Turning Points in Wesley's Faith

Today, in addition to being my Mom’s birthday (Happy Birthday Mom), is also the day that in 1738 John Wesley had his Aldersgate Street experience.  I thought I would share my response to a question from a course on Methodist history I am currently taking.  We were asked to identify and address the turning points of John Wesley’s faith.  Wesley struggled with the question of faith, is faith instantaneous or is it gradual?  Here is my response:

There were several turning points in the faith of John Wesley.  The first was his experiences at Oxford.  While studying at Oxford and later returning while Charles was there, John became devoted to holiness.  He began to reject the norms of the Christianity that he had been raised to know.  John became involved with communal discipleship when he joined the Holy Club.  The next turning point for John was his missionary trip to Georgia.  While on his voyage over he witnessed the faith of the Moravians traveling with him.  He began to feel self-doubt when presented with the faithfulness of the Moravians while traveling through rough seas.  After returning from Georgia, John began doubting his own faith after he evaluated his lack of success in Georgia.  He met Peter Böhler who helped to life John out of the spiritual despair he was in.  Böhler told him to “preach faith till you have it…” and assisted John in developing true faith.  A faith living faith, not merely buying into what the church was telling Christians to feel.   John began to search to figure out if faith developed of time or an instantaneous event.  The final turning point for John was at Aldersgate while when he felt the Holy Spirit enter into his heart.  He was overwhelmed with joy and began to share his experience with those in this discipleship group that night.  The turning points for John Wesley’s faith occurred over a two-year period, and in this short amount of time John’s faith was challenged and renewed.

The Hole in Our Gospel Wrap Up

This winter I had the opportunity to coordinate a church wide study of The Hole in Our Gospel, written by the CEO of World Vision Richard Sterns.  I had no idea what I was getting into when I agreed (later to find out I was volunteered) the coordinate something like this.  As a seminary student with a full-time job I saw this as an opportunity to ease myself into a ministry at church outside of my usual participation.  The six-week small group study was accompanied by sermons from Dennis & Jason that were designed to challenge our congregation’s idea of what it means to be a Christian.  The book calls Christians to serve the poor and this is something that Aldersgate does very well.  Aldersgate has mission partners in Cambodia, Guatemala, Ft. Apache, Arizona, Alexandria, and rural Virginia & West Virginia, so as I went through the study I was thinking we have this covered.  No problems here.  Being the hands and feet of Jesus so something that I find exciting and energizing.

It was not until we began to explore the possibility that there is more to being a Christian than just serving the poor that I began to wiggle in my seat and question what I was doing. Am what I like to call an “independent Christian”, someone who keeps their faith to themselves and only shares it when asked?  I am not well versed in expressing my personal faith, something that has been a real challenge for me as I entered into seminary.  I cannot tell you the exact place and time I accepted Christ as my personal savior (which is very intimidating for someone entering the theological arena where everyone can pin point every faith milestone they’ve experienced).   So here it is, I have found the hole in my gospel.  This is not to infer that I need to trace back the history of my faith to the day I said “Yes!” to Jesus; but, to develop the language needed to express the ways in which Christ has worked and is working in my life.  This will give me another tool in my tool box for when working with folks whether it be home repair, serving food, or simply talking to someone (which in most cases has more of an impact that any work project).  Challenge #1 accepted.

The next question that I was faced with is: “Who is my neighbor?”  Is my neighbor the people on my street who offer the awkward “hello, how ya’ doing?”, someone in southern Virginia that I spent a week with on a mission trip that I will never see again, or an impoverished community on the other side of the world?  The answer to this question is all of the above.

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”   26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” 27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”  28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” 29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’   36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”   Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:25-37, NRSV)

A few weeks ago my pastor challenged us to rethink this piece of scripture.  We were presented the story with a red Jesus and a blue Jesus represented to appeal to each our personal views of Christ (personal salvation and social justice).  After presenting two sermons, Jason could have said “Amen” and sat down, but if you have met Jason at any point you would know that this is not his style.  Next we were presented with the scandal from the story: the Samaritans.  You see the Samaritans despised and hated in their time, and that our personal salvation comes from someone who was hated and despised in His time (and arguably to some level today).  From this, the take away was that we are to seek the face of Christ in our enemies.

So, who is my neighbor?  After Jason’s sermon and some thought on the question my previous interpretations of this scripture have been turned upside down.  My Sunday School theology has been blown out of the water. Love our enemies, how can I love someone hate hates me and is out to do me harm?  This does not only apply to our enemies who seek to do physical harm to us but also to those who we believe to have wronged us financially or humiliated us publicly.  Love my enemy?  My enemy is my neighbor?  Challenge #2 accepted.

My challenge to everyone who has participated in Aldersgate’s church wide study or those who have read The Hole in Our Gospel is to continue to grow in your personal faith, seek out the hole in your relationship with Christ.  This is not something is accomplished in any particular timeframe.  One’s faith and relationship with Jesus Christ should continue to grow; it is a lifelong journey.  I hope that you will accept the challenge presented by Sterns.

Lent 2012

 Removing attention from my personal needs, focusing on the needs of others, and developing a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.  This is my goal for Lent.

When I think of sacrifice and the Bible two things come to mind: Christ’s sacrifice for us on the cross and the sacrifices made in the Old Testament.  Additionally, when I am thinking about sacrifice in my own life it usually means giving up something (usually something I really enjoy) for the purpose of promoting something else.  Like many other Christians, this Lenten season I will be giving up a list of distractions in order to focus more on Christ and the needs of those around me.  My fasting will begin on Ash Wednesday and last 46 days.

Here is how I will be fasting and sacrificing.  I will be waking up when my alarm first goes off so that I am not wasting my mornings lying around.  As small or obscure as this act seems to be, for me this will require me to focus more being intentional about taking care of my personal needs (rest) and not wasting time with activities which do not matter.  I will not be using Facebook so that I might devote more time to studying, devotion, and reconnecting with friends: removing a distraction.  To me social media can be a blessing and also a curse.  It is all too easy to feel connected with friends because you can see their “lives” play out online but know absolutely nothing about what is really going on.  Finally, I will be eliminating meat in order to remind myself that there are people throughout the world (even in my local community) who will not have the opportunity to eat on any particular day.

 16‘And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:16-18, NRSV)

When I reflect on this scripture I am reminded of the people that we all know who begrudgingly give up something during Lent because they “have to”.  Chocolate, coffee, cussing, we all know the drill.  I was one of those people.  Giving something up, sacrificing a luxury in my life because I had to.  During the period of Lent I never took the time to reflect on why I was giving up something and what I could replace that luxury with.

So my challenge this Lent is to remove three simple luxuries from my life and not lose sight of why I am doing this.  My hope is that this simple act of fasting and sacrifice will allow me to develop a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ and re-focus the priorities that I have laid out for myself.

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The Hole in Our Gospel Study – Halfway There

My original intent as I entered into a study of Richard Sterns book, The Hole in Our Gospel, was to write a reflection on a weekly basis.  I had two reasons for doing so: share this journey with folks who and personally reflect on what I have read how I can/should be responding.  I have not kept up with this committment so now I must play catch up, so for that reason I will share my reflections as we are halfway through the study.

Week three’s readings were full of statistics that put global poverty into perspective.  Perhaps the most glaring statistic is the fact that 26,575 children died yesterday, will die today, and will die tomorrow from preventable poverty related conditions. 26,575 is a sobering number.  These numbers deaths are preventable.

Greed, how much is enough?  Instinctively (and socially) we are programmed to for greed. We need to have a new car every five years.  We need to have a brand-new home.  We need we need we need.  We purchase more food than we can or should consume, clothing that is made by children and adults who are not paid a living wage, and continue to think (maybe no consciencely) that our own superficial needs are greater than those from impoverished nations.  It is this very greed that had my wife and I convinced that we needed to buy everything in bulk (knowing full-well that we would not be able to consume all that we had purchased before it spoiled — see Exodus 16).

Stearns asserts that we no longer have the excuse of not knowing about global poverty.  He is 100% correct.  Between a 24/7 global media assault and social media we are given reports of global poverty on a continual basis; but we choose to ignore these reports.  I am guilty of changing the channel when a commercial for an international children’s aid organization comes on telling me about how a little girl is destined to live off of a trash dump, and I can help prevent this by a simple gift of X amount a day (probably less than I will spend on lunch today).  It’s not that we do not know about global poverty and the action that is required immediately.  We have chosen not to react.

How can I help everyone?  Will my gift really make a difference?  These are questions that I have wrestled with since I first read Stearns book last year.  I am not a “rich” person.  My wife and I do not live an extravagant lifestyle by any means, or so I thought.  2.6 million people throughout the world live on less than $2.00/day.  60% of the population makes less than $900/year and 30% makes less than $9,000/year.  If you do the math, that leaves ~10% of the world making more than $9,000/year.  Now when I look at the salaries that my wife and I receive, I would consider us to be rich.  This past weekend our biggest concern was what were we going to have for dinner, not if we would have a meal at all.  If wealth was a direct result of hard work, the children throughout the world who cannot attend school because they are walking six, even more, miles a day to get water for their families on a daily basis would be wealthier than any Fortune 500 CEO

We do not have to be rich to be generous to our brothers and sisters.  “Well maybe if they worked harder they would escape poverty.”  I heard this while having a conversation with a co-worker about the book and study.  At first I was infuriated by the comment.  How can this person claims to be a Christian not showing any kind of mercy or love towards those who need help.  I have been guilty of these ideas in past.  Work hard and you will be rewarded.  That is what we are taught in school and society.  But it is in Exodus that God tells Moses and the Israelites to only take what they need, for if they take more than they need it will spoil and be of no use to them.

4Then the LORD said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not…16This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an omer to a person according to the number of persons, all providing for those in their own tents.'” 17The Israelites did so, some gathering more, some less. 18But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed. 19And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over until morning.” 20But they did not listen to Moses; some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and became foul. And Moses was angry with them.” (Exodus 16:4, 16-20)

What are we suppose to do then?  The first thing I would do is to simply pray.  First, give thanks to God for all that has been provided to you and your family.  Thank God for the fact that you do not have to spend half of the day walking to retrieve water and the other half of the day returning to your home.  Second, pray for the people of the world, both impoverished and wealthy.  Lastly, ask God for guidance.  “What can I do?  Where are you calling me?”

Aside from prayer, what are some other avenues available to us to aid those impoverished here in the United States and across the world?  Here a few resources:

These questions that you present to God may not come with the answers you had hope for, be prepared.  Discernment of how God is calling you to respond is not an overnight action but when you decide to move the results will be spectacular.

Peace & Blessings.

Lead Me Not Into Temptation

It is easy in the fast paced society that we live in to get caught up in the need to be relevant, popular, and powerful.  This applies in the corporate world, with friends, and in ministry.  Participating in a service-learning environment at the Father McKenna Center has helped me to identify when I am struggling with the feeling that I need to be relevant, popular, and powerful to a more prayerful, community ministry that will help me in my journey of discerning where I am being called by God.  These three temptations (relevancy, popularity, and power are described in Henri J.M. Nouwen’s book In The Name of Jesus)

Being around friends, co-workers, and even strangers it is challenge to fight the urge to seem relevant in all aspects of our lives (even in those situations where you are completely out of your element).  I know for me this happens to me when I am talking with co-workers, working with the youth at church, and even when I was serving the guests at the Father McKenna Center.  I caught myself this past week in the act of doing this and once I realized what I was doing I had a hard time moving past the ashamed feeling that I had.  I was not being honest with the guests at the Father McKenna Center or with myself.  The conversation was not about anything of importance but I found myself trying to fit into the conversation when I clearly was out of my element.  Feeling the need to be relevant is something that in hindsight I have always struggled with, and it wasn’t until I was in a room with a group of strangers that I realized I was doing it.  Moving forward I have been trying to engage in those situations where I am not in the in the loop by simply taking a step back and listening.  This will help me to become a better listener and in turn help me in my prayer life.  A prayer life where you are not an active listener as much as you are an active speaker does not allow for a two-way conversation with God.  I do not always need to be the center of attention or conversation, and when I do listen more attentively in my prayer life I will be able to more clearly understand what God’s call for my life is.

The feeling of the need to be relevant draws parallels with the need to be popular.  We all want everyone to like us and we all want to have more friends than we know what to do with.  To me this seems like simple human nature.  The problem with being popular is that when we are focusing so much attention to ourselves we are no longer concerned with the community around us.  Our personal needs are more important than those of the community.  At the Father McKenna Center last week the weather outside was cold, downright freezing outside.  I witnessed the guests at the Center being more focused on whether or not guests that they had no connection to had enough cold weather gear before they left. To me this was a great example of not being concerned about your popularity status and being more focused on ministering and taking care of those around you.  If I were to apply this attitude of selfless giving to ministry without the desire to been seen as the hip, cool, young up and coming seminarian, my ministry would have more of an impact on those I serve.

The media, popular culture, and our inner instincts are all telling us that the more power we have, the more untouchable we are.  In our day jobs, volunteer organizations, and even in the church, leadership based on power can be present.  Leadership based upon power, and not a mutual respect and love for one another, can cause both the leader and those being lead to be blinded, preventing both parties from seeing the true goal of the organization.  In the context of the church, this style of leadership has negative consequences far beyond the doors of the church.  At the Father McKenna Center the leadership of the Center is allowed to provide the ministry they do based upon a mutual respect between the leadership and those being served (although I believe that in the end bother parties are serving one another).

My experience at the Father McKenna Center gave me the opportunity to identify my own struggles with the need to feel relevant and popular.  The volunteers at the Father McKenna Center, along with the guests, also showed me how leadership based upon a mutual respect for one another in the end allows all parties involved to serve one another.  It is in these experiences that I will be able to move from the need to be relevant to being more prayerful, my concerns about popularity to focusing my concern for my community, and developing a leadership style that will allow me to discern more clearly where I am being led by God.

Peace and blessings.

The Hole in Our Gospel – A Church Wide Study

Beginning on January 14 (2012) Aldersgate United Methodist Church will begin it’s winter church wide study.  The book that we will take a dive into is The Hole In Our Gospel written by the President of World Vision Richard Stearns.  I plan to write a reflection on the for each of the six weekly topics.  If you’re in the Alexandria, VA area it is not too late to get the book, sign up for a small group, or plan to come to Aldersgate for the sermon series.

Peace and Blessings.

1 Semester Down. How many more to go????

It is hard to believe but my first semester at Wesley Theological Seminary is over. Looking  back to my undergraduate studies
I was always looking forward to the end of the semester but now the end of this first semester is a little bitter-sweet. Don’t get me wrong, I welcome the opportunity to spend more time with my family, catch up on somethings around the house, or even relax, but this last semester has been very formative in my relationship with God and my understanding of the call God has placed on my life.

The first class I took this semester was OT101-A, Introduction to Hebrew Bible I, taught by Dr. Valerie Bridgeman.  When I enrolled in this class and realized it was going to be my first seminary class I was dreading it.  Like many Christians, I had preferred to stick to the New Testament when reading the Bible.  Dr. Valerie was the exact opposite of what I had originally expected and that was a welcomed surprise.  I had envisioned a staunchy lecture but instead the course offered lecture with built-in discussion.  Dr. V allowed us as a class to explore the texts of the Hebrew Bible and zero in on areas where we as a class struggled to the meaning or wanted to dive deeper.

Next on the books this semesters was Spiritual Formation for the Practice of Ministry.  This course was a mix of lecture, group discussion, and service learning.  I will save my reviews on the course for the end of next semester because the course contains two parts; 2 credit hours in the fall and 1 credit hour in the spring (with an optional 1 hour service credit).  I will however say that so far the class has had some very formative parts  along with some things that just have not been my cup of tea.  But I guess that is what this process is all about, finding new spiritual practices that work for you and weeding out the ones that do not.

The last class I had this semester was the History of Christianity 1 (0 – 1500 A.D.):  1500 years of Christianity in one semester.  Dr. C. Harrell was our instructor and this man has forgotten more about the history of Christianity than most of us will ever know. 1 mid-term exam, 2 papers, and a timeline (including 10 people, 10 events, and 10 movements) on the surface did not seem like a lot of work.  I was mistaken.  I had forgotten how much work school actually was (maybe that was because I did not take my undergraduate time seriously, and I am beginning to realize I wasted a lot of time).  A few all nighters (2 hours of sleep and then heading off to work), 1 or 2 panic attacks, and some help from my pastor and classmates got me through the course.  Since the next section of the course is 1500 – present day, I hope that I can keep up.  600 years in comparison to 1500 years won’t be that bad (I hope)

I made some great friends this semester, got my seminary career off on the right foot, but most importantly I have begun to discern my calling in a deeper way that I could not have imagined doing six months ago.  I was talking with Allison last night and realized if you had told me a year ago I would be in seminary I would have told you I thought you were crazy.  I cannot wait to see what next semester has in store for me.

Peace & Blessings.