Wipf & Stock publishes latest Crofford book

mere-ecclesiology-coverJ. Gregory Crofford, Mere Ecclesiology: Finding Your Place in the Church’s Mission (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2016)

Available in paperback for $ 13.60 USD at Wipf & Stock by clicking here, or at Amazon.com for $ 17.00 USD by clicking here. An Amazon Kindle e-book edition will be available in early 2017.

Book synopsis

Too many churches limp along with no clear sense of mission. In Mere Ecclesiology: Finding Your Place in the Church’s Mission, Dr. Crofford clarifies the purpose of God’s people through the metaphor of spiritual respiration. “Breathing in” (worship and discipleship) leads to “breathing out” (transformative service in the world). Newcomers and seasoned believers alike will be challenged to discover their calling as the Holy Spirit sends the church out on a challenging mission to heal families, communities, and creation itself.

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Dr. Gregory (“Greg”) Crofford, Ph.D. (University of Manchester), is a Senior Lecturer and the Ph.D. (Religion) Program Coordinator in the Religion Department at Africa Nazarene University (Nairobi, Kenya).
An interview with the author

What led you to write this book?

Christianity is fragmented. I wondered: What are the characteristics that all churches within the Christian tradition share? Mere Ecclesiology is an attempt to identify what unites us and to celebrate it.

You talk about “spiritual respiration.” What do you mean by this rather odd term?

Just like the human body must breathe in order to survive, so must Christ’s body, the church. It’s a word picture. “Breathing in” represents discipleship, coming to Christ and growing in our faith, both individually and corporately. ” On the other hand, “breathing out” is the mission God gives the church in the world, impacting communities through service that transforms. A healthy church will evidence both movements of the Holy Spirit, inward and outward.

Your chapter on “calling” has some surprises. Why do you present the word in such broad terms?

One of the downsides of the clergy/laity divide in how we conceptualize the church is that we become like a soccer match with only a few playing on the field and the rest watching in the stands. Yet Ephesians 4:11-16 teaches that all of God’s saints (believers) have a place of service, a role to fill not only in the church but in how the church fulfills her mission for the sake of the world. It is not just clergy who have a vocation from God. We all have a calling to fulfill. This is really where the sub-title of the book comes into play: “Finding your place in the church’s mission.”

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Peoples transformed: sharing Christ cross-culturally

Early_Benin_1If transformation is a key biblical concept, then grace is what makes it happen. Grace – a metaphor for the transforming work of the Holy Spirit – is one of the most powerful forces known to humanity. When God’s grace changes a person, it spills over to touch members of the entire family, even whole communities.

Yet the book of Acts doesn’t stop there. The power of the Holy Spirit – like sound waves from a sonic boom – travels outward, transforming everything in its path. The day of Pentecost in Acts 2 is the divine sonic boom, and the rest of Acts records the echoes.

No one culture or nation can trap God in a bottle, cork it, and taunt: “We have God in a bottle and we’re not sharing!” The good news of Jesus Christ is good news for all, or it is not good news at all.

Into the nations: from centripetal to centrifugal

In Matthew 28, our risen Lord appeared to his disciples on a hill outside Jerusalem. These were his parting words before he returned to his Father. What would he say to the men with whom he had spent 3 amazing years? Verses 18-20 (CEB) capture the moment:

I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you until the end of this present age.

This is the moment when disciples (followers) became sent ones (apostles). In physics, a centripetal force draws an object and keeps it in a fixed orbit, preventing it from flying outward. In the Old Testament, the people of God were to be centripetal. This is Isaiah’s vision: “In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it” (Isaiah 2:2).

But something radical transpires in Matthew 28. Standing outside of Jerusalem – the very city alluded to in Isaiah’s vision – Jesus does not call the disciples to a centripetal mission. Instead, their mission is to be centrifugal. Think of the mud that cakes on a tire. The faster the tire spins, the more mud that flies off in all directions. Now, God doesn’t call us to fly off and make the world dirty! But the point remains: Jesus calls us not to stay but to go and transform. In the New Testament, the people of God are centrifugal; in the new order, God sends us on a cross-cultural mission.

Timothy Tennent describes the church’s task and the centrifugal force that enables it:

The central way the Holy Spirit brings the New Creation into the present is through empowering the church to proclaim the gospel in word and deed in the midst of all contextual challenges that the present evil order presents.

An Invitation to World Missions: A Trinitarian Missiology for the 21st Century (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 2010), 96.

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Families and communities transformed: changing our “Jerusalem”

rippleI’ll call them Susan and Lisa. Though their names have been changed, their story hasn’t.

Susan had since childhood been angry. She could lash out viciously toward others, but then something happened. Susan met Jesus and Jesus changed Susan. Sweetness replaced bitterness and church became a regular part of her life as she grew in her faith.

Her sister, Lisa, noticed. “What happened to you?” she asked Susan. “You used to be so angry.” Susan told Lisa about her newfound faith in Christ. Lisa was intrigued and started going to church with Susan. Soon, Lisa also decided to follow Jesus.

When God transforms the lives of individuals, the impact ripples to others.

In Acts 1, Jesus talks about this ever-widening impact. The Lord predicted the coming of the Holy Spirit and the change that would make in the lives of his followers. The disciples (followers) would become apostles (sent ones). Like a stone dropped in a pond, ripples would spread out in all directions:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8, NIV).

Jesus’  words serve as a brief outline for the 28 chapters of Acts. The transformation God desired began with the Jewish people on the Day of Pentecost, gathered in Jerusalem. Pilgrims who had gathered for the Jewish feast returned to their homes in other parts of the world, but some did not return the same as they came. They had believed in Jesus and their lives would never be the same; they took their new faith with them. Later, a second wave rippled out from the epicenter as persecution drove many believers out of Jerusalem. They, too, would impact others wherever they went. Paul of Tarsus – who at first persecuted Christians – became one himself. With his traveling companions, they crossed over cultural and linguistic barriers becoming the first Christian missionaries. Wherever they went, the power of the Gospel message transformed individuals, families, communities, and even the culture itself.

Families transformed

But let’s come back to that place in the pond where the stone first falls in. What does the first ring that ripples out represent?

For Susan, that first ring – her Jerusalem – was her family. Her sister, Lisa, noticed the change in her life but didn’t know why the change had taken place. By sharing her story with Lisa, her sister also came to faith.

John’s Gospel shows a similar effect. Jesus first called Andrew to follow him. The first thing he did was to find his brother, Simon, and tell him: “We have found the Messiah.” John 1:42 records: “And he brought him to Jesus.” Christian faith travels through family networks.

In the book of Acts, the term oikos appears frequently, including in the story of Cornelius (Acts 10) and the jailer in Philippi (Acts 16).  This Greek word is usually translated as “household.” Often, entire households would decide to follow Christ – wives, children, servants and their families. Pastor Tom Mercer of High Point Church – a congregation of 11,000 in southern California – sees a pattern that is still applicable in the 21st century. He explains:

Oikos, the Greek word for ‘extended family,’ encompasses our relational worlds—anywhere from eight to fifteen people, on the average, whom God has supernaturally and strategically placed in our spheres of influence…our relational worlds. We are all Christ’s partners in world-change.

-from “Sermon Central,” online: http://www.sermoncentral.com/pastors-preaching-articles/tom-mercer-how-the-oikos-grew-high-desert-church-to-11000-attenders-728.asp)

The first step in impacting our oikos is writing down their names. Who are your family members? Your close friends? Co-workers? Others with whom you have regular contact? Make a commitment to pray for one each day. Ask God to use your relationship with them as a bridge they can walk across to join the community of faith.

Bethany First Church of the Nazarene in Bethany, Oklahoma is an example of how churches grow using the oikos principle. The church has a close-knit feel even though more than 2,000 attend on any given Sunday. There are many family connections in the church since generations of families have intermarried. Christian faith has been shared historically through the family networks in the church. This in-part explains the healthy numerical growth experienced over decades.

Communities transformed

Yet oikos is broader than family networks. Mercer speaks of  “spheres of influence.” It is through our relational worlds that transformation can spill over from families to touch entire communities.

The growth of the church in sub-Saharan Africa has been astounding in part because of the oikos principle. Teams that project the Jesus film always seek the permission of the village chief and elders before planning a showing. What is the oikos for a village chief and elders? The whole village! If even some leaders of the village make a clear decision to follow Christ, often many will follow Christ because of their lead.

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As in Africa, so in Ephesus. The early part of Acts 19 shows the impact made not only through miracles that Paul performed but also the decisions by sorcerers to abandon their occult craft and follow Christ.  The church was growing strong among both Jews and Greeks to the point that the even the religious culture of the city was being transformed.

Ephesus was renowned for its temple to Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt, wild animals, fertility and childbirth. Worshipers came to the temple and would purchase silver statues of Artemis. It was a lucrative trade (Acts 19:25), but Paul’s message of Christ was siphoning off business as people abandoned idol worship in favor of Christianity. Disturbed by his falling revenues, a silversmith named Demetrius riled up a theater crowd, shouting: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” A riot ensued. They seized a couple of traveling companions of Paul and likely would have done them bodily harm except for the intervention of the city clerk. He calmed the crowd and convinced them to use the courts and magistrates if they had a grievance (19:38).

An Anglican Bishop is reported to have lamented: “Wherever the Apostle Paul went, there were riots. Wherever I go, they serve me tea and crumpets.” How often do our churches resemble the Bishop’s lament? Yet as followers of Christ intentionally pray for their Jerusalem – their oikos -and model another, better way of living, God can use them to transform both their families and communities.

Summing it all up

How can God use us to help transform our Jerusalem? To answer that question requires another: Who is our oikos? God has given each of us families, friends and co-workers. This is our sphere of influence. Our mission is them!  As families are changed by the love of God, so communities will be transformed for the better. Are we ready to make a difference, together?

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Image credits

Jesus film showing:

Jesusfilm.org

 

 

 

Heaven isn’t enough

heavenWhy did Jesus die on the cross?

The tendency over the past 50 years in some Christian circles has been to say:

Jesus died on the cross so we could go to heaven.

The epitome of this approach was an evangelism strategy developed by the Reverend D. James Kennedy, pastor of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. In home visits, church members would ask prospects: “Do you know for sure that if you died tonight you would go to heaven?”

At Seminary, we learned this method in a slightly modified form. However, it has always seemed incomplete to those coming from a Wesleyan-Holiness perspective. In Matthew 28:16-20, the passage commonly called the “Great Commission,” Jesus outlined our mission not as helping people make sure their ticket is punched for the heavenly bus ride. Rather, it is a call for people to follow Jesus in the here-and-now:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20, NRSV).

Common Evangelical parlance says that we must “get saved.” Strangely, there is often little mention of this in relationship to following Jesus. An experience of praying a “sinner’s prayer” becomes the be-all and end-all of our interaction with individuals. Discipleship – the act of following Jesus and growing in holiness – seems to be relegated to an optional activity. To this, Gregory Boyd responds:

To place faith in Jesus Christ for salvation, therefore, is inseparable from the pledge to live faithfully as a disciple of Christ.

Even this needs more clarity, for a decision to “be saved” is a decision to turn our backs on wrongdoing and to follow Jesus together. The Great Commission is explicit at this point since disciples are to be baptized, a sign of our abandonment of evil ways and our initiation into the church. In meeting together we find strength and mutual encouragement. An ember separated from the fire soon grows cold,  but when left piled up with other embers keeps glowing and producing warmth. It is together that we can learn to obey all that Christ commanded, in love holding each other accountable.

But let’s return to the original question: Why did Jesus die on the cross?

We’ve seen so far that the answer “so that we could go to heaven” is inadequate in that is skips over the crucial notion of discipleship. It neglects to mention that our one day being with Jesus in heaven will be because we’ve followed him there first.

A better answer to the question would be:

Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins.

houston

In the film, Apollo 13, the astronaut character played by Tom Hanks radios back to earth: “Houston, we have a problem.” In the same way, the Bible teaches that each of us has a problem, and that problem is sin. Sins are the evil actions we commit that estrange us from God. These acts of disobedience to God’s law (1 John 3:4) set us on a path that ultimately leads to our destruction (Romans 6:23). To follow the path of sin is to follow what Jesus called the “broad path” (Matthew 7:13). On the other hand, God gives us the power to choose to follow Christ. A decision to follow him is a decision – by God’s help – to turn away from the path of destruction and take another path, a narrow path that leads to life (Matthew 7:14).

When the angel appeared to Mary and told her that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit and would bear a child, the angel told Mary what name to give the newborn. He was to be called Jesus, derived from the Hebrew word Yeshua (salvation). And what would Jesus’ mission on earth be? He would “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21, KJV).

These days some want to rewrite Matthew 1:21 to say that Jesus will save his people not from their sins but in their sins. It is like we believe that since Jesus saves me, it doesn’t matter how I live. John Wesley (1703-91) called this false doctrine antinomianism, or lawlessness. He saw it as the most widespread and deadly error of his day. Yet the writer to the Hebrews makes it clear that Jesus died in order for us to live transformed lives:

Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood (Hebrews 13:12, NRSV).

In this verse, to sanctify is to purify. God longs to make us like Jesus, to clean us up! Nina Gunter insists: “Grace does not leave us where it found us.” This is exactly the opposite of the slogans we hear, such as “I’m only human” or “I’m just a sinner saved by grace.” You may have been a sinner, but that was then, this is now (1 Corinthians 6:11).  Now, we are followers of Jesus Christ, reconciled to God, adopted into God’s family! Jesus can change us; he can save us from our sin, or he is no Savior at all.

Church leaders are wringing their hands, wondering what they can do to make the church grow again. May I suggest sinning Christianity is the problem? Until we get to the place where we are sick of our sin and desperate for God’s holy love to fill us, we will have nothing of value to offer to people who look on and see only the same filth and absence of love that they can find 24/7 elsewhere.  If the church has a PR problem, it’s only because it has a sin problem. How can we offer deliverance if we ourselves are still enchained?

Heaven isn’t enough. Jesus died for more than to take us to heaven. He died so that as his true followers we can live new lives, transformed lives, lives characterized by the power of the Holy Spirit, spilling over with God’s holy love right here on earth. May the Lord renew His church both individually and corporately!

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Image credits

Staircase to heaven: picturesofheaven.net

Houston: wingclips.com

 

Persons transformed: Making Christlike disciples

crossAt the center of Christianity is a cross. How strange is it that an ancient Roman instrument of torture and execution has become the most recognizable symbol in the world?

Theologians have pondered the cross for centuries yet still have not been able to fully explain its meaning. There are many verses in the New Testament that speak of the sacrificial death of Jesus of Nazareth that day long ago outside the walls of Jerusalem. Among these, some from Paul’s letter to the Romans are among the best known:

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! (Romans 5:8-9, NIV).

We were still sinners.

To be a sinner is to sin, to disobey God either by doing what God forbids or refusing to do what God requires (1 John 3:4, James 4:17). The amazing thing about Romans 5:8 is that we deserved judgment but received grace, favor from heaven that we never earned. God could in anger have said to humanity after the disobedience of Adam and Eve: “You’ve made your bed. Now, lie in it.” Yet from somewhere deep down in the great heart of this Three-in-One God, compassion welled up. A baby was born in a manger in Bethlehem, Immanuel, “God with us.” Mary – a faithful young Jewish woman who had never had sex with a man – was confused. How could she be pregnant? What was this all about? Yet this miraculous conception had a purpose. The angel instructed Mary to name the child Jesus – “the LORD saves” – for “he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21, NIV).

In the Old Testament, sin always required a sacrifice to atone, to make human beings once again at-one with God. Reflecting on the book of Leviticus, the writer to the Hebrews observed:

In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (Hebrews 9:22, NIV).

But God demonstrated his love.

On the day Jesus died on the cross, that was far from obvious for the men and women who had followed him for three years. The evidence seemed to point in the opposite direction, that God was demonstrating hatred toward Jesus. Did not Jesus himself – borrowing the words of Psalm 22:1 – cry out:

” ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabacthani? – which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ “

Anyone hung on a tree was considered cursed by God (Deuteronomy 21:23). That their Lord had died naked and brutally beaten could only have been interpreted as divine abandonment – or was it?

As the disciples thought back over the time they had spent with their Lord, the cross finally made sense of some things that at the time were incomprehensible. They remembered the words of John the Baptist when Jesus came to be baptized in the river Jordan. Jesus’ cousin saw him coming, then announced loud enough for all to hear: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29, NIV). As for Mary, the mother of Jesus, surely now the words of the angel made sense. Jesus himself had warned his disciples that he would die in Jerusalem and rise again after three days (Mark 8:31). Somehow, they had not been ready to hear those words. They filtered them out.

Now, what had looked like hate and abandonment suddenly began to look like love. The death of Jesus was not in vain. It fulfilled a divine purpose and was motivated by God’s love for us, for me! The innocent died so that the guilty might live.

We have now been justified.

Sinners merit God’s anger and punishment. Yet Paul says in Romans 5:9 that in Christ, we have been saved from God’s wrath. We can be  justified, forgiven, pardoned!

Transformation always begins when our broken relationship with God is restored, thanks to what Jesus has done for us.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-62) was a well-known writer and naturalist. As he neared death, his aunt came to visit with him. She asked: “Have you made your peace with God?” Thoreau replied: “I didn’t know that we had ever quarreled.” Thoreau’s response underscores the truth that we must be willing to admit that we have wronged God or else why seek God’s forgiveness? Confession is a prerequisite for pardon. 1 John 1:8-9 (NIV) teaches:

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

From pardon to purity: transformation God’s way

To be reconciled to God brings the blessing of adoption into God’s family (Romans 8:15). Likewise, from that moment when we are reconciled, we become disciples of Jesus Christ, followers of his way. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis taught that Christians are to be “little Christs.” This is not possible on our own, but our transformation to become Christlike disciples begins immediately once we have been forgiven and agreed to let God direct us onto a new path.

This new mindset – a willingness to forsake our sins, to let God change us since we are powerless to change ourselves – is called repentance. Placing our faith in Christ and what he has done for us at the cross, nothing short of a miracle transpires. Jesus calls this being “born again” (John 3:3), from which we get the terms new birth or regeneration. Singer Keith Green recounts his own experience of deciding to follow Jesus, saying it was “like waking up from the longest dream.” Paul insists that we become a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). With the Holy Spirit of God now living inside of us (1 Corinthians 6:18), God makes everything new.

The word that describes God’s transforming work in our heart and life is sanctification. One meaning of the term is to be set apart for a sacred use. Some of the utensils used by the Hebrew priests in the Tabernacle were to be sanctified, i.e. used only in the sacrifice of animals in the worship of God (Leviticus 8:10-11). In the same way, the follower of Jesus is to consider himself or herself as belonging totally to God. The Christlike disciple does not have the option to specify which parts of his or her life God may control. To be entirely sanctified means that all that we are and have is now under the Lordship of Jesus Christ (Romans 12:1-2, 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24). When God has all that we are, then God’s holy presence – God’s purity and love – fill us. Sin becomes distasteful as our attention focuses less-and-less on self-gratification and more-and-more on how we can love and serve others in the name of Jesus.

God wants to change the world, so he changes us first.

mopAt 16, I took my first  job, working in the produce department of a grocery store. One night, my boss asked me to mop the floor of the back room. I did the job the best I knew how, but he was unsatisfied. When this went on for several nights, he finally asked me to demonstrate what I had been doing. “Greg,” he said, “you’ll never get the floor clean if you use a dirty mop dipped in dirty water. You’ll just keep spreading the dirt around.” The next night, I changed the dirty mop head for a clean one and frequently changed out the water. Success! The floor was clean and my boss was happy.

Looking at the church today, sometimes I think about mopping floors. We’ve understood that transformation of the world is not a distraction from the Gospel work. It is Gospel work. But unless we recognize that God must first transform us, then we risk just being dirty mops dipped in dirty water, spreading the dirt around and changing nothing. We cannot assume that just because individuals have been in the church all their lives that they have encountered the living Christ in a life-changing way! Each of us must decide to follow Jesus. Pardon and purity are available, but we must individually acknowledge our sin and make our peace with God through Christ (Romans 5:1). Paul challenges each of us:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12:1-2, NIV).

A key part of changing the world is allowing God the Holy Spirit to transform us first, then inviting others to journey with us as we follow Jesus together. Christlike disciples make other Christlike disciples. God wants to change the world, so he changes us first.

Summing it all up

The cross towers before us, a symbol of God’s love and the sacrifice of Jesus so that we can be saved from our sins. In the cross, Jesus built a bridge between God and humanity, offering his own blood so that we can be forgiven and cleansed, set apart for God’s own use. Justification and sanctification describe the radical transformation that God works in the lives of those who turn their back on their sins and decide to follow Jesus. As we become Christlike disciples – spurning sin and hungering for God – God uses us to make more Christlike disciples. God sends us out arm-in-arm into the world. Purified and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we become agents of the change God desires in society and all creation. What a mission!

Trading in our goodbyes for hellos

goodbyeIt was December 5, 2005. Political storm clouds had been gathering for months, but on that day, the storm let loose. Word came from our superior that – due to insecurity in the country – we were to evacuate Haiti within 48 hours. Just one day before, we’d decorated the Christmas tree. Now, we quickly removed the ornaments, collapsing the tree and storing it in a closet. Hurriedly, we did laundry, packed our clothes, swept the house and headed to the airport.

So began an odyssey that took the four of us to Bethany, Oklahoma. Since that time, Bethany has been our psychological anchor, even if after three years there Amy and I physically returned to Africa, the continent of our earlier missionary service. One son already lives overseas, and the other will soon move to another state. Like a hot air balloon tethered to the ground, one-by-one, the slender ropes have once again been severed. The balloon is slowing rising again, this time to a new base back East with a sibling, a new driver’s license and address, a new touch-back point when we return from Africa briefly to the U.S. each year. Nine years after first coming to Oklahoma, it’s time for another goodbye.

Goodbyes were the stuff of life for Paul. In Acts 20:13-38, Paul was passing near Ephesus, his old pastorate where he’d spent three years pouring his life into new disciples. He was on his way to Jerusalem, so from Miletus he sent word to the elders in Ephesus to come to see him. After encouraging them to remain firm in the faith and warning them about dangers to the flock, Luke recounts the emotional scene:

When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship (20:36-38, NIV).

As Paul lamented that he would be absent from the Ephesians, so today we lament absence. Despite gadgets that connect us across the miles in real time via the Internet, there’s no substitute for sitting in the same room with friends and loved ones. Through the prophets, God had sent revelation to his people – a kind of virtual contact – yet it was inferior to the incarnation, Jesus coming in the flesh. It is only in the flesh that we can place a reassuring hand on a shoulder, wipe a tear, or give someone a hug. When distance separates us, like Paul, we grieve the loss.

The French language is rich when it comes to saying goodbye. In the musical, “The Sound of Music,” the children perform a goodnight song for the gathered party goers. In a clever bi-lingual play on words, Lisel chants: “Adieu, adieu, to yuh and yuh and yuh.” The word “adieu” (literally, “to God”) is well-chosen since her family would soon be secretly crossing the Alps from Austria to the safety of war time neutral Switzerland. She had no expectation to see them again, so she commended them into God’s hands. Yet the more common way to say goodbye is “au revoir,” meaning “until the re-sighting,” or more informally, “see you later.” The Scottish tune “Auld Lang Syne” – commonly sung at New Year’s Eve parties – is a celebration of times gone by. The French keep the tune, but substitute words with another meaning: “Ce n’est qu’un au revoir, mes frères” (“This is only a ‘see you later,’ my brothers. “) It looks forward, not backward.

Christian faith also looks forward. However sad goodbyes might be, hope changes the equation. The same gloomy Paul of Acts 19 is cheerier elsewhere, reminding the Corinthians that we are resurrection people:

If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:9, NIV).

To the Thessalonians, he paints a picture of Christ’s return when we shall be raised to new life (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). We are to “comfort each other with these words” (v. 18), the promise that we shall “be with the Lord forever” (v. 17).

Former missionary Linda Seaman has said:

Heaven is where we’ll trade in all our goodbyes for hellos.

I’ve gotten better at saying goodbyes. When moving, it’s healthy to visit one last time places that hold good memories and to wish farewell to friends. I spent a lot of time this week doing just that. Some friends I won’t see again during this life, but we despair not. The Christian hope sustains us.

Saying goodbye to Bethany, Oklahoma – a safe harbor after a storm – won’t be my last goodbye. There will be other goodbyes made to other people and places on this earthly journey. I’m glad that – for the Jesus follower – the journey ends with  heavenly hellos. Don’t miss the reunion!

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Image credit: Luna Starla blog

Changing the world the Wesleyan way

images.duckduckgo.com
John Wesley, 1703-91

John Wesley’s message was simple, just like Jesus’. Is ours?

He insisted in his 1746 The Principles of a Methodist Farther Explained:

I have again and again, with all the plainness I could, declared what our constant doctrines are; whereby we are distinguished only from Heathens, or nominal Christians; not from any that worship God in spirit and in truth. Our main doctrines, which include all the rest, are three, — that of repentance, of faith, and of holiness. The first of these we account, as it were, the porch of religion; the next, the door; the third, religion itself (Works, 8:521-22, CCEL digital edition).

Jesus was once asked to sum up all the Law and the Prophets, the heart of the message of what Christians now call the Old Testament. He answered by saying that we should love God and love our neighbor (Mark 12:28-34). These are the two Great Commandments, and they are the very marrow of what it means to be a Christlike disciple.

What does the religion of loving God and others look like, particularly as worked-out socially? In Principles Farther Explained, Wesley continued:

This love we believe to be the medicine of life, the never-failing remedy for all the evils of a disordered world, for all the miseries and vices of men…this religion we long to see established in the world, a religion of love, joy, and peace, having its seat in the heart, but every showing itself by its fruits, continually spring forth, not only in all innocence, (for love worketh no ill to his neighbor), but likewise in every kind of beneficence, spreading virtue and happiness all around it (p. 524).

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