New Book Available

Hello all!

My new book Full Tables, Closed Doors, Open Fields is now available. Click here to order or find it on Amazon.

This book follows the development and founding of the Methodist Church in America. It is a study of how those early Methodists understood God’s grace, the Lord’s Supper, and what it means to be a Church.

Article XXIX-Last Things-Final Destiny

Concluding the series on the Free Methodist Church’s Articles of Religion (see here and here for an explanation of the series and format):

¶130 Last Things–Final Destiny

Our eternal destiny is determined by God’s grace and our response, not by arbitrary decrees of God. For those who trust Him and obediently follow Jesus as Savior and Lord, there is a heaven of eternal glory and the blessedness of Christ’s presence. But for the finally impenitent there is a hell of eternal suffering and of separation from God.

¶131 Scriptural References

The doctrines of the Free Methodist Church are based upon the Holy Scriptures and are derived from their total biblical context. The references below are appropriate passages related to the given articles. They are listed in their biblical sequence and are not intended to be exhaustive. Mark 9:42-48; John 14:3; Hebrews 2:1-3; Revelation 20:11-15; 21:22-27.

This is the last Article in the Free Methodist Articles of Religion. These are our doctrinal statements and are the boundaries of what our pastors, congregations, and members have for the range of theological options within our Church. This one covers something that is not too popular in modern discourse–eternal destinies.

The fact that there are two different options to our ultimate existence is not popular even inside the Church any more, let alone outside the Church. In fact, I would venture to say that most Western Christians do not believe that anyone will ultimately go to hell anymore. If they did, and they had unbelieving family and friends, there would be a lot more prayer and sharing of the Gospel in love than there is today in the West. We may give lip service to the idea of hell, and we may even think that some really horrible people may end up there, but we tend to function as if the vast majority of humanity is just fine and has no need for rescue from this horrible.

Free Methodism has a range of beliefs within it as to exactly how the judgment will happen and what it means to be finally impenitent, but one thing it is adamant about is that there is a hell and some people will, through their own life’s choices, be there. If you look through the Bible seriously, one thing that stands out is that it is up to us which destiny is ours. Our choices in life, to accept the gift of salvation in Jesus Christ and continue to life it it, or to remain separated from Christ are what determine our address for everlasting life.

Article XXII-The Church-The Holy Sacraments

Continuing on the series of the Free Methodist Church’s Articles of Religion (see here and here for an explanation of the series and format):

¶123 The Church–The Holy Sacraments

Water baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the sacraments of the church commanded by Christ. They are means of grace through faith, tokens of our profession of Christian faith, and signs of God’s gracious ministry toward us. By them, He works within us to quicken, strengthen and confirm our faith.

¶131 Scriptural References

The doctrines of the Free Methodist Church are based upon the Holy Scriptures and are derived from their total biblical context. The references below are appropriate passages related to the given articles. They are listed in their biblical sequence and are not intended to be exhaustive. Matthew 26:26-29; 28:19; Acts 22:16; Romans 4:11; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; 11:23-26; Galatians 3:27.

The next two Articles after this one speak directly to baptism and the Lord’s Supper, so I’ll leave the discussions about those specifically for then. Right now it is important to understand our understanding of sacraments in general. First, we stand in the Protestant tradition of defining only two sacraments. This does not mean that we do not see other aspects of life as holy or sacred or even in some sense sacramental, but we only count two specific actions as sacraments.

This is because we take the classic definition that a sacrament must have two parts, a sign and a thing signified by that sign. Another way to phrase it is that a sacrament is “an outward sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” We understand the command by Christ to baptize and to celebrate the Lord’s Supper as the signs he gave to signify something greater within us.

As well, we stand firmly in the Anglican tradition (since Methodism originally came from the Church of England) in that we believe that a sacrament is an actual way in which God gives grace to us. This is what we mean by the term means of grace. They are ordinary channels, or means, by which God conveys grace to us. Specifically, we believe that there is something about the physical elements of water, bread, and wine (or juice) that God uses within the context of worship that truly acts as a medium through which God acts in our lives. It is not just a spiritual reality. The sacraments are physical objects that God uses since we are both spiritual and physical beings.

Psalm 104 and The God of Creation

My wife holding a humming bird. It flew away shortly after this.

My wife holding a humming bird. It flew away shortly after this.

I know people who understand that God created all things, but then do not have a full appreciation for what exactly that means. God created everything and organized everything and provides for everything in creation. Psalm 104 beautifully testifies to that fact:

Let my whole being bless the Lord!
    Lord my God, how fantastic you are!
    You are clothed in glory and grandeur!
You wear light like a robe;
    you open the skies like a curtain.
You build your lofty house on the waters;
    you make the clouds your chariot,
    going around on the wings of the wind.
You make the winds your messengers;
    you make fire and flame your ministers.
You established the earth on its foundations
    so that it will never ever fall.
You covered it with the watery deep like a piece of clothing;
    the waters were higher than the mountains!
But at your rebuke they ran away;
    they fled in fear at the sound of your thunder.
They flowed over the mountains,
    streaming down the valleys
    to the place you established for them.
You set a boundary they cannot cross
    so they’ll never again cover the earth.

10 You put gushing springs into dry riverbeds.
    They flow between the mountains,
11         providing water for every wild animal—
        the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
12 Overhead, the birds in the sky make their home,
    chirping loudly in the trees.
13 From your lofty house, you water the mountains.
    The earth is filled full by the fruit of what you’ve done.
14 You make grass grow for cattle;
    you make plants for human farming
        in order to get food from the ground,
15         and wine, which cheers people’s hearts,
        along with oil, which makes the face shine,
        and bread, which sustains the human heart.
16 The Lord’s trees are well watered—
    the cedars of Lebanon, which God planted,
17     where the birds make their nests,
    where the stork has a home in the cypresses.
18 The high mountains belong to the mountain goats;
    the ridges are the refuge of badgers.
19 God made the moon for the seasons,
    and the sun too, which knows when to set.
20 You bring on the darkness and it is night,
    when every forest animal prowls.
21 The young lions roar for their prey,
    seeking their food from God.
22 When the sun rises, they gather together
    and lie down in their dens.
23 Then people go off to their work,
    to do their work until evening.

24 Lord, you have done so many things!
    You made them all so wisely!
The earth is full of your creations!
25 And then there’s the sea, wide and deep,
    with its countless creatures—
    living things both small and large.
26 There go the ships on it,
    and Leviathan, which you made, plays in it!
27 All your creations wait for you
    to give them their food on time.
28 When you give it to them, they gather it up;
    when you open your hand, they are filled completely full!
29 But when you hide your face, they are terrified;
    when you take away their breath,
    they die and return to dust.
30 When you let loose your breath, they are created,
    and you make the surface of the ground brand-new again.

31 Let the Lord’s glory last forever!
    Let the Lord rejoice in all he has made!
32 He has only to look at the earth, and it shakes.
    God just touches the mountains, and they erupt in smoke.

33 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
    I will sing praises to my God while I’m still alive.
34 Let my praise be pleasing to him;
    I’m rejoicing in the Lord!
35 Let sinners be wiped clean from the earth;
    let the wicked be no more.
But let my whole being bless the Lord!
    Praise the Lord!

God’s love extends to all creation, and therefore we as Christians ought to value creation and work to keep it healthy as well. If God loves it, we ought to love it. If God cares for it, we ought to care for it.  Food for thought.

A Veteran’s Day Prayer

veteransday_1Almighty God,

You are the Creator, Sustainer and Ruler of all creation.  As the Alpha and Omega, you are the beginning and the end and you know all things: past, present and future.

We, gathered here today, and around our country, thank you for providing us a nation such as this where we can practice our faith openly and pray to you in public.

And we thank you for all those who have served in the military, both volunteer and drafted, they and their families, for their service and their sacrifice.

As we gather on this Veteran’s Day, we are reminded as well that this holiday was set aside as Armistice Day, a day to commemorate the end of what was called the “War to end all wars” almost 100 years ago, and that we have had generations of veterans since then.

Therefore, Lord God, Prince of Peace, help us not only remember and honor our veterans, but let us also—with your help, grace and guidance—work together so that there will come a day when there will be no more wars to create more veterans because your rule of peace will reign throughout our land and all lands.

As we look back and honor those who have preserved our peace today, let us look forward to the day when everlasting peace will be ours.

Thank you, Lord, for our veterans, and help us live lives of peace worthy of their sacrifices for us.

God our Father, we offer this prayer to you in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Insight from Camp

This past week I was at our annual Free Methodist Family Camp.  The main speaker for the week was Pastor Mark Van Valin of the Spring Arbor Free Methodist Church.  The theme of the Camp was Holiness: Coming Home Again, and so Pastor Mark’s talks were all about holiness.  He delved into what it is and what it is not, and gave some very thought-provoking and spirit-moving talks.

During one of his talks, Pastor Mark said he was having a conversation with a Baptist minister who had told him he was going to preach on holiness the following Sunday.  Intrigued by this, Pastor Mark asked what he would say.  As background, one of the cornerstone doctrines of the Free Methodist Church is holiness, continuing on in God’s grace and progressing towards a perfect love of God and others in our lives.  This was not an emphasis as an official doctrine in the Baptist tradition, so it was very interesting to hear what would come of this.

So, accWedding_cake_with_pillar_supports,_2009ording to Pastor Mark, the Baptist minister said (and now this is third-hand since I’m relating it), “If we reduce holiness to simply not doing a list of sinful things (drink alcohol, smoke, swear, etc.) that is like equating marriage with not committing adultery.”

Now of course adultery is wrong and to have a healthy marriage one needs to not commit it, but there is so much more to having a healthy, thriving, loving marriage than simply not sleeping around.  As people are in relationship with the Father through Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit they will avoid sinful actions (think 10 Commandments), but that is not the sum total of a life in Christ.  Christianity is not so much about following a list of do’s and don’ts as it is living in a relationship with Christ.  His love and Spirit in our lives will transform us from the inside out to live a holy life, but if we reduce that relationship to following rules, we might as well change our pre-marital counseling to simply tell young couples that they will be happy and have a fulfilled marriage as long as they don’t commit adultery.

It was a very wise insight from our Baptist brother.