FAILURE & 2 life-changing lessons John Wesley learned from it. Article by @Bob Whitesel in #BiblicalLeadershipMagazine

Turning trials into triumphs created a degree of fame for the Wesleys. John, who had become a teaching fellow at Lincoln College in Oxford, came to the attention of James Oglethorpe, whose efforts for prison reform prompted the Oxford prison ministry of the Wesleys and their friends.

Now Oglethorpe had a bigger vision. He was a founder of the colony of Georgia, covering roughly the northern half of the modern-day state of Georgia. It was there Oglethorpe envisioned a haven for people who had been imprisoned in debtors’ prisons. In this vast colony, there was no official Church of England or designated pastor. In 1735 John Wesley became Oglethorpe’s choice to pastor the first church in the colony.

To Wesley, this was an opportunity to experience Christ more deeply by preaching to others in the unpretentious, natural environs of the New World.1 Little did he realize this experience would bring one of his greatest trials.

This church launch was well organized. Financial support was secured in advance and a meetinghouse in Savannah was designed. As they embarked from Gravesend, England, John felt everything was in order. Yet, in hindsight, John would recall his life was not in order spiritually.

Accompanying them on the voyage were German Christians called Moravians, after the region from which they came. They believed humility coupled with quiet reflection upon Scriptures and Christ was helpful in strengthening faith. John had the opportunity to observe their method firsthand when the ship encountered several unusually destructive storms. As one relentless storm dismasted the ship, hardened sailors abandoned their posts and cried out to God for mercy.

John, too, had a fear of death, which had developed prior to his Oxford years when he attended Charterhouse School in London. A hospital was housed in the same building as the school, and young John daily watched individuals die, some in comfort, others in fear.

As the ship appeared to be sinking with all hands doomed, the Moravians showed not fear but trust. They sang and praised God with a confidence and calm that moved John to declare it as one of most glorious things he had ever seen.2

At the same time, John’s reaction to the ship’s peril showed him he was no different from the fainthearted sailors. He too was “unwilling to die,” shaking with fright and crying out to God to save him.3 This was not the example he wanted to show to those who traveled with him. Nonetheless, that was his experience at this stage of his life.4

The prophet Ezekiel had a similar experience.

Exiled to Babylon as a young man of twenty, Ezekiel, like Wesley, had been trained to follow in his father’s footsteps as a priest. But in Babylon, Ezekiel found himself in a new land with a new role. When Ezekiel was thirty, about the same age as Wesley when he went to Georgia, God revealed His power to the prophet in a vision (Ezekiel 1:4—3:15). That vision made Ezekiel realize the inevitability of judgment upon each person for their sins. Later, God showed Ezekiel another vision, indicating that though His people felt as good as dead, God could recreate them as living, healthy people.

He said to me, ‘Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, Dry bones, hear the Lord’s word! The Lord God proclaims to these bones: I am about to put breath in you, and you will live again. I will put sinews on you, place flesh on you, and cover you with skin. When I put breath in you, and you come to life, you will know that I am the Lord.’ (Ezekiel 37:4–6)

John Wesley must have felt the same way. Though he had had early success in ministry, when the threat of death came near he found himself empty, discouraged, and unprepared.

This might have been how Ezekiel felt looking upon the disheartened Israelites who had been deported into Babylonian captivity. Yet just as God gave Ezekiel a vision of a revived nation, John would soon be revived too. In hindsight, John would describe these times of discouragement as the product of his fair-weather faith, stating:

I went to America to convert the Indians, but O! Who shall convert me? Who, what is he that will deliver me from this evil heart of mischief? I have a fair summer religion. I can talk well; nay, and believe myself, while no danger is near, but let death look me in the face, and my spirit is troubled.5

From these stories emerge at least two lessons.

1. Early success can lead to overconfidence. 

Some people encounter early successes they are never able to replicate. It’s important not to live in the past or on past glory. The lesson for John, and for every enthusiast, is God may give you early triumphs only for them to be followed by trials. But as God reminded Ezekiel, God can again bring about triumphs in our ministries and in our souls if we allow our faith to mature.

During Wesley’s life, he wrestled several more times with fair-weather faith. Though he felt like his life and career had dried up, he discovered fair-weather faith could be reinvigorated by God.

2. Fear of death can test our readiness to be judged for our life. 

The Scriptures abound with reminders death is not the end but a gateway to eternal life (Psalm 39:1–7; John 3:16; Romans 6:23).

From the stories of John Wesley and Ezekiel, take the lesson that a fair-weather faith must be replaced by “a mind calmed by the love of God.”6

Consider what God’s Word says about this:

Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no danger because you are with me. Your rod and your staff—they protect me. (Psalm 23:4)

Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body but can’t kill the soul. Instead, be afraid of the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell. (Matthew 10:28)

I assure you that whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and won’t come under judgment but has passed from death into life. (John 5:24)

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:4)

Consider these questions

Have you found yourself thinking back to past successes, maybe even more than you dream about future opportunities? Recall a time when you had a spiritual breakthrough. How did it make you feel? What lessons did you learn?

Now picture in your mind a future success that could make you feel the same way. In the future, use this rule of thumb: for each minute you spend thinking about past successes, spend two minutes dreaming about what God can do.

Ask yourself, “When have I been near death, and how did I feel about the prospect of standing before God?” Were you timid? Were you fearful? Were you happy? Wesley would write years later to a friend, “Do you sit in heavenly places with Christ Jesus? Do you never shrink at death? Do you steadily desire to depart and to be with Christ?”7

Excerpted fromEnthusiast!: Finding a Faith That Fills,by Bob Whitesel (Wesleyan Publishing 2018). 

1. John Wesley, “Letter to Dr. Burton,” October 10, 1735, The Letters of John Wesley,The Wesley Center Online, http:// wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/the-letters-of-john-wesley/ wesleys-letters-1735/.

2. John Wesley, The Works of John Wesley, vol. 18, eds. W. Reginald Ward and Richard P. Heitzenrater (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1988), 143.

3. Ibid., 140.

4. Ibid., 169. John experienced other terrifying storms on the voyage, as well as in America, all resulting in the fright that led him to ask himself, “How is it that thou hadst no faith?”

5. John Wesley, The Heart of John Wesley’s Journal(Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2008), 29.

6. John Wesley, The Works of John Wesley,vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007), 22.

7. John Wesley, The Works of John Wesley, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007), 499.

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ENTHUSIAST & Interview w/ author: What is an enthusiast?

Are you an enthusiast?
KATIE LONG | JANUARY 29, 2018

What makes you an enthusiast like John and Charles Wesley?

“Bearing up under challenges, staying rooted in God’s Word, having a close group of friends, ministering to the needs of the unfortunate and a vibrant prayer life” states Bob Whitesel, D. Min, Ph.D., author and professor of missional leadership at Wesley Seminary.

Dr. Whitesel explains these “methods” in Enthusiast! Finding a Faith that Fills, a book bursting with wisdom, advice and practical applications to discover the passion and enthusiasm for which we all yearn. A lifelong student of the leadership of John and Charles Wesley, he has been teaching and writing about evangelism and the organic church for many years.

His admiration for the Wesley’s passion, leadership and methods led him to collect his thoughts and experiences into a devotional that will revitalize, renew and create new enthusiasm in readers’ lives and communities through the examination of these brothers’ lives.

Enthusiast! Finding a Faith that Fills will teach Christians (especially those who trace their heritage back to the Wesleyan movement) how to enjoy and celebrate a world that is increasingly hostile towards enthusiastic Christians. Dr. Whitesel has found that many who call themselves Wesleyans or Methodists don’t know who the Wesley brothers were or about the methods they used.

“I want to introduce people to the daily lives of the Wesleys and the way their enthusiasm for God led to a movement that still helps people today find a faith that fills.”

John and Charles Wesley had to overcome doubt, ridicule and the hostility that was aimed at Christians. Even with many things against them, they helped usher a movement that ministered to all economic and social classes. They modeled their lives after the leadership of Jesus and the early disciples, leading the church in the way Christ led, which was critical for them and should be for all those who call themselves Wesleyans or follow their methods.

At the movement’s center was the understanding that true transformation through a conversion experience brought a better life. Dr. Whitesel believes the church can make the same impact for Christ today by participating in God’s plan to foster spiritual transformation in people and communities.

Learn more about Enthusiast! Finding a Faith that Fills at Enthusiast.life.

You can order your copy at wphstore.com.

ENTHUSIAST! & Do You Have Fair-weather Faith or Faith of a Son?

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 2/7/16. Excerpted from the upcoming 40-day devlotional guide: ENTHUSIAST! Finding a Faith that Fills (A 40-day METHOD for Turning Trials into Triumphs) (2018).

Day 4………………………………………………………….. Fair-weather Faith or Faith of a Son?

Imagine how Wesley felt on his voyage back to England: uncertain about ministry, uncertain about relationships and most distressingly, uncertain about death. He wrote, “Is he uneasy at the apprehension of death? Then he believeth not that ‘to die is gain’.”[1]

Enthusiast! 3D.jpgStormy relationships and more storms at sea reminded him he was not prepared to die. What began with such promise now ended in disgrace, a lawsuit and broken relationships. Describing his feelings about the mission’s promise and it’s failure he reflected, “I went to America to convert the Indians; but Oh! who shall convert me? Who, what is he that will deliver me from this evil heart of unbelief? I have a fair summer religion. I can talk well; nay, and believe myself, while no danger is near: but let death look me in the face, and my spirit is troubled. Nor can I say ‘to die is gain’.”[2]

Have you ever felt the same way? That squandered opportunities and the pull of sin make you fearful of meeting God? What happened to Wesley reminds us of what God wants to do for you.

Back in England Peter Bohler, a Moravian, cautioned John that good works and methods were no substitute for a saving faith that converts a person’s passions and happiness. Such faith saves a person not just eternally, but also from undue worry and debased passions. Wesley would later recall that in Georgia he had the faith of a “servant,” seeking to please God because of obligation and duty. But later he would experience the faith of a “son,” seeking to please God because of their relationship.

At this time Charles Wesley, who had also returned from Georgia, became ill and was attended by a saintly matron. Impressed by her faith Charles asked, “Then are you willing to die?” To which the matron replied, “I am, and would be glad to die in a moment.” After she left, Charles said he felt “a strange palpitation of heart” and declared, “I believe, I believe.”[3]

Though we are sometimes weak in faith and lack assurance, God promises that he can grow a “new heart” within us, as Ezekiel reminded the similarly downtrodden Israelites:

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be cleansed of all your pollution. I will cleanse you of all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. I will remove your stony heart from your body and replace it with a living one.” (Ezekiel 36:25-26)

A few days later, John attended evensong, an early evening service of prayers and psalms at stately St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. The choir sang Purcell’s profoundly stirring anthem, “Out of the deep have I called unto thee, O Lord” in which Wesley saw his own “godly yearning, mingled with heartfelt anguish.”[4]

After evensong Wesley ambled down the adjacent Aldersgate Street toward a Moravian Bible study. They were reading Martin Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans, where Luther reminds the reader that living out faith in the midst of persecution and judgment is key to our faith. When the following passage from the book was read, John’s life was forever changed: “Faith, however, is a divine work in us. It changes us and makes us to be born anew of God, John 1(12-13). It kills the old Adam and makes altogether different men, in heart and spirit and mind and powers; and brings with it the Holy Spirit.”[5]

In Wesley’s own words here is what happened next: “About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”[6]

From this moment a conversion to a new assurance took hold of Wesley’s life. No longer was his focus upon a successful career or cultivating friends and family. Rather the faith of a “son” characterized by assurance grew so that he would be ready to stand before God’s throne at any moment an be welcomed with the words, “Well done! You are a good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:23).

The lesson for today is: How is your assurance? And, how is your sonship? Do you have fair-weather assurance, where you are confident in your fate when death is absent? Do you have faith of a servant, simply obeying the Father out of obligation or fear. Or do you have faith of a son, who obeys God because of your relationship?

Lesson: Assurance of a Son Overcomes Fair-weather Faith

For personal devotion, read the questions and meditate upon each and write down your responses. For group discussion, share as appropriate your answers with your group and then discuss the application.

Ask yourself, “Do I have a fair-weather faith, confident in my Christianity when everything is going well? For instance do you attend to spiritual matters (like Bible study, prayer and Christian fellowship) when things are going well? Do you find it difficult to have peace and calmness when facing temptation or death?

Then ask yourself, “Is my relationship to God more like a servant or a son? Do I follow God as a servant might, because of obligation and duty? Or do I seek to follow and please God because of a relationship, because I am his child?

And can you say, “I am ready to stand before God’s judgment this very hour?” Can you say, “I have the assurance that if I were to die this instant, I would hear God say ‘’Well done! You are a good and faithful servant’.” (Matt. 25:23)

Read these verses about assurance and sonship. Then write down three things you have learned.

God sent his Son, born through a woman, and born under the Law. This was so he could redeem those under the Law so that we could be adopted. Because you are sons and daughters, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba, Father!” Therefore, you are no longer a slave but a son or daughter, and if you are his child, then you are also an heir through God. (Galatians 4:4-7)

God chose us in Christ to be holy and blameless in God’s presence before the creation of the world. God destined us to be his adopted children through Jesus Christ because of his love. This was according to his goodwill and plan and to honor his glorious grace that he has given to us freely through the Son whom he loves. (Ephesians 1:4-6)

All who are led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons and daughters. You didn’t receive a spirit of slavery to lead you back again into fear, but you received a Spirit that shows you are adopted as his children. With this Spirit, we cry, “Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:14-15).

And this is the testimony: God gave eternal life to us, and this life is in his Son. The one who has the Son has life. The one who doesn’t have God’s Son does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of God’s Son so that you can know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:11-13)

You are all God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus. All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (Galatians 3:26-27)

Finally, compose a one-paragraph prayer to God describing your assurance as His child.

Footnotes:

[1] Reginald Ward and Richard P. Hietzenrater, ed.s The Works of John Wesley, Bicentennial ed., vol. 18, Journals and Diaries (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press), p. 207.

[2] ibid., 18:211

[3] Thomas Jackson, ed., The Journals of Rev. Charles Wesley (1838). Reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1980), 1:91-92

[4] Kenneth Collins, John Wesley: A Theological Journey (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2003), p. 87.

[5] E. Theodore Bachmann, ed., Luther’s Works: Word and Sacrament I (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1960), 35:369.

[6] Reginald Ward and Richard P. Hietzenrater, ed.s The Works of John Wesley, Bicentennial ed., vol. 18, Journals and Diaries (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press), pp. 249-250.

Speaking hashtags: #TheologicalReflectionSeminar

WALKING w/ WESLEY & Disgrace of a Famous Church Planter – Lessons Wesley Learned

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 2/7/16. Excerpted from the upcoming 40-day devlotional guide: Walking w/ Wesley: The 40-day METHOD for Turning Trials into Triumphs (2018).

Week 2, Day 3………………………………………………………. Disgrace of a Famous Pastor

To this day in Savannah, Georgia stately moss-covered trees surround Johnson Square. Many such parks were laid out by James Oglethorpe to provide green space for residents. And though this was the most visible and public space in Savannah, in shame and humiliation John Wesley nailed his pastoral resignation to one of the trees. What began as a celebrated church new ministry had deteriorated to this.

What had happened in a short 16 months?

John Wesley’s disgrace sprung from a unbalanced adherence to rules and methods. Grace in the form of love and forgiveness, had been lacking in John’s early methods. Though his methods would eventually guide an entire movement known as Methodism, an early over emphasis and reliance upon methods without corresponding grace, had led to his shame. How did this happen so quickly?

One writer called John Wesley a romantic[1] and for good reason. His close relationship with his mother led him to appreciate the intellectual dialogue and encouragement of a close female friend. At the same time he sought to strengthen his resolve against undue affection. Thus he set up rules and regulations to guard his relationship with Sophy, which more than likely contributed to her feeling she was secondary to his career.

Once Sophy had eloped with the irreligious William Williamson, John began to reprove her as insincere and even ungrateful.[2] John’s strict adherence to rules and methods caused him to fixate on Mrs. Williamson’s spiritual faults. On one occasion when she did not receive communion, he took her aside to list her increasingly inexcusable behavior.[3] Sophy’s guardian, a local magistrate, warned that legal action could ensue if Wesley refused her communion.[4] One month later, Wesley barred her from receiving communion.

Many in the congregation, and certainly Sophey’s guardian, felt the motive was revenge. A grand jury convened and posted ten indictments against John. In reply, John nailed his resignation letter to a tree in Johnson Square.

There is a lesson from this story of a famous pastor’s fall so early in his career. And that is that there is an insidious power in rules and methods, that must be balanced with grace and mercy. Followers of John Wesley’s methods, from his time until today, have sometimes been criticized for focusing on outward methods, in lieu of the inward character.

We see here a warning to all that would desire to embrace a structure to enhance their spiritual growth. The warning is this: that though we may embrace spiritual structures to foster spiritual growth, those very methods, without equal grace and mercy, those methods might not mirror our Lord’s conduct. We see Jesus address this with the Pharisees:

While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee invited him to share a meal with him, so Jesus went and took his place at the table. When the Pharisee saw that Jesus didn’t ritually purify his hands by washing before the meal, he was astonished.

The Lord said to him, “Now, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and platter, but your insides are stuffed with greed and wickedness. Foolish people! Didn’t the one who made the outside also make the inside? Therefore, give to those in need from the core of who you are and you will be clean all over. (Luke 11:37-41)

And Paul wrestled with rules and methods that overshadowed the grace and mercy of Christ:

If you died with Christ to the way the world thinks and acts, why do you submit to rules and regulations as though you were living in the world? “Don’t handle!” “Don’t taste!” “Don’t touch!” All these things cease to exist when they are used. Such rules are human commandments and teachings. They look like they are wise with this self-made religion and their self-denial by the harsh treatment of the body, but they are no help against indulging in selfish immoral behavior. (Colossians 2:20-23).

Lesson

For personal devotion, read the questions and meditate upon each and write down your responses. For group discussion, share as appropriate your answers with your group and then discuss the application.

Recall a time when you judged someone because of the way they looked or behaved. Write in your journal the power that rules and expectations played in this. Then ask yourself, “How would Jesus have me respond differently?”

Search the scriptures for a biblical story that can guide you in such future situations. In one paragraph, summarize that story in your own words.

Then, the next time you are tempted to impose your personal methods and structures upon others, read these two paragraphs again and let them guide you into a more Christ-like response.

Footnotes:

[1] H. Newton Malony, The Amazing John Wesley: An Unusual Look at an Uncommon Life (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2010), pp. 117-131.

[2] Reginald Ward and Richard P. Heitzenrater, ed.s The Works of John Wesley, Bicentennial ed., vol. 18, Journals and Dairies (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1988), p. 490.

[3] See Kenneth A Real Christian: The Life of John Wesley (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1999), p. 49.

[4] Reginald Ward and Richard P. Heitzenrater, ed.s op. cit., p. 184

Speaking hashtags: #TheologicalReflectionSeminar

WALKING w/ WESLEY & Lessons He Learned from Falling in Love With a Woman & With Ministry

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 2/7/16. Excerpted from the upcoming 40-day devlotional guide: Walking w/ Wesley: The 40-day METHOD for Turning Trials into Triumphs.

Week 2, Day 2…………………………….. Falling in Love With a Woman & With Ministry

Life was hard in Savannah, Georgia in 1736. Disease, death and the harsh wilderness weather affected many. Not surprisingly both John and Charles Wesley suffered bouts of serious illness. During one such bout, John recalled how a young church member, Sophia Hopke (known as Sophy), “Sat by my bed, read several prayers, and prepared whatever I wanted with the diligence, care, and tenderness not to be expressed.” Governor Oglethorpe encouraged the relationship thinking that a wife might do Wesley good. Though Wesley wrote in his journal regarding his tender feelings for Sophy, she made clear her intention was to remain single.[1] But, she was engaged to a reportedly mean and violent man. When John asked Sophy about this, she replied, “I am every way unhappy. I won’t have Tommy, for he is a bad man. And I can have none else.”[2] Facing such a marital and spiritual predicament, Sophy asked John to tutor her in spirituality. An affectionate relationship began to take shape.

John fell in love with Sophy, writing in his journal how he was charmed by “her words, her eyes, her air, her every motion and gesture.”[3] But, such emotions seemed to draw him away from his singular fixation on ministry. He felt his affection for Sophy was dividing his attention for ministry and in addition, she was betrothed to another. Thus, began John’s struggle. John sketched out reasons not to marry: a) she was already engaged, b) he was absorbed in a demanding ministry to Native Americans and c) she had declared her desire never to marry, but serve Christ alone. In response, John’s methodological mind devised rules, resolutions and reasons that built a wall between him and the woman he loved.

John told Sophy that he had decided not to make any decision until he had established a ministry to the Native Americans. Her response was cool, to say the least. Shortly after, she ended the tutoring. Then Sophy informed John that she had consented to a marriage proposal from a ham-fisted and irreligious Mr. Williamson, “unless you (John) have anything to object.”[4] John wrote, “to see her no more, that thought was as the piercings of a sword”[5] but he felt he must choose ministry over marriage.

Since his first encounter with her, when she nursed him back to health, John sensed that Sophy’s spirituality and tenderness were part of the support he needed to pursue ministry in the New World. Yet, by seeing these foundations as competitive, rather than complementary Wesley made a ministry error common among young leaders. Focusing solely on the needs of others clouded his need for a supportive soul mate.

First, it is important to see ministry and family as not competitive forces, but complementary ones. John’s task was so daunting that he rarely took time away from his work, which created strain, ill health and led to poor choices. The first lesson is that God provides friends and spouses as a support network for ministry. Trying to do ministry without the assistance of others, regardless of how important the ministry may be, will lead to impaired results.

Secondly, it is important to understand that rules and regulations (e.g. the “methods” he learned from his mother) can become a cage if a sensitive heart does not temper them. When he found himself thinking of Sophy too often, he set up rules, resolutions and lists of reasons not to take a wife. His heart was divided and it destroyed his sense of peace, which eventually affected his judgment. You will learn more about his errors in judgment tomorrow.

Lessons 1 & 2

For personal devotion, read the questions and meditate upon each and write down your responses. For group discussion, share as appropriate your answers with your group and then discuss the application.

(Lesson 1) Ask yourself, who do you look to as a support network for your ministry? Name them and write down the last time you were with them. Did you seek their prayers, encouragement and a listening ear? After his vision of the dry bones, God reminded Ezekiel that God would unite a nation that hitherto had been estranged, saying, (37:15-22).

The Lord’s word came to me: You, human one, take a stick, and write on it, “Belonging to Judah and to the Israelites associated with him.” Take another stick and write on it, “Stick of Ephraim belonging to Joseph and everyone of the house of Israel associated with him.” Join them to each other to make a single stick so that they become one stick in your hand. When your people ask you, “Why won’t you tell us what these sticks mean to you?” say to them, The Lord God proclaims: I’m taking Joseph’s stick, which has been in Ephraim’s hand, and the tribes of Israel associated with him, and I’m putting it with Judah’s stick, and I’m making them into a single stick so that they will be one stick in my hand. When the two sticks that you’ve written on are in your hand in their sight, speak to them, This is what the Lord God says: I will take the Israelites from among the nations where they’ve gone, I will gather them from all around, and I will bring them to their fertile land. I will make them into a single nation in the land on Israel’s highlands. There will be just one king for all of them. They will no longer be two nations, and they will no longer be divided into two kingdoms.

God can unite even estranged nations like Israel and Judah. Draw up a plan for regular times of prayer, Bible study and encouragement with a support network. Create one from scratch if you must. Add to this plan an ongoing schedule to ensure that you do not neglect those that support you.

(Lesson 2) Ask yourself, “Do I depend on rules and regulations to keep me focused? What part does my love of God and the love I receive from others play in this? Do these requirements I put upon myself sometimes steal my time away from accountability by family and friends?”

Accountability should be more than methods, it should be people too. What part of your support network is also your accountability network? Again write down a schedule to ensure that you are held accountable.

Footnotes:

[1] Reginald Ward and Richard P. Heitzenrater, ed.s The Works of John Wesley, Bicentennial ed., vol. 18, Journals and Dairies (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1988), p. 435-436.

[2] Ibid. p. 438.

[3] Ibid., p. 477-478.

[4] Ibid., p. 485.

[5] Ibid.

Speaking hashtags: #TheologicalReflectionSeminar

WALKING w/ WESLEY & Planting the First Official Church in Georgia

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 2/7/16. Excerpted from the upcoming 40-day devlotional guide: Walking w/ Wesley: The 40-day METHOD for Turning Trials into Triumphs.

Week 2, Day 1…………………………………… Planting the First Official Church in Georgia

Turning trials into triumphs created a degree of fame for the Wesleys. John, who was now a teaching fellow at Lincoln College in Oxford, came to the attention of James Oglethorpe. We encountered Oglethorpe earlier, when his efforts for prison reform had opened up the Oxford prison to the ministry of the Wesleys and their friends.

But now Oglethorpe had a bigger vision. He was a founder of the colony of Georgia, covering roughly the northern half of today’s State of Georgia. It was there that he envisioned a haven for people who had been imprisoned in debtor prisons. In this vast area there was no official Church of England or a designated pastor. In 1735, John Wesley became Oglethorpe’s choice to plant the first church in the colony.

To Wesley, this was an opportunity to experience Christ more deeply by preaching to others in the unpretentious, natural environs of the new world.[1] Little did he realize, it was going to be one of his greatest trials.

This church launch was well organized. Financial support was secured in advance and a meetinghouse in Savannah was designed. As they embarked from Gravesend, England, John felt everything was in order. Physically everything was in order, but in hindsight John would recall that spiritually, his house was not in order.

Accompanying them on the voyage were German Christians, called Moravians after the area from which they came. They believed that humility coupled with quiet, reflection upon scriptures and Christ were helpful methods to strengthen faith. Wesley had the opportunity to observe their method firsthand when the ship encountered several unusually destructive storms. As one relentless storm de-masted the ship, hardened sailors abandoned their posts and cried out to God for mercy.

John had a similar fear of death, which had developed prior to Oxford when he attended Charterhouse School in London. In the same building as the schoolhouse was a hospital where daily he watched individuals die, some in comfort, others in fear. Yet, as the ship appeared to be sinking with all hands doomed to death, the Moravians showed not fear, but trust. They sang and praised God with a confidence and calm that moved John to declare this was one of most glorious things he had ever seen.[2]

Still, John’s reaction in the doomed ship soon showed him he was no different from the fainthearted sailors. He too was “unwilling to die” and shaking with fright crying out to God to save him.[3] This was not the example he wanted to show those that traveled with him. Nonetheless, it was who Wesley was at this stage of his life.[4]

A similar experience loomed before the prophet Ezekiel.

Exiled into Babylon as a young man of twenty, like Wesley he had been trained to be a priest like his father. However now Ezekiel found himself in a new land with a new role. At age thirty, about the age of Wesley, God revealed his all-seeing and all-knowing power in a vision (Ezekiel 1:4-3:15). This made Ezekiel realize the inevitability of judgment upon each person’s sins and how Jerusalem’s fall was God’s punishment. But in Ezekiel 37 God shows another vision, that though his people felt as good as dead, God can take dry, sun-bleached skeletons and create a living, healthy humans again:

He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, Dry bones, hear the Lord’s word! The Lord God proclaims to these bones: I am about to put breath in you, and you will live again.  I will put sinews on you, place flesh on you, and cover you with skin. When I put breath in you, and you come to life, you will know that I am the Lord.” (Ezekiel 37:4-6)

Wesley must have felt the same way. Though he had early success, when the threat of death came near he found himself empty and unprepared. He would later call this fair-weather faith, stating:

I went to America, to convert the Indians; but O! Who shall convert me? Who, what is he that will deliver me from this evil heart of mischief? I have a fair summer religion. I can talk well; nay, and believe myself, while no danger is near, but let death look me in the face, and my spirit is troubled.[5]

From these stories emerge at least two lessons.

First, early successes can propel one to think too much of oneself and of one’s own ability. Most people may encounter early successes, which they may never again be able to replicate. It’s important not to live in the past or on past glory. The lesson for Wesley and for every enthusiast is that God may give you early triumphs – to be later followed by many trials. God does promises to bring about triumphs again, if we allow our faith to mature. During this week, you will see Wesley wrestle several more times with fair-weather faith. Though he will feel like his life and career are dried up, fair-weather faith can be reinvigorated again if God does the reinvigoration.

Secondly, we are reminded that the fear of death can be a test of Christian experience. The Scriptures abound with reminders that death is not an end, but a gateway (see the verses below). Take from these stories the lesson that a fair-weather faith must be replaced by “a mind calmed by the love of God.”[6]

Lessons 1 & 2

For personal devotion, read the questions and meditate upon each and write down your responses. For group discussion, share as appropriate your answers with your group and then discuss the application.

(Lesson 1) Have you found yourself thinking back to past successes, maybe even more than dreaming about future opportunities?

  • Recall a time in the past when you had a spiritual breakthrough. How did it make you feel? What lessons did you learn? Write a one paragraph summary.
  • Now picture in you mind a future success that could make you feel the same way. Write a one paragraph description of what this might look like.
  • Compare the two paragraphs. Use this rule of thumb: in the future for each minute that you spend thinking about past successes, spend two minutes dreaming about what God can do.

(Lesson 2) Ask yourself, “When have I been near death and how did I feel about standing before God?” Were you timid? Were you fearful? Were you happy? Wesley would write years later to a friend, “A Christian is not afraid to die. Are you? Do you desire to depart and to be with Christ?”[7]

Write a paragraph about how you feel about Wesley’s questions. Then meditate on the verses below. Repeat them, memorize them and read them in context. Then write another paragraph describing how these verses make you feel.

Psalm 23:4

Even when I walk through the darkest valley,

I fear no danger because you are with me.

Your rod and your staff—

they protect me.

Matthew 10:28

28 Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body but can’t kill the soul. Instead, be afraid of the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell.

John 5:24

24 “I assure you that whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and won’t come under judgment but has passed from death into life.

John 14:1-6

“Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me. My Father’s house has room to spare. If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you? When I go to prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be too. You know the way to the place I’m going.” Thomas asked, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?”Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Hebrews 2:14-15

14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he also shared the same things in the same way. He did this to destroy the one who holds the power over death—the devil—by dying. 15 He set free those who were held in slavery their entire lives by their fear of death.

Revelation 21:4

           4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Footnotes:

[1] Frank Baker, The Works of John Wesley, Bicentennial ed., vol. 25, Letters (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1980), p. 439.

[2] Reginald Ward and Richard P. Heitzenrater, ed.s The Works of John Wesley, Bicentennial ed., vol. 18, Journals and Dairies (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1988), p. 143.

[3] Ibid. p. 140.

[4] John experienced similar terrifying storms on the voyage, as well as in America; all resulting in the same fright that lead him to declare regarding himself, “How is it that thou hadst no faith?” Ibid., p. 169

[5] John Wesley, The Heart of John Wesley’s Journal (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2008), p. 51.

[6] Ibid., p. 165.

[7] John Telford, ed., The Letters of John Wesley, A.M., 8 vols. (London: Epworth Press, 1931), 6:30-31.

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WESLEY’s METHOD & Why It is Needed Again Today

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 1/30/16.

Many denominations trace their histories back to a “revival movement” sparked by John Wesley’s “METHOD” in 1700s England. These denominations include

  • the Methodists of course,
  • the Free Methodists,
  • most Pentecostals/Charismatics,
  • the Nazarenes,
  • most of the Church of God denominations,
  • Freewill Baptists
  • some Baptist denominations (e.g. in parts of Texas)
  • the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church,
  • Evangelical Church of North America,
  • African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church,
  • the Salvation Army
  • and of course the Wesleyan church.

But what is made this made Wesley’s “METHOD” so influential and so dramatic?

The secret was Wesley’s leadership and organizational “METHOD.”

So clear to his detractors that this “METHOD” was at the core of the movement’s emphasis upon conversion and discipleship that his detractors labeled his followers “Methodist.”

Methodist was a derogatory term. But the people following the “METHOD” knew that the “METHOD” worked and so they embraced the name. This would be analogous today to someone calling you a “program Christian,” meaning that you were just following some “program.”

But those who had been changed and now started caring for the poor because of this “METHOD” knew that the method was Biblically-based and divinely inspired. This they were proud to be called “Methodist” … attaching it to every church name.

Some Calvinistic churches and leaders may have disagreed with Wesley’s Arminian theology. But they don’t disagree with his “METHOD-ology.” Famous Baptist theologian and founder of the Liberty University School of Theology, Dr. Elmer Towns said:

Wesley Method Keynote Slides 2 copy.jpgWesley Method Keynote Slides 5 copy.jpgWesley Method Keynote Slides 4 copy.jpgWesley Method Keynote Slides 3 copy.jpg

See more at … https://churchhealthwiki.wordpress.com/2017/10/12/method-3-basics-every-christian-should-know-about-wesleys-ministry-method/

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