Wesley Wednesday: The Almost Christian

John_Wesley

I am reading though John Wesley’s Sermons; An Anthology and will post some thoughts on his sermons each Wednesday.

In the sermon The Almost Christian, Wesley set out to move his listeners from almost Christians to Altogether Christians. Wesley preached that “…being ‘almost a Christian’ is the having a form of godliness, of that godliness which is prescribed in the gospel of Christ- the having the outside of a real Christian. Accordingly the ‘almost Christian’ does nothing which the gospel forbids.”

The ‘Almost Christian’ has a “form of godliness” without ever really having God. They live a moral life, attend to the sacraments, and pray. The ‘Almost Christian’ practices religion without really having a relationship with God. Wesley writes about himself,

“And God is my record, before whom I stand, doing all this in sincerity; having a real design to serve God, a hearty desire to do his will in all things, to please him who had called me to ‘fight the good fight’, and to ‘lay hold of eternal life’. Yet my own conscience beareth me witness in the Holy Ghost that all this time I was but ‘almost a Christian.’

Wesley goes on to share what he means by an ‘Altogether Christian.’ This is the person who goes beyond practices of religion to loving God- and loving their neighbor. This is the believer who “loves the Lord his God, his spirit continually ‘rejoiceth in God his Saviour.” Our neighbor, according to Wesley, is every person and that we much be servants of all.

Wesley also notes that one needs a faith that brings about repentance- reminding his listeners that even the “devils” believe in Christ- but that they remain in their “damnable state.” The faith needed is that which purifies our heart by the power of God from pride, anger, desire and from all unrighteousness. Whoever has this faith “is not almost only, but altogether a Christian.”

Wesley gets personal, reminding his listeners that good intentions are not how one is altogether Christian. He asks his listeners a series of questions aimed at some internal reflection on whether they are an ‘Almost Christian’ or ‘Altogether Christian.’ Wesley ends with this prayer focused on justification and redemption through Jesus:

“May we all thus experience what it is to be not almost only, but altogether Christian! Being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Jesus, knowing we have peace with God through Jesus Christ, rejoicing in hope of the glory of God, and having the love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost given unto us!”

Amen! And Amen!

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LeBron James, Dan Gilbert and the Danger of Being Impulsive

lebron-james-championship

By now, you’ve heard the news that LeBron James is heading back home to Cleveland as he re-signs with the Cavaliers. This comes after famously leaving Cleveland for Miami in “The Decision”- and ill-fated decision on James’ camp. “The Decision” left a bad taste in the mouth of Cleveland fans- and especially their owner, Dan Gilbert. Gilbert fired off a letter claiming James left in a “cowardly betrayal” and claiming the Cleveland would win a title without James before LeBron would win one in Miami (Miami has been to four straight Championship games-winning two- while Cleveland has led the league in #1 draft picks)

USAToday ran an article this morning about how Gilbert and James buried the hatchet after Gilbert’s letter. One of Gilbert’s quotes is appropriate for leaders consider when we deal with things that do not go our way. Gilbert said,

“There were a couple of people who tried to talk me out of it [the letter],” Gilbert tells me via phone from California. “Frankly, I didn’t put it in front of enough people. It was boom-boom, put it up. That’s something I’ve learned. When you’re in an emotional state … wait.”

Gilbert highlights to problem that everyone- especially those in leadership- can have when we respond impulsively to the circumstances around us. Gilbert was obviously upset (I’m sure that is put mildly) when Lebron went to Miami and pounded out a letter about how he felt. He posted it online- where everything lives forever- without running it through enough filters.

Honestly, I know that I have spoken impulsively before. Perhaps you have to. I was always taught to think before I spoke, but even then I could think I really wanted to blow a person up verbally! I do better online- but see people responding impulsively and/or passive aggressively in Facebook post or Twitter updates. We all can fall prey to responding impulsively.

So how do we avoid responding impulsively when we really want to?

1. If you feel you have to respond NOW- it may be a warning to slow down: This is often a indicator of our need to defend ourselves. In the world of Facebook and Twitter, it is so easy to respond now. But I have found that there is rarely anything that needs an immediate response- especially when our emotions are involved.

2. Write out your thoughts/response on paper first: This saves us from accidentally hitting send/post/tweet and posting our impulsive thoughts for the digital world to read. Write out all your emotions on paper as if you were journaling. Then put the paper away. Come back to it a few hours later- or even a few days later- and see if that is what you really want everyone to read.

3. Surround yourself with people who can act as filters: I personally need people in my life that I can share what I am really feeling- no matter how raw the emotion- and trust that they will help me process what I feel and move forward in a healthy way. There are a few people I send drafts of letters/emails/responses to get their input on. Because I trust them, I value their input and if they don’t feel I should post- or need to make major revisions, I do it. This is part of my accountability as a leader.

The letter that Gilbert wrote in a few minutes has characterized him over the last four years and it was potentially a road block for the best basketball player in the world coming back to Cleveland. Gilbert was given a second chance and the opportunity to clear the air with LeBron- as leaders, we are not always given a second chance when we respond impulsively and must respond to our critics in thoughtful, helpful, and appropriate ways.

How do you respond to critics? What system do you have in place when you have a difficult or emotional response that you want make?

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Wesley Wednesday: The New Birth

John_Wesley

I have been reading and rereading some of John Wesley’s sermons as part of my own spiritual growth. I will be the first to admit that as a Methodist, I don’t know Wesley’s sermons as well as I probably should. That said, Wesley’s sermon “The New Birth” (#45 in his standard sermons), really did an excellent job of explaining the need to be “born again.” According to Wesley, because humanity is “‘born in sin’ we ‘must be born again.’”

He then provides an excellent illustration about the difference before and after a child is born,

“Before a child is born into the world he has eyes, but sees not; he has ears, but does not hear. He has a very imperfect use of any other sense. I has no knowledge of any of the things of the world, nor any natural understanding. To that manner of existence which he then has we do not even give the name of life. It is then only when a man is born that we say, he begins to live. For as soon as he is born he begins to see the light and the various objects with which he is encompassed. His ears are then opened, and he hears the sounds which successively strike upon them. At the same time all that other organs of sense begin to be exercised upon their proper objects. He likewise breathes and lives in a manner wholly different from what he did before.”

Then Wesley talks about how a spiritual new birth changes a person,

“While a man is in a mere natural state, before he is born of God, he has, in a spiritual sense, eyes and sees not; a thick impenetrable veil lies upon them. He has ears, but hears not; he is utterly deaf to what he is most of all concerned to hear. His other spiritual senses are all locked up; he is in the same condition as if he had them not. He has no knowledge of God, no intercourse with him; he is not at all acquainted with him. He has no true knowledge of the things of God, either of spiritual or eternal things. Therefore, though he is a living man, he is a dead Christian. But as soon as he is born of God there is a total change in all these particulars.”

When we are born again, our eyes are opened to the things of God; our ears can hear the voice of God; We are able to feel the Spirit of God in our hearts. “All his spiritual senses are then ‘exercised to discern’ spiritual ‘good and evil. By the use of these he is daily increasing in the knowledge of God, of Jesus Christ whom he hath sent, and of all the things pertaining to his inward kingdom. And now he may properly be said to live.”

When we respond to God’s grace at work in our lives, when we seek New Birth through Jesus- our spiritual senses become alive- becoming able to perceive, begin to understand, and respond to the leading of God’s Spirit. It is this new birth that makes us truly alive.

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Update On My Blog

This is just a site update to let you know that my post from my previous blog have been imported to this site. This means that you can go back nearly 10 years and read my thoughts. Just a warning- the imported post are not always formatted correctly, nor do they have the links or photos. I hope to go through some of them and update.

In the meantime- I will re-post some of my more popular post from the old blog to share with new readers. I also hope to begin blogging a little more regularly again. This is therapeutic for me in helping me process my faith, sermons, and life in general.

Thanks again for nine and a half years of reading my thoughts!

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Why I Love VBS…

Steve LaMotte:

We are in the middle of VBS week so I though I would re-post this post from 2011.

Originally posted on Exiled Community:

Hope United Methodist Church, where I pastor, just finished a four day Vacation Bible School last night.  We had a great time!  There is a lot of planning and work that goes into VBS. Ask any director/co-director and they will tell you how much time and prayer that goes into the week.  Inevitably, there comes a point in the planning (usually the week, or day before the start date) where the stress builds and you are led to wonder “Is all this work and preparation really necessary for VBS?”  Of course, in my experience, those feelings quickly go away once VBS starts and the music begins to play and you can see the joy on the children’s faces as they worship God.

Here is why I love VBS:

1.  The Memories: I grew up in the church, and as a kid, my parents took us to several VBS programs at…

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You Are What You Eat (Spiritually, too!)

As I get older, I am trying to eat better and live a more healthy life. This means I can no longer consume Mountain Dew like it was oxygen or eat pizza three times a day. I’ve been cutting my portions and looking to eat more fruits and vegetables, less processed foods, and so on. I’ve also been exercising more. I can really notice how my body responds to junk because I feel like junk. I know that if I want to continue to be healthy, I have to fill my body with healthy food, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep.

Growing in our walk with Christ is much the same. We become like what we consume. If we are consuming garbage on the TV, or on our iPod, or on the computer- how are we supposed to mature in our faith in a healthy way? In a world that generally does not embrace Christian values- what does it look like to sift through the noise to create habits that edify our spiritual growth?

Paul writes some principles for the believers at Philippi in Philippians 4:8,

“Whatever is true; whatever is noble; whatever is right; whatever is pure; whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me- put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:8-9

Paul provides a filter for the recipients of his letter (and for you and I) about how to engage the culture (a hostile culture) and still advance in our walk with Christ. We are to THINK about that which is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable. Then we are to PUT INTO PRACTICE what we have learned, received, heard, or seen in [those who model the Christian walk].

In essence, Paul is writing and encouraging the church to think critically about the culture- to sift or curate the culture they consume in such a way that they experience and encounter God through truth, justice, purity, and beauty.  This is not a rejection at the culture at large, but an understanding that because God is Creator- we can see God in culture when we experience truth, justice, purity, and beauty. We are to think critically about what we consume and put in our minds. Think of this as eating right. The old saying goes, you are what you eat. The same is true as we grow in Christ. We cannot watch or listen to something that is impure or false, or oppressive without it having a negative effect on our spirituality/faith.

Paul reminds the church that faith is a matter of practice. This is like exercising to stay healthy. We must exercise our faith. Not only are they to listen and learn- but that are to put it into action. We grow in our relationship with Jesus by practicing what we know and have learned.

How is your spiritual health? Are you practicing healthy Christian living- where you are putting things that are true, noble, right, pure, and lovely into your mind, heart, and spirit? Are you exercising your faith by putting what you’ve learned into practice? Like anyone trying to get in shape knows- healthy living comes from eating right and exercising. Spiritually speaking- we must living a spiritual healthy life in what we consumer and get our exercise by putting our faith into action.

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The Church Should Take a Page From The Spurs Playbook

I grew up a San Antonio Spurs fan in the 1990′s. But I didn’t grow up anywhere near San Antonio. I grew up 90 minutes from Cleveland and watched the Cavs led by Mark Price and Brad Daugherty. I grew up watching Michael Jordan- and disliking him because everyone loved him. (In hindsight, I wish I had watched Jordan more. This is my 35 year old self speaking) But I became a Spurs fan because of David Robinson, the Hall of Fame center from Navy. I liked Robinson’s play but also his character as a Christian.

Now, nearly 25 years later- the Spurs have just won their 5 championship since 1999. Last night’s title clinching game was a work of beauty- an exhibition of unselfish teamwork to find the best option. As great as LeBron James is (and I’m not a hater) the Spurs’ team concept stands out in contrast with Miami’s “pass it to LeBron and hope he scores” style of play. (*in reality, the Heat would have a better team concept if Wade, Bosh, Chalmers, and others had actually showed up to play!!)

It’s well known that the Spurs front office and their coach, Greg Popovich, do some of their best work internationally. At the trophy ceremony last night- you saw players from all different nations with flags draped over them. Here are where some of the Spurs are from…

  • Tim Duncan- U.S. Virgin Islands
  • Tony Parker- France
  • Manu Ginobili- Argentina
  • Kawhi Leonard- USA
  • Boris Diaw- France
  • Patty Mills- Australia
  • Tiago Spliter- Brazil

The Spurs are an international collective of athletes that form one of the best team cultures in any sports. They are selfless and focused on achieving their goals as a team.

The Church can learn a lot about leadership and working as a team from the Spurs. The Church can learn about focus from the Spurs rather doing a lot of “good” ministry. The Spurs are a diverse group; coming together to work in singularity towards the goal of a championship. Our local churches tend to be a homogenous group of folks who struggle to align themselves in a common direction. Is it any wonder why our churches struggle to move forward? We all want it our way rather than finding our common ground and working in unity to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19)

While we may not all be into sports- there is a lot with the Spurs that we can learn about leading our churches.

 

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