New Year’s Resolutions


Luke 9:23-25 Then Jesus said to the crowd, “If any of your wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily and follow me.  If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it.  But if you give up your life for my sake you will save it.  And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed?”

Happy New Year!  At the beginning of the new year, it’s customary for people to make resolutions for the new year.  Usually these resolutions take the form of making a positive change in one’s life.  According to Bing, the top three resolutions for 2016 were:

to go back to school

to get a better job

to lose weight/get in shape

All of these resolutions are good, but almost all are doomed to failure.  The problem is that there is something called ‘immunity to change.’  According to Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, Immunity to Change:  How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential In Yourself and Your Organization, immunity to change is the internal barrier to change in people in organizations.  In order to change, people and organizations must recognize and overcome the hidden barriers.  In their book, they outline a tool (The Immunity to Change Map) to discover through experimentation these hidden barriers and strategies to overcome these barriers.

Every year, I begin with good intentions.  This year, I have the same goal that I have had for the past several years, to lose weight and get back in shape.  I recognize that part of my weight loss problem is genetics (70% of weight gain is based on my genetics).  To overcome those genetics there are no shortcuts, the answer is the same as it has always been:  Diet and exercise.  To lose weight, you have to use more calories than you take in.  It’s simple math.

So why is it so hard?  My body is pre-programmed genetically to return to my highest weight.  In addition, I have to overcome the emotional barriers to change in my life.  I eat when I am anxious, stressed, bored, or tired.  I have to overcome the immunity to change in these areas, the way in which I sabotage my own success.

It’s the same for our spiritual goals.  In 2017, I have a spiritual goal of being a better pastor and leader.  How do I do that?  By following Jesus Christ, the model servant leader for all pastors and leaders in the church.  So as I study the Bible this year, I will be focusing on Jesus as servant leader.  What are the characteristics of Christ as servant leader that I should demonstrate in my life.

What is your spiritual goal for 2017?  To be a better disciple of Jesus Christ?  That should be the goal for every believer in every year.  In Luke 9:23, Jesus gives us a three-fold call to discipleship.

  1.  Give up your own way
  2. Take up your cross daily
  3. Follow Jesus

Giving up our own way is the hard part of discipleship, the part that we as Americans have a difficult time with in our consumer culture.  Taking up our cross implies a willingness to die to self and to live for God, even at the cost of our lives.  And following Jesus means not just saying a prayer for salvation.

Following Jesus means a daily giving up of oneself and following him.  The basis for this following or discipleship is our relationship with our Lord.  And the quality of our relationship will be determined by how much time we spend with him.  They knew that the disciples had been with Jesus when they saw them, because they were becoming like him.  They were becoming like him, because they had spent every day for three years with him – literally following him, watching him, and doing as he did.  This is discipleship:  Following Jesus, watching Jesus, and doing what Jesus did.  We can only do this as we spend time with our Lord.  The basic Christian practice is daily Bible study and prayer – spending time with Jesus.

In 2017, this is my prayer, it’s a prayer that you may know from the famous musical Godspell and the song “Day by Day.”  But the words of that song were originally a prayer of St. Richard of Chichester.

Thanks be to you, our Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits which you have given us, all the pains and insults which you have borne for us.  Most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother, may we know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, day by day.  Amen.


The Fruit of the Spirit: Kindness


Kindness is one of the virtues that we often desire to attain.  A typical New Year’s resolution, “I resolve to be more kind in 2017!”  Unfortunately, our resolutions are so often broken almost as soon as they are spoken.

The Greek word translated as kindness in Gal. 5 is chrestotes.  Chrestotes means “goodness, uprightness, righteous.”  Biblical “kindness is a response of the heart, not a resolve of the will.  It is the kindness of God toward us that engenders genuine and lasting kindness from us to others.”  (Stookey p. 47)  Biblical kindness connotes generosity, a giving spirit that reflects how God treats us.

God’s kindness is one of God’s communicable attributes:

Rom. 2:4 (NLT) Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant and patient God is with you?  Does this mean nothing to you?  Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?

Rom. 11:22 (NLT) Notice how God is both kind and severe.  He is severe toward those who disobeyed, but kind to you if you continue to trust in his kindness.  But if you stop trusting you also will be cut off.

God’s kindness toward humanity is related to God’s mercy or lovingkindness and grace (Hebrew chesed; Greek charis).  “What kindness has God shown to me, in forgiving my sins, in providing for my needs, in granting me hope and everlasting life?  How can I express my gratitude for this unmerited goodness of God?”  (Stookey 47)

God’s kindness should inspire us to examine ourselves by asking the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to the opportunities to express kindness toward another person in our daily life.  What opportunities for kindness do we miss?  What occasions for kindness might we find?

Generous God, what goodness you show to us day by day.  The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.  Your mercies never come to an end.  They are new every morning, new every morning.  Great is your faithfulness, O God!  Great is your faithfulness!

It is from you, then, that we learn kindness.  Grant us your grace to extend your grace and kindness to others.  Accept our gifts of kindness toward others as a pleasing sacrifice to you of praise and thanksgiving, and grant that we may continue in your kindness forever; through Christ, who, upon the cross, made known most fully the extent of your perfect love.  Amen.  (Stookey 47, 48)

The Fruit of the Spirit: Patience


In our society, which depends so much on technology, we have become ever and ever less patient.  The Ford Model T, the first successful mass produced car, could drive along at the breath-taking speed of 40 mph.  When I first drove on the autobahn in Germany, I drove as fast as I dared to drive, perhaps 80 mph, but I was being passed by drivers in Mercedes, BMW’s, and Porsche’s.  They were going so fast that I felt as if I was standing still.  Where were they going in such a hurry?

I remember when I got my first personal computer and connected it to the internet via the telephone line and then waited minutes while the computer booted up and connected to the internet.  Now I get impatient when it takes my computer a couple of seconds to load a webpage.  Is our technology making us less patient?  At the very least, our society encourages less patience, from fast food to the internet, we have become a very impatient society.  Yet we are not more productive for all our lack of patience.

Patience is defined by Webster as “the capacity, habit or fact of being patient; forbearance; bearing pains or trials calmly or without complaint; not hasty or impetuous; steadfast despite opposition, difficulty or adversity; able or willing to bear.”  Someone has joked that one should never pray for patience, because God will put you into situations that require patience.  Increasing patience is a work of the Holy Spirit.

When I think of patience, I normally think of it’s antonym:  impatience.  But the biblical concept of patience is better defined as forbearance or long-suffering.  The primary Greek word is makrothumia, forbearance, patience, or long-suffering.  This is the word used in Galatians 5:22.

Forbearance, long-suffering imply self-restraint before proceeding to action.  Forbearance is the quality of a person who is able to avenge him or herself but forbears from doing so.  Forbearance or long-suffering is patience with respect to persons in contrast to endurance (hupomone), which is patience in respect to things or circumstances.  God’s forbearance in respect to human sin is associated with God’s mercy (eleos).

Patient forbearance is the characteristic that God has demonstrated to us through offering his great salvation.  In my daily life, I often find myself becoming impatient with people, from the slow waitress at the restaurant to the well-meaning, but chatty senior citizen.  Don’t they know how busy I am?  Don’t they know that I’ve got things to accomplish and get done?

I need to slow down and recognize the Spirit of God in these moments.  Am I extending the same mercy and patience to them that God has showed to me?

I’m reading a book right now called The Anatomy of Peace:  Resolving the Heart of Conflict, by the Arbinger Institute.  According to the authors, the heart of conflict is the problem of seeing people as objects.  The root of the author’s philosophy comes from Martin Buber, Ich und Du (I and Thou).  Buber’s main proposition is that we can address human existence in 2 ways:  The attitude of the “I” towards an it, that is as an object that is separate in itself ; or the attitude of the “Thou,” in a relationship in which the other is not separated from us by discrete bounds.  The main theme of the book is that human life finds its meaningfulness in relationships.  Buber believed that all of our relationships bring us ultimately in relationship with God, who is the Eternal Thou.

In my relationships with people with whom I experience impatience, it is because I am seeing them as objects, rather than people, as “it”, rather than “Thou.”  But if I take a moment and try to connect with the slow waitress, for example, my impatience disappears as I see them as people who may be experiencing the same frustrations that I experience in my life.  When I see people as objects, I am betraying my self.  It is a betrayal of my own sense of the right way to act in any given moment.

Throughout this day, Lord, help me to take notice of people – to see them as “Thou,” that is, people who are experiencing the same frustrations and trials that I myself experience.  Help me to be patient and forbearing as I recognize our mutual humanity.  Help me especially to recognize “Thou,” the Spirit of the living God in whose image we are all made.  Amen.

The Fruit of the Spirit: Peace


A biblical word study of the word peace yields 2 main results.  The Greek Word for peace is eirene.  Eirene occurs in each of the books of the NT except 1 John.  In the LXX, eirene translates the traditional Jewish greeting “Shalom.”  Shalom is the key Hebrew word in the OT.  Shalom means “peace, completeness, welfare, and health.”  It is a key term in the OT.  Even today, Jews greet one another with the words “mah shalom,” meaning literally, “What is your peace?” an idiom that means “How are you doing?”  Shalom is used frequently in the OT (283 times).

Shalom means more than the English word peace.  Shalom means also wholeness, the perfecting of all that is broken or incomplete.  The biblical sense of peace is more than the absence of conflict or confusion.  Ultimately peace is the restoration of Creation to the state in which God left it when he rested from his work.

As we think about peace as a fruit of the Holy Spirit, am I a source of anxiety in my world?  Edwin Friedman wrote a book entitled, A Failure of Nerve:  Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix.  Friedman’s concern is with the crisis of leadership in our culture.  This crisis of leadership is found throughout our culture:  in national, state, and local politics; in the legal system; in schools; in buisnesses; in churches, and religious institutions; and in families.

Friedman applies families systems theory to leadership in all kinds of institutions.  His key premise is that almost all problems are a result of anxiety in the system.  For example in a family, the anxiety in the system will create a triangular system:  father and mother against child, for exmple.  Or commonly, mother, father and adultery.  How that anxiety manifests itself are varied.  In our current political system, that anxiety has manifested itself in “fear of the other.”

What is required to heal the system is a particular kind of leader, which Friedman calls a “well-differentiated leader.”  He seeks to show that the leader’s strength is not in what he or she does (method or technique), but rather in who the leader is (character and presence).  The well-differentiated leader is able to separate him or herself from efforts at triangulation, while at the same time remaining in the system.

It seems to me that the well-differentiated leader will be one who demonstrates shalom:  a wholeness and completeness that permits them to stay unmoved by the anxiety in the system in such a way that they are able to act.  The leader who possesses shalom is able to influence the system toward shalom.  

How does this apply to the Christian?  I would say that the Christian following Christ is moving on to perfection (as Wesley would say).  Moving on to perfection means that we are cooperating with the work of the Holy Spirit in sanctification.  The Holy Spirit is working to conform us to the image of Christ.  And the well-differentiated person would be that person who to some degree has become conformed to the image of Christ, especially in respect to shalom.  

How strong is my sense of shalom?  How can I be an instrument of God’s shalom?  How can I communicate shalom, the peace that God intends for all of us?  How can I nurture within myself the confiction that in the end God will restore shalom to creation, such that there will be a “new heaven and a new earth?”  (Stookey, p. 43)

Most holy and undivided Trinity:  within the complexity of your Being there is shalom in Oneness; yet from shalom flows forth the diversity of the Trinity (God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit), and all taken together is shalom.  Share with us the mystery of your shalom, that we despite our differences, may not be at odds, but rather at peace (shalom), whole as you are whole, trusting in your reconciliating love.  Amen.  (Stookey, p. 44)

The Fruit of the Spirit: Joy


I was taught this acrostic in Sunday School:  J.O.Y.  Jesus first.  Others next.  Yourself last.  It sounds simplistic.  It runs counter to our culture, which advises us to put ourselves first (“Look out for number one.)  Even in church circles, it has become popular for counselors and others to advise us to “Take time for yourself, or you will get burned out.”  Well, there is some good sense in that sentiment.

But what would John Wesley have said about that, or Francis Asbury?  Wesley is reputed to have traveled some 250,000 miles on horseback (mostly in England).  He preached some 40,000 sermons.  Similarly, Francis Asbury traveled some 250,000 miles on horseback in the United States.

I just came back from a trip to China.  I had the privilege of meeting many Chinese pastors who are serving mostly bi-vocationally in unregistered churches.  They work a full-time job, then do their pastoral work in the evenings and weekends:  visiting people, preparing sermons, preaching, pastoral care, counseling, teaching Bible studies, etc.  They do all the work that a pastor does in any church setting – all under the threat of persecution and arrest.

In this country, there are also many churches served by bi-vocational pastors, perhaps the church that they serve is small and cannot support a full-time pastor, or perhaps it is a church plant that is just starting out.  They have to earn a living and do their pastoral work.  As a full-time pastor for the past 7 years, I’m grateful that I’ve been able to study and work full-time in the ministry.  But I respect those pastors who also minister and still must work a full-time secular job in order to support their family.  This is true in almost every country in the world.

For me, the deepest joy that I have comes from doing the work to which I am called:  ministering and serving as a pastor.  The best time I can take for myself is the time I spend in reading the Bible, studying the Word of God, meditating on it, and in prayer.  Sometimes walking my dogs and praying for the houses and people I pass by.

Is it possible that much of the joylessness of our society, even of the church is a result of failing to pay attention to our first love?  Jesus said, “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”  (Matt. 6:33)  Jesus gives this as an alternative to worry.  Single-minded commitment to God and seeking the reign of Christ must be the primary concern of the followers of Jesus.

The best time we can take for ourselves is our time of devotion before God.  Burn-out may be a symptom of our neglect of our primary relationship with the Almighty.  As we follow Jesus Christ, we remember that even he would often withdraw to be alone and spend time in prayer with his heavenly Father.  How much more do we need it?

Every powerful saint of God like Wesley, Asbury, Luther, Calvin, Augustine, etc. has been a person of prayer and contemplation.  They would rise early to meet the Lord and spend hours on their knees in prayer.  In this way, they prepared themselves for the ministry that they had to face each day.  And this may also explain the tremendous length of their ministry.  They were not flames that burned bright for a moment, but God used them to transform the world.

Heavenly Father, what a comfort to read of the prophets and saints who despite the difficulties and dangers that they were called upon to face, were able to rejoice in the Lord and trust in Your unfailing faithfulness.  We pray that like them we too may receive Your abiding joy and discover like them that the joy of the Lord is our strength and that the peace that comes from You is an abiding peace that enables us to overcome all difficulties of life.  Fill our hearts with Your abiding joy and that we may rejoice in life whatever the circumstance.  Thank You for we are Your children and You are our Father.   We rest in Your love and trust in Your unfailing goodness.  Amen

The Fruit of the Spirit: Love


The list of the Spirit appropriately starts with love.  Love should be the reigning attribute of the follower of Christ.  Jesus said that the greatest commandment was this:  “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  A second is equally important:  ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”  (Matt. 22:37-40)  Love is the cornerstone of biblical ethics.

Wesley preached often on the topic of love:  Love God.  Love others.  He felt that these 2 commandments summarized the whole Gospel.  His sermon, “On Love” Sermon 139, focused on Paul’s famous love chapter, 1 Cor. 13.  In his second point, Wesley identified the true meaning of the word love as being “the love of God and man,” taking as the measure of love, these two commands that Jesus identified as containing the whole Law and the Prophets.

Mildred Bangs Wynkoop wrote A Theology of Love:  The Dynamic of Wesleyanism.  (Kansas City:  Beacon Hill, 1972)  She points out that the Greek word has a number of words which translate into the English word, love.  Too much has been made about the differences between agape, phileo, and eros.  English also has many words for the concept of love:  affection, delight, devotion, ardor, crush, adulation, etc.  Wynkoop argues that the heart of the Gospel for Wesley was love.  And Wesley equated holiness with love.  So in his sermons and papers on entire sanctification, he often used perfect love as a synonym for that expression.  She argues that “Wesley’s understanding of love ca be supported only by an underlying “metaphysic” which is dynamic in nature.”

The thing about love is that although here in Gal. 5:22 love is a noun, yet, the root word is a verb.  That is Wesley’s main point in his Sermon 139 “On Love.”  Which is why Wesley focused on this one verse:  “If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it, but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.  Love can only be demonstrated through acts of love.

Jesus spoke of loving one’s neighbor as the second most important commandment in the OT.  Love summarizes the entire OT.  Jesus criticized the Pharisees for their failure to show love (Mark 9:13; etc.)  And so, Jesus said that love is the mark of the true follower of Christ:  “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. 35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”  (John 13:34, 35 NLT)

For Paul, love is the more important than any of the spiritual gifts and the most important virtue.  love “binds us all together in perfect harmony.”  (Col. 3:14)  Without love, all our ministry is in vain (1 Cor. 13:1-3).  Paul summed up the whole of Christian ethics as “faith expressing itself in love.”  (Gal. 5:6)  Love is the crucial ethical expression of the Christian faith.

Consequently, love is the primary fruit of the Spirit working in our lives.  (Gal. 5:22)   Sanctifying grace is the work of the Holy Spirit in us to make us holy.  “Sanctification is not a good work we do, nor achieved by hard work, but a good work God does within us when we open ourselves to the One who made us, who know our capacity, and who brings us to fulfillment when we allow it.”  (Stookey, This Day:  A Wesleyan Way of Prayer.  Loc 760)

Love is the most important motivation for ministry.  The most important thing for believers to value and seek is to become a faithfully loving person.

Accept me, O Lord, as a sacrifice, alive and eager to be used as you see fit.  That I am all too conformed to this world, I readily confess with shame.  Transform me by your mighty power.  Renew my mind, that I may discern your will, that I may both know and do what is good, acceptable, and perfect.  This I pray, together with the whole church; through that One who demonstrated that he loved us to the very end:  Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.  Amen.  (Stookey, This Day)


One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church


Today, I consider what it means to say that the church is apostolic.  I’ve been writing about the statement of belief in the Nicene Creed:  “We believe in the one holy catholic and apostolic church.”  Apostolicity is the last of the four traditional marks or characteristics of the true church, as defined by the Nicene Creed.

Jesus established the church with an act in Matt. 16:18:  “Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means rock), and upon this rock I will build my church.”  As Methodists and in agreement with our Anglican roots, we consider our church to be part of the church that can trace our origin to Christ’s act of establishing the church.  In this view, Jesus statement is not simply a prediction and a promise, but a constructive declaration.

As Methodists, we can trace the ordination of our elders to John Wesley, who as an Anglican priest, was ordained, and through our Anglo-Catholic roots to the apostles.  Although I think we would be hard pressed to prove an unbroken sequence from the apostles to today.  Yet, I was conscious of this great line of witnesses when the Bishop laid hands on me tat my ordination ceremony.

We know that there were 12 apostles who were chosen by Jesus.  The choosing of the twelve (the twelve is one of the traditional names for the 12 apostles found in the NT) appears in the synoptic Gospels (Matt. 10:1-4; Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:12-16).  At its root, the word ‘apostle’ means simply ‘sent ones.’  Jesus sent these 12 apostles on a mission trip throughout Galilee and Judea (Matt. 10:5-15; Mark 6:6-13; Luke 9:1-6).  And these were the 12 disciples in whom Jesus invested the majority of his teaching and time.

However, apostleship is a more comprehensive term in the NT.  Paul calls himself an apostle (Gal. 1:12-2:10) and Peter (at least) seemed to accept Paul’s letters as Scripture (2 Peter 3:16).  Paul also calls some other disciples or missionaries apostles.  In fact, Paul says that the apostles are one of the four groups of people who are set apart, given to the church as gifts:  the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and pastor/teachers.  (Eph. 4:11)  These people are God’s gifts to the church “to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.”  (Eph. 4:12)

What were the characteristics that made an apostle?  Acts 1:21-22 gives us some guidance as the disciples chose someone to replace Judas.  Among the characteristics , that a person had to have to be chosen as an apostle were they had to have been with the other apostles the entire time of Jesus’ public ministry “from the time he was baptized by John until” his ascension.  Obviously, there is no one today who can claim to have the authority of an apostle in that sense.

So apostolicity of the church, at the very least, must refer to a connection to the teachings and leadership of the apostles as given in the NT.  A true church must have a faithfulness to the teachings of the apostles, that is, apostolic truth.  The British Methodist Church located the “true continuity” with the church in ages past as “the continuity of Christian experience, the fellowship of the one Spirit; in the continuity in the allegiance to one Lord, the continued proclamation of the message; the continued acceptance of the mission…” through the long chain which goes back to the first apostles in the company of the Lord Jesus.  (Jay, The Church.  p. 229)

The church is apostolic in both senses.  There is a connection to the apostolic faith as delivered in the NT which came from those who were closest to Jesus.  Also we are sent in our own day.  Matt. 28:19, 20 is the mission statement for the church:  “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.”

So we should have a high opinion of Scripture.  The canon of the Bible is not open, there are no more Scriptures being added to the Bible, because there are no more people who can claim apostolic authority.  We cannot add to the word of God as if our experience were on the same level of authority as that of the biblical revelation.

To you, O God, be all glory, from you we have received grace upon grace.  To you we owe all allegiance and gratitude.  In the midst of the temptations, distractions, and glamour of the world, fasten our attention on the faith we have received from others and are called to share with others.  Make us your sent ones today, through Christ, who has called us and sends us into the world.  Amen.  (Stookey, This Day.  p. 89)