George Whitefield

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George Whitefield was considered one of the greatest preachers who ever lived. He was with John Wesley in the beginning of the Methodist Movement as part of the original Holy Club at Oxford. Here is one of his recorded prayers:

BLESSED JESUS, thou hast told us in thy gospel, that unless a man be born again of the Spirit, and his righteousness exceed the outward righteousness of the scribes and pharisees, he cannot in anywise enter into the kingdom of GOD. Grant me therefore, I beseech thee, this true circumcision of the heart; and send down thy blessed Spirit to work in me that inward holiness, which alone can make me meet to partake of the heavenly inheritance with the saints in light.

Create in me, I beseech thee, a new heart, and renew a right spirit within me. For of whom shall I seek for succour but of thee, O LORD, with whom alone this is possible? LORD, if thou wilt, thou canst make me whole! O say unto my soul, as thou didst once unto the poor leper, I will, be thou renewed. Have compassion on me, O LORD, as thou once hadst on blind Bartimeus, who sat by the way-side begging.

LORD, thou knowest all things, thou knowest what I would have thee to do. Grant, LORD, that I may receive my sight; for I am conceived and born in Sin; my whole head is sick, my whole heart is faint; from the crown of my head to the sole of my feet, I am full of wounds and bruises, and putrefying sores; and yet I see it not. O awaken me, though it be with thunder, to a sensible feeling of the corruptions of my fallen nature, and for thy mercies’ sake, suffer me no longer to sit in darkness, and the shadow of death.

O prick me, prick me to the heart! Dart down a ray of that all-quickening light, which struck thy servant Saul to the ground; and make me cry out with the trembling jailer, “What shall I do to be saved?” Lord, behold I pray, and blush, and am confounded that I never prayed on this wise before. But I have looked upon myself as rich, not considering that I was poor, and blind, and naked. I have trusted to my own righteousness. I flattered myself I was whole, and therefore blindly thought I had no need of thee, O great physician of souls, to heal my sickness.

But being now convinced by thy free mercy; that my own righteousness is as filthy rags; and that he is only a true Christian who is one inwardly; behold with strong cryings and tears, and groanings that cannot be uttered, I beseech thee to visit me with thy free Spirit, and say unto these dry bones, Live.

I confess, O LORD, that thy grace is thy own, and that thy Spirit bloweth where he listeth. And wast thou to deal with me after my deserts, and reward me according to my wickednesses, I had long since been given over to a reprobate mind, and had my conscience seared as with a red-hot iron. But, O LORD, since, by sparing me so long, thou hast shown that thou wouldst not the death of a sinner; and since thou hast promised, that thou wilt give thy holy Spirit to those that ask, I hope thy goodness and long-suffering is intended to lead me to repentance, and that thou wilt not turn away thy face from me.

Thou seest, O LORD, thou seest, that with the utmost earnestness and humility of soul, I ask thy holy Spirit of thee, and am resolved in confidence of thy promise, who canst not lie, to seek and knock, till I find a door of mercy opened unto me.

LORD, have me, or I perish; visit, O visit me with thy salvation. Lighten mine eyes that I sleep not in death. O let me no longer continue a stranger to myself, but quicken me, quicken me with thy free Spirit, that I may know myself, even as I am known.

Behold, here I am. Let me do or suffer what seemeth good in thy sight, only renew me by thy Spirit in my mind, and make me a partaker of the divine nature. So shall I praise thee all the days of my life, and give thee thanks for ever in the glories of thy kingdom. O most adorable Redeemer; to whom, with the Father, and the Holy Ghost, be ascribed all honour and praise, now and for evermore. Amen.


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How long, O Lord?

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How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?

How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I take counsel in my soul

and have sorrow in my heart all the day?

~Psalm 13:1-2
 
22 dead in Texas. 19 children murdered. Parents devastated. Community shattered. And far beyond blood stained Uvalde. How many parents hugged their kids a little tighter or even kept them home this week?
 

The lament from Jesus’ own day echoes far too loudly in our time,

 “A voice is heard in Ramah,

   weeping and great mourning,

Rachel weeping for her children

   and refusing to be comforted,

   because they are no more.”

~Matthew 2:18

 

Sometimes, all we have to offer are our tears and silent prayers. Prayers which get mocked as we lament our present pain to our unseen God… 

My tears have been my food

day and night,

while people say to me all day long,
 
“Where is your God?”
 
~Psalm 42:3

 

We cry out for no ordering nor action can set right what’s broken here and now. How! Long! O Lord!

 

Still, as we cry we must sit in the pain. All action and change are distractions from the loss – the ripping and tearing of lives and families. Again. How can it be again so soon after Buffalo?  Again, we list the senseless violence ripping and tearing communities across our country. The pain, we cannot bear it. So we cry out to our God who can. How long, O Lord?

The pain focuses us and clarifies our call as we bear the pains together as a community. The pain helps us see the pain amplified in every community as doors get locked tighter and we walk a little farther from every stranger. The pain reminds of the One who passionately bore our pain in the true love which bleeds for others. 

 

We sit in the pain long enough and we see our God has been with us all along. Jesus weeps still at the loss of His friends. Jesus weeps at the lack of love in His Father’s world. Jesus, who gave us the answer we don’t want to be so simple against such monstrosity, “Love your neighbor.”

 

We glimpse the truth, marvel at what might be if only each neighbor transferred this love – but the agonizing pain draws us back to crying out about the brokenness all around us. 
 

In our pain and grief, may we draw a little closer to one another, and may our cries run the full course of their lament.

 

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?

    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
    light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
 lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
    lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

 But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
 I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.

~Psalm 13


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Growing in Discipleship

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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


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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!

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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.

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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.


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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


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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


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