A Burning Desire

Luke 12:49-53 (NKJV)

“I have come to cast fire upon the earth, and how I wish it were already ablaze! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided:

father against son
    and son against father,
mother against daughter
    and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
    and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

By Chuck Griffin

Yesterday, my new hardback copy of Percy Livingston Parker’s “The Heart of John Wesley’s Journal” arrived. I opened it at random, wanting to see the typeface, layout and such.

I landed on page 212, which has this subhead on it: “Wesley Burned in Effigy.” Here begins Wesley’s account of a handful of April days in 1750 in the Irish town of Bandon, County Cork. It is easy for us to forget that Methodism in its original and purest form brought its adherents into conflict with other Christians, who sometimes were angered by the Methodist call to turn back to a scriptural faith.

Monday, 21.—I rode on to Bandon. From three in the afternoon till past seven, the mob of Cork marched in grand procession and then burned me in effigy near Dant’s Bridge.

Wednesday, 23.—The mob was still patrolling the streets, abusing all that were called Methodists, and threatening to murder them and pull down their houses, if they did not leave this way.”

Wesley’s Thursday and Friday entries give accounts of continuing vandalism of homes and the efforts of people to organize anti-Methodist mobs, apparently with the encouragement of local clergy. By Saturday, the town had settled down a little, and Wesley that evening began preaching “to more than twice the usual congregation.” (People do crave truth, don’t they!)

“After I had spoken about a quarter of an hour,” Wesley writes, “a clergyman, who had planted himself near me with a very large stick in his hand, according to agreement, opened the scene. (Indeed his friends assured me he was in drink, or he would not have done it.) But before he had uttered many words, two or three resolute women, by main strength, pulled him into a house; and after expostulating a little, sent him away through the garden.

“The next champion that appeared was one Mr. M—, a young gentleman of the town. He was attended by two others with pistols in their hands. But his triumph too was but short; some of the people quickly bore him away, though with much gentleness and civility.

“The third came on with greater fury; but he was encountered by a butcher of the town (not one of the Methodists), who used him as he would an ox, bestowing one or two hearty blows upon his head. This cooled his courage, especially as none took his part. So I quietly finished my discourse.”

Some observations:

  1. Christianity, properly lived, requires courage. Let nothing, not even institutional powers that may threaten us, prevent us from following God’s call. Jesus warned us that the core truth about who He is can cause division even within households.
  2. People who crave real truth and meaning will be guided by the Holy Spirit to support and shield those who bring the word.
  3. Regardless of the circumstances, preach it! And I don’t just mean professional preachers—we are all called to declare the truth about who Jesus is. When God prompts you, finish your discourse quietly or loudly, according to your style.

And if the situation really gets out of hand, pray that the town butcher is nearby.

Dear Lord, thank you for the brave souls who have gone before us to ensure your biblical revelation of Christianity is revealed to the world. And should we be called into the fray, may we be counted among them as worthy. Amen.

Whom Do We Fear?

Luke 12:4-7 (NRSV)

By John Grimm

We face challenging times when we publicly say that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior.  People will not treat us well.  As Jesus was slain for opposing the religious establishment, those of us who follow Jesus will face mistreatment, character assassination, and even actual death.  What our Master has faced, we will face.  Let no one deceive us: Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is the hardest way of living in this world.

That is why we are afraid to speak about Jesus when we are around those who do not know the compassion of Jesus Christ.  We allow our fear to control our tongues, instead of trusting the Holy Spirit of Christ to guide our tongues.

Life is precious.  We want to keep our lives.  However, it is precious only because Jesus Christ has given us our very existence, even dare we say, new lives!

The Lord knows who we are.  The Lord knows we are believers in Jesus Christ.  He does not forget us, just as he does not forget five sparrows sold for two pennies.  We are more valuable than sparrows.  God in Christ helps us to not fear.

The one who could cast us into hell cares for us!  It is time for us to fear him!

God, we have not spoken about or lived our faith like Jesus Christ lived.  We are afraid.  Heal our unbelief.  In the name of Jesus Christ, loose in us your Holy Spirit so we may overflow with glad tidings of your grace and compassion; this we pray, Amen.

Division

This Sunday’s sermon at Holston View UMC in Weber City, Va., will be “A Straightforward Declaration.” It will be based on Mark 8:27-38. If you want to view the sermon but cannot be present, the entire worship service will be available through Holston View UMC’s web page.

Today’s preparatory text:

Luke 12:49-56

“Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”


By Chuck Griffin

Yesterday, we considered the very exclusive claim Jesus made regarding who he is. That exclusive claim obviously can cause division, something Jesus made clear in our reading from Luke today.

After a reading like that, I suppose I should begin with some comforting words.

Yes, God is love. Yes, grace is freely given. Our God is a patient God, doing all he can to draw lost people to him. Forgiveness and the gift of eternal life are being poured out on us in buckets, despite so many people standing under umbrellas of cynicism.

That said, at this point in Luke, Jesus has clearly gone apocalyptic on us. He uses language designed to remind us of the terrible suffering and sacrifice necessary to make all that grace and love possible. And ultimately, we are reminded that we are called to choose sides in a great cosmic battle, with no regard to what our choice may cost us in this life.

Jesus’ apocalyptic language forces Christians to consider our core beliefs. Fire and baptism are purification words. Jesus was saying that despite his lack of sin, he would go through the purifying fire of crucifixion for us, and that ultimately all of creation will be purified through this act. Humans can actually choose where to stand in all of this—with what is pure and what will remain forever, or with the dross to be burned away.

The great gift of the cross is that we now have a choice. Before, we were all just dross, lacking the purity to be in God’s presence.

I think even Christians struggle with some of this tough language because we confuse adherence to the truth with being judgmental. Clearly, it is God’s business to judge, not ours. My own personal approach to this is to be as laissez-faire (libertarian) in my approach to the secular world as possible, while at the same recognizing that the church in which I choose to live establishes higher standards based on Christ’s teachings. Included in those teachings is a demand that we clearly tell others who Jesus is.

This approach doesn’t satisfy everyone who claims membership in a church. As we discussed yesterday, some would like to dilute or explain away Christ’s very exclusive claims in Scripture regarding his identity, along with related concepts like the importance of a literal resurrection.

This approach does, however, let us focus on messages that have helped Christianity spread cross-culturally for nearly two millennia. Let’s consider those messages:

Christ is the answer. By that, we mean Christ stands at the apex of a sweeping story that answers all the big questions in life, questions like “Is there meaning to life,” “Why do we suffer,” and “Is there more than just this life?”

Being Christian makes you different. Welcome to a great countercultural movement, the one that challenged the most powerful empire on earth and continues to challenge worldly thinking today. It is a movement that truly changed the world, declaring early on that people are the same under Christ regardless of gender, color or social status. Yes, the body of believers can behave like clusters of big institutions, and yes, Christians often fail to act like Christ, but this differentiating truth remains.

There is clear guidance from God available to us. People are craving something to help them steer their lives.  They want something they can trust, something not likely to blow about in the ever-changing social wind. The Bible is God’s long-standing revelation to humanity. Even the newest material in it is nearly 2,000 years old. Its truths about God and how God wants to relate to humanity have served people well in a wide variety of eras and cultures.

Not everyone will agree with these basic messages. Some people, maybe people in your own homes, will become angry upon hearing them, turning on you or at least turning their backs on you.

That’s okay. Jesus said it would happen. He also said he would make it all right in the end. Look it up.

Lord, help us to establish peace wherever we go, unless that peace would force a denial of who you are and what you are doing in this world. Amen.

A Shocking Assertion

This Sunday’s sermon at Holston View UMC in Weber City, Va., will be “Investing In the Future.” It will be based on Jeremiah 32:6-9. If you want to view the sermon but cannot be present, the entire worship service will be available through Holston View UMC’s web page.

Today’s preparatory text: 1 Timothy 6:9 (NRSV)

But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.


By Chuck Griffin

A couple of times before on Methodist Life, I have referenced a John Wesley sermon, “The Danger of Riches.” As we look toward Sunday’s Jeremiah text and consider how to live boldly, I thought it would be useful to consider what the sermon has to say.

Bold behavior for the kingdom doesn’t have to involve money, of course. But let’s be realistic. Money does make the modern world go around. When we are bold for the kingdom, we likely run into one of two scenarios. We either give from our abundance or we make life decisions that reduce our opportunity for abundance.

As we make these choices, we need to fix in our minds a question, one along the lines of what I wrote for Wednesday. Do we live as if this life is the only one that counts? Or do we live as people who believe something greater is happening—that God’s kingdom is truly arriving, and that the kingdom is where we store our true treasures and live out eternity!

Once we choose the latter option, we’re ready to hear what Wesley said as he expanded on 1 Timothy 6:9.

In the sermon, Wesley asserted that God provides for the roof over our heads, food, and other basic needs, allowing us to ensure the well-being of our families and even businesses we may own. What we own beyond those basic provisions count as riches, and they have been given to us to use “to the glory of God.”

Often, this means using our riches to help those who are less blessed materially, playing a role in God’s provision for people’s basic needs.

Wesley offered us an interpretation that might even surprise a tither. I have no doubt someone accused the founder of Methodism of having “gone to meddling.”

His very correct interpretation of Scripture should force a reassessment of every decision we make regarding how we handle our income and possessions. When we learn to make such decisions in the light of God’s dawning kingdom, we not only trust God daily, we begin to participate actively in the kingdom’s growth.

In other words, we become quite bold.

Lord, the world needs people who look to you as the source of all that matters and then act accordingly. Raise up a bold generation so that your Holy Spirit may rush through them, making your Kingdom work complete. Amen.