Selected verses from Ecclesiastes and Luke 15:11-24
What Does God Have to Do with It?
Over twenty years ago I watched a television talk show that had a discussion I remember to this day. I don’t remember which of the world’s problems was being solved, but I do remember an exchange between the host and one of the guests. The host asked, “Don’t you believe in God?” to which the guest replied, “Yes, but what does that have to do with the way I live my life?”.
That may sound alarming for some, but the idea expressed by the guest is not all that unfamiliar – throughout history or in our own day.
George Barna, whose research group surveys the religious beliefs and attitudes of the American people, has written extensively on such topics and continues to discover that the beliefs a person professes does not necessarily impact the behaviors of that person.
In one of his books, Barna discovered that while 74% of those polled strongly affirmed that there is only one true God, who is holy and perfect, and who created and rules the world, only 47% strongly agreed that their faith in that same God was relevant to the way in which they lived their daily lives.
Rembrandt and Warhol
That attitude moved one writer to observe that in the 1660s, Rembrandt placed himself in one of his paintings of Jesus being raised on the cross, in an effort to show that he contributed to the need for Christ’s death. And in the 1960s, Andy Warhol painted Campbell’s Soup cans. In the writer’s opinion, the contrast in paintings reflected what he called, “the curious emptiness and meaninglessness of our modern culture.”
I’ll let art critics hammer out the merits of that writer’s interpretation of the paintings, but there has certainly been a lasting struggle in our world to find meaning for our lives. Some throw themselves into their families, pursue upward advancement at work, seek better health and social status, or fill their time watching sports and enjoying more and more leisure, just to name a few.
None of these pursuits is inherently wrong, but for many, they do point to what may be considered a bothersome emptiness that nothing seems to fill. This is the message of Solomon in the Book of Ecclesiastes. In it, he testifies to his life’s pursuit to find real and lasting meaning in his life.
He writes in Ecclesiastes 1:12-13,
"I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens."
He had been searching for truth, wisdom, and meaning in the many activities that filled his days, but his conclusion to these reflects only pessimism and discouragement. Verse 14 is Solomon’s summary to these pursuits. He concludes,
"I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind."
His feelings express the plight of poor Sisyphus of Greek mythology. You may remember that Sisyphus was condemned by the gods. His punishment? He was sentenced to roll an enormous boulder to the top of a hill, only to watch it roll down the other side, and then to repeat the task again and again and again, without end.
His grueling labor did not solve a problem, create anything good, or enable him to grow as a person. Nothing beyond the task was accomplished by his effort. It was truly meaningless. It was the very definition of futility.
Solomon felt the same way Sisyphus must have felt. Solomon sensed an emptiness in the pit of his stomach. Throughout Ecclesiastes he continually asked, “is this all there is?”.
An Unlikely Candidate
Let’s remember who Solomon was. He was the wisest, richest, and most powerful man of his day. Therefore, when a person like him asks the sorts of questions we find in Ecclesiastes, we need to tune in and hear what he has to say.
Dismayed and discouraged, Solomon found himself unable to discover any real and ultimate point to all his effort. There didn’t seem to be anything that contributed lasting value to his life. Instead, he seemed to think that none of his accomplishments would even be remembered.
Many of us have heard the quip, purportedly uttered by a successful CEO, “You better enjoy your position while you have it, because after you retire, they don’t return your calls anymore.” That’s what Solomon was afraid of. His outlook in Ecclesiastes revealed a life that was highly invested in temporal attainment and fame, and not a life that cared much about God’s eternal perspective.
He mourned over the meaninglessness of his existence and he had reason to, because for Solomon, his “great accomplishments” had been built on sand. And after several decades, Solomon began to discover that his foundations were beginning to crumble. But he was honest. He admitted this. And he asked the hard and honest questions.
Many in our day, perhaps even you, shy away from the tough questions - large, overarching world-and-life-view questions, such as: Who am I? Why am I here? What’s the meaning of life? How should I live my life? What’s my ultimate destiny?
As one writer put it,
“To be utterly lost in the woods is unfortunate. To be absolutely unconcerned about it is unreasonable.”
It is indeed unreasonable for us to walk aimlessly through the woods of life without knowing why we’re there or where we’re headed.
Encounter with a Pigpen
The parable of the prodigal son sheds light on this for us.
In the parable, the younger of two sons takes his inheritance and leaves his family and responsibilities to go off to a “far away country.” Why did he want to leave? Adventure? To find himself? Independence? Pure pleasure? Perhaps a little of each. Whatever the reason, it seems he didn’t believe he could pursue those things while he lived under his father’s roof. Perhaps he believed that the freedom of living on his own would enable to him to become who he wanted to be.
Yet it was the result of that pursuit in which he lost his inheritance and found himself living and eating with the pigs, no better off than those who served his father. Worse in fact. His experiment failed miserably. His quest for freedom resulted in enslavement. He was imprisoned by his unbridled desires, passions, and ambitions. In a peculiar reversal of fortune, he became the least free person he knew. He completely lost himself. I can only imagine that, as he sat in the pigpen, eating leftover pig food, he must have asked, “How did I get here?”
Perhaps that’s what Solomon was asking himself? He had been given unequalled wisdom, wealth, fame, and power, and he squandered it on building an empire to himself. Solomon must have been asking similar questions as the prodigal son: “How did I get here?” “What’s life all about?”
The prodigal son found himself not only in the position of a hired hand, but now treated worse than those who served his father’s family. Thus, it was as he sat there in his misery among the pigs, that he realized what he had given up when he left his father’s house. He came to understand how good he had it when he lived at home. Perhaps he even came to appreciate that true freedom is not the absence of responsibility but fulfilling it. To live according to one’s true identity and calling.
The Good Father
When the young man decided to return home, he did so with the hope of becoming like one of his father’s hired hands, for he knew how well they were treated by his good father. What the prodigal son would soon learn was that his good father is much like our good Father. He doesn’t merely accept us a servant, but restores us as his sons and daughters, with all the inheritance he graciously promises and provides for his children.
It’s only as we gain this understanding of what true meaning is, and where it comes from, that we can begin moving toward becoming all God created us to be. Our quest for self-fulfillment and personal freedom, detached from our identity in God and his calling in our lives, leads to meaninglessness and pigpens. Solomon confessed at the end of Ecclesiastes that it is only as we return to the Father that we truly find ourselves. He summarizes his findings in Ecclesiastes 12:13-14,
Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind.
14 For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil.
We are able to live the lives we were created for only when we are in a right relationship with God and align our lives with his will and character. And that kind of relationship and life come only through faith in Jesus Christ, the very Son of God.
That is our response to the guest’s question on the talk show: “Yes, I believe in God but what does that have to do with how I live my life?”
Our response: Everything!
Life is genuinely meaningful and significant only when we find true, abundant, and eternal life in Jesus Christ. As one author concluded,
“If we fail to see find it, we miss the whole point of our existence. We might make a great name for ourselves in the world, we might lack nothing in material goods, and people might bow before us. Yet we will have failed to find the true meaning that God desires for our lives.”
When the father embraced his son, the young man had not only found his way home, he had finally found himself.
Thanks be to God.
Here's the video of this morning's sermon. There are things in the sermon that aren't in the manuscript. And, there are some things in the manuscript that aren't in the sermon . But the key ideas are the same.
The Fellowship of the Burning Heart
by John Wesley -
But the most common of all the enthusiasts of this kind, are those who imagine themselves Christians, and are not. These abound, not only in all parts of our land, but in most parts of the habitable earth. That they are not Christians is clear and undeniable, if we believe the oracles of God. For Christians are holy; these are unholy; Christians love God; these love the world: Christians are humble, these are proud; Christians are gentle; these are passionate; Christians have the mind which was in Christ; these are at the utmost distance from it. Consequently, they are no more Christians, than they are archangels. Yet they imagine themselves so to be; and they can give several reasons for it: For they have been called so every since they can remember; they were christened many years ago; they embrace the Christian opinions, vulgarly termed the Christian or Catholic faith; they use the Christian modes of worship, as their fathers did before them; they live what is called, a good Christian life, as the rest of their neighbours do. And who shall presume to think or say that these men are not Christians? – though without one grain of true faith in Christ, or of real, inward holiness; without ever having tasted the love of God, or been “made partakers of the Holy Ghost!”
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This is the seventh lesson on the Book of James in our series, "Living Wisely in Turbulent Times." In this lesson we discuss James 1:22-27. In particular, we take a look at how we can deceive ourselves by going through the motions of empty or useless religion instead of enjoying the fruitful and flourishing life God intends through both the hearing and doing of his Word. Please enjoy this week's lesson and then make sure to share it with a friend.
Romans 1:21 - For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.
Much has been made over the last few years regarding the emergence of militant atheism’s evangelistic crusade to rid the world of ignorance. Specifically, these crusaders want to enlighten the minds of the masses who still believe God exists. For these spokesmen for atheism, belief in God is intellectually unsustainable and should by all means be abandoned. Not only that, these atheistic evangelists believe a person’s commitment to belief in God is actually harmful to children as well as to civilization as a whole.
Thankfully, their charges have been sufficiently answered at every turn by faithful Christian apologists. The atheists are getting all the press, but their arguments are unable to stand up to the Light of Truth.
A More Dangerous Breed of Atheism
Yet there is a more prevalent form of atheism that lurks in our land. Indeed, it can even be found in the church. It is what Cornelius Van Til called, “practical atheism.” A practical atheist is a person who professes to believe in God, and yet the God whose existence is professed does not seem to make any meaningful difference in that person’s daily life. His beliefs, values, morals, and actions are not prioritized by his supposed belief in God’s existence. Put another way: If this person was to wake up one day and decide he no longer believed in the existence of God, his life would change very little. This is practical atheism.
In Romans 1:21, Paul describes the person who has suppressed the truth he knows about God. Paul says that, in truth, all people know God exists. In fact, they even know things about his power and majesty. Yet, in order to maintain a certain way of living, they alter their belief system to accommodate their lifestyle. Like the hard atheist who formally declares there is no God, practical atheists deny God by the way in which they live their lives. Paul teaches us that “although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him…”
God at the Center
We glorify God when we seek to live purposefully and intentionally for him each day. We glorify God when we live to please, honor, obey, love, represent, bear witness to, and imitate him. That’s what a God-glorifying, God-informed life looks like. It’s also a life that is grateful to God for his goodness. This is more than tossing out a “thank you” every now and then at the beginning of a meal. Instead, it’s more of an all-encompassing attitude of gratitude. It becomes pervasive in one’s personality. This attitude glorifies God because it exalts God as the One who is worthy of such affection and appreciation.
How are you doing with this? Are you seeking to glorify God and be thankful to him in all things? Of course, none of us is perfect at this. We can all get fairly self-absorbed and self-centered in the goings on of our lives. We all, from time to time, become too preoccupied with lesser interests.
Yet the One who should be our greatest interest has told us we are to have no other gods before him. We are called to seek him first and foremost. We are instructed and encouraged to be holy because God is holy. His existence, in other words, should play a profound role in the lives of those who profess to believe in and follow him. He should be our ultimate influence and his influence should saturate every sphere of our lives, for his glory and our good.
Heavenly Father, the whole of creation testifies to your existence. It’s truly amazing what we have to go through to deny that you are there and are not silent. And yet, you are the God who is not to be merely believed in. Instead, you are the Triune, personal God who calls us into a relationship with yourself. You first loved us, not because we were so good, but because you are. You are our loving Father who is worthy of our love and devotion. Indeed, to know and love you is to seek to become increasingly like you and obey your commands. In my own strength I will fall short of this. Therefore, loving Father, I humbly ask you to please fill me with your Holy Spirit and spur me on to greater and greater love for you. And, I pray, this love for you will influence every sphere of my life so that, one day, my whole life will be a shining testimony of your glory. In Christ I pray. Amen.
Ping Pong Champ
I was quite the ping pong player when I was in high school. I was really good. I held many tournaments in my garage, most of which I won. You would have been impressed with my ping pong prowess. I certainly was.
And that’s why I signed up for the big Ping Pong Tournament for incoming freshman during my first week of college. I thought the least I could do was put my skill on display to impress everyone.
I got beat 21-8 in the first round.
“Those who exalt themselves will be humbled.”
On a more significant note, this Thursday, October 31st, will be the 502nd anniversary of the birth of the Protestant Reformation. 502 years ago, an obscure German theology professor and former monk, wanted to talk about some concerns he had with the Roman Church, to which he belonged.
And so, he did what was often done, he wrote his concerns down on paper and nailed them to the church door for folks to read. It was sort of a modern-day bulletin board.
And boy did people read it! In fact, some folks took Martin Luther’s 95 theses to the local printing press and printed many copies for others to read as well. What should’ve been an ordinary exchange of ideas ended up turning much of the world upside down. Sort of like Facebook.
Among Luther’s concerns was this question: How can a person be made right with God?
He wanted to know how a sinful person could be made righteous before a holy God. Was the answer good works? That is, if you did enough good works, could you earn your way into heaven? Or was it something else? Luther wanted to discuss it.
That’s the very question Jesus addresses in our Scripture: How can we be right with God, or put in a right relationship with God?
A Tale of Two Men
Two men went to the temple to pray: One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisees were well known for their “strong commitment” to keeping God’s Law. They were experts in the Law and very disciplined in how they lived.
Tax collectors on the other hand, were considered traitors by the Jews. They worked for the Roman government. That, and their “excessive profits,” created a lot of hostility between them and most of the Jewish population.
Therefore, Jesus tells his audience, many of whom would’ve been Pharisees, a parable.
Luke even tells us why Jesus told it. Take a look at verse 9…
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:
Jesus often rebuked the Pharisees for their showy piety. He accused them of hypocrisy - doing all the right things on the outside but having the wrong motivation on the inside. According to Jesus, they didn’t obey out of a desire to glorify God but to look good to others.
Both men go the temple to pray. But that’s where the similarity ends. What did the Pharisee say in his prayer?
‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
He addresses God, and then makes the prayer all about himself. Four times he says, “I.” I do this. I do that. Just look God at all I do.
No humility. Just self-exaltation (like a certain freshman ping pong player). No dependence on God, just self.
In my Sunday School class we’ve just started working through the Beatitudes, which are in the first 12 verses of The Sermon on the Mount. The first three Beatitudes focus on this issue of our posture or attitude before God. Read what Jesus says in these verses…
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
The poor in spirit, those who mourn, and the meek, all focus on acknowledging our spiritual poverty before God. Why? So that we’ll fully depend on God’s grace, and not ourselves.
The Pharisee showed God his spiritual resume. It was all about him - his holiness, his efforts, and how glad he was that he wasn’t like those “sinners” out there. There was no sign of grieving over his own spiritual poverty which brings humility of spirit and complete dependence upon God.
You’re not likely to cry out for mercy and grace when you’re so full of yourself. Jesus hammered this point home to the Pharisees, and all his listeners, again, and again, and again.
Some of our youth are going through confirmation right now and will be confirmed in a couple of weeks. And one of the theological ideas they’re learning about is grace. Every confirmand learns that grace is, God’s unearned and undeserved favor and blessing.
Those who are spiritually broken, heart-broken over it, and humbled by it are called blessed by Jesus. They are the ones who understand their need of God’s unearned and undeserved favor and blessing. It wouldn’t even occur to them to try to show God how good they are.
The Sinner’s Prayer
We find that very attitude in the heart of the tax collector. There was no pretense that he was righteous. He knew himself. He knew the God he addressed in prayer. Even his physical posture showed remorse before God. Look what the text says…
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast…
This is the posture and attitude of true repentance in the Old Testament. Jesus knew his hearers would know that. And then the tax collector cried out with what we might call the original “sinners’ prayer.” He prayed, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
This is the prayer of a person who is spiritually broken, heart-broken over it, and humbled by it.
It’s at that point Jesus says these important words…
14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
What a role-reversal! The Pharisees in his audience must have been fuming. Others must’ve been confused. Still others must’ve been celebrating, because they saw themselves in the tax collector.
All About Jesus
Martin Luther wanted to know how a person could be justified, that is, how a person could be made right with God (brought into a right relationship with God). Jesus knew, even as he told this parable, that he came to save sinners. He knew the Cross awaited him, but also his Resurrection.
On this side of the Cross and Empty Tomb we cry out to God by placing our faith in Jesus. By depending on and trusting in his work on our behalf, and not our own righteousness. When we do, we too will be made right with God.
Jesus tells us the way up, is down. That those who are spiritually broken and mourn over their sin are blessed. That those who humble themselves will be exalted.
It’s all about the attitude of your heart. It’s about being God-dependent and not self-dependent. But more than that, to be right with God requires we cry out to God in faith - for his mercy and grace offered to us through his Son. And when we do, then we can know that 1 John 1:9 will be true of us…
9 If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
Just as God did with the tax collector.
And what’s true of the tax collector can be true of each one of us as well. If you’ve never cried out to God before, then he’s calling you to do so, to reach out to him in faith, to put your trust in Jesus Christ. And to do so today.
And if you already have, then he’s calling you to remember to walk by that same faith, each and every day.
Thanks be to God for his grace and mercy. Amen.
This is Lesson 6 in our series in James called, "Living Wisely in Turbulent Times." In this lesson, David and I discuss the differences between righteous and unrighteous anger, and how we can tell the difference in our own lives. This is a very timely topic and God's Word has a lot to say about it.
(originally written 2015, but seems timely for the present)
Remembering Our Mission
On the very first page of our United Methodist Book of Discipline, we are reminded of the mission of the United Methodist Church. Our stated mission is,
To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
That’s why we’re here. Our ultimate purpose is to glorify God and we do so by making disciples of his Son who will change the world with his Gospel.
Once again, I love the way our Discipline puts it. It says,
The local church provides the most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs. It is a community of true believers under the Lordship of Christ. It is the redemptive fellowship in which the Word of God is preached by persons divinely called and the sacraments are duly administered according to Christ’s own appointment. Under the discipline of the Holy Spirit, the church exists for the maintenance of worship, the edification of believers, and the redemption of the world.
I love that mission and the language used to express it.
The World’s Desperate Need
Who could argue that our world is presently in serious need of redemption? In China, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and certainly in our country – just to name a few – we find overwhelming sin, devastation, unrest, brokenness, war, death, and more. The fallen, sinful, broken human condition is on display for all to see.
If ever the world needed faithful disciples of Jesus Christ to bring redemption, it’s now.
Yet it’s not just “over there,” is it? It’s here in our own backyard. The need is in our own lives, our families, our workplaces, and our local communities. Every sphere of our lives needs the transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s why we’re called to make faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.
I want to briefly share two stories. The first is about an incredibly small and seemingly insignificant group of people who began turning the greatest empire in the world (at that time) upside down with nothing more than the Gospel. The second story takes place about 1,700 years later. It involves another small group of people who, armed only with that same Gospel, helped turn England upside down (or better, right-side up).
Our first story begins with the Apostle Paul and his companions, who had just come from Philippi. In fact, they had just been released from prison and had been escorted out of the city by the officials. Their next stop was going to be Thessalonica, which was about 100 miles away. On their way there, they passed through a couple of cities, Amphipolis and Apollonia, staying at each only one night before heading out the next morning.
When they arrived in Thessalonica, Paul began his usual routine of going to the local synagogue of the city. Why did he go there first? Verses 2-3 tell us,
As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures,  explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ,” he said.
Paul was a Jew. His heart was for his fellow Jews. He loved them. Therefore, even though he was called to be the Apostle to the Gentiles, he just couldn’t help himself. He often went first to his own people. What did he say to them? He reasoned with them. He taught and preached from the Old Testament. He used it to explain and prove that Jesus was just who he said he was, the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies.
Furthermore, he showed them that Christ had to suffer and die on the Cross for the sins of the world – but that Christ also had to rise from the dead for our salvation. Paul proclaimed that Jesus of Nazareth was no less than the Christ – the Messiah of God.
The Gospel of the Kingdom
This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. The Gospel first calls us to turn away from our own sin – our fallen, broken, and selfish thinking, desires, words, actions, and attitudes.
It also calls us to trust in Christ alone to forgive us, save us, heal us, mend us, lead us, and to make us holy. That’s the Gospel and that’s what Paul preached and taught in Thessalonica. And people responded. Take a look at verse 4,
Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women.
People responded. Lives were changed. Supernaturally speaking, disciples of Jesus Christ had been born.
But, as often is the case, some folk weren’t happy about this. In fact, where the Gospel is preached and where God is doing a great work of deliverance, there will often be opposition.
We discover this as we read verse 5,
But the Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd.
You see, the Jews weren’t at all happy about this work of Paul and company, nor the message they proclaimed. So they got the meanest, toughest, nastiest people they could find to stir up trouble for Paul and Silas and their newest converts. Thessalonica was something of a harbor town. There were plenty of drifters in search of trouble, roaming around the marketplace. It wouldn’t have been a great effort to round up and “encourage” some of these folk to cause a little trouble for Paul and company.
And that’s exactly what they did.
But there was a problem. Paul and Silas evidently got word of this and were able to get away. And so the mob did the next best thing. They grabbed Jason and a few others. Jason was one of the converts who was hosting Paul and Silas. It seems that Jason and some of his new brothers in Christ were guilty by association.
Don’t Despise the Day of Small Beginnings
We’ve now arrived at a special part of this story. Verse 6 says,
But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other brothers before the city officials, shouting: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here,
Read those words again: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here.”
That translation from the NIV is my least favorite. Here are a few other translations of that verse that help to capture what was being said:
These men who have upset the world have come here also; (NASB)
These people are out to destroy the world, and now they’ve shown up on our doorstep, attacking everything we hold dear! (The Message)
Here’s my favorite.
These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, (ESV and KJV)
What were they referring to? How could this little insignificant group of people do anything to the mighty Roman Empire? They weren’t even armed. Or were they?
They were indeed. They were armed with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which Paul tells us, is the power of God for the salvation of Jews and Gentiles alike. And everywhere that disciples of Jesus Christ went throughout the Roman Empire, both Jews and Gentiles were being transformed into what was sometimes called, “a third race” of new creatures in Christ. Their lives were changing. Their values were becoming different. Their new beliefs were colliding with their old beliefs. The kingdom of this world was being turned upside down with the message and order of a new Kingdom.
Frustrated and still looking to stir up trouble, more accusations were issued. Verse 7 reveals a critical notion that even some in our own day still misunderstand.
“They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.”
Do you see what their accusers were doing? The same charge that was brought against our Lord Jesus – namely treason against Caesar and the Empire – was now being leveled against Paul and his companions. They were accusing them of declaring that there was a new King, one called Jesus. They knew that was the way to get Rome’s attention.
After the city officials decided there was no good reason to hold Jason and his companions, they made Jason promise that Paul wouldn’t preach anymore. Paul probably wasn’t happy about having to leave, but he seems to have honored Jason’s promise and left for a season. Happily for those in Thessalonica, this doesn’t appear to have been Paul’s only time there.
To begin our next story, we need to fast-forward about 1,700 years. John Wesley was born on June 17, 1703, in the small town of Epworth in northeastern England. Here are just a few descriptive phrases about this England into which John Wesley was born.
England had just come out of a bloody civil war. Political tensions were high. There was extreme poverty.
Regular employment was uncertain. Housing was often inadequate and unaffordable.
Pure drinking water was scarce. Food was in short supply. Disease was rampant.
Alcohol, violence, prostitution, and gambling were popular means to escape feelings of desperation and hopelessness.
Children as young as four or five were employed as chimney sweeps or in mines and factories. Life was insecure.
(Charles Yrigoyen, John Wesley: Holiness of Heart and Life)
John Wesley’s Message
That was the condition of England as John Wesley began his ministry. It has some pretty remarkable similarities to our own day, doesn’t it? There’s much to mention about John Wesley’s preaching, but here’s the central idea: He preached the whole Gospel for the whole person.
He didn’t preach a truncated Gospel message that only promised heaven once you died. It included heaven, but it was more comprehensive than that. He preached a Gospel – the biblical Gospel – that changed lives in the here and now.
As people were won for Christ, Wesley made sure they were discipled. That means he encouraged them to get involved in what we would call Bible studies, small groups, and accountability groups. It would be in those settings that they would worship God, study his Word, take communion, pray for each other, and hold each other accountable for growing in holiness. As the Apostle Peter would put it, he constantly encouraged them to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Wesley gave these early Methodists “General Rules” that served to keep them moving in the right direction. These rules focused on our personal relationship and walk with Christ, both in its private and public manifestations, exercising mercy and compassion to the least among us and bearing witness to spiritually lost people.
A Transformed World
What might happen to a city where genuinely Spirit-empowered, Spirit-guided people were faithfully and regularly growing in these areas? Such transformation of these early Methodists helped turn England upside down, just as it began to do in Rome 1,700 years earlier. The Methodist movement, according to even secular historians, contributed greatly in moving England from the same sort of bloody revolution that took place in France.
But there was a cost. There’s always a cost of discipleship, which is why Jesus calls us to count the cost before we commit our lives to him.
These disciples of Jesus Christ, called Methodists, were insulted, slandered, and attacked in newspapers. And just like what happened in Thessalonica 1,700 years before, mobs even physically attacked them. They were beaten, their houses were burned down, and their property was stolen. Why? Because these Methodists were now serving another King.
What happened to these early Methodist Christians? Did they give up and return to their old ways of life? Far from it! Methodists grew in faith and numbers. The Gospel of the Kingdom of God was declared in more places with greater impact. Lives were changed. That little corner of the world called England was transformed in many ways that brought glory to God and blessed the lives of its people. What a powerful witness for Christ!
Scripture says that the early disciples turned their world upside down with the message of the Gospel and that lives were changed by it. History shows us that John Wesley and the early Methodists turned their world upside down with the message of the Gospel and that lives were changed by it.
Key Idea #1
The first key idea is this: The Gospel of the Kingdom doesn’t actually turn the world upside down. It turns it right-side up! The truth is, our fallen, sinful, broken world is already upside down. Its values, beliefs, attitudes, desires, actions –and all the rest – are contrary to those of God’s Kingdom. Jesus came to set things right – in every sphere of life.
However, that far-reaching, socially impacting, worldwide transformation that Christ calls us to must first begin in the hearts of individuals. Each of us must become new creatures in Christ who will faithfully follow him as his disciples. Only then, as we take our new life – our new worldview, values, attitudes, desires, and actions – with us, wherever we go, can we move toward transforming the world for Christ.
It starts with us as individuals. It moves to our families. It impacts our church, our workplaces, our friendships, our community, our city, our state, our country, and eventually our world. But we have to first start where we are.
Key Idea #2
As followers of Jesus Christ, and spiritual descendants of the Apostle Paul and John Wesley, this is your spiritual legacy too. You see, their stories belong to you. In fact, this is your story. Your life continues the story begun by our Lord Jesus Christ. Will you join him and continue his story?
This is Lesson 5 in our ongoing series on the Book of James. Our series is entitled, "Living Wisely in Turbulent Times." Today David and I discuss what it means to be a good listener in our communication with others and how ungodly anger can move us in the wrong direction.
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