Those Ordinances

Mark 9:28-29

And when [Jesus] had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”


It’s Monday, and we continue our devotionals that point to spiritual practices we can develop throughout the week.

The previous two Mondays, we explored the first two General Rules for traditional Methodists, do no harm and do good. Today we’ll look at the third and last rule, “attend upon all the ordinances of God.”

A United Methodist bishop named Rueben P. Job, a former editor of The Upper Room publishing house, boiled this rule down to “stay in love with God.” That’s an excellent starting point for understanding what John Wesley was saying in his 18th-century way. The third rule is about what we do to maintain the relationship with the one who creates, redeems and sustains us.

By “ordinances,” Wesley meant those spiritual activities we do methodically so we position ourselves to meet God, receiving God’s constantly available grace.

Wesley specifically listed what he thought of as ordinances: the public worship of God; the ministry of the Word, either read or expounded; the Supper of the Lord; family and private prayer; searching the Scriptures; and fasting or abstinence.

Our challenge this week is simple. How many of these have we incorporated into our lives? Are there new practices we can add?

I used the Mark passage today in association with this third rule because our relationship with God gives us the power we need to participate in kingdom building. We contend with unseen powers that would do the world harm. We need to tap into what God offers us if we are to carry out the Christian mission.

Lord, as we go to those places where you say you will meet us, may we receive new understanding and new grace. Amen.

Do Good

Hebrews 13:16: Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.


We’re continuing with our Monday focus on behaviors we can practice throughout the week, a particularly good exercise during the season of Lent. Last week, we focused on the first rule for traditional Methodist living, do no harm.

This Monday, we move to the second very simple rule: Do good.

Be an active Christian, not a passive one. In our daily living, we should be making the world more like the kingdom of heaven. This sounds like a simple assertion, but if we are not intentional about doing good, we will miss many opportunities.

We do good in a couple of basic ways. We of course need to relieve suffering. When the kingdom of heaven is fully present, Christ’s work on the cross will be complete, and suffering and death will come to an end.

A good guideline for identifying those who suffer begins at Matthew 25:31, which recounts the scene of judgment Jesus gave us. We of course are dependent on God’s grace to be saved, but it’s also clear that salvation is supposed to change us so we do good, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Righteousness in Christ is identifiable by how we treat the least among us: the hungry and the thirsty, the vulnerable strangers we encounter, those lacking the basics for living, the sick, and the imprisoned.

You are invited to spend the week considering how you might do good toward these people, and then follow through. I would suggest we start as close to home as possible and then work out from there, considering our church family, our community, and then beyond.

If you’ll look at the larger context surrounding today’s Bible verse, you will see Jesus’ teachings embedded there. You also will see that our acts of good are a response to the great act of good Jesus performed on the cross, overcoming sin and death for us.

That larger context reminds us of our second big opportunity to do good. Tell the story of Jesus Christ to people needing to hear it. Our willingness to do so may be the difference between eternal life and eternal death for someone.

Again Lord, let our eyes see and our ears hear what you would have us do. Amen.

Out of the Fire

2 Peter 3:8-13 (NRSV)

But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.

Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.


The Apostle Peter paints a cataclysmic picture of Christ’s return. It is an image of the universe melting away in an unimaginable heat. The earth remains, stripped bare, its people exposed before God, their inner holiness and evil undeniably on display.

Peter’s words could be just mind-boggling symbolism, of course. But as I’ve pointed out in the past, symbols are a simple way of understanding a more complex reality.

If we believe the Bible is communicating God’s truth, then we have to acknowledge the experience of judgment will be at least as overwhelming as what we see here, and likely more so. We will come face-to-face with our holy creator while stripped bare of our pretenses and self-delusions.

Peter’s letter is a call to ready ourselves, to plunge into our own personal purifying fire. It should help us to know this: What comes out of the fire is far greater than what went into the fire.

Peter would have been familiar with Malachi’s Old Testament prophecies of a day when God’s appointed one would come to act as a “refining fire” and “fuller’s soap,” purifying what has been tainted by sin. The prophecy is not so much about the refining process as it is about what comes out, gold and silver in their purest forms.

After his images of fiery destruction, Peter also alludes to the “new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.” We submit ourselves to purification by God’s Holy Spirit not out of fear, but in joy, knowing God’s purifying work through Christ will establish a greater way of living. We ready ourselves for a place in the new creation.

So, how do we submit?

Many of you have made that first step, accepting Jesus Christ as Lord. Those of you who have not—well, Peter makes clear that God is patient until the time of patience ends.

Our faith leads us to a new level of engagement with God. The early Methodists had a simple set of rules to live by as they pursued holiness. They are just as instructive for us today.

First, do no harm. What are we doing that damages others? How do we stop doing those things?

Second, do good. Again, the principle is very simple. Do we do good in every way we can, whenever we have the opportunity?

Third, stay in love with God. I’m borrowing Rueben Job’s paraphrase of John Wesley’s more elaborate statement, “By attending upon all the ordinances of God.” By this, Wesley meant participating in public worship, studying God’s word, receiving communion, praying, and abstaining from activities that can distract us from God.

When we follow these rules, we open ourselves to the refining work of the Holy Spirit. And we do not regret the loss of any sin that is burned away.

Lord, make us ready. Amen.