching from Asbury Theological Seminary.  He is the founding President of the Wesleyan-Anglican Society, serves on the Oversight Committee of the Wesleyan Liturgical Society and as a member of the Worship and Liturgy Committee on the World Methodist Council.  Todd has presented on worship for the Wesleyan Theological Society and provided workshops in the area of Wesleyan Worship for local, district, regional, national and global events.  He has been published in the Wesleyan Theological Journal, Sacramental Life, For All the Saints, and Holiness Today.  Todd and his wife, Bobbie have a daughter, Sarah Hendrick, married to Dakota, and a son, Matt, who is a freshman Music Ministries major at Olivet Nazarene University, this Fall.

The members of the Society also voted to reduce the membership dues to $10 for full members and $5 for student members.  (The WAS website is currently being updated, and we expect that these changes will be reflected on the site, soon.)

Friday, September 22, 2017

Deus Misereatur

For those who pray Evening Prayer using John Wesley's The Sunday Service of the Methodists in North America, the response to the New Testament lesson is Psalm 67, also known as the Deus misereatur.  (For those who use other forms of the Book of Common Prayer, this is one of the choices for the New Testament response, but in Wesley's brevity, he did not provide multiple choices!)

Since my pattern has been to read through the Old and New Testaments, along with the Psalms, during Morning and Evening Prayer without following a lectionary, there have been times when I end up reading the very Psalm that I would otherwise use for a response to the Old or New Testament lesson.  This morning, however, I read the 67th Psalm (which I will read as a response in Evening Prayer).

One of the striking things, when this happens, is the difference in language between Wesley's Prayer Book and the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (which is what I usually use).  And so, I thought I would post both versions on my blog.  -  For what it's worth, I would confess that, while I pray using Wesley's Prayer Book, if I were to hold a public service, I almost always would use a modern English version (e.g., the new ACNA texts).  The problem with that is the desire at a couple of points to make the kind of editing changes that Wesley made when providing The Sunday Service for the Methodist people.

Here are the two versions of the Psalm.  First will be the version as it appears in the Office of Evening Prayer in The Sunday Service:

God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and shew us the light of his countenance, and be merciful unto us.
That thy way may be known upon earth; thy saving health among all nations.
Let the people praise thee, O God: yea, let all the people praise thee.
O let the nations rejoice and be glad; for thou shalt judge the folk righteously, and govern the nations upon earth.
Let the people praise thee, O God: yea, let all the people praise thee.
Then shall the earth bring forth her increase; and God, even our own God, shall give us his blessing.
God shall bless us: and all the ends of the world shall fear him.

And now, the version found in the NRSV.

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us,
that your way may be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations.
Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth.
Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.
The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, has blessed us.
May God continue to bless us; let all the ends of the earth revere him.

Glory be to the Father,
and to the Son,
and to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning,
is now, and ever shall be:
world without end.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

A Few Thoughts from Today's Morning Prayer

I just wanted to share a few (random?) thoughts that came to me during the praying of Morning Prayer, today.  These are just a few things that stood out to me as I read, sang, and prayed.

The first came during my reading of the New Testament passage.  I have not been following any lectionary for Morning and Evening Prayer.  I have simply been reading through the Old and New Testaments.  This morning I was reading through the final two chapters of the Book of Acts.  The story follows St. Paul's (stormy) journey to Rome. 

In chapter 27, Paul is trying to encourage those on board the ship that God has promised them no loss of life.  The thing that caught my attention, though, was the wording that St. Paul uses in verse 23.  There he says, "For last night there stood by me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship . . ." (NRSV).  -  What a perspective!  It seems to me that it is more than simply declaring that God is our God.  Rather, he is, in a very practical way, acknowledging what he says in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20a, "Or do you not know that . . . you are not your own? For you were bought with a price . . ."  -  It is a powerful thing to say, ". . . the God to whom I belong!"

A second thing that caught my attention came while praying the General Thanksgiving.  In that prayer are these powerful words: "And we beseech thee, give us that sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful, and that we may show forth they praise not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to they service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days . . ." (emphasis added).  The prayer is that we show forth thanks and praise to God, not only in our words, but we give thanks and praise by walking before God in holiness and righteousness every day of our lives.

A final thing that caught my attention was seen in the final hymn.  The hymn is #147 in Ken Bible's Wesley Hymns.  It is titled, "Author of Life Divine."  It is a Eucharistic hymn, and the first verse says:

Author of Life divine
Who hast a table spread,
Furnished with mystic wine
And everlasting bread,
Preserve the life Thyself hast giv'n,
And feed and train us up for heav'n.
These three things have been ideas to ponder and words upon which to meditate.  -  May God use them to draw us closer to God and to make us more like Christ.

The Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost

This past Sunday was the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost.  The Collect for the Sunday, according to John Wesley's version of the Book of Common Prayer (aka, The Sunday Service of the Methodists in North America) is as follows:

Almighty and everlasting God, give unto us the increase of faith, hope, and love; and that we may obtain that which thou dost promise, make us to love that which thou dost command, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.That's a good prayer to pray!

During worship, I preached from the Gospel lesson for the day, Matthew 18:21-35.  The title of the sermon was, "Better Than Optima Tax Relief."  -  A special acknowledgement goes out to one of our General Superintendents, Bishop David Graves, for an adaptation of one of the illustrations that he gave out our recent District Pastors' Life Long Learning Retreat.  -  An audio recording of the sermon can be found on the Heartland website at this location.

I would also like to take this opportunity to point out Heartland's YouTube channel, where we have posted a number of videos of my preaching, along with other guest preachers.  Check back at the YouTube channel for periodic updates.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Nazarene Superintendency/Episcopacy Reconsidered, Part III: A Final Word

Way back in August of 2011, I wrote a two-part essay on this topic.  It chronicled my way through the debate of whether, in the Nazarene setting, our district superintendents ought to be considered bishops, or whether that term was reserved for general superintendents, alone, while district superintendents were essentially presiding elders.  (For those interested in the topic, I would encourage you to look up those posts using the side-bar.)

In the first of the two articles, I listed my (then) major objections to identifying district superintendents as bishops.  Those objections were:

1.) Wesley's Intent
2.) Ecumenical/Fraternal Relations Within American Methodism, and The Consistent Structure of American Methodism, and
                                                    3.) The Authority to Ordain

In the first article, I presented the basis and foundation of the Nazarene superintendency/episcopacy.  In the second article, I addressed each of the three objections.  The conclusion at which I arrived by the end of that second article was that I should change my position.  I then agreed with some of my colleagues that, in the Nazarene system, the district superintendent should, indeed, be identified as a bishop (while the general superintendent would be akin to an archbishop).

Well, the debate has continued over these past six years.  In 2012, I posted a picture of one Nazarene district superintendent (outside the United States) in a purple clerical (i.e., in bishop's attire).  I can point to another d.s. (again, outside the U.S.) who has identified as "bishop" on his Facebook page.  There is at least one d.s. inside the U.S. who is often referred to as "bishop" by pastors on his district.

However, I have become privy to new information, as well; information that has made me re-reconsider my 2011 conclusion.

First, I spoke with a prominent district superintendent who, himself, is often called bishop.  I asked him about the title, and how he understood his role in relationship to the board of general superintendents.  Most recently, I had the opportunity to ask this same question to one of our general superintendents.  The answers that I received from both, were quite consistent.

The district superintendent indicated that during the orientation process for their new role, the board of general superintendents made it clear that the district superintendents operated under the authority of the general superintendents, as their assistants.  (Understand, these are my words, not his.  These are general recollections.  He may have used more precise language.)  -  That sounds very much like the understanding of the original Methodist terminology of "presiding elder."

Likewise, when I spoke with the general superintendent, he clearly affirmed that the role of the district superintendent was that of assistant to, or extension of the general superintendent.  The district superintendent, according to the understanding of the b.g.s., was certainly that of presiding elder, rather than bishop.

The other part that I found interesting (and exciting!) was that it seemed quite clear that the general superintendent with whom I spoke clearly understood that the general superintendents are bishops!  In fact, he agreed that it would be a lot more clear to everyone (in and outside of the Church of the Nazarene) if we used that terminology.

Even in my original articles, I concluded that Wesley intended Coke and Asbury to be general
superintendents, though he only used the term superintendent, without the designation of general.  I went on to talk about the expansion of the superintendency within American Methodism, but even in that article I talk about the role of the district superintendent in terms of assisting the general superintendent.  -  This is the very way in which the district and general superintendent talked about it.  -  In other words, district superintendents are assistants to the bishop (i.e., the general superintendent), but not a bishop, themselves.

When addressing the Ecumenical/Fraternal Relations Within American Methodism, and The Consistent Structure of American Methodism in my original articles, I continued to acknowledge that identifying district superintendents as bishops in the Church of the Nazarene would certainly complicate relationships among American Methodist denominations.  While I listed a number of differences that already exist between the various Methodist bodies in the U.S., this change would certainly increase the number of those differences.  Further, it would make our system unique among American Methodists and further distance us from our Methodist heritage.

Finally, there was the issue of The Authority to Ordain.  It is clear that the authority to ordain is given to the office of the bishop.  In the Church of the Nazarene, the general superintendent has the authority to ordain, not the district superintendent.  I was frank in my article by saying that at that point I had difficulty in viewing Nazarene district superintendents as bishops.

And so, as I reflect back on my objections in light of my conversations with a district and a general superintendent, I have to say that I have been persuaded that my original opinion was correct.  One thing that those conversations add to this whole debate is the fact that our general superintendents clearly believe that they are bishops and that our district superintendents are assistants to the general superintendents.  That is to say, whatever one may wish, or whatever one may claim, the situation is that the Nazarene general superintendents are our bishops, while Nazarene district superintendents are not bishops, but rather assistants to our bishops . . . or, to use historic terminology, "presiding elders."

Nazarene General Superintendents/Bishops

*** My friend and colleague, the Rev'd. Tom Miles, just added a new piece to this issue, which I had not previously considered.  He commented on Facebook: "Not only is authority to ordain an essential element of the office of bishop, but so is the authority for guardianship and interpretation of the faith. In the Church of the Nazarene, general superintendents alone have both those authorities."  -  Thanks, Tom, for that added insight! (Added, 9-15-17)

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Women in Holy Orders

This week, the College of Bishops for the Anglican Church in North America met in order to make a long anticipated recommendation for the church concerning the role of women in Holy Orders.  When the church formed, it was decided that it would not divide over the issue of women in Holy Orders, but would allow the various dioceses to determine for themselves whether or not women would be ordained to the diaconate or to the presbytery within that diocese.  From the very beginning the church operated with some bishops (notable, but not exclusively, those from the Reformed Episcopal Church) denying that women should be ordained, and other bishops supportive of women being ordained as priests.

From the beginning, the ACNA determined to put forth a study of this matter.  Recently, the study concluded and presented its findings to the bishops, and the bishops met together this past week in order to address where the church stood on this matter at this time.  Now, if the ACNA were to change its position in any fashion, it would take more than the word of the bishops.  (Of course, all of the bishops could have decided to refrain from ordaining women, and that would have, for all practical purposes, changed the position, though not dogmatically so.)

Not surprisingly, the bishops decided to continue as they have since the beginning.  Bishops who do not believe that women should be ordained will not ordain women and not have them serve as priests within their diocese.  Those who believe that women should be ordained, will continue to ordain women to the priesthood.  Additionally, it was determined that women would be barred from serving as bishops in the ACNA. 

You can read the statement, here.

Frankly, as I've stated elsewhere, I'm not sure what else they could have done if their goal was to keep the ACNA together.  Nor am I sure that this decision will accomplish this in the long run.  I have been told that those who oppose women in Holy Orders out number those who are in favor of ordaining women as priests.  Thus, if they were to try to make this practice province wide, they would likely not have enough votes to do so, and if they were able to, many would leave (all of the REC and others).  On the other hand, if they were to entirely bar women from being ordained, a good section of the ACNA (and that section, I am told, that is growing) would leave.  So, as long as they can live together with this decision, they hope to stay together.

My hope in this is that those who favor women's orders will be able to live with such passion and conviction for the orthodox faith, that those who are opposed to it will eventually find their fears allayed.  My hope is also that those who favor women's orders will continue to grow at such a rate that they become the vast majority within the province.  (Of course, if this happens, I wouldn't be surprised if those who are opposed would eventually split.)

At best, this is a compromised position.  I am thankful that my own denomination is in a different place on this matter.  In contrast to the episcopal statement by the ACNA college of bishops, listen to the following introduction by an episcopal leader in the Church of the Nazarene.

Below is a picture of the Board of General Superintendents (i.e., Bishops) for the Church of the Nazarene, taken at this Summer's General Assembly.  While I would prefer that they be in purple (or at least clericals!), I am thankful for my global denomination's diversity reflected in our BGS.

(Now, I wouldn't be surprised if, among the comments I may receive, there would be some about how women may preach but cannot be priests since there is a difference between the role of the prophet and that of the priest.  Let me just request that, if you are so inclined to comment, please demonstrate this distinction by pointing to support from the New Testament's understanding of the Christian priesthood.  Thank you, in advance.)

Monday, September 4, 2017

Who Am I?

Yesterday was the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost.  The Scripture lessons for the day included Exodus 3:1-15; Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c; Romans 12:9-21; and Matthew 16:21-28.  I preached from the Old Testament passage which tells the story of Moses' encounter with God at the burning bush.

The Lord moved among us and blessed the reading and proclamation of the Word.  The audio of the sermon, Who Am I?, can be found here.  -  I pray that God might use it to encourage and challenge you!

(The Scripture lessons for next Sunday are: Exodus 12:1-14; Psalm 148 & 149; Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-20)

Saturday, September 2, 2017

The Collect for Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost

This Sunday's Collect is a great prayer!

Almighty and everlasting God, who art always
more ready to hear than we are to pray, and
art wont to give more than either we desire or
deserve, pour down upon us the abundance of thy
mercy, forgiving us those things whereof our
conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things
which we are not worthy to ask, but through the
merits and mediation of Jesus Christ thy Son, our
Lord.  Amen.
(From the Book of Common Prayer, John Wesley's The Sunday Service)

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Conformed to the Likness of the God of Love

Above all, remembering that God is love, the Christian is conformed to the same likeness.  He is full of love to his neighbor: of universal love, not confined to one sect or party, not restrained to those who agree with him in opinions, or in outward modes of worship . . . but his love resembles that of Him whose mercy is over all His works.

(From John Wesley's A Plain Account of Genuine Christianity, as quoted in Ken Bible's Wesley Hymns.)

Advice from Charles Wesley When Seeing Sin in Others

Lord, save me from a worse extreme,
When sin in others I condemn.
Assist me first to lay aside
The spiteful bitterness of pride;
Reflecting on myself, to see
A soul not half so vile as me;
And then my neighbor to reprove
In meekness, humbleness, and love.
(#111 in Ken Bible's Wesley Hymns)
I would point out both the call for humbleness and the call to reprove in love.  That is to say, this is not the same thing as a harsh, judgmental rebuke.  Neither is it the same thing as accepting sin in our sisters and brothers because we recognize and accept it in ourselves.  This cuts down the straw man that is so often erected by those who want to embrace sin as being okay, and it destroys the judgmental position of pride by those who exhibit little humbleness, love or Christlikeness.

May we be those who heed Charles' advice.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Some Thoughts on Refugees/Immigrants and the Spread of the Gospel

Today, during Morning Prayer, I read from Acts 8.  What struck me about this chapter were verses 1 & 4-14.  This passage picks up immediately after the stoning of St. Stephen, and we are told that a severe persecution broke out upon the Church in Jerusalem so that all, except the apostles, were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria.

Now, certainly, persecution is not a good thing.  And, just like my recent sermon about Joseph being sold into slavery in Egypt, I would not say that God caused this persecution.  However, I would say that God certainly can transform and use all things (even evil things) for God's glory.  And so, with this persecution the Christians are "scattered" into areas where they otherwise (likely) would not have ventured.  And what was it that they did in those areas?  -  They spread the Gospel!  And people accepted Christ!

This passage reminds me of the take that some of our missionaries have had on the issue of the refugee crisis and massive immigration across our world.  While many Americans (and even, or especially, many American Evangelical Christians!) have reacted in a way that would hold these refugees at bay, our missionaries have had a very different reaction.  They have pointed out that for decades Evangelical Christians (at least Nazarenes, I know) have prayed and prayed for what we call the 10/40 window.  This is an area that includes countries where it is very difficult and usually illegal for missionaries to enter in order to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  For decades Christians have prayed for access; for open doors in order for the Gospel to pierce this darkness.  -  AND NOW GOD HAS OPENED THE DOORS . . . by sending them to us!!!

And yet, we have failed to rejoice.  We have failed to thank God.  We have failed to see the vision of the Kingdom of God.  Instead, we have responded out of fear.  We have responded from a nationalistic perspective rather than a Kingdom perspective.

Now, of course, the balance is that it is understandable that, in this age of terrorism, people desire to seek the security of our nation.  But, as Christians, we cannot allow fear to dictate our response to refugees or immigrants, in general.  We must be reminded that "perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18), and that we must not love our lives more than the Gospel.  We are called to take up our cross (Matthew 16: 24-26), and we know that doing so is not "safe."  We are, therefore, called to see these people for whom Christ died with Kingdom eyes; with the eyes of Jesus.  And so, we are called to seek every opportunity to share Jesus with them, and may they, like those in Judea and Samaria, come to know Christ and the grace of God!

How to Treat the Failings of Others

One of the great things about Ken Bible's Wesley Hymns (Lillenas Publishing Co., Kansas City, MO. 1982) is that he includes various prayers and quotes from Wesley, throughout. 

As I have mentioned, before, I often sing (usually) three hymns while praying Morning or Evening Prayer.  I have used various sources, most notably the Nazarene hymnal (viz., Sing to the Lord), and Ken Bible's Wesley Hymns.  (I've also sung through the volume of hymns in Wesley's Works.  For those familiar, you can imagine I was in that volume for a long time!)  -  Right now, I'm in Wesley Hymns.

In my singing, today, below #103 "Blest Be the Dear Uniting Love," Ken included the following passage from John Wesley's A Collection of Forms of Prayer for Every Day in the Week.  May this be so for me, for all Wesleyans/Methodists and Anglicans, and, indeed, for all who follow Christ.

     Let me look upon the failings of my neighbor as if they were my own; that I may be grieved
     for them, that I may never reveal them but when charity requires, and then with tenderness
     and compassion.  Let your love to me, O blessed Savior, be the pattern of my love to him.
     You thought nothing too dear to part with, to rescue me from eternal misery; oh, let me
     think nothing too dear to part with to set forward the everlasting good of my fellow
     Christians.  They are members of your body; therefore I will cherish them.  You have
     redeemed them with an inestimable price; assisted by Your Holy Spirit, therefore, I will
     endeavor to recover them from a state of destruction.

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Eclipse at Asbury

Just had to share these photos taken during today's eclipse at one of my alma maters, Asbury Theological Seminary.

Ancient Paths Sermon Series

While thinking about including a link to the recording of my sermons each week (i.e., introducing each one, since they will all be found at the same link), I thought that I should mention a sermon series that I preached last Summer. 

It is incredibly unique that I would leave off the lectionary during morning worship in order to preach a sermon series.  However, during the Summer of 2016, I did that very thing.  It was a sermon series that, in many ways, expresses the guiding theology and philosophy of ministry for me.  It paints the picture of the kind of Church that I believe God desires.

Another unique aspect of this series (for me) is that it uses one particular verse of Scripture as a kind of launching pad for the entire series.  That verse is one of two verses that I see as "life verses" for me and the ministry to which I believe God has called me.  It is Jeremiah 6:16a, "Thus says the LORD: Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls."  (Unfortunately, in one way or another, my experience is that many people respond in the very way recorded in part "b" of that verse.  "But they said, 'We ill not walk in it.'")

In any case, if anyone would want to listen to this seven-part sermon series, you can find them, here.  -  You will find them on the second page, from 26 June - 7 August 2016.

I pray that anyone who chooses to listen to the series may be drawn to travel into the future by way of the ancient paths!

God in Dark Days

This past Sunday, the Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost, I preached from the Old Testament lesson, Genesis 45:1-15.  It was the latter part of the Joseph story.  My sermon title was "God in Dark Days."  You can listen to the audio of the sermon preached at Heartland Church of the Nazarene by clicking, here.

(Other audio, and some video, recordings of sermons can be found on that same page.)

Thursday, August 17, 2017

"Wesley and the Anglicans" - An Interview on Anglican Radio

Readers of this blog will be interested in a new interview on Anglican Radio (a site that I am just now discovering and look forward to exploring more thoroughly!).  The interviewer is Michael Porter. Michael is the President of Anglican Radio.  The interviewee is the Rev'd. Dr. Ryan N. Danker.  Dr. Danker is a United Methodist who serves as Assistant Professor of the History of Christianity and Methodist Studies at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC.

The topic of the interview is Dr. Danker's recent book, Wesley and the Anglicans: Political Division
in Early Evangelicalism.

I picked this book up, recently, but I have not yet had the opportunity to read it.  Everything that I have heard, so far, makes it sound like an important read.  In fact, Dr. Ted Campbell says that it is "a must-read for serious students of the Wesleys and Methodist origins" (cf., Promo comment in the front of Danker's book). 

I invite you to take a listen to the interview and consider picking up the book, yourself!

(A special thanks to the Rev'd. Dr. James Gibson for sharing the link to this interview with me!)

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

At the Hour of Prayer . . . the Power of God at Work

The liturgical tradition is often characterized by those in the more "free church" tradition, and especially in the Pentecostal or Charismatic traditions, as being lifeless.  They may even quote St. Paul's second letter to Timothy where he refers to those who hold "to the outward form of godliness" but who deny its power.

Now, if I'm honest (and I hope to be!), there is some justification for this characterization in some situations (maybe in many situations).  I recall a parishioner during a former pastorate who came to our church having spent a little time in a local Episcopal Church.  Her response to that church was, "There is so much power in the liturgy!"  - I agree!  After all, I'm Wesleyan-ANGLICAN!  -  "But," she said, "they just don't seem to get it!"  -  I've been there and seen that.  I know exactly what she was talking about. 

Yet, this need not be the case!  In fact, that is a big part of what being a Wesleyan-Anglican is all about.  It is recognizing and promoting the fact that these two aspects are not mutually exclusive.  And in my Scripture reading during Morning Prayer, today, I read a passage that illustrates this quite well.  It is a passage that demonstrates that the Early, New Testament Church was steeped in liturgy as well as filled with the power of God.

The passage comes from Acts 3:1-7 (it continues on, but I'm only going to quote these seven verses):

     One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o'clock
     in the afternoon.  And a man lame from birth was being carried in.  People would lay him
     daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask for alms from
     those entering the temple.  When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he
     asked them for alms.  Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, "Look at us." 
     And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them.  But Peter
     said, "I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of
     Nazareth, stand up and walk."  And he took him by the right hand and raised him
     up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong (NRSV).

Obviously, this passage could be pointed to as an example of the miraculous power of God at work in and through the apostles.  Certainly, Peter and John would not be counted among those who would deny the power of God.  And, of course, we know that God shows no partiality (cf. Acts 10:34).  The truth is, God can still bring miraculous healing, today.  This is not to deny that God sometimes brings healing through the means of medical Science or that God sometimes chooses to wait until a person sees God face to face.  But these latter instances ought not deny that God can heal instantaneously, as well.

However, a point that is sometimes overlooked is that all of this takes place in the context of verse one.  There, again, we read that Peter and John were headed to the temple "at the hour of prayer, at three o'clock in the afternoon."  This was actually one of the three set hours for prayer.  What is important to note is that this "hour of prayer," was not simply about a gathering for individual or extemporaneous prayer.  Rather, these times of prayer included the recital or chanting of psalms, the reading of passages from the Old Testament and the use of canticles.  In other words, these times of prayer included set forms of prayer.  And in fact, it was these hours of prayer that led to what we in the Anglican tradition refer to as the Daily office of Morning and Evening Prayer.

All of this to say, formal, liturgical, corporate forms of prayer are NOT antithetical to the miraculous power of God at work in and through the people of God.  In fact, it can be argued that, contrary to what we often see in the Church of our day, both the form and the power of godliness should go hand in hand.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Depth of Mercy! / Jesus, the Sinner's Friend

Two powerful Charles Wesley hymns:
Depth of Mercy!
Depth of mercy! can there be
Mercy still reserved for me?
Can my God His wrath forbear -
Me, the chief of sinners, spare?
I have long withstood His grace,
Long provoked Him to His face,
Would not hearken to His calls,
grieved Him by a thousand falls.
Now incline me to repent;
Let me now my sins lament;
Now my foul revolt deplore,
Weep, believe, and sin no more.
There for me the Saviour stands,
Holding forth His wounded hands;
God is love! I know, I feel,
Jesus weeps and loves me still.

Jesus, the Sinner's Friend
Jesus, the sinner's Friend, to thee,
Lost and undone, for aid I flee,
Weary of earth, myself, and sin:
Open Thine arms, and take me in.
Pity and heal my sinsick soul;
'Tis Thou alone canst make me whole:
Dark, till in me Thine image shine,
And lost, I am, till Thou art mine.
At last I own it cannot be
That I should fit myself for Thee;
Here, then, to Thee I all resign;
Thine is the work, and only Thine.
What shall I say Thy grace to move?
Lord, I am sin, but Thou art love:
I give up every plea beside -
Lord, I am lost, but Thou hast died.

Friday, May 5, 2017

But, O, Thyself Reveal!

I just finished singing through "The Eucharistic Hymns of John and Charles Wesley" during Evening Prayer, last night.  (Some really good stuff there!  I'll have to blog about the Eucharist as a sacrifice, somewhere down the road.)   

This morning, I began singing through "Hymn Poems of Charles Wesley For Reading and Singing."  The second hymn is "Jesus, We Look to Thee."  The last verse of the hymn encapsulates what many of us in the Wesleyan-holiness tradition often long for during our services of worship.  On the one hand, it expresses a conviction of the objective presence of  God with us in worship.  On the other hand, it cries out for the "manifest presence" of the Lord in the midst of the worshipping people of God.

I invite you to sing this, my prayer for Sunday, paying special attention to the final verse:

Jesus, we look to Thee,
Thy promised presence claim;
Thou in the midst of us shalt be,
Assembled in Thy Name:
Thy Name salvation is,
Which here we come to prove;
Thy Name is life, and health, and peace,
And everlasting love.
We meet, the grace to take
Which Thou hast freely given;
We meet on earth for Thy dear sake
That we may meet in heaven.
Present we know Thou art;
But, O, Thyself reveal!
Now, Lord, let ev'ry waiting heart
The mighty comfort feel.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The VP & the ACNA

It seems that the former Governor of my state, the current Vice President of the United States, has been attending a parish in the Anglican Church in North America.  I knew that one of the President's formal rivals was Anglican (in the ACNA), but I did not know that the Vice President had an Anglican connection.  -  Frankly, I am encouraged to hear this news.

It is my prayer that the ACNA might be used by God to help shape Mr. Pence's life in Christlikeness, as well as to help shape his thinking in ways that are consistent with the historic Church and with the New Testament. 

The article can be found at Virtue Online, here.