Witness to Jesus Christ in the World

In the history of Christianity, being a witness has carried a heavy cost. You see, Martyrs-projectthe Latin word for witness is “martyr.” Given the modern usage of that word, one can understand why many Christians today get nervous whenever the topic of “witnessing” comes up. The early witnesses to Jesus Christ in the world paid for their witness with their lives; often in gruesome and terrifying ways. When given the choice between worshipping Jesus Christ as Lord of their lives and risking imprisonment and death or renouncing Jesus, worshiping the Roman gods, and living, many chose the former. They would rather die than deny Jesus. They paid for their faith with their lives.

It is no wonder, then, that Christians today are squeamish about witnessing. To many, faith is a personal matter that is not discussed in public. It is between them and God. To others, it is wrong to try to impose their beliefs on another. And for others, they are simply too uncertain of their own beliefs to be willing to share them with anyone. There are, no doubt many other reasons most Christians are uneasy with the idea of witnessing to Jesus Christ in the world.

So then, why do we have a general rule of discipleship whose purpose is to lead people to witness to Jesus Christ in the world? When you are baptized God, through Jesus Christ, promises to always love, forgive, and surround you with his grace. In response, you “confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races. You accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression, and you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sins.” In other words, with the churches help, you make a covenant with Christ to be a witness to him in the world. And, being a witness to Jesus Christ in the world is a remarkable privilege. It is a gift from Jesus to you. He gave his life for you so that you may receive this gift; so that you may live in his amazing grace and offer that gift to others.

We witness to a particular person. God loved us so much that he sent a love letter in the form of a man, a Jew from Nazareth named Jesus. In Jesus, God lived among us as a common carpenter; a man who earned his living with his hands.

We witness to him in many ways; ways. Some witness to personal experience of Jesus. These are the people who have had a sudden, life changing event in which they experienced the transforming power and presence of Christ. In that experience they received unequivocal assurance of their salvation and Christ’s presence in their lives. Others testify to what the Bible says about Jesus. They may or may not have had a conversion experience, but they have come to know Jesus through the witness of Scripture. Still others simply witness to Jesus Christ in the world through the way they live their lives every day. Every time you attend public worship on Sunday morning, you witness to Jesus Christ in the world. Every time you give compassion to someone who is hungry, sick, in prison, mourning, or lonely, you witness to Jesus Christ in the world. Every time you pray in public or private, you witness to Jesus Christ in the world. Every time you speak out against or resist injustice and oppression you witness to Jesus Christ in the world.

Christian discipleship is an ongoing process. It is a life-time project. Discipleship is living out the teachings of Jesus Christ. It is how you:

 …work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13).

You work out your salvation by witnessing to Jesus Christ in the world and following his teachings through acts of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In baptism the church promises to equip and support us in the living the way of Jesus. We stand on the shoulders of the witnesses, martyrs, and saints who have gone before us. The writer of Hebrews encourages us when he writes,

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith
(Hebrews 12:1-2a).

Michael Glen Bell and Duane Arnold give us a brilliant collection of prayers of some of that “great cloud of witnesses” to inspire and encourage us as we strive to live as faithful witnesses to Jesus Christ in the world today. These martyr’s prayers are set to music by Mr. Bell. He performs the words of witnesses such as Thomas Becket, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Oscar Romero. The words and music of this record will stay with you. They will be a source of encouragement, inspiration, and challenge as you do your best to follow the way of Jesus in the footsteps of the saints and martyrs.

Click here to visit the Martyrs Project web site. Be sure to watch the two videos: Becket and Romero.

Ebola and Wesley

Ebola is causing much suffering and anxiety across the world. More than 8000JWmonogram people have been diagnosed with the virus in the West African nations of Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone. It has killed over 3,800 people. The global community has deployed personnel and supplies to assist the affected nations in their efforts to fight the spread of the virus. President Obama recently deployed 3,000 soldiers from the US Army to assist in the struggle to contain the outbreak.

Earlier this month Thomas Duncan travelled from his home in Liberia to Dallas. He developed Ebola symptoms shortly after his arrival and went to a hospital for help. Mr. Duncan was eventually diagnosed with the Ebola virus and admitted to the hospital where he was treated in isolation. Mr. Duncan died this week. Everyone with whom he came into contact is being monitored to see if they develop symptoms of the disease.

Media reports about Ebola and Mr. Duncan have both informed and incited much fear in the USA. While public health and medical experts have tried to inform the public about how difficult it is for Ebola to be passed from one person to another, others in the media have stoked unfounded fear and anxiety in many people.

The Wesleyan tradition gives us a Christ-shaped response to Ebola. First, John Wesley was a man of God who took science and medicine seriously. He read and studied the scientific and medical journals of his time. Wesley believed God gave us minds for thinking and solving problems. He saw science as God’s gift to humankind. It is a means to understanding how the systems of the world work, including those of the human body.

Wesley published his most popular book, A Primitive Physick, as an attempt to give regular people access to the latest medical advice for the treatment of common ailments. He wrote the book out of the conviction that Christians have an obligation to treat and heal illness. Followers of Jesus have a responsibility to alleviate physical and spiritual suffering. Healing and wholeness are an essential part of Jesus’ good news for the world. They are signs of God’s kingdom breaking into the world.

Christians in the Wesleyan tradition are people who familiarize themselves with and learn from science. Regarding Ebola, Wesleyans study the information available to them about the virus, how it is transmitted from one person to another, and what we can do to protect ourselves and others from the virus. We will not give in to irrational fear mongering.

Wesleyans will also be Christians who will work to develop a vaccine that will prevent the Ebola and medicines to treat. They will also do all in their power to help prevent the virus from spreading.

Secondly, John Wesley believed Jesus expected his followers to visit and care for the sick (see Matthew 25:36). Visiting and care for the sick is not an optional activity for people who call themselves Christian. In his sermon, “On Visiting the Sick” (#98), Wesley explains how visiting the sick is just as much a means of grace as prayer or the Lord’s Supper. He believed that both the person visited and the visitor benefit. The person visited receives relief from suffering while the visitor’s heart is opened more to Christ and his grace at work in the world. Visiting the sick is a way of growing closer to Christ. Wesley goes on to explain how to and who should visit the sick. He explains that much of visiting is asking questions and listening to the person’s needs, then doing all in your power to care for the needs. Who should visit? Everyone who claims to be a Christian needs to make time to visit. Wesley believed men and women, laity and clergy are responsible for visitation and care for the sick.

I am not saying that we all should fly off to west Africa to care for the thousands of people suffering because of the Ebola virus. But we can pray for them and for the people who are trained to provide medical treatment and to help prevent the spread of the virus. Prayer is a good beginning to fulfilling our responsibility to Christ and our west African sisters and brothers. Lift up the people who have been diagnosed with Ebola to the Great Physician. Pray for the women and men who are working to treat and comfort the sick and dying. Pray for the people working to educate their neighbors about how to protect themselves from infection. Pray for those who must collect the dead and carefully dispose of the remains. Pray for the US soldiers who will be working with the people to build clinics and caring for the sick.

In addition to prayer, you can give to support the work of United Methodist missionaries and pastors in west Africa through the work of Global Ministries and the Advance for Christ response to Ebola.

Wesleyan Leadership Conference to Reconnect Leaders with Baptismal Living

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NASHVILLE, Tennessee /GBOD/ – Lay and clergy leaders will explore baptismal living and disciple-making in the Wesleyan tradition through prayer, scripture, worship and interactive experiences at the 2014 Wesleyan Leadership Conference in October.

The conference, entitled Leaders Living (and Dying) Baptismally, is scheduled for Oct. 23-25 at the General Board of Discipleship (GBOD) in Nashville.

“One of the major goals is to reconnect people with the baptismal covenant,” said Steve Manskar, Director of Wesleyan Leadership at GBOD and one of the conference leaders. “We’re going to explore the promises we make when people are baptized and confirmed and are received as members of the church – what they mean and what their implications are for discipleship and disciple-making.

“Baptism marks the beginning of life in Christ and his Church. We regularly need to revisit the promises that God, the church and we make when we are baptized.” Manskar said.

Conference participants will have numerous opportunities for prayer and worship during the event. In small interactive groups, they will discuss ways to apply what they are learning to their own lives and as leaders in their local contexts.

“The goal is not just to give people good information, but rather to help them experience something that contributes to their formation as followers of Jesus Christ, and in particularly, to their ministry as leaders who disciple others,” Manskar said.

During a pre-conference morning session on Oct. 23, Manskar will lead a workshop about how Covenant Discipleship groups form disciples of Jesus Christ who are equipped to disciple others. Participants will explore the General Rule of Discipleship, the group covenant, group dynamics and how to introduce Covenant Discipleship to a congregation.

Other conference leaders include:

  • Melanie Gordon, Director of Ministries with Children, GBOD
  • Taylor Burton-Edwards, Director of Worship Resources, GBOD
  • Jodi Cataldo, Director of Laity in Leadership, GBOD
  • Tom Albin, Dean of The Upper Room Chapel, GBOD
  • Tim Bias, General Secretary, GBOD
  • Michael Bell, composer and musician, and co-creator of The Martyrs Project: Martyrs Prayers 
  • Dean McIntyre, Director of Music Resources, GBOD

The individual registration fee for the three-day conference is $95, and for groups of three or more from the same organization, the fee is $85 per person. The pre-conference fee is $25. For more information and to register, click here.

Discipleship & Disciple-making in the Wesleyan Tradition

Who is a disciple of Jesus Christ? How are disciples made?rembrandt emmaus

The answers to these questions are found in Scripture, the Baptismal Covenant, and the General Rules.

Jesus describes the nature of discipleship in all the synoptic gospels by saying:

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).

John Wesley preferred Luke’s version, I suspect because he is the only writer who has Jesus insisting that discipleship is a daily endeavor. It is a way of life. Discipleship requires daily practice of self-denial, cross-bearing, imitation of Jesus. He summarized the cross-bearing life in Matthew 22:37-40,

‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’

How are disciples made? The Baptismal Covenant and the General Rules provide the road map for the congregation’s mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The Baptismal Covenant describes what it means to be a Christian. The General Rules provide guidance for living as a Christian in the world. There is direct correlation between each of the three baptismal questions and the three General Rules.

I’ve written about how they work together in a series of posts on Alan Bevere’s blog:

The General Rules and the Baptismal Covenant: Part 1 of 3

The General Rules and the Baptismal Covenant: Part 2 of 3

The General Rules and the Baptismal Covenant: Part 3 of 3

Beware of Schism

Given the recent release of a press release from a group of 80 large congregationJWmonogram pastors and theologians, I thought it instructive to look at what John Wesley has to say about schism. In my reading of this group of 80’s statement they are clearly calling for the schism of the church. It seems to me this is an incredibly irresponsible and selfish response to the current state of The United Methodist Church. I say so because they are advocating schism over what Wesley regards as “opinions” and not over matters of substantive doctrine. A more responsible, and Wesleyan, approach is to acknowledge that our disagreements are over opinions and we need to find a way to live and work together on the equipping people to participate in the mission of the Church and in Christ’s mission in the world.

The following is from A Plain Account of Christian Perfection by John Wesley. It is near the end of the book. He is giving his advice to the Methodist people and especially to those who are earnestly striving after perfection in love:

“Beware of schism, of making a rent in the Church of Christ. That inward disunion, the members ceasing to have a reciprocal love ‘one for another,’ (1 Cor. 12:25,) is the very root of all contention, and every outward separation. Beware of everything tending thereto. Beware of a dividing spirit; shun whatever has the least aspect that way. Therefore, say not, ‘I am of Paul or of Apollos;’ the very thing which occasioned the schism at Corinth. Say not, ‘This is my Preacher; the best Preacher in England. Give me him, and take all the rest.’ All this tends to breed or foment division, to disunite those whom God hath joined. Do not despise or run down any Preacher; do not exalt any one above the rest, lest you hurt both him and the cause of God. On the other hand, do not bear hard upon any by reason of some incoherency or inaccuracy of expression; no, nor for some mistakes, were they really such.

“Likewise, if you would avoid schism, observe every rule of the Society, and of the Bands, for conscience’ sake. Never omit meeting your Class or Band; never absent yourself from any public meeting. These are the very sinews of our Society; and whatever weakens, or tends to weaken, our regard for these, or our exactness in attending them, strikes at the very root of our community. As one saith, ‘That part of our economy, the private weekly meetings for prayer, examination, and particular exhortation, has been the greatest means of deepening and confirming every blessing that was received by the word preached, and of diffusing it to others, who could not attend the public ministry; whereas, without this religious connexion and intercourse, the most ardent attempts, by mere preaching, have proved of no lasting use.’

“Suffer not one thought of separating from your brethren, whether their opinions agree with yours or not. Do not dream that any man sins in not believing you, in not taking your word; or that this or that opinion is essential to the work, and both must stand or fall together. Beware of impatience of contradiction. Do not condemn or think hardly of those who cannot see just as you see, or who judge it their duty to contradict you, whether in a great thing or a small. I fear some of us have thought hardly of others, merely because they contradicted what we affirmed. All this tends to division; and, by everything of this kind, we are teaching them an evil lesson against ourselves.

“O beware of touchiness, of testiness, not bearing to be spoken to; starting at the least word; and flying from those who do not implicitly receive mine or another’s sayings!

“Expect contradiction and opposition, together with crosses of various kinds. Consider the words of St. Paul: ‘To you it is given, in the behalf of Christ,’ — for his sake, as a fruit of his death and intercession for you, — ‘not only to believe, but also to suffer for his sake.’ (Phil. 1:29.) It is given! God gives you this opposition or reproach; it is a fresh token of his love. And will you disown the Giver; or spurn his gift, and count it a misfortune? Will you not rather say, ‘Father, the hour is come, that thou shouldest be glorified: Now thou givest thy child to suffer something for thee: Do with me according to thy will?’ Know that these things, far from being hinderances to the work of God, or to your soul, unless by your own fault, are not only unavoidable in the course of Providence, but profitable, yea, necessary, for you. Therefore, receive them from God (not from chance) with willingness, with thankfulness. Receive them from men with humility, meekness, yieldingness, gentleness, sweetness. Why should not even your outward appearance and manner be soft? Remember the character of Lady Cutts: ‘It was said of the Roman Emperor Titus, Never any one came displeased from him. But it might be said of her, Never any one went displeased to her: So secure were all of the kind and favourable reception which they would meet with from her.’

“Beware of tempting others to separate from you. Give no offence which can possibly be avoided; see that your practice be in all things suitable to your profession, adorning the doctrine of God our Saviour. Be particularly careful in speaking of yourself: You may not, indeed, deny the work of God; but speak of it, when you are called thereto, in the most inoffensive manner possible. Avoid all magnificent, pompous words; indeed, you need give it no general name; neither perfection, sanctification, the second blessing, nor the having attained. Rather speak of the particulars which God has wrought for you. You may say, ‘At such a time I felt a change which I am not able to express; and since that time, I have not felt pride, or self-will, or anger, or unbelief; nor anything but a fulness of love to God and to all mankind.’ And answer any other plain question that is asked with modesty and simplicity.

“And if any of you should at any time fall from what you now are, if you should again feel pride or unbelief, or any temper from which you are now delivered; do not deny, do not hide, do not disguise it at all, at the peril of your soul. At all events go to one in whom you can confide, and speak just what you feel. God will enable him to speak a word in season, which shall be health to your soul. And surely He will again lift up your head, and cause the bones that have been broken to rejoice.

 

Acts of Justice

Justice is a word we hear often. It is used a lot with regard to crime and justice
punishment. Justice, in this context, often means punishment and revenge; punishment for crimes committed; vengeance for the victims who have suffered loss and injury. While this popular understanding of justice has its place, it is not the justice we find in the Bible.

God’s idea of justice is different from our human ideas. God is the ultimate judge of the universe. Nothing escapes God’s judgment. God is not impartial. God is the judge who takes sides. For God, justice is experienced in the relationship of covenant love. God seeks justice for those who live in covenant with him. God comes to us in the man, the Jew from Nazareth, Jesus Christ. In him, God has shown the world what justice looks like. In Let Justice Roll Down Bruce Birch writes, “Justice is the chief attribute of God’s activity in the world.” This is illustrated by the beatitudes found in Luke and in Matthew. In the beatitudes we can see that God’s justice is biased in favor of those who are the poor, the oppressed, the weak, the vulnerable. God’s justice acts in their favor and against institutions and systems responsible for their suffering.

God’s justice is about establishing and maintaining community. God’s greatest concern is for the protection of the community as a whole through insuring the basic rights of the poor, the weak and powerless. This concern for the most vulnerable of the world is the main purpose of the law and of God’s mission for the world in Jesus Christ. In this definition of justice God promises to save the poor and bring down the powerful and wealthy who exploit and oppress them. God takes the side of the poor because no one else will. Therefore, to be in relationship with God, to be on God’s side, is to be on the side of the poor.

John Wesley knew this very well. He understood God’s preference for the poor. His understanding of God’s justice is revealed in his work on behalf of the poor. Wesley spoke out against merchants who charged unfair prices for their goods, distillers whose products destroyed the body, physicians who deliberately prolonged their patient’s illnesses in order to continue collecting fees, and lawyers who abused their profession. Wesley protested the oppression of war and slavery. He understood that the people who fought the wars and suffered in slavery were the poor and vulnerable people of the world.

Wesley worked to provide free health care, education, and job training to the poor. He created a credit union from which poor people could borrow money to gain freedom from debtors prison and helped people find employment. Wesley knew that the gospel of Christ could not be heard over the growl of an empty stomach or the cries of hungry children. His was a witness to Jesus Christ and his justice in and for the world.

John Wesley is a good teacher for us when we ask about acts of justice today. Many of the conditions he faced are in your community today. We can find ways to help the poor lift themselves out of poverty and hopelessness: support a local food bank and literacy and job training programs with your money and your time; supporting the work of community organizations with crime victims, conflict resolution, and domestic violence with your gifts and time; and participating in local, state, and national government by voting, attending public meetings and speaking out or writing about issues of justice.

Another act of justice is to examine your own attitudes toward the poor, the prisoner, the victim. Are they welcomed by you? Is your congregation a place where they could experience God’s love?

Acts of justice are the public extension of the personal acts of compassion. To do justice is to love God. To love God is to love justice. To love justice is to love what God loves. And what God loves is the world and especially those who are poor, hungry, abused and vulnerable. To witness to Jesus Christ in the world through acts of justice is to serve those whom Christ came to serve.

Atonement & the Method of Methodism-Conclusion

A Contemporary model: Covenant Discipleship

Today we have a contemporary model of the class meeting in Covenant Dali CrucifixionDiscipleship groups. A group consists of 5-7 people who are willing to be accountable for their discipleship. They agree to meet weekly for one hour. The group’s life is shaped by the General Rule of Discipleship:

To witness to Jesus Christ in the world, and to follow his teachings through acts of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

The process of weekly accountability and support for balanced discipleship forms members as leaders in discipleship who, in turn, disciple others. Some group members will be commissioned by the congregation to serve as Class Leaders.

Class Leaders partner with the appointed pastor in the work of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Each class leader is assigned up to 20 members of the congregation. Their task is to meet regularly with each member of his or her “class” to help them be more intentional about their discipleship. The General Rule of Discipleship serves as their rule of life.

The importance and power of Covenant Discipleship groups and class leaders is that people are equipped to join Christ in his mission in the world through relationships of mutual accountability and support for the disciplined practice of loving God and those whom God loves, leading to growth in holiness of heart and life and the development of a congregational culture of holiness.

Covenant Discipleship groups, and other small groups that foster mutual accountability and support for growth in holiness of heart and life, help the congregation to keep its baptismal covenant: “to provide a community of love and forgiveness and prayer that members may become faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. … and to do all in your power to increase their faith, confirm their hope, and perfect them in love.”

Conclusion

The Wesleyan way of Christian formation provides a simple and practical way to respond to God’s love revealed in the death of his Son. It provides the means to form relationships of mutual support and accountability people need to deny themselves, take up their cross daily and follow Jesus. The call to discipleship is a call to live with the cross. It is a call to relationship with the Triune God. The Wesleyan way helps us know and love God by joining with others like us. God comes to us and we grow in knowledge and love of God through relationships with others who seek to “deny themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow Jesus” (Luke 9:23). This reality tells me that Christian faith and life is necessarily relational. Christ comes to me through the lives, witness and love of other people.

Jesus shows us that his way is the relational way. He shows us how to love:

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

His way is the way of love that is eternal life; life with God here and now and in God’s coming reign on earth as it is in heaven. When we follow Jesus he gives us the grace we need to love as he loves. As we learn and practice the disciplines of self-denial, bearing our cross in daily obedience to the way of Jesus, and walking with him in the world we will grow in holiness of heart and life and become more and more like him. We will become fully the person God created us to be, in Christ. We will also realize that the most precious things in this life are not what the world tells us are important (power, wealth, things, and fame); the most important thing in life is love and the relationships that are gifts from God.

Let us join (’tis God commands),
Let us join our hearts and hands;
Help to gain our calling’s hope,
Build we each the other up.
God his blessing shall dispense,
God shall crown his ordinance,
Meet in his appointed ways,
Nourish us with social grace.

Let us then as brethren love,
Faithfully his gifts improve,
Carry on the earnest strife,
Walk in holiness of life.
Still forget the things behind,
Follow Christ in heart and mind;
Toward the mark unwearied press,
Seize the crown of righteousness!

Plead we thus for faith alone,
Faith which by our works is shown;
God it is who justifies,
Only faith the grace applies,
Active faith that lives within,
Conquers earth, and hell, and sin,
Sanctifies, and makes us whole,
Forms the Saviour in the soul.

Let us for this faith contend,
Sure salvation is its end;
Heaven already is begun,
Everlasting life is won.
Only let us persevere
Till we see our Lord appear;
Never from the rock remove,
Saved by faith which works by love.

(Charles Wesley, #507 in A Collection of Hymns for the Use of The People Called Methodists, 1780).