Growing in Discipleship

Spring Forward Daylight Saving Church Website Banner

April Showers bring May flowers – or so the saying goes. Our schedules can fill up in this season so full that we may not notice the wonder of this saying. We can forget to stop and smell the beauty being created and miss the wonder of Isaiah’s observation,

As the rain and the snow

come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,

so is my word that goes out from my mouth:

It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

~Isaiah 55:10-11

May this not be so in our walk with Jesus.

As we move into this Easter Season and peer ahead to Pentecost, it is good to slow down and take stock of our discipleship. Lent offered us ample time to deepen our dependence on God, remember our mortality, and confess our sins. The resurrection celebration reminds us our God is making all things new. How about my spiritual life?

Do I have daily routines, rituals, and reminders to bring my conversation to God in prayer, attention to His word in study, and hands to my neighbor in service?

Have I a group in which to share your struggles, questions, joys, and revelations?

Am I enjoying prayer?

Do I sense what our good God is calling me to next – what area the Holy Spirit has been cultivating for the next season of growth? Do I have a mentor who can walk with me in this?

Who am I discipling in this season of life? Who have I witnessed to lately of the work God is doing in my life?

Lord, be with us all as we faithfully step into this next day. Receiving from you a fresh word which revives our soul. May we have eyes to see our neighbors in need and hearts to serve. May your Kingdom come and Shalom break forth. Amen!

“Discipleship is the process of becoming who Jesus would be if he were you.”

―Dallas Willard


Read more...

Every Shadow Has A Light

Frozen winds drive us to cover in this bare season.  We find comfort in warm drinks, thick covers, and slower days.  Still, for some, internal storms can rage within – tempests from which we cannot hide.  Fear, anxiety, doubt, shame billow within icing our thoughts and movement.

When these fronts are moving within our souls, it seems random what can cause the clouds to gather.  Photos on the wall remind us of times no longer present, people no longer around, promises lost to failure.  Objects laying around illicit worry for what we have to do and what we have not done.  Texts, commercials, smells, thoughts all can precipitate the spiraling winds of these dark moments.  In these shadows, we can forget who we are, drown in the lies, and bury ourselves far from others.

Except, we can never truly escape those relationships.  Except God drives us to those relationships.  Except, those same markers of malevolent memories have also life in loving light.  Those pictures are there to remind us of those good times, to remember those who loved and encouraged us, of how we got up from those falls.  Those objects lay there because of life lived and purpose realized.  The same winds which blow in the clouds, blow them away for the light to break-in.

Our God calls us to live this life through both the ups and downs and all the normal in between.  No matter where we are, as Psalm 139 tells us, God is there with us. No matter what we have done, as Romans 5 reveals to us, God’s love is for us.  Even when we think we can bear it no longer, God is there to catch us:

When I said, “My foot is slipping,”    your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me,    your consolation brought me joy. ~ Psalm 94 18-19.
 
We may see each other less as winter passes.  There may even be bleak and dark days.  There will never be a day when our God does not meet us where we are.  Every shadow has a light.  Every night has a morning.
 
Every shout has an answer, or as Psalm 34 tells us, he meets us when we cry out to him. 
O taste and see that the Lord is Good!

Read more...

Identity Issues

 
 
 
IDENTITY ISSUES
Who are you? The question comes up in every new encounter.  The words may not always be so direct, “what do you do?” “where do you come from?” “where did you go to school?” – the list goes on but the question remains – WHO ARE YOU?
 
Have you thought about it lately?  It can be daunting.  Who are you? 
 
Are you your social media feed – a stream of curated pictures, thoughts and comments?  Are you the full list of accomplishments on your Curriculum Vitae?  How about the rewards or compliments you get from friends and society?  Is our identity in out-competing, out-experiencing those around us?
 
Or maybe its in our immutable characteristics?  Am I the color of my hair or eyes?  Does the pigment of my skin dictate my identity?  Can I be reduced to genetic expression and destiny?
 
Who are we in this world?  Perhaps our nurtured upbringing tells us who we are?  Are we our parents or grandparents offspring?  Are we the worthy bearers of the names passed along to us?
 
The questions keep on coming, even as the waters of life threaten to rise, rage, rinse away our every emerging answer.   Injury, firing, death, failure, despair, pandemic.  These storms rise and still the world continues to ask – who are you?
 
The onslaught of the question can be exhausting.
 
Thanks be to our God we have a refuge and a hope.
 
The answer beyond ourselves.
 
Isaiah tells us God has been a refuge for the poor,    a refuge for the needy in their distress,a shelter from the storm    and a shade from the heat.
 
The Psalms tells us God is our refuge and strength,    an ever-present help in trouble.Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,though its waters roar and foam    and the mountains quake with their surging.
 
God our source of refuge and strength, asks a different question, whose are you?
 
We find in Genesis, God created human in his own image, in the image of God he created humanity; male and female he created them.
 
You are an image bearer.
 
The psalmist sings in reply, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
 
Paul writes we are God’s masterpieces, created in Christ Jesus.
 
We are wonderfully made.
 
And as to those mistakes and marred understandings – Peter tells us, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
 
I can be cleansed.
 
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
 
We are new and renewed
 
For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God, through faith. 
 
In Jesus.
 
I have new life.
 
In God.
 
You are wonderful image bearer.
 
In the Holy Spirit,
 
We are bearers of God.
 
Child of God….An identity to rest in…a rock the waters cannot wash away…a destiny no dna can deny…a family no death can destroy…an accomplishment beyond the capacity of our own failures…
 
Who are you? 
 
In Jesus – you are loved.
 
You are a child of God.
 
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
 
Amen.

Read more...

Attention

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” Hebrews 2:1

I recently sat down with a community group dedicated to bringing redemption to all of Richmond.  There we heard from a guest speaker, a poet who asked us to consider the cup in our hands.  He spoke of how in his youth outreach he asks them to write about common items, to make them personal and known, to tell a better story.  The speaker elegantly moved onto the rest of his presentation, but I remained thinking about the cup.

That morning, I had read the following line, ‘attention is the beginning of devotion.’ It struck me how often move our attention onto the next thing.  The next show, then next event – even our video feeds can’t wait for us to decide as they automatically play whatever the computer picks next.  We scan, we look, we strain to discover what might be in store for us ahead.  It seems to be our culture’s way.  And so this cup left me wondering, How often do we attend to the everyday ordinary of what already is?

What, and more importantly, who surrounds us has a far greater impact than the ‘next best thing’ on our lives.  Do we attend to the extraordinary blessings of the ordinary parts of our lives?

God’s mercies and blessings are fresh every morning.  Do we rest long enough to attend to where they might be offered, to receive afresh God’s blessings?

As we move into what is for many a very busy season full all sorts of the next best things, I pray you find that time to rest, to receive, to breathe.  May you be in such moments of fresh blessing this Christmas season.

Lord, guide us to those green pastures of rest, so we are able to attend to the ‘cups’ of our lives.  You offer us life in a abundance.  May we attend to your steady presence and be blessed in the everyday spaces of life whatever may come.  We thank you for the reason for this season and the continued merriment and joy it brings.  In Jesus name, Amen.


Read more...

A Methodist Catholic Spirit

In the year 1750, John Wesley published his sermon titled “Catholic Spirit,” which became a treatise for early Methodist dialogue and cooperation with other Christian churches. The scholar Albert Outler writes that Wesley’s concern was “to narrow the field of irreducible disagreement between professing, practicing Christians and to transfer their concerns from argument about faith in Christ to faith itself…” In the sermon, Wesley describes the essential core of Christian belief and how we can love other Christians who may disagree with us on other matters.
 
Importantly, the sermon is written in the context of interchurch cooperation. In other words, it deals with how Methodists are to interact with Christians of other denominations who may disagree in some theological emphases, modes of worship, or church government. The core essentials of faith are still held in common (the supremacy of God, the divinity of Jesus, faith filled with love, etc.), but how are we to navigate differences in the other areas of Christian belief? Wesley asks, “Though we can’t think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion?” These are important questions for us, as well.
 
Though Christians may not always agree in their theological opinions and worship preferences, Wesley shows that our commonality in the essentials of the faith enables us to “unite in love.” Love is the central thread that runs through the entire sermon. It bridges the personal squabbles we have over non-essential matters of belief. It calls us back to a theological center, built on the teaching and example of Jesus: “By this shall all know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
 
To be sure, Wesley does not advocate for “speculative latitudinarianism,” an indifference to all opinions. For Methodists, beliefs really do matter, and some theological opinions are certainly closer to the truth than others. However, even within these entrenched disagreements, Christians can still have love. Though we belong to different denominations, worship in different ways, and hold to different doctrines, the theological center of holy love holds us together.
 

Wesley concludes his sermon, “And now run the race which is set before thee, in the royal way of universal love… keep an even pace, rooted in the faith once delivered to the saints and grounded in love, in true, catholic love, till thou art swallowed up in love for ever and ever.” May we heed this wisdom in our own lives of faith. May we strive along the more excellent way of love— neither dismissing our differences nor tolerating falsehoods, but honing the center, holy love.

 

For further reading—

 

And the sermon text itself here


Read more...

Change

Once again the beauty of change falls among us.  We fold up our swimsuits and shake out our sweat shirts. The mower parks in the shed while the rakes are brought out to gather burning leaves falling from our trees. Change allows us to see clearly what we will miss and what is in store.
 
Here at Central change continues.  Our Ad Council met last night and agreed to slowly pull back our Covid restrictions. We will not ask for all to wear masks all the time. We still ask for compassion from all and will be providing masks for any who desire one. Thank you to all for doing your part! The change in our hospital occupancy and daily case numbers are something to be celebrated. When we move to yellow we will take down the tape.

With the changing year comes a new pledge drive for 2022. This Sunday we celebrate our Stewardship Sunday and the same, yet changing mission we have at Central to offer Jesus’ love to all. Do you remember it? That first time Jesus jumped off the pages of Scripture and transformed you with the reality of His power?  That love, that prevenient grace, that redeeming truth, that work – that’s what we are about together at Central. That’s the light we are keeping on with our commitment for 2022. I cannot wait to celebrate the changed lives from the work with you in the coming years.

Still, the greatest thing about change is that our Savior does not, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Heb 13:8)

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Joseph


Read more...

The Means of Grace

If you happened to catch Pastor Joseph’s blog article last week, you’ll recall it focused on the Methodist doctrine of entire sanctification (or, “Christian Perfection”). Among the doctrinal distinctives of our church, this is perhaps the most beloved. As Methodists we are optimistic about God’s grace. Though in our own power and by our own merit, we can achieve nothing of salvation, we believe God’s grace is powerful enough to deliver us from both the guilt and the power of sin in this life.

 

John testifies: “Those who have been born of God do not sin, because God’s seed abides in them; they cannot sin because they have been born of God” (1 John 3:9, NRSV). John is not claiming we’ll have a sinless perfection but a freedom from ongoing, high-handed sin. In place of sinful rebellion, the believer is filled with the holy love of God. Again, “Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world” (1 Jon 4:17, NRSV). The essence of holiness is perfect love. This love of God and neighbor so fills our hearts that we are oriented entirely away from the rebellious habit of sin and enabled to live a godly life. This is the renewal of the image of God within us.

 

If this is the goal of our salvation, and if Methodists truly believe its possibility in this life, then how do we receive this gift? How are we remade in the image of holy love? John Wesley saw a pathway in the means of grace. He described the means of grace as “outward signs, words, or actions ordained of God, and appointed for this end—to be the ordinary channels whereby he might convey to men [prevenient], justifying, or sanctifying grace” (Sermon 16: The Means of Grace).

 

Grace is essential for growth in the spiritual life. We cannot grow ourselves. We cannot make ourselves holy. We need the spiritual nourishment of grace, and it is always a gift from God. Therefore, we must wait upon God in the places he has promised to meet us with that grace and allow it to do its transformational work within us.

 

These channels of grace include our practices of prayer, Bible reading and study, attending worship, the Lord’s Supper, Christian fellowship, serving the poor, visiting the sick, and many others. These are the places where God does his deepest, most interior work of changing our hearts from a heart of sin to a heart of holy love. Perfect love. It is a process, perhaps better described as a “perfecting perfection.” But as Methodists, we believe that God both desires and is able to do such a profound work of grace within us that we can be utterly renewed in the divine image of holy love. It comes by grace. And it’s found in the means of grace.

 

Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life? Are you earnestly seeking this grace in the means that God has provided? Can we be a church that is so utterly renewed in the image of holy love that it radically transforms the community around us for the glory of God?

 

“O what people of God we ought to be; and grace can make us so!” (Francis Asbury)

 

-Pastor Phil


Read more...

Christian Perfection

John Wesley preached over and estimated 40,000 times in raising up the Methodist movement. At the end of his life, he wrote the following,

This doctrine (of full sanctification) is the grand depositum which God has lodged with the people called Methodists; and for the sake of propagating this chiefly He appeared to have raised us up.” 

Wesley taught Methodism as holiness of heart and life or true scriptural Christianity.  Christian Perfection or Full Sanctification became a defining doctrine which set apart the Methodists.  He defined this Christian Perfection most full as:

In one view, it is purity of intention, dedicating all the life to God. It is the giving God all our heart; it is one desire and design ruling all our tempers. It is the devoting, not a part, but all our soul, body, and substance to God. In another view, it is all the mind which was in Christ, enabling us to walk as Christ walked. It is the circumcision of the heart from all filthiness, all inward as well as outward pollution. It is a renewal of the heart in the whole image of God, the full likeness of Him that created it. In yet another, it is the loving God with all our heart, and our neighbor as ourselves.

 

Reflecting on his preaching of Christian Perfection, Wesley goes on,

“In the same sermon I observed, “`Love is the fulfilling of the law, the end of the commandment.’ It is not only `the first and great’ command, but all the commandments in one. `Whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, if there be any virtue, if there be any praise,’ they are all comprised in this one word, love. In this is perfection, and glory, and happiness: The royal law of heaven and earth is this, `Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.’ The one perfect good shall be your one ultimate end. One thing shall ye desire for its own sake, — the fruition of Him who is all in all. One happiness shall ye propose to your souls, even an union with Him that made them, the having `fellowship with the Father and the Son,’ the being `joined to the Lord in one spirit.’ One design ye are to pursue to the end of time, — the enjoyment of God in time and in eternity. Desire other things so far as they tend to this; love the creature, as it leads to the Creator. But in every step you take, be this the glorious point that terminates your view. Let every affection, and thought and word, and action, be subordinate to this. Whatever ye desire or fear, whatever ye seek or shun, whatever ye think speak, or do, be it in order to your happiness in God, the sole end, as well as source, of your being.” (Ibid., pp. 207, 208.)

 

I concluded in these words: “Here is the sum of the perfect law, the circumcision of the heart. Let the spirit return to God that gave it, with the whole train of its affections. — Other sacrifices from us he would not, but the living sacrifice of the heart hath he chosen. Let it be continually offered up to God through Christ, in flames of holy love. And let no creature be suffered to share with him; for he is a jealous God. His throne will he not divide with another; he will reign without a rival. Be no design, no desire admitted there, but what has Him for its ultimate object.

 

This is the way wherein those children of God once walked, who being dead still speak to us: `Desire not to live but to praise his name; let all your thoughts, words, and works tend to his glory.’ `Let your soul be filled with so entire a love to Him that you may love nothing but for his sake.’ `Have a pure intention of heart, a steadfast regard to his glory in all you actions.’

 

Is your soul so filled with love?  Have we thought of God’s glory in all our actions?  What would our world, our community, our homes look like if we had such purity of intention?

 

May we remember who we are and Whose we are.  Lord, hear our prayers…

 

Wesley’s full sermon – The Circumcision of the Heart

Wesley’s  – A Plain Account of Christian Perfection


Read more...