Monday, March 25, 2019

Fleeing the Wrath to Come

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

When the Gentiles sin, they will be destroyed, even though they never had God’s written law.  And the Jews, who do have God’s law, will be judged by that law when they fail to obey it.  For merely listening to the law doesn’t make us right with God.  It is obeying the law that makes us right in his sight.  Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it.  They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right.  And this is the message I proclaim—that the day is coming when God, through Christ Jesus, will judge everyone’s secret life.  Romans 2:12-16

The whole idea of the wrath of God and a coming judgment seems to fall into just a few categories these days, with people doing one of the following:
·      Denial…the whole idea of God (if there is such a being) destroying people is relegated to the fruitcakes who wear signboards on a street corner proclaiming the end of the world.  This is unbelief of the first degree.
·      Detachment…putting-off any serious thinking about God’s wrath, as if shutting your eyes while you’re on the train tracks will make that 200-ton locomotive coming your way disappear; a more subtle (and dangerous) form of unbelief.
·      Dilution…changing, ever-so-slightly, but nonetheless changing what Scripture says, in order to blunt the reality and harshness of sin’s ultimate result, death.  This is perhaps a worse compounding sin than the previous two, as the Scripture[iii] declares that adding to, or subtracting anything from God’s Word is worthy of harsher punishment.
The entirety of unbelief is a study for a much greater length than our few minutes this morning, but the whole topic begs the answer to the question of why our culture seems to have dumbed-down the whole issue of consequence for sin.
Rev. Bob Kaylor, a United Methodist Pastor, offers an answer about bringing the church back to the basics of proclaiming Scriptural truth that gets right to the heart of humankind’s problem…sin.  It is a reclaiming of Wesley’s most important question…do you desire to flee from the wrath to come? 

This is about getting back to basics. How might the church become more focused if the first membership question was again, “Do you desire to flee from the wrath to come?” That’s the question that would change the church. It’s the question that changed 18th century England because the Methodist movement began working from the inside out in the lives of its people. The class meetings became something like AA for sinners—a place where struggling people got real and helped one another to grow in grace. It’s time for the church to recapture that humility and spirit. Only then will we make an impact on a broken, hurting world—the world that God is putting right.[iv]

I love that phrase, AA for sinners.  It bespeaks a condition we need to hear over and over in a world currently governed by a watered-down and off-center mantra of “I’m OK – You’re OK”.  Listen, if that were really the case, the world would not be a place of so much pain, tears, and sorrow.  Jesus warned that God’s wrath is indeed the world’s future.  To deny, detach, or dilute any part of that puts us on a par with the enemies of God.  Hear Jesus’ take on this:

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to watch him baptize, he denounced them. “You brood of snakes!” he exclaimed. “Who warned you to flee the coming wrath?  Matthew 3:7

Of course, the whole purpose of proclaiming the coming judgment is to sound the alarm that helps people avoid the judgment by trusting Christ.  A sentry posted in a watchtower is not there to watch the enemy sneak-in the compound and slaughter the army; a sentry’s job is to sound the call to arms so the land can be defended.  A sentry who sounds the trumpet of salvation is no enemy!
For You Today
Let’s let Scripture’s call to all of us have the last word on this:

“Today when you hear his voice, don’t harden your hearts as Israel did when they rebelled.”  Hebrews 3:15

You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day.

Go to VIDEO


[i] Title Image:   Pixabay.com
[ii] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from The New Living Translation©
[iii] Revelation 22:18-19

Friday, March 22, 2019

After the Party

Monday, March 25, 2019

Again the Lord spoke to me and said, “I have discovered a conspiracy against me among the people of Judah and Jerusalem.  They have returned to the sins of their ancestors.  They have refused to listen to me and are worshiping other gods.  Israel and Judah have both broken the covenant I made with their ancestors.  Therefore, this is what the Lord says:  I am going to bring calamity upon them, and they will not escape.  Though they beg for mercy, I will not listen to their cries.  Then the people of Judah and Jerusalem will pray to their idols and burn incense before them.  But the idols will not save them when disaster strikes!  Look now, people of Judah; you have as many gods as you have towns.  You have as many altars of shame—altars for burning incense to your god Baal—as there are streets in Jerusalem.  “Pray no more for these people, Jeremiah.  Do not weep or pray for them, for I will not listen to them when they cry out to me in distress.  “What right do my beloved people have to come to my Temple, when they have done so many immoral things?  Can their vows and sacrifices prevent their destruction?  They actually rejoice in doing evil!  I, the Lord, once called them a thriving olive tree, beautiful to see and full of good fruit.  But now I have sent the fury of their enemies to burn them with fire, leaving them charred and broken.  “I, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, who planted this olive tree, have ordered it destroyed.  For the people of Israel and Judah have done evil, arousing my anger by burning incense to Baal.”  Jeremiah 11:9-17

While we’re deeply-immersed in the Season of Lent, the Scriptures abound in darkness.  There is little joy in Jeremiah’s weeping over God declaring imminent judgment coming against Israel and Judah for their sins.  However, the entire theme of Lent is judgment for sins!  Therefore, Lent is a time to recognize when the party is over.  It’s a time for introspection, the evaluation of our lives in light of God’s holiness.  Part of that reflection is a look at what’s left after the party.
Don Meredith was an NFL quarterback, who, after his retirement, became Howard Cosell’s booth partner on Monday Night Football.  In the last few moments of most of those Monday night games, recognizing the losing team’s chances of winning had slipped-away, Meredith would break-into song, crooning in his Texas-best country singer impression:  turn-out the lights, the party’s over.  Anyone who has ever partied a little too hard the night before knows the price of that indulgence, groggy headache, queasiness and general despising living at all.  As my late friend Homer Rothrock used to say, there ain’t much romance in it!
There are some alarming parallels between the behavior and attitudes of God’s special people, Israel during Jeremiah’s time, and the current generation in our land.  Both Israel and America were birthed as a knee-jerk to oppression.  Both began as highly moral covenant people, called to live in freedom and respect for their Creator.  Both eventually fell into sin, and had to be called to the judgment bar. 
The parallel most disturbing to me is that of idolatry, giving what belongs to God to anyone or anything else; those things being fidelity in worship, obedience in behavior, and hearts of love, mercy and compassion towards each other.  Israel incorporated worshipping the local gods (including the fertility god Baal) in their religious ceremonies.  They did this for political reasons, making sure to offend no one.  As a covenant people they were bound to the one, true, living God; as sinners they gave away that heritage to cultic worship forms that took away their vows.  Baal is not just the name, it describes the relationship; in the Semitic languages it always means owner.  And that’s what sin is…it owns you.
It’s hard to miss the parallels between Israel and America; we bow at the altar of materialism, pleasing everyone who demands “rights” in the name of tolerance.  We elevate portrayers of violence, sexual perversion, evil behavior, and too many other expressions of the seven deadly sins that would overflow this short devotion.  Worship in America’s churches has become optional, out-of-date, or not relevant.  All the while anger, violence, dissipation, and deceit have replaced kindness, holiness, and self-discipline.
For You Today
Jeremiah was instructed to NOT pray for Israel; they had passed the point of no-return.  I do pray for our nation that we have not joined the parallel completely!
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day.

Go to VIDEO


[i] Title Image:   Pixabay.com
[ii] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from The New Living Translation©

Thursday, March 21, 2019

A Little More Light - Part 3

Friday, March 22, 2019

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.  2 Timothy 3:16

Although a “quadrilateral” has four parts, today’s Part 3 finishes this series. 
In thinking about Experience (the assurance of salvation) and Reason (God’s gift to us mortals of being self-aware and drawing intelligent, ethical, and moral conclusions), the remaining two are Tradition (of the church, or doctrine) and Scripture, God’s Word.  For me, these last two are so intertwined I find it impossible to separate them.  The reasoning here is that God’s Word (not exclusively the 66 books we call the Bible), but literally, God’s Words to humanity throughout the course of time are that from which the doctrines of the church (traditions, if you will) were born.  Everything the church does, from worship, benevolence, proclaiming God’s love, mercy, peace, and righteousness, to baptizing and discipling, are extensions of Holy Writ.  We do that to which Scripture calls and empowers believers.
Paul’s admonition to Timothy is not only defining, concerning Scripture, it is also the chief example of how doctrine/tradition and Scripture are hand-in-glove tools of God’s Spirit, the light and power of God’s will here on earth.  Scripture tells us what is wrong and right, and compels us to the right, instead of the wrong.  Such is the nature of the Scripture’s impact, driving church tradition, the doctrines that guide, inform and, by the power of God’s Spirit, transform human life into new life.  This is the essence of church tradition (not traditional acts, such as observing a festival, or hanging hats in the foyer), but direction…moving towards the light.
By nature, I have always had an ambivalent, tenuous relationship with God’s Word.  There is this love affair with my Creator within me which aspires to be obedient to God…a hungering-after His righteousness and thirsting for His will to be fully in control of Russell.  And in the opposing corner lurks that human nature inherited from Adam…always willing to have a break from my responsibility to respond to the Director of this symphony called life.  When that lurking Adam-nature wins out I become a wanderer more than a Pilgrim.
Scripture and the Tradition of God’s people, from the time of Job’s troubles until this very day, are the evidence I can see of God’s pull on my soul towards Him.  It draws me to a scary life…a life walking without sight, but rather in faith.
It is this life that requires more light in the soul than on the physical path.  That light comes best when Scripture, Reason, Experience, and Tradition move in concert within me, assuring, encouraging, directing, and correcting my ways:
·      Experience, or the assurance of salvation is what rekindles the courage inside me to put one foot in front of the other and keep-on. 
·      Reason is God’s gift that helps me mindfully-reject dark enemies in favor of Godly joys.  This is my weapon in the hand against straying into the temptations that abound. 
·      Tradition, the way our faith family has lived in the experience of salvation and carried the sword of reason, is the well-beaten path, blazed by that great cloud of witnesses, the God-following community. 
·      Scripture is like the shepherd of God’s supreme authority of a love letter to whosoever will join Him on the great adventure of marching to Zion, journeying-on to that place of still water which restores my soul.
For You Today
It’s a dark world out there…and God has provided all the tools you need to keep moving towards the light and sharing that light with others along your way. 
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day.

Go to VIDEO


[i] Title Image:   Pixabay.com
[ii] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from The New Living Translation©

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

A Little More Light - Part 2

Thursday, March 21, 2019

O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you.  My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water.  I have seen you in your sanctuary and gazed upon your power and glory.  Your unfailing love is better than life itself; how I praise you!  I will praise you as long as I live, lifting up my hands to you in prayer.  You satisfy me more than the richest feast.  I will praise you with songs of joy.  I lie awake thinking of you, meditating on you through the night.  Because you are my helper, I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings.  I cling to you; your strong right hand holds me securely.  Psalm 63:1-8a

We are looking this week at the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, a term that helps us see a process of theological understanding…a way of thinking about God[1].  This process includes these four:  Scripture, Tradition, Experience, and Reason.  Today we investigate Experience.
If you look closely at the “experiences” of the Psalmist with God, you have something of an understanding of what John Wesley meant when he added that word to his methodology of interpreting the Christian life.  The Psalmist begins with a soul-thirsting search to be close to God, and an encounter with worship and demonstration of God’s power.  He has tasted of God’s love and refuses any other life than one lived in God’s presence.  He has felt the security of strong, everlasting arms. 
Today we would simply use the word assurance to describe the relationship that has developed between the Psalmist and his Creator.  In the Christian “experience” it is the assurance of forgiveness of sin, and the enlightened, cleansed soul that produced Wesley’s strangely warmed heart.
Rev. David Watson quotes Albert Outler, who coined the term Quadrilateral:
Outler’s understanding of the role of experience in Wesley’s theology, then, is quite particular. It is not any experience that a person has, it is the distinctively Christian experience of assurance of the forgiveness of one’s sins. It is the experience of the witness of the Spirit. Wesley was quite fond of citing Romans 8:16 to illustrate this: “it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”[iii]
If we are going to think Methodist-wise with John Wesley then, the experience of new-birth is necessary.  Jesus said it rather plainly:   

Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life.  So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’  John 3:6-7

It is the Spirit of God Who gives us accurate understanding of the Scriptures.  Without the Spirit’s help we are without a clue as to understanding God’s ways or words. 
So, where Wesley and informed spiritual understanding are concerned, there is no such thing as experience born of having lived a certain number of years, or the knowledge gained from making mistakes, or having investigated this or that.  It also has nothing to do with having been in church all your life, or even attended seminary.  None of that is bad; but none of that counts…in the slightest…without God’s Spirit taking up residence in your soul.
That is a condition of spiritual blindness…you need a little more light!
For You Today
If you would like that light in your soul, it is as profoundly simple and life-changing as repenting of sin (telling God you’re sorry and meaning it) and inviting God to take over your life with a prayer that says just that.
A final word today from the beloved Apostle, John:

But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.  1 John 1:9

You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day.

Go to VIDEO


[1] I first heard this phrase (tied to the word “theology”) in seminary with Baptist Theologian Fischer Humphreys, who entitled his book thusly.


[i] Title Image:   Pixabay.com
[ii] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from The New Living Translation©

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

A Little More Light - Part 1

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord….  Isaiah 1:18a(KJV)

Albert Outler was a Methodist scholar who, in 1964 first coined the phrase Wesleyan Quadrilateral.  He understood John Wesley to have a system of understanding God through four connected sources available to humans, Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience.  Of the Wesleyan tribe, the United Methodist Church is one descendant that still (in various degrees) holds to this theological approach, which is laid-out quite clearly in its book of faith and practice, The Discipline:
Wesley believed that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason. Scripture [however] is primary, revealing the Word of God 'so far as it is necessary for our salvation.[iii]
For the next few days I’d like for us to talk about these as a means of doing theology…the human activity of thinking about God.  And, while Scripture is primary (supreme in Wesley’s words), we begin today with Reason.
The “founding fathers” of this nation were men of strong reason.  Among the most respected was James Madison.  Although a man of genuine belief in God, and a man who painstakingly applied himself to conforming his life to integrity, morality, and obedience to Godly principles, Madison’s intellectual prowess sometimes stood as a roadblock to accepting that there is something beyond human reason upon which we must count for interpreting Scripture, the words of God.  It was not until later in life James Madison finally came to accept the fact that reason, if rested firmly in faith, and without doubt in Scripture, would be vivified in experience, and validate conforming to the tradition of the church.  In other words, it would all fit together!
In a letter to his good friend David Hume, Madison wrote:
Reason can only take us so far – it is mystery arising from the darkness of the human sight.
Hume replied:
The whole is a riddle, an enigma, an inexplicable mystery.[iv]
In doing theology, thinking about God, Madison and Hume understood correctly that life’s mystery is chiefly not “understandable” merely in the human capacity to explore our human social environment, evident life, and this universe.  Without revelation from God, (or mystery) human reasoning has earth-bound limitations.
So, what is the importance of reasoning?  In concert with human personal experience (the whole of humanity, not just one or a few individuals), and tradition of the church (doctrine concerning God), reasons’ task and possibility is to respond to the faith God places within each of us in examining the culture in which we find ourselves.  Given that, reason helps us apply God’s truth to bending that culture back to God.  It is Godly reason, informed by tradition and experience with which we evangelize our environment.  Reason, born of faith, sheds a little more light on our purpose (loving God and each other), and the pathway of the journey towards our eternal home.
For You Today
Letting God shed light on your reasoning…that’s reasonable!
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day.

Go to VIDEO


[i] Title Image:   Pixabay.com
[ii] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from The New Living Translation©
[iii] United Methodist Church (2004). The book of discipline of the United Methodist Church. Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press. p.77
[iv] Lynne Cheney, James Madison, a Life Reconsidered, (New York, Viking Press, 2014), p.43