1 Corinthians 1:4, 8-9 says “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus…He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
When I think of grace I think of olympic champions, nice ladies, and forgiveness. One thing all three have in common is a very great power held gently underneath. Grace is not just the unmerited favor of God. It is the power of a risen Savior pulsing through every fully-surrendered follower of Christ. In this Lenten season it’s not all about weeping over our weakness in the flesh. This Lenten season is about overcoming the world, the flesh, and the devil by the grace of God! The power of the Holy Spirit becomes active in every believer from the moment we receive Jesus. That power keeps working in us until we surrender all and a deep transformation takes place. Then that power keeps molding us into the image of Jesus for the rest of our days. Nobody is perfect, before or after encountering this grace. But perfect love is poured out in our lives. And that love can do more than we often think it can. Believe your life can change. The Kingdom of God is at hand! Repent and believe the Good News! John Wesley said it so well:
As soon as the grace of God in the sense of his pardoning love is manifested to our souls, the grace of God as the power of his Spirit is at work within us. And now we can perform, through God, … all things in the light and power of that love. (John Wesley, Sermon 11)
Beacon Hill Press (2011-09-01). Year B: Ashes to Fire: Daily Reflections from Ash Wednesday to Pentecost (Kindle Locations 431-433). Nazarene Publishing House. Kindle Edition.
Here is a link to another top-notch organization, Nazarene Compassionate Ministries. More options for living out your faith in a world-changing way this Lenten season. And you can keep living compassion as a lifestyle all throughout the year!
After Day 1 & 2 feedback from users I would encourage any Christian who wants to explore the Lenten and Easter seasons to pick up this daily devotional guide. It’s well-written. Takes you through the Daily Office plan for reading through the Bible, pulls highlights from these readings, and offers brief guides to prayer for each day. With your Bible in hand, you can go as deep as you want. On days you’re seriously pressed for time you can keep the discipline going by pulling from the highlights and praying. Along the way you have several opportunities to journal your progress and prayers. Inspirational Art. Prayers from past spiritual giants. A very complete portable guide to Spiritual Growth!
As Engage the Word presses on we meet John (the baptizer), son of Zechariah the priest. His dad was a priest in the temple. But that just wasn’t his style. (Think: Billy Graham’s son smuggling Bibles into Turkey). A bit more brash. Having a bit of a problem with stuffed-shirt bureaucrats and hypocrites. We learned earlier that John was Jesus’ “cousin” through his earthly mother. Quite a pair these two. Born 6 months apart. Probably not your typical play dates when they got together. It says John was filled with the Holy Spirit from birth. Everyone told the story of his father’s vision and the special joy surrounding his birth. He didn’t have a self-esteem problem. More importantly he saw God’s vision for a new kind of Kingdom. One where nobody’s good enough but everybody’s welcome on their knees. Repent! Get right with God because he’s about to show up big time! He was an outsider who wasn’t caught up in the system. This blew everyone’s mind. So they listened. What he said made sense. Lots of people came out. Lots of people repented. John still gave people a hard time and said this better not be for show! “it’s not how wet you get, it’s how straight you walk on land!” (slight paraphrase!) He had spiritual authority and people listened.
But Herod Antipas had power. And he got it the old-fashioned way. His father, Herod the “Great”, paid for it! A weasel of the highest degree, Herod the “Great” was not fully Jewish and had bribed and betrayed his way to earthly power. He completely dismantled the true 2nd Temple and replaced it with a monstrosity larger than Solomon’s, with a nice Roman seal over the entrance. (He also built pagan temples in other towns.) So the true believers who were poor saw themselves excluded more and more from what their religion was becoming: a channel of Roman power and control…
Herod Antipas (the son) took his living brother’s wife. (The two deserved each other.) He had most of the negative qualities of his father and was quite bold in his disobedience to spiritual laws.
So what happens when true spiritual authority meets corrupt earthly power? Herod Antipas couldn’t corrupt John, so he put him in prison. This just made him more heroic to the masses and a continuing embarrassment.
You see, spiritual authority comes from God. You can’t buy it. If you oppose it by running away or trying to silence it, you’re only dealing with the messenger. You can’t avoid God. God is everywhere and will not stop trying to get through to you.
When Herod Antipas had John killed he thought it was the end of his spiritual conviction. But John was just the forerunner, paving the way for the ultimate authority: Jesus. Herod the great had tried to slaughter all the Bethlehem male babies. (Missed by that much.) He eventually allowed a crowd of people to call him a god. And then he got to meet God. Just when he’d finally gotten the ultimate thing he’d been chasing his whole life: god-like power. He forgot that every breath was a gift. (From God). That all earthly power is on loan. (From God). That justice is the reason earthly power exists. (Again, from God). And that all of us one day will answer to…you guessed it, God.
Jesus then returned to his homeland, safe from the power-crazy Herod the Great. But still under the immoral and self-indulgent authority of Herod Antipas, killer of John. John’s followers sensed even more of the same authority in Jesus and quickly followed. Suddenly Herod Antipas had an even bigger problem on his hands. He thought it was John back from the dead to haunt him. But it was God showing up again.
“God called. He wants his power back.”
Jesus went on to be the Messiah who saved the world and ascended to heaven.
In a bitter irony, perhaps the only ruler more corrupt and perverted, Emperor Caligula, banished Herod Antipas to exile. He had to live out his days in obscurity while the Good News about Jesus simply spread to the whole world…
Are you resisting God’s will, God’s way in your life? It’s not worth it. Submit to Him and find lasting peace. Are you struggling under earthly oppression right now? Stay tuned. The last line has not yet been written. God and His true servants are the ones to watch. Commit yourself fully to God’s mission today. It’s Good News for the poor and the poor in Spirit as we shall see…
For those who aren’t yet sick of the Rob Bell-Love Wins controversy, I think I’ve found BOTH a good way to finally make sense of the LOST finale AND visualize one of the theories of heaven/hell/Kingdom in Bell’s book.
Using the metaphors of Luke 15 (Father w/2 sons parable) and the always-open gates of the heavenly city (Revelation), this view suggests that free will continues after death. There is only one true story of grace. The prodigal son chose to live a false story, but when it ran its course he traded it in for the true one. Result: enjoying the party forever! The elder son also chose to live a false slavery/obligation story, even just outside the party. His stubborn refusal to accept the grace story keeps him from enjoying the party. But the invitation is always there for him to relent and kick up his sandals inside. When he’s had enough of his good boy creepiness (=hell), he can come inside (=heaven). So, goes the theory, will it be in the fullness of the Kingdom. The gates are open. Whenever the LOST get ready to be FOUND, they leave the ultimately dissatisfying story-of-their-own-making and come on in to the ultimate reality.
The LOST finale features a doesn’t-quite-ring-true post-island storyline. One-by-one the survivors feel called to meet at a church. As they gather, they sense they’ll have to leave something behind. At least one decides, he’s not ready yet. The rest gather in the church. They’re told they’ve been living in a pseudo world they mutually created so they could still be together. But it wasn’t real. Their time together on the island was real and what’s next will be even more real. But they have to leave this intermediate world behind. They rise. The church doors open to the most glorious light imaginable. They follow their guide into the brightness of their intended, but resisted, destiny. The implication is, eventually, everyone will make this choice.
It’s not exact, but there’s enough inter-textuality here to shed some light. It’s interesting. Again, this is not my view (because too many other Scriptures aren’t accounted for-see my previous post.) I’m not even sure it’s Bell’s personal view. But some Christians have believed it. So…
Makes me wonder 2 things:
1. Did the LOST writing team use this view of universalism to guide their finale? (Regardless of their own faith convictions, it made for one innovative narrative)
2. Did Rob Bell get this book idea at an amazing LOST party last year?
So maybe Bell is LOST after all! He-he!
Grace and Peace
I’m indebted to Shane Raynor for the above link. Although it’s aimed at United Methodist preachers, there’s something here for all Wesleyans, including Nazarenes. The author shares some of the history of early Methodist preaching, which revived nations and helped shape American pop culture.
Wesley was a scholar extraordinaire, but in the preaching moment he lit up like a Christmas tree and thousands gathered to watch him burn with holy passion.
Among the more interesting observations is that Wesleyan preaching was/should be more heart-to-heart than head-to-head. How it had/can have a decision or transforming experience as its goal. He also shares how Wesley & others might focus on a single phrase from Scripture, but bring it right into the daily experience of people.
This contrasts with the image many have had of Wesley and it’s worth reflecting on. The author also shares practical preaching insights from Henri Nouwen (not a Weleyan), which provide excellent ethical questions for preachers.
All of the points add up to greatly valuing the experience of the listener. Maybe our pulpits and furniture arrangements and bookshelves have shaped an academic, preacher-centered view that misses the mark in the pew-chairs: transformed lives. Can we reconsider our whole approach? Should we watch some video of ourselves to discover the dull patterns which need refreshing? If we’re going to keep preaching, why not invest our hearts and our bodies fully into those moments? What would it take to rekindle a fire in us people would want to experience for themselves?
This is my first post of a new blog. The name HD Nazarene, reflects my theological tradition, the Church of the Nazarene. HD refers to High Definition. A life-long study of the Bible has produced a great love for these texts. For me, the more I’ve studied, the more life as a whole makes sense to me. It’s like Scripture has become a lens through which I see the world more clearly, in High Def. So I’m a Nazarene (Christian Protestant denomination in the Wesleyan-Holiness Movement, a branch of Methodism) who’s very happy with the historic views of our church. I’m glad to be a part of the Wesleyan tradition in the classical stream of Christianity. In fact, I’m a Nazarene pastor, leading NewHope Community Church of the Nazarene in Northwest Indiana. I also teach Graduate and Undergraduate Preaching courses and Gen Ed Bible courses at Olivet Nazarene University, a great school near Chicago. I grew up in Iowa City First Church of the Nazarene. I learned to hear God’s voice there. I heard it mostly through holy people, like my mother Lavada Stidham, who loved me. But I learned to hear it deep inside as well. One night while listening to a classic Petra song at a long stoplight, I heard God inviting me to tell others about Jesus for the rest of my life. I eventually said yes. I’m a graduate of Iowa City West High School (’85), Mid America Nazarene University (B.A. Religion ’89), Nazarene Theological Seminary (M.Div. ’94), and McCormick Theological Seminary (A.C.T.S. D.Min. in Preaching ’02) and of life in the real world!
Great, you say, so why another blog? Well, there are a lot controversial voices out there now. I don’t want to be one of them. I want to try to give a view from a more typical Nazarene leader. People like me are not interested in rewriting the beliefs of Christianity (aka the most extreme and recent trends of Emergent), nor in arguing with Reformed people about Nazarene views (aka Concerned Nazarenes). Instead I want to give a view from the road of following Jesus in everyday life. In many ways I feel like I’m still just getting started in following Him. Ever feel like that? In other ways, it’s been long enough to feel like home. Although I’m not above temptation, there’s no going back. My life belongs to him. And I want it to belong to Jesus much more. So part of this is continuing to work out my faith in life and in dialogue.
I’m raising a family with my awesome wife, Ellen, leading a small (but committed and missional) church plant, and teaching students and pastors along the way. I do some writing as well (mid to late September you’ll find a piece I did for Grace and Peace Magazine posted on their site). It has been a blast so far and I think the best days are still in front of me. It may not rock your world, but if you’d like to come along, I’d love to have you.
Welcome to HD Nazarene! The view from here is pretty sweet. The resolution keeps getting better and the surround sound often holds me in perfect peace! I hope I can do it justice. And if you’re interested in sharing your views in a positive and respectful voice, I need your help to experience it more clearly!
Grace and Peace to you!