Calming the Storm, Sign or Metaphor?

A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:37-41)

Ah, yes, Jesus calms the storms of life. The story is a metaphor – an illustration – of what Jesus does in our lives. For the most part, that’s how the gospel will be preached today. And indeed Jesus does calm the storms of my life.

Or maybe the storms of life continue, but we need to trust Jesus anyway. Maybe that’s the point of Jesus’ rebuke, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Again, though, the storm is a metaphor for some existential struggle or internal disquiet that I face.

What if, however, Mark didn’t primarily intend for us to see the storm as a metaphor for our personal struggles? What if he meant us to see the storm as an actual storm, with gale-force winds and 20-foot waves and torrential rain and blinding flashes of lightning? What if he meant us to see it as a big, wet, life-threatening punch in the face from mother nature?

Continue reading “Calming the Storm, Sign or Metaphor?”

Addressing Obstacles to Faith and Holiness

In a recent post on the church’s mission-essential tasks, one of the sub-tasks I listed was this:

Reorient – address obstacles to faith and holiness

I listed this as part of the second mission-essential task:

Integrate Disciples into the Community of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit

By “addressing obstacles to faith and holiness,” I mean that repentance and liberation from sin characteristic of Wesleyan theology. The church helps its new members begin the process of reorienting their lives away from enslavement to the world, the flesh and the devil toward freedom for joyful Christian holiness.

The early church addressed this aspect of making disciples with its extended catechumenate. Catechumens not only learned the basics of the faith, they were liberated from the power of the world, the flesh and the devil by prayer and exorcism. The church watched over the catechumens in love, encouraging them, exhorting them and holding them accountable for the commitments they were making.

Early Methodism accomplished this same task with its system of classes and bands. Methodists met together in small groups to hold each other accountable to life under the General Rules and to seek perfection in love. They exhorted each other and prayed for each other as they sought to lay aside all known sin.

Continue reading “Addressing Obstacles to Faith and Holiness”

See How They Love One Another … And Live Disciplined Lives

What did ancient Romans think about Christians? On a number of occasions, I’ve heard these words attributed to early church’s neighbors:

See how they love one another.

I wondered where the quote came from and I found it in the writings of a North African Christian named Tertullian. In 197 AD he wrote a letter to the Roman authorities to plead for justice for the church and to stand up for the gospel of Jesus Christ in the face of cruel opposition.

The letter, known as Apologeticus, is 50 chapters long, with over 35,000 words in the English translation. It describes the injustices Christians endure, refutes the popular charges against them, establishes the value of the Christian church to the empire, argues against idolatry and explains Christian beliefs and practices. The quotation in question comes from the beginning of chapter 39, which describes Christian assemblies.

The chapter begins with this affirmation.

We are a body knit together as such by a common religious profession, by unity of discipline, and by the bond of a common hope.

Continue reading “See How They Love One Another … And Live Disciplined Lives”

Leaders, Tasks and the Mission of Making Disciples

The Bible is nowhere near as interested in the abstractions of leadership theory as contemporary organizational theorists, but there may be some value in looking at the church through that lens.

I spent more more than a quarter century in an organization where mission accomplishment was central to all that we did. To plan operations, we learned to receive the mission, analyze the mission, restate the mission, develop and evaluate courses of action to accomplish the mission. Units of the organization trained repeatedly on their “mission-essential task list” (METL). Leaders led the organization using the principles of “mission command”.

Leaders lead organizations to accomplish their missions. Insofar as the church in the world shares the characteristics of all organizations, church leaders lead the church to accomplish its mission. The mission of the United Methodist Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The UMC mission statement is a Wesleyan riff on Jesus’ “Great Commission” that closes the Gospel of Matthew.

Then Jesus came to [the eleven disciples] and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

The church needs its leaders to direct their energies and talents to accomplish that mission.

Having said that, I also need to frame the mission of the church within the mission of God. Before disciple-making is human work, it is God’s work. “I will build my church,” Jesus declared. All authority in heaven and earth belong to him, and he will be present with his church until he comes in glory at the end of the age. The Book of Acts portrays the spread of the gospel and the growth of the church as the work of the Holy Spirit, and the Gospel of John reminds us that the wind of God blows where it wills.

As a Wesleyan Christian, I also see this  work of God through the lens of the Wesleyan order of grace:

  • Prevenient Grace: God’s work to prepare his way in the human heart and open the way to repentance and faith.
  • Convincing Grace: God’s work to convince people of sin and lead them to repentance.
  • Justifying Grace: God’s work to deliver those who put their faith in Jesus from guilt and restore a right relationship with God.
  • Sanctifying Grace: God’s work to deliver those who put their faith in Jesus from the power of sin, restore the image of God and perfect believers in love

Within the Wesleyan framework, discipleship is always communal or social. Making, baptizing and teaching disciples is the work of the whole church, takes place within the church and unites people to the church. Discipleship is not a solitary endeavor or experience.

Continue reading “Leaders, Tasks and the Mission of Making Disciples”

Jesus and the Promise of Home

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. John 15:9-12

The Comforts of Home

Every afternoon, when I am worn out by the day, I look forward to the moment when I can walk out to my car and silently comfort myself with the thought, “Let’s go home.” And in my life, home has been a moving target.

Continue reading “Jesus and the Promise of Home”