In all things charity: The servant leadership of George Whitefield

“In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity”

Often attributed to Augustine, I was shocked to learn this quote was written by someone else.  But regardless of who said it first, I haven’t read of anyone who embodies this principle more than George Whitefield.  In his biography of Whitefield, Arnold Dallimore tells a compelling story of sacrificial love.

Whitefield partnered with John and Charles Wesley in the founding of Methodism.  However, a disagreement arose between them about predestination—Whitefield being a Calvinist and the Wesleys being Arminian.  Those of you with knowledge of church history know that Methodism would follow the Arminian tradition.  It is lesser known, however, that Whitefieldian Calvinist Methodism was widespread and was organizing conferences 18 months before the Wesleys.  So what happened to Calvinist Methodism that was thriving under Whitefield’s leadership in England?  The answer is found in the loving heart and kingdom purpose of George Whitefield.

In the early years of their ministry, Whitefield and the Wesley brothers were all Calvinist.  It was Whitefield who was encouraging and training the Wesleys to do open-air preaching and under his mentorship, they grew thriving ministries.  But as Whitfield turned his attention to America and what we today call the First Great Awakening, the Wesley brothers began to move toward Arminianism and the theology of Christian perfection—that we can become sinless in this life.  At first Whitefield made attempts to bring the Wesley brothers back to his view, writing to them and about them with vastly more grace and gentleness than at least John Wesley showed to Whitefield.  But the Wesley brothers continued to organize Methodist religious societies in accordance with their views, while Whitefield pastored his own, essentially competing societies following Calvinist Methodism.  As John Wesley and Whitefield both grew in prominence, they became rivals and their rivalry grew bitter among their followers.  This revival of God was at risk of devolving into factions and strife.

But by the early 1740s, Whitefield ramped up his efforts to heal the breach.  Following a meeting with the Wesleys, he concluded that the division among the people and John Wesley’s insistence upon primary leadership of the movement would prevent any organizational reconciliation.  But instead of just agreeing to disagree and leave the breach in place, Whitefield did something shocking:  He surrendered for the sake of unity.

He gave up leadership of the Calvinist Methodist Societies to become, as he said, “simply the servant of all.”  He would allow John Wesley, in the words of Dallimore, to “be the one head of Methodism.” As his people objected and some suggested that his fame would be lost, Whitefield replied:

Let the name of Whitefield perish, but Christ be glorified.

Let my name die everywhere, let even my friends forget me, if by that means the cause of the blessed Jesus may be promoted.

But what is Calvin, or what is Luther?  Let us look above names and parties; let Jesus be our all in all—So that He is preached…I care not who is uppermost.  I know my place…even to be the servant of all.

I am content to wait until the judgment day for the clearing up of my reputation; and after I am dead I desire no other epitaph that this, “Here lies G.W.  What sort of man he was the great day will discover.”

Dallimore continues, “Where in church history do we find such magnanimous selflessness? So noble an action is all but unknown.  By his act Whitefield saved the revival from further discord and strife.  And because of it, John Wesley, not George Whitefield, is known today as ‘the leader and founder of Methodism.'”

Whitefield’s magnanimity continued.  In the late 1740s, Charles Wesley intervened to arrange the marriage of the woman John Wesley loved to someone else, believing he had done John a great favor.  The rift between them threatened to split Wesleyan Methodism.  Who rushed to try to heal the wound?  In John Wesley’s words, “Mr. Whitefield wept and prayed over me…he said all that was in his power to comfort me.”  While others contributed as well, Whitefield continued to work to heal their relationship.  Then Whitefield went on to preach to many of the Wesleys’ societies, bringing significant growth and new converts.  One must assume that Whitefield simply chose not to preach about predestination, and worked for the blessing of the movement that Wesley was now shepherding.

Finally, by 1752 Charles Wesley had changed his mind on the issue that divided them, and was now much closer to Whitefield’s views than his brother’s.  He wrote to Whitefield to suggest an alliance between them.  Whitefield’s response?

The connection between you and your brother hath been so close and your attachment to him so necessary to keep up his interest that I would not, for the world, do or say anything that may separate such friends.

Charles Wesley, also known as the great hymn writer, would write on Whitefield’s death:

Though long by following multitudes admired,

No party for himself he e’er desired;

His one desire to make the Savior known,

To magnify the name of Christ alone:

If others strove who should the greatest be,

No lover of preeminence was he,

Nor envied those his Lord vouchsafed to bless,

But joyed in theirs as in his own success.

I am in awe of a leader so committed to Christ’s cause and so unconcerned with his own reputation and position.  May Christ increase and I decrease!

 

 

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From Duck Dynasty to Deliverance

Most you you know about Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson, the comments he made in GQ magazine about homosexuality, and the decision of A&E to suspend him from taping the show.  The controversy obviously reflects the growing divide in our culture between secularists and those who take the Bible seriously. As one who takes the Bible seriously, I have a growing concern beyond whether or not Duck Dynasty remains on A&E or not.

Here is the concern:  Is Phil Robertson going to represent Biblical Christianity to our culture?  Do the sarcastic put-downs and institutionalized adolescence of Duck Dynasty represent well Christ’s love and character? If our culture comes to identify and stereotype conservative, Biblical Christianity with Duck Dynasty, is that how God is going to advance the gospel?  Heck, maybe it is.  God is way smarter than me.   He uses the foolish things to confound the wise. God bless Phil Robertson, and God bless his ability to speak his mind.  The simple wisdom that is often reflected in his life and words does speak to this culture powerfully.

But obviously, there is more to following Jesus.  But why doesn’t our culture see it more often?  Why doesn’t our culture get to see the transforming, loving, healing power of Jesus that radically changes circumstances and lives?

Why did A&E choose to broadcast Duck Dynasty?  Because the Robertson family is somewhat exciting.  They take risks and say plainly what most of us keep to ourselves.  They take otherwise non-interesting events (like sitting around a warehouse not working) and make them interesting and funny.  And it satisfies our suburban voyeuristic desire to see how people like the Robertsons live.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I walk around with the creator of the universe living inside me!  I have the love of the Father flowing through me and the power of His Spirit pouring out of my heart!  Shouldn’t that be more exciting than a group of bearded men sitting around a warehouse acting like adolescents? But sadly, so often it’s not.

One reason that us Christians are pretty boring today (so therefore our culture’s attention is grabbed by sensationalized adolescent representations of Jesus) is we have abandoned the ministry of Jesus.  Jesus wasn’t boring.  People fought through crowds, tore holes through roofs and tried to walk on water to get to him.  When Jesus sent out his disciples, he gave them authority to cast out demons and heal the sick (Luke 9:1).  Yet what percentage of American Christians have ever done either of these things?  If, when we went out in public, we looked for opportunities to do these things, would we be needing Phil Robertson to represent us to the culture?  Even if we just prayed for people out in public regularly, wouldn’t our culture have a different view of the church?

In Acts 4, the Jewish religious leaders had a political problem when they wanted to punish the disciples.  Why? “Since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say.”  As our culture turns against Bible-believing Christians, may the same be said of us.

Boys to Men

Every year in my history classes I use what I consider to be a witty journal topic to talk about our culture’s crisis of manhood.

“All women should know how to take care of children. Most of them will have a husband some day.”   -Franklin P. Jones

The students often misinterpret it at first, but it doesn’t take long before one sharp student gets it:  “Men are like children.”

Yes, indeed.   Why is it that our culture is producing so many old boys and not very many young men?  We are becoming a nation of kidults.

You know how sometimes you don’t understand something until you hear yourself say it?  As Charles Swindoll says, “Our thoughts untangle themselves over the lips and through the fingertips.”  I felt like the Lord helped me to hit upon something in our discussion that I had not thought about in this way before—that one difference between boys and men is how they understand pleasure.

Boys seek to pleasure themselves as a way of life, while men understand what true pleasure looks like.  God designed us to build, create, develop, design, dream, organize, transform, beautify and grow.  There is another word for these things…work!  A primary source of true pleasure is to go about our God-given tasks and bring life to our God-given callings.

A character in Despicable Me 2—young, confident, tweeny Latin charmer Antonio—epitomizes this distinction.  When introducing Antonio, his father says smoothly (Nacho Libre accent on), “This is my son Antonio.  When he grows up he wants to play video games for a living” (Nacho Libre accent off).   Perfect!  This is a boy.  And while I think tween-age boys are the perfect age to begin leaving childish ways behind them, pleasure-seeking as a way of life is not surprising for boys.  But what about for adult males (“men” avoided intentionally)?

For too many males, becoming a legal adult simply means finding more sophisticated ways to pleasure ourselves.  When I asked some of the students to start dreaming a little about what they can build, create, develop, etc., one student shared his dream of playing in the NBA.  To accomplish this goal requires a tremendous amount of hard work and determination—qualities to be admired and a glimpse of what it means to grow from boy to man.  But how many NBA players have simply used this dream as a more sophisticated way to pleasure themselves? How many have left behind numerous unfathered children, broken relationships and other moral messes?

Just working hard to accomplish something is not enough to become a man.   I would argue there also needs to be a vision for furthering a cause bigger than your own pleasure.  If my student’s goal is to play in the NBA so he can be a blessing to others and give back to society in some specific way, then he will become a man in the process of pursuing that dream (I would argue that he will become so even if he doesn’t fully accomplish it).  But if playing in the NBA is simply an avenue toward fame, wealth and women, I predict he will remain largely an adolescent.  A man has learned that strength is to be employed in a life of service, and this service is a counter-intuitive path toward joy.  And until we get that, part of us never grows up.

Sadly, how few fathers today are modeling and leading their sons to grow into men?  How many fathers teach their sons to dream, build, create, organized, develop, and design?  May God “Turn the heart of our fathers to their children, and the heart of the children to our fathers.”  And thank you heroic single moms (whether married or not) who are doing your best to stand in the gap for your sons.  May God reward your sacrifice.

And Lord, please help me to teach my daughters to develop their God-given gifts in order to accomplish their God-given callings.  I have so often failed to be intentional in this.  And if they are to marry, may you be preparing young men to love them.  Give them discernment to distinguish godly men from boys. In Jesus’ name.

Day of Purity

In recognition of last Thursday’s “Day of Purity” campaign, abstinence was my journal topic for my high school history classes.    Today, I am grading my journals.  This is what one student wrote:

Thank God that we had this conversation in class, because it really changed by point of view of sex.  Now I’m really thankful because now I’m going to wait till marriage to have sex.  My mom and dad have told me a lot of times to wait and I’m going to wait because I really want to have a really good relationship with whoever I marry.

We not only talk about unplanned pregnancy, STDs, emotional trauma, etc, but also what a priceless gift it is to save yourself for that precious person God gives you to marry.  I think that part caught her imagination.  Thank you Lord.

The Interior Castle

In our modern world driven by materialist philosophy, we know so much about our bodies, but have lost knowledge of the soul.  Modern psychology (from the Greek, literally meaning “study of the soul”) has become mere study of behavior, as most modern schools of psychology, if pressed, would likely deny the existence of a real thing called a soul.

But if no soul, then we have nothing to stand against the impulses of the flesh, or to even recognize them as so.  We are slaves to our emotions, as they must be, by definition, who we really are.  They are “natural.” There is no divinely-assisted deeper self to govern and regulate the flesh.

Dallas Willard writes of the danger of this place:

A great part of the disaster of contemporary life lies in the fact that it is organized around feelings.  People nearly always act on their feelings, and think it only right.  The will is then left at the mercy of circumstances that evoke feelings. (Renovation of the Heart, p. 35)

In The Interior Castle Teresa of Avila warns about those who have not learned about their souls (their “interior castles”) through prayer and meditation:

Souls without prayer are like people whose bodies or limbs are paralyzed: they possess feet and hands but they cannot control them.  In the same way, there are souls so infirm and so accustomed to busying themselves with outside affairs that nothing can be done for them, and it seems as though they are incapable of entering within themselves at all.  So accustomed have they grown to living all the time with the reptiles and other creatures to be found in the outer court of the castle that they have almost become like them; and although by nature they are so richly endowed as to have the power of holding converse with none other than God Himself, there is nothing that can be done for them. (I’m sure Teresa would agree that it is we who cannot do anything for them by ourselves; certainly God can.)

My view is that Willard’s “circumstances that evoke feelings” and Teresa’s “outside affairs” are roughly parallel.  We chase after things, experiences, identities, etc., that give us emotional return.

So what happens when those who are used to living out of their emotions turn to God? We often then look to God simply as another source of emotional self-medication (which often he does provide, but then weans us off our emotions as a source of life.)

Teresa continues:

Let us rather think of certain other souls, who do eventually enter the castle.  These are very much absorbed in worldly affairs; but their desires are good; sometimes, though infrequently, they commend themselves to Our Lord; and they think about the state of their souls, though not very carefully.  Full of a thousand preoccupations as they are, they pray only a few times a month, and as a rule they are thinking all the time of their preoccupations, for they are very much attached to them, and, where their treasure is, there is their heart also.  From time to time, however, they shake their minds free of them and it is a great thing that they should know themselves well enough to realize that they are not going the right way to reach the castle door.  Eventually they enter the first rooms on the lowest floor, but so many reptiles get in with them that they are unable to appreciate the beauty of the castle or to find any peace within it.  Still, they have done a good deal by entering at all.

“Unable…to find any peace within it.”  Yes.  I can relate to this experience.  The rich young ruler.  “Those who seek to save their lives will lose them, but those who lose their lives for my sake will find them.”  Lot’s wife.  “Those who seek me with all their hearts will find me.”

Much like Chesterton said, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”

Lord Jesus, help me break the bondage of my attachments to this life.  When I fail to find peace, may I not turn back to the things of the world that have no peace to offer, but may I instead surrender more fully to you, the prince of peace.  In Jesus name.

Overreaction

“Whenever you experience a response on your part that is way out of proportion to the stimulus, then look out.  You have probably tapped into some deeply hidden emotional hurt.”

David Seamands, quoted in Two Hours to Freedom by Charles Kraft, p. 70

I have worked with some who came for help because of precisely such an event.  A blow up, sometimes that the person doesn’t even remember, and they are left somewhat in denial, but part of them knows something is wrong.  And with much courage, they ask for help.  And invariably (at least so far), there are significant emotional wounds and demonic attachments from which Jesus wants to heal and deliver them.  Watching Jesus at work defeating the enemy in someone’s life, right before my eyes, is one of the greatest thrills in life.  And taking courage from them, cooperating with Jesus to bring healing to my own issues, is one of the greatest challenges.  Helping people get greater levels of healing and freedom, and then turning around and admitting that you need it also, is humbling.  Thanks be to God, who does even more than we can even imagine!

Two Hours to Freedom

From Two Hours to Freedom by Charles Kraft:

When we come to Christ, the result is a “new being” or “new creature” (2 Cor 5:17).  This newness, then, is a transformation of our innermost being, the part of us that we call our “spirit.”  The Holy Spirit comes to live in this part of us, and that is wonderful.  We are saved for time and for eternity.

That is the good news.  But there is bad news as well.  We have four other parts that may not be transformed when we come to Christ.  Most of us still have to fight to bring about transformation in our body, mind, emotions and will.  These are the parts where such things as sin, hurts and un-Christian reactions and habits dwell, even after we come to Christ.  And these parts, though they may undergo some change, rarely get transformed to the same extent as our spirit when we turn to Christ.

Unfortunately, this kind of dampened Christian experience is so pervasive among Christians that it is considered normal.  But Jesus intended the Christian life to be so much more: life in its fullness, life in its abundance, life that does not hurt, life that does not make us long for heaven in order to escape a Christianity that has not lived up to the promises of Scripture.

When he speaks of a life that does not hurt, he is not arguing that we can avoid pain in this life, or that we won’t still long for heaven because of the fallenness of this world.  What he saying is that freedom in Christ means we do get free from much of the self-inflicted pain that takes away our hope for an abundant life here.  The longing for heaven in that case is more of an escape from our wretchedness than a longing to be with God.

This is the life that I want!  A life of freedom, abundance, and seeing His fruit in my life and in the lives of those around me.  But the wounds and disappointments from our past, and most importantly, our reactions to them, keep us in bondage.  Please pray for my freedom as I pray for yours!

The Two Hours to Freedom Conference in Huntington Beach is coming up on September 28-29!

 

Message from Shepherd of the Valley 7/22/12

Here is my message from this morning!  Sotv 7-22-12

What do Christian teenagers actually believe about Jesus?

I came across an interview of Mike Nappa, who recently published The Jesus Survey.  This was a survey of Christian teens who not only self-identified as Christians and as active in their youth groups, but since the survey was taken at a short-term mission site, obviously these are also ones willing to put their faith into action to some extent.

Of these precious ones, 70% expressed “persistent, measurable doubts that what the Bible says about Jesus is true.”  Of course I was surprised by this, but when I think about the culture our kids are being raised in, where they leave church on Sunday morning and/or Wednesday night, and the rest of their experience is awash in opposite messages, it’s not that surprising.  In most of our culture, living for Jesus and seeing Him work in our lives isn’t even on the table for discussion.

But here is the gold:

The data show that Christian kids who actually have strong confidence in Scripture actually experience God more noticeably in their daily lives.  For instance, four out of five (82%) of teens who have “unshakable” faith in the Bible also report possessing “strong” proof that the Holy Spirit is active in their lives.  Among kids who are uncertain about Scripture, that number is less than than half (49%).  For Christian teens who disbelieve the Bible’s reliability, only 22% strongly claim real-life experience with Christ’s Holy Spirit.

Do you see it!  Kids who see the Holy Spirit active in their lives actually believe the Bible!  Or, kids who believe the Bible actually see the Holy Spirit active in their lives!  Which comes first?  I’m not sure it matters.  It’s a symbiotic relationship.  People take a little step of faith, find out God is real, and then realize that the Bible is reliable.  Or people read the Bible, feel led to put it into practice, and find out God is there.  It’s both/and.  Experience and belief must work together, because if we don’t believe it, we won’t take a risk and try it.  And the more we try it and find out God is real, the more we believe it.

Nappa asked teens if they agreed to a set of belief statements, for example: the Bible is completely reliable, they were 100% certain Jesus had answered one or more prayers and could prove it, and they were 100% certain that the Holy Spirit was active in their lives.  Those who affirmed all of his core beliefs—he called them “Confident Christian Teens”—are outnumbered 10 to 1 in youth groups today. But they are there!  And God wants to build their numbers.  Not for the sake of us being able to “claim” them as disciples and be proud of our families and youth programs, but so that they may experience the love, hope, and transforming power of Jesus in their lives.

“Stay in your prison of fear”

I was surprised recently to feel like the Lord was speaking to me through Kung Fu Panda 2, believe it or not.

In this scene, the main characters are trying to break two legends of Kung Fu out of prison to help them defeat the bad guy.  But the bad guy has a new weapon that previously defeated the two inmates.  As a result, they are kept in prison not by the bars, but by their own fear, as this scene illustrates.

 

You stay in your prison of fear,

with bars made of hopelessness,

and all you get are three square meals a day of shame!

With despair for dessert.

I don’t know if it’s father’s day, or just that I am doing more ministry with other men, but I’ve been seeing in myself and other men many manmade “prisons of fear” lately.

When we live in fear and fail to take the risks we know, deep in our hearts, that God wants us to take, then comes the shame.  We conclude that we can’t do it.  We make up a million justifications for why.  “I couldn’t afford it.”  “My wife won’t go for it.”  “My children need something different.”  “I won’t be very good at it,” etc.  It’s this combination of knowing that God has called us to something greater but instead convincing ourselves that we can’t do it that produces shame.  Years of living in shame produces hopelessness, and finally, despair.

The sad irony is that we play it safe because we think we are meeting our families’ needs, but what our wives and kids really need is a man who pushes past the fear and takes those risks, not because he thinks he can do it, but (and here’s the critical part) because he knows that God can.  When we put ourselves in places where we are totally screwed unless God shows up, God is faithful. And our families are watching.  They are watching us to learn how to live.   But when we play it safe and keep it under control, we often end up losing our children’s hearts, because they are looking for a bigger story.

There is tremendous freedom in this life of faith.  When I realize that my job is not to be the hero, but to point them to the hero, it’s a lot easier.  I’m not enough for them, but he his. I don’t have to have it all figured out.  I just take the risks he is asking me to take, and I trust that he has it all figured out.  My goal is to make Him look good, not myself.  And with that faith, I become the husband and father my family needs.  And together we live the story that captures their hearts.

So Lord, strengthen me to take the risks you are calling me to take.  I renounce fear, shame, hopelessness, and despair.  Take my life and write Your story—the story that will capture my imagination and that of my family.  In Jesus’ name.

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