An Article on Seedbed

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Passive Benevolent Behavior

Much of what passes as evangelism today is telling people how horrible they are so that they can understand the enormous love and grace the gift of salvation is.  Christians try to make people feel guilty and miserable so they can make them feel better later.

This is Passive Benevolent Behavior.  (Yes, I made that up).  Unlike the flip-side of passive-aggressive behavior, in which someone acts nice and friendly in order to cut down, belittle, humiliate, or obstruct someone or something, passive-benevolent behavior acts meanly with the goal of being nice in the end.  Make people understand how guilty they are so they can feel hopeless in their guilt, and then offer a solution to the problem.

It is no wonder the West is becoming increasingly less Christian.  When as Christians talk about Good News, and then start talking about how awful someone is, there is a problem.6a00e552e3404e8833013488e3c77b970c

The main problem now (other than the fact that intentionally trying to make someone feel like they are worthless is emotional abuse), is that this line of thinking about sharing the faith, the Good News, doesn’t work any more because people generally don’t feel guilty any more.  Things that were unthinkable fifty years ago, and unspeakable twenty years ago, are an accepted part of society today.  And there is no guilt over that fact.

When well meaning Christians try to evangelize by pointing out how bad and guilty people are, and then offer the way out, they are following the “John the Baptist School of Evangelism.”  This is the type of evangelism that calls a sin a sin in the most direct and confrontational way and let the chips fall where they may.  John the Baptist could only be successful, though, in Judea.  There he was speaking to a group of people (first century Jewish people) who had a common culture and a shared understanding of right and wrong thanks to the Law and Prophets.

John the Baptist would not have done well in Athens.  Paul (in Acts 17) takes a completely different approach to sharing the Good News.  There is no shared culture or understanding of right and wrong.  And there certainly was no guilt over having altars and idols to every god in the known world.  Paul was a very faith-filled Jewish believer in Jesus as the Messiah.  As a Jew, he would have been disgusted by the idolatry in Athens.  John the Baptist probably would have had even more harsh words than calling them a “brood of vipers.”

Yet Paul takes a completely different approach.  He doesn’t try to make the Athenians feel guilty over an obvious (by Jewish Scripture standards) sin, but he uses what he can in that culture to point to Jesus Christ.  Paul remembered that, first and foremost, the message of Jesus is a message of Good News, and not a kind of good news that can only be understood and accepted once people understand how worthless, hopeless, and disgusting to God they are.  What kind of a message is that?

We would do well in the Church today to remember that we are in the Good News business.  Let us not be passive-aggressive or passive-benevolent, but rather let us offer the same kind of hope, love, and grace that Jesus did and Paul did in Jesus’ Name.

Ministry Burnout

Free_Download-_10_Ways_To_Prevent_Burnout_In_MinistryI have been in ministry for fourteen years now, and there have been several instances during that time when I was thoroughly burned out.  Ministry did not seem fulfilling any more, no one seemed to be listening, and what little progress was made seemed dwarfed by the monumental amount of work that still needed to be done.  I felt over-worked and under-appreciated.

I have had several colleagues in ministry confide that they have felt the same way.  They’ve even said, “Ministry would be wonderful, if it weren’t for the people!”  (Admittedly, I have used this phrase tongue-in-cheek in the past as well.)  They would go to conferences or retreats and get so excited about some new aspect of ministry only to have that excitement and passion dashed as they were not able to bring it to fruition in their current ministry setting.  Many of the people who entered ministry when I did are no longer in ministry because of situations like these.

It has taken me a lot of reflection and soul-searching to truly realize something about ministry that has kept me going:  It is not about me and I can’t change anyone.

God has given me several gifts that I use in ministry, but at the beginning, middle and end of the day, they are God’s gifts, not mine, and they have been entrusted to me so that God can use them through me to continue the ministry of reconciliation and transformation begun in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.  I have a unique personality and a free-will choice for what I do in life, but the ministry is God’s, not mine.  It is God’s kingdom, not mine.  It is Christ’s body, not mine.  I can choose to partner with God and allow myself to be used in that ministry, and receive a blessing for doing so by knowing that in whatever way God sees fit to use me, I am working for and with the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe in a project much larger than anything I could ever imagine.

Or I could focus on me and what I am doing and how successful or unsuccessful I am being.  I can make the measure of my ministry be a reflection of me as a person.  When this happens, I forget the ultimate truth that the cross was Christ’s success even though it looked like the ultimate failure to the world.  I lose the bigger picture.

And I can’t change anyone.  I have a hard enough time changing myself and yielding to the leading of the Holy Spirit in my own life to more fully reflect the image and likeness of Jesus.  I certainly can’t make anyone else miraculously become a better disciple or a more fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ.  If the goal is for me to change the people I am around, then perhaps I should have gone into sales.  God knows, I would have made more money with the commissions from changing people’s minds.

No.  The ministry is God’s and the transformation is God’s.  I am called to allow myself to be used by God to communicate the hope and the love that is ours in Christ Jesus.  It is up to other people how they respond to that message.  All I can do is be faithful to what I have been given and pray that the people placed in my care by God be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit in their own lives.  I am a part of Christ’s body and a tool used by God, for as long as I offer myself to be such.

The ministry is God’s.  The people are God’s.  And the outcome is God’s.  Thanks be to God!

Wesley’s Influence Bigger Than Previously Thought

Another insight that I received from the New Room Conference came during one of the keynote addresses by Billy Abraham.  Abraham is the Albert Cook Outler Professor of Wesley Studies at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University.  All this is to say that he is very knabraham_webowledgeable and in a position to make this claim with a fair degree of certainty.

Abraham noted that there are 77 million Christians worldwide that trace their heritage to John Wesley and the movement begun under his leadership in the 1700’s.   As well, Pentecostals and Charismatics also can trace their heritage to John Wesley directly (if they would ever look to their past to see where it is from which they came).  Given there are 500 million of them in the world, this means that a full 25% of the world’s Christians are tied to Wesley.  AND if that was not great enough, it means that the most vibrant form of Christianity in the world today is, at its root, Wesleyan.*

This probably would shock people as much as it shocked me since most of the Bible study materials, devotional books, and church resources are written from a Reformed theology perspective.  This is part of the reason Seedbed has been created, to get the Wesleyan theological voice out in the world more comprehensively than we have to date.

To any and all colleagues in ministry who are Wesleyan and Methodist in their theology: we need to bring our theological perspective to the table of discussion in the Church more fully and comprehensively.  We need to begin speaking with confidence in our theological heritage and quit using so many Reformed resources in our congregations, thereby muting our own theological heritage.  This may mean that we need to use more effort in searching for studies that are from our own theology or even create those resources ourselves.  Again, see Seedbed.

If we are Wesleyan Methodists, we have chosen to be so because that theology resonates with our souls.  Let us teach and preach it in such a way that our people feel the same.

 

*50% are Roman Catholic and 12.5% are Eastern Orthodox.  This means that there is only another 12.5% that are Reformed.

All You Need Is Love

all_you_need_is_love_artist_image2While the lyrics to the Beatles song are a bit trite (although the music is really good), the reality is that for the Christian life, love is at the center.  At the New Room Conference this past week, there were talks from Drs. Joe Dongell and Phil Meadows that reminded us of this fact.

To be sure, Jesus said that love was the basis of the entire covenant with God, with the whole of the law and prophets hinging on loving God and neighbor, but Dongell reminded us that it is the core of Wesleyanism as well.  For the past four or five years he has read through all of Wesley’s works and made his own index in order to reference all the instances where John Wesley talks of love.  What he found was amazing.  Wesley believed that the core of the Christian experience is love, and that a converted person, and a Methodist in particular, will exhibit holy love in his or her life because of that fact.

Phil Meadows took the concept further and reminded us that it is not just love, but a zealous love that is all-consuming, that is the core of our being if we are Christians.  The presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives so transforms us and imparts to us the love of God and others that this holy, zealous love burns through us and our character into the world around us.

While these may be simple concepts, sometimes they are too often forgotten.  We tend to focus on sins and administration more than we focus on love.  We plan worship services, board meetings, job requirements, school plays, bus schedules, laundry, dinner, etc. and forget that the basis of our very lives when we are Christians is a holy love for God and everyone else.

The passionate love of a converted person is the kind of godly love that characterizes who we are in Christ.  This is the kind of love that we need to make a point to cultivate, experience, and share on a daily basis.  The only way we can share it with others is if we ourselves have it; and the only way to have it is to spend serious time with the One who loves us in this way.

We sang a song yesterday in our service, Take Time to Be Holy.  I would add, Take Time to Be Loved.  Because that is the essence of Christianity: we are loved by God so we can love God and others.  All you need is love!

And Can It Be–A New Version

Sometimes I am a little slow picking up on new things, but I just recently stumbled upon a new version of my favorite Charles Wesley hymn, And Can It Be.

This is the hymn Charles wrote to describe his experience of God’s grace in an unmistakable way in his life.  Some have called it his conversion experience, and some have called it his version of his brother John’s Aldersgate experience (assurance of salvation).  Either way, it was a powerful awareness of the love and grace of God in his life.

I had never heard this hymn before I went to Asbury Seminary.  There we sang it so often some referred to it as Asbury’s “fight song.”  I have to say, there was always something electric in the air when the pipe organ would drop out of the fourth verse and we sang it a capella, and then had the crescendo for the fifth verse.

Here is the original version, thanks to the folks at hymnal.net.  It has all five verses and a piano accompaniment, so if you have never heard the hymn, you know how it goes (and what the lyrics are).

Below is the new version, which is wonderful.  Enjoy!

 

Grammar Can Change Theology

This is how the Greek of the New Testament was written--no spaces or punctuation and all upper case letters.

This is how the Greek of the New Testament was written–no spaces or punctuation and all upper case letters.

My wife homeschools our children, and this week they were being introduced to subordinate clauses (cue the elf jokes).  For those who don’t remember English grammar lessons, a subordinate clause is a phrase that cannot stand alone as a sentence.  There is a very interesting case in the New Testament concerning a subordinate clause.

Before I get to that, though, it needs to be pointed out that when the New Testament was written in the first century, and in Greek, there were no spaces between words and no punctuation marks at all (and there were no lower case letters, either).  Those hadn’t been introduced into writing yet, so all of the divisions of words and phrases and the punctuation marks are all the product of translators.

Here’s an example of what I mean.  Take this line of letters: GODISNOWHERE.  Now, that could be God is now here, and it could also be God is nowhere.  Two radically different meanings from the same source.

Now we are ready to see the biblical issue that has been translated differently for radically different theological implications.

In 1 Corinthians 14:33 there is a subordinate clause, “as in all churches of the saints.”  By virtue of being a subordinate clause, this is not a sentence in and of itself, and it needs to be connected to a complete sentence to make sense.  Here is where it gets interesting.  Some translations connect this phrase to the sentence before it, and some connect it to the sentence after it.  The New International Version translates this as:

 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.  Women should remain silent in the churches.

This says that the idea Paul is communicating is that all the known churches, all the “congregations of the Lord’s people,” share the characteristic of being orderly, as this is the summary sentence of order in worship.  The next sentence is a new idea and specific for the congregations in Corinth because of specific problems there.

The English Standard Version translates this as:

 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.  As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches.

This says the idea Paul is communicating is that all the known churches, all the “churches of the saints,” share the characteristic of women being silent.  That is a big difference in meaning from the two translations.

Just a cursory look at popular translations shows the NIV translation is shared with the King James Version and the New Living Translation, the Common English Bible, the Geneva Bible, New American Standard Bible, and Young’s Literal Translation.

The ESV translation is shared with the Revised Standard Version and the New Revised Standard Version, the Contemporary English Version, the Good News Translation, and the Holman Christian Study Bible.

What I find most interesting is that the NIV was the translation of choice for most evangelical Christians for years and years.  After the translation was updated in 2011, many evangelical groups saw this as a corruption of the translation and have switched to the ESV for their translation of choice.  This means that for many evangelicals the meaning of a significant passage of Scripture has just changed because of where the translators chose to put a single subordinate clause.

Of course, really, do people pay that close attention to their Bibles?  In fact, I would wager that most Christians already know what they believe before they even read the texts and read everything through those filters.  After all, most very conservative Christians would use the NIV and forbid women in ministry based on biblical principles, and most mainline Protestant denominations used the NRSV and ordained women.

So the real question is: do we actually use the Bible as the basis of our theology, or do we use something else?