Friday, August 14, 2015

Just Perfect

John Wesley is best known for his tireless work in founding small groups within the Church of England that were called METHODIST sarcastically because of Wesley's insistance on being methodical in the Christian life: Bible reading, fasting, early to bed and to rise, journaling, etc.  Although it was a term of derision from mockers, it stuck, much like a kid's nickname that makes fun of some quirk.  While Methodism spread like wildfire for more than 200 years, there was one huge thorn on the rose of Methodism that became a real sticking point.

As a scholar, priest and a seeker, he took seriously all the words of scripture for an ordered, disciplined life.  Among those Biblical commands that John Wesley preached and proposed was what he called "perfection".  As used by Wesley, teleioi or τέλειοι, comes solely from the New Testament (Matthew 5:48, 1 Corinithians 14:20, Phillipians 3:15, Colossians 4:12, James 1:4) The Greek origin,  télos  means traveling toward a destination or a consumation; it is closure or arrival at a goal.  Consider the old barbarian pirates with their eyeglass extending toward their destination--- the telescope.  Before leaving the Greek, I think it's interesting to see it as something that unfolds, stage by stage, a maturation, which is how I see perfection.  But why is perfection important and how does it apply to you and me?

John Wesley took a lot of ridicule because he broke out of the typical mold.   I think 99.9% his problem with the doctrine of perfection is what he chose to call it.  Systematic Theologian: yes. Organizer? Oh yeah! Marketing....not so much.   But when you call it holiness instead of perfection, it's it's easier to swallow, right? An even more palatable way to break it down is to call it growing in the faith.  It should describe all Christians who take the time and energy to read their Bible; who pray and seek to love God more in their heart and through their actions---not just on Sunday---but every day. Tell us we're supposed to be perfect and my eyes glaze over. I give up.  Can I, through Christ who gives me strength, love God and people? I will do my darned best!

Wesley believed that this was worked out in small accountability groups, where those on the same journey could ask hard but honest questions.  How, though, could they measure any progress on the road to perfection errrrr, holiness, I mean? It was pretty simple, actually.  The criteria Jesus would have used would be the greatest commandments (Matthew 22):

  1. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.
  2. Love your neighbor as yourself.
John Wesley called it perfection.  Yet others have called it holiness. The key word is actually love.  Love God. Love others. As you grow toward God, you become more like Him, which is LOVE.  Just like in the triangle above, as you grow, the distance between yourself and God or yourself and others diminishes. Grow in love!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Pitching my Tent

If you're like me, there are one or two long distance friends that you still---even decades later---still connect with but rarely are able to see face to face.  Although we don't talk on a daily basis, we can pick up the conversation like it was moments instead of months or even years later.  How I hope and pray you have at least one of those friends.  This, and subsequent posts, are spurred by a couple of these recent conversations.

One thing I've noticed as I've grown up and grown older, I fought with my parents and worked hard not to be like them as a teenager and young adult.  As a new mother who had birthed an unbelievably strong willed child and left the hospital with no instruction book, my parents suddenly transformed into a combination of rock-star and brain surgeon wrapped into one. More than 20 years later, now that my Mom has passed and Dad nears 90, I realize how I wasted decades trying to avoid being around them and even trying not to be like them.  As their child, I am not only like my parents ..... I am my parents.  I love chocolate and desserts, seeing where history was made and meeting new people who expand my horizons.  A library is an attractive place where you can see pretty much the world from your own corner without spending a nickle.  I love to laugh and to share that laughter with those I love  as
well as complete strangers.  Some of this I learned; most of it came from simply being their child and being immersed in their particular school of persuasion.  
A large course of study in that persuasive school was church.  We attended Sunday morning for Sunday School and worship.  Vacation Bible School.  Youth Group. If the doors of the church were open, generally, we were there whether we wanted to be or not.  Call me odd, but I liked it.  I still like it.  One of the things I picked up along the way was the idea of growing in grace.  I don't recall that it was particularly taught but something I observed.  People are drawn to Christ and some even pinpoint that along the way there was a redemption moment (some might say a process, because they know they gave their life to Christ but cannot give you a specific date in time).  This redemption includes confessing that I am a sinner and that I need the forgiveness of Jesus to raise me out of and cleanse me from the things I've done wrong.  

For some people that's the essence of their relationship with God.  John Wesley believed that God calls us deeper, very much similar to the Disciples experience at Pentecost.  If you are familiar with this as described in the book of Acts, yes, it was marked by tongues of fire and men speaking in languages they had never spoken before.  Wesley believed---if you'll stay with me---that it wasn't so much about the speaking in tongues as it was the waiting on the arrival of the Holy Spirit.  The disciples were instructed, upon Jesus' departure, to wait.  As they waited together, they prayed.  Was the Holy Spirit present in this process? By all means, YES!  Did they feel the presence? Not necessarily.
For those of us who claim the name of Jesus and call God Father, we believe in God even when we cannot see or touch the One in whom we believe.  Many times we cannot see His presence in our circumstances until we look back.  As the Hebrew children finally left Egypt after the plagues of Pharoah, did they feel God's presence when they approached the Red Sea? Had I been in their shoes, I would have been chewing on my heart that was jumping out of my throat and into my mouth.  Even as they walked across and turned around to see Pharoah's army dashing into the path they had just left, it would be hard to see God at work!  Then the water came crashing down and drowned the army that had chased them from Egypt......THAT would be a moment of transformation.  
Like the Hebrew children, the choice is ours whether we cross the Red Sea and pitch our spiritual tents on the shore to settle there OR we continue forward, following God for the journey.  John Wesley followed deeply into the Promised Land, just as Caleb and Joshua encouraged. Will you go as well?