Work with the end in mind

Steven Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Steven Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Steven Covey penned one of the most influential leadership books of the late 20th century, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey passed away in 2012, but his principles live on. Here is one of them:

Work with the end in mind.

Those words would have resonated well with 18th century Methodists in England. One of their characteristics that commended Methodism to the people of their day was the peaceful, even heroic way that Methodists faced their own end. Long before the time of drugging people in their final hours, those who approached death were often quite lucid. The 88 year old Rev John Wesley, laying on his death bed in 1791, murmured to those gathered around him: “And best of all, God is with us.”

Here are last words from some others:

“See in what peace a Christian can die.” – Joseph Addison, English politician and writer

“Am I dying, or is this my birthday?” – Lady Astor

“Now comes the mystery.” – Rev Henry Ward  Beecher, 19th century American abolitonist

“I regret that I have but one life to give for my country.” – Nathan Hale

“I’m going over the valley.” – Babe Ruth, 20th century American baseball player

“Bring down the curtain, the farce is played out.” – Rabelais

“They couldn’t hit an elephant at this dist-” – John Sedgwick, Union General, to his men when they advised him to take cover

“Let us cross over the river and sit under the shade of the trees.” – Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson

“Leave the shower curtain on the inside of the tub.” – Conrad Hilton, hotel magnate

“So little done, so much to do.” – Cecil John Rhodes, South African gold and diamond miner

“Strike the tent.” – Confederate General Robert E. Lee

“Hold the cross high, so I may see it through the flames.” – Joan of Arc

“I have seen heaven open, and Jesus on the right hand of God.” – Rev Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury

Samuel Clemens, better known under his pen name, “Mark Twain,” had some “work with the end in mind” words of his own. I chose them for the “senior quotes” section of the 1985 Nautilus, the yearbook of Eastern Nazarene College:

Let us so live that – when we come to die – even the undertaker will be sorry.

Have a God-blessed and pivotal year in 2014.

————

Photo credit: NPR.org

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On grace, law, and spaghetti sauce

garden veg spag sauce in potAs believers, do we follow grace, or do we follow law? And the answer is…

YES.

John Wesley spoke as much as anyone about grace. On the other hand, he cautioned against “antinomianism” (lawlessness). He realized that the same Scripture that speaks of the grace that saves us through faith (Eph. 2:8) also extols the perfect law of liberty (James 1:25).

In the Bible and in Wesleyan thought, grace and law must kiss.

I’ve always loved “America the Beautiful.” The lyrics by Katharine Lee Bates portray this delicate balance. The rarely sung second verse appeals:

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

“Liberty” and “law” are not mutually exclusive, but complement each other.

Pastors are charged with the “cure of souls,” and for that cure to be successful, first a diagnosis must be made. Thirty years ago, I knew too many Nazarenes who for the sake of law, lost sight of grace. The early 20th century story (likely apocryphal) is told of the old woman who asked General Superintendent Phineas F. Bresee whether Nazarene women should wear makeup. His reply?

I’ve always said that if the barn needs painting, paint it!

That woman’s question betrays a graceless law, a piling up and keeping of rules as the be-all and end-all of faith. In such a context, an emphasis on grace was desperately needed, and eventually the corrective came.

But as Bob Dylan used to sing, the times, they are a changin’! Once heated discussions of whether we go to the movie theater, wear makeup or jewelry or participate in “mixed bathing” are relegated to cold and musty issues of the Herald of Holiness and Teens Today.  When Christian teens in 2013 show the same rates of sexual activity prior to marriage as those who claim no faith, when cheating on a test is winked at and often there seems to be no difference between the integrity of those attending church and those who never darken its doors, then clearly the issue for the Church is no longer graceless law. Rather, we have arguably careened into the ditch on the other side of the road, that of lawless grace, the antinomianism John Wesley warned us about and that Paul deplores in Romans 6:1 —

Shall we sin that grace may abound? God forbid! (NIV).

And here is where we come back to the pastor’s diagnosis. In a church where graceless law is the malady, more preaching on grace is a must. After all, you wouldn’t add more salt to a spaghetti sauce that is already too salty!

But for 90% of our churches, in the name of grace, I wonder: Are we stuck in the ditch of lawlessness? Lawless grace is every bit as dangerous, after all, as graceless law. In such a church, the pastor today in his or her preaching will speak often of Christian ethics, of the righteous standards to which God calls His people. When the spaghetti sauce is too bland, add a pinch of salt.

At the end of the day, neither graceless law nor lawless grace can satisfy God’s people. Grace and law must kiss. We need gracious law now more than ever.

God give us wisdom to live the delicate balance.

——–

Photo credit: A Kitchen Addiction

When is simple too simple? Relational theology and love

relational_theologyThe word “relationship” is part-and-parcel of evangelical jargon. A tract left on a public bench may ask in bold letters:

Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?

And it is through the prism of relationship that some Christian theologians are formulating their views. A recent example is Brint Montgomery, Thomas Jay Oord, and Karen Winslow, eds., Relational Theology: A Contemporary Introduction (Point Loma Press, 2012), a collection of essays written by 31 authors contributing insights from the relational paradigm to a spectrum of theological and philosophical issues.

Structure and target audience

Relational Theology is structured around four categories:

1. Doctrines of theology in relational perspective;

2. Biblical witness in relational perspective;

3. The Christian life in relational perspective;

4. Ethics and justice in relational perspective.

Nested under these headings are intriguing subjects, including (among others) sin, free will and determinism, the means of grace, how humans relate to the creation, social justice, and feminist theology. True to its sub-title, “A Contemporary Introduction,” each of the essays is short, presenting a fly-over view at 30,000 feet of the ground beneath. Footnoting is very limited, which frees the text of heavy documentation, making the read more user friendly, especially for the novice. On the the other hand, since the book is geared toward the non-specialist, it is puzzling why the editors chose not to include questions for group discussion at the end of each chapter. This would have made for better learning as well as improved marketing of the book to small church groups, Sunday School classes or other venues.

Those who clicked on the Amazon.com link above will notice that the book is listed as “out of print.” Strangely, Point Loma Press (the publisher) also does not list the book on its website. It is hoped that these glitches can soon be corrected so that Relational Theology will be easily available to readers.

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Three Wesleyan Reasons Why We Send Missionaries

“If you take missions out of the Bible, there is little left but the covers.” This statement from Nina Gunter captures a central theme in Scripture, the theme of the Church moving out into the world in response to the missio Dei, the “mission of God.”  Indeed, all that we do cross-culturally in the name of “missions” arises out of our understanding of God’s “mission.” God’s mission refers to God’s plan through Christ to save all of creation but especially the peoples of the world that are creation’s crowning achievement.

Because of the missio Dei, the Church moves out in missions. We do missions in a variety of ways, from preaching to teaching, compassionate ministry among the poor and oppressed and medical work with the sick and dying. But whatever form missions takes, we will not be able to sustain the work over the long-term if we lose sight of the reason why we send missionaries.

Theologians from various Christian traditions have emphasized different aspects of God’s mission. In this lesson, we will look at three biblical themes that apply to a Wesleyan view of mission: God as loving and holy, prevenient grace, and the need for humans to respond to God’s salvation offer. By looking at these themes, we will be reminded of the rationale for the sacrifices we make as a church. In times of discouragement and economic hardship, we will be encouraged to keep giving of our prayers, time and resources.

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Charles Wesley’s masterpiece, “Wrestling Jacob”

At the time of his brother Charles’ death in 1788, John Wesley praised him for his keen poetic talent. Specifically, he mentioned Charles’ masterpiece, “Wrestling Jacob.” The fourteen stanza poem is a reflection on the character of God as summed up in a single word: love.  The poem appears below. Leave your reaction in the comment thread. Do you agree that God’s nature can be boiled down to love?

Wrestling Jacob

1) Come, O thou traveller unknown, 

Whom still I hold, but cannot see,

My company before is gone,

And I am left alone with thee,

With thee all night I mean to stay,

And wrestle to the break of day.

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Charles Wesley in battle mode

I’ve been researching a paper for the upcoming meeting of the Wesleyan Theological Society, to be held at Trevecca Nazarene University in early March. The paper is titled:

Christus Victor: A Wesleyan Appraisal of sub-Saharan Power Christology”

In the first part of the paper, I’m looking at primary sources, and will be focusing particularly on the sermons of John Wesley and his New Testament Notes as well as the hymns of Charles Wesley. In my doctoral research, I was looking at his hymns in relation to another theme, so this time around with new eyes on the material,  I’ve been pleasantly surprised to uncover some amazing verse on the theme of the conquering Christ. Here are stanzas 5-7 of a hymn based on Rev. 2:8-9:

We then the power of faith shall prove

Nor shrink from persecution near,

But more than conquer in thy love,

Thy perfect love which casts out fear.

Tho’ earth and hell at once engage,

And fiends, and formal saints conspire,

The synagogue of Satan rage,

And threaten us with racks and fire;

Bold shall we stand in thy great might,

For Jesu’s sake count all things loss,

With beasts, and men, and devils fight

Beneath the banner of thy cross.

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John Wesley said that? Maybe not…

John Wesley, 1703-91

A colleague sent me a fascinating article about quotations wrongly attributed to John Wesley as well as “facts” surrounding his life and ministry, so called facts that actually are either plainly false or else unverifiable. An example of such a pseudo-quotation is:

Do all the good you can, by all the means you can. in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can.

Another example is the term “social holiness.” In Methodism today, the term has come to mean any social project engaged in by the people of God.  Now, that doesn’t mean we can’t use the term that way if we want. We need not follow John Wesley slavishly, but at very least we should explain what Wesley meant by the term, which Heitzenrater agrees is a reference to Christian community, and I would add, especially the class meeting and bands.

Read it all by clicking here.