Supernatural Ministry in the UMC

This article ran this week on the WCA website. I’m reposting it here in its entirety for those who may not travel in UMC circles with the prayer that the Holy Spirit might spark a theological revival rooted in the supernatural in our day.

Thomas Jefferson once took a penknife and cut most of the miracle stories out of the Bible, leaving only the teachings of Jesus. He included the tomb but cut out the resurrection. What was left, mostly the teachings of Jesus, Jefferson entitled, “The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth.”

What Jefferson did to the Bible with a penknife, many contemporary Christians unwittingly do with their lives. Especially in the U.S., much of Christian culture has managed to surgically remove the supernatural from the experience of Jesus of Nazareth. We’ve fallen out of the habit of talking publicly and passionately about how to transform lives. We will talk about decline in church attendance, the cultural shift away from Christendom and the declining morals of our society, but we have neither the vocabulary nor the comfort for talking about the spiritual realm. And yet, according to Jesus himself, the work of God’s people is to expose the Kingdom through the supernatural work of casting out demons, curing disease, healing sickness and seeing people transformed by truth.

In fact, this is the prescription offered by Jesus himself when he sent his followers out on their first evangelistic mission. We find the charge in the first verses of Luke 9: “One day Jesus called together his twelve disciples and gave them power and authority to cast out all demons and to heal all diseases. Then he sent them out to tell everyone about the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick” (Luke 9:1-2, NIV).

I am fascinated by the contrast between what I read in these verses and what I see in the current western culture. What he sends these followers to do carries the power of real transformation. This supernatural sending exposes the Kingdom of God in a way much contemporary ministry does not. In this season of change in our denomination’s life, how can we recover this charge? What does it look like for Wesleyans? I suspect it begins with a commitment to a Kingdom-down worldview.

In an earlier Outlook article, Walter Fenton referenced a post by Dr. Wes Allen, Professor of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology. In his diagnosis of our current UM conflict, Dr. Allen offers an insight about the starting points of those on either end of the theological spectrum. “Traditionalists emphasize the vertical relationship characterized in the command to love God with our whole heart, soul, strength, and mind. In traditional evangelical vocabulary, this is often expressed in terms of the importance placed on individuals having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ… Progressives (and to a great extent, moderates)… start with the horizontal relationship. In this view, the command to love our neighbor as ourselves is seen as the primary (perhaps even synonymous) expression of loving God with our whole being…”

“There is much overlap,” Allen says, “between these two positions (obviously conservatives care about social ethics and progressives care about individual morality). But with the different emphases, the depth and width of the chasm between these vertical and horizontal starting points has become so significant that at times the different UM camps seem to be practicing two different religions or Christianities…”

I agree with this diagnosis. The root of our current impasse is in what leads. Is Christianity primarily a belief system emphasizing social justice, or is it primarily an encounter with the One, True God that emphasizes — even insists on — ongoing supernatural transformation? I am convinced that authentic Christianity is a Kingdom-down proposition. If we want to see the Kingdom come, it will happen as we openly, boldly acknowledge that Jesus was and is not just a great cultural stabilizer but also a supernatural God whose resurrection leads those who follow him directly into the supernatural realm. Our call is to receive the power and authority offered us by Christ himself — and on the resurrection side of this story, that includes the Holy Spirit — and then to go out as he sends to drive out death and expose the Kingdom of God.

This is our call. Friends, we are not sent out with an eyedropper full of Holy Spirit so we can run a friendly non-profit. If we are going to give the world a better definition of “church,” then we need the infilling and empowerment of the Holy Spirit so we can live out a bold charge to cast out demons, cure disease, proclaim the Kingdom and heal the sick. I believe the Lord longs to see his Church acting as if he is a supernatural God and ours is supernatural power. I’m advocating for a renewed Methodism that is a partnership with a supernatural God who does supernatural things. Surely Jesus means for Methodists to have the Holy Spirit, too!

After all, miracles are the cornerstone of the Christian faith. Without miracles, we lose the divinity of Jesus. Without the virgin birth, Jesus is just another kid born to an unwed mother. He begins to look more like Buddha or Mohammed and less like a God in the flesh. Without miracles, we lose hope. If Jesus didn’t supernaturally conquer death, we have no assurance of an afterlife nor any reason to assume that the cross has power to cancel sin.

Without miracles, we lose touch with the essential character of God. Through the epic miracles of Scripture (the parting of the Red Sea, the miraculous catch of fish, the woman whose oil lasted through a famine, the drowning of a legion of demons), we are drawn into the realm of God’s Kingdom and influence. Miracles are a foretaste of coming attractions, when every tribe and tongue is standing before the throne, crying out, “Salvation belongs to our God!”

This, I believe, is exactly what Jesus means to do when he sends his followers out with power and authority to cast out demons, cure disease, proclaim the Kingdom and heal the sick. He is calling them to look for signs of the anti-Kingdom, directing them, “Wherever you see them — demons, disease, sickness — take the authority invested in you to cast out darkness and proclaim the victory of the Kingdom of God.”

With all due respect to President Jefferson, this is what it means to be a Christian, and I hope this is what it looks like when Wesleyans embrace supernatural ministry. It is to declare the one, true God and his supernatural revelation through Jesus Christ, as we are sent out with power and authority to fulfill this bold charge: Cast out demons, cure disease, proclaim the Kingdom and heal the sick.

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What a woman wants in a man

On this Mother’s Day, it seems appropriate to run this one again as a gift to all the women who read artofholiness, with the hope that it will be read by all the men in this community of readers. This post was written in response to an online poll about what women are attracted to in the men they love. 

What a cheeky title for a blog post … like I know or have authority to speak for all women everywhere. In fact, I don’t. But I shared a few thoughts recently with my Facebook community about what I believe makes a good man and husband* and invited others to chime in. The women in my circles, as it turns out, have very strong opinions about men. They don’t speak from a place of desperation; to the contrary, their comments reveal a hunger for men with strong character, faith and commitment to family.

So, at least according to my limited circle of friends, what makes a good man?

1. A good sense of humor
The ability to laugh is so important to building health and trust into a relationship. To laugh at oneself and in loving ways with one another (not making fun, but sharing joy) is a mark of emotional maturity. Be clear on this: a good sense of humor is not limited by an ability to tell a good joke. It reflects a creative mind, a spirit of adventure, a willingness to play.

2. A mature spirit
Don’t mistake playfulness for immaturity; it is actually a mark of spiritual freedom. The real “playas” in this world are emotionally responsive — unbound by shame, fear or defensiveness. Mature men are compassionate, good listeners, gentle yet strong. Honorable and transparent. In biblical times, the mark of a good man was one who was respected in the marketplace. That hasn’t changed.

3. A man who knows who he is
Several women who responded to my Facebook post mentioned their desire for a husband who is confident without being arrogant. Godly women appreciate men with courage enough offer an opinion without anger, who lead when leadership matters, who listen without caving, who protect without controlling.

4. A biblical worldview
Over and over, the women in my circles mentioned the ability to prioritize as a key to strong character. “God first, family second, all else comes next.” In other words, women like men who think and live biblically. We like givers — men with a missional heart, who are concerned for the needs of others. Men like that tend to inspire the people around them. And connected to that spirit of generosity is an ability to say “thank you.” Often.


5. Unafraid to pray (and worship) in public or private
Women like a man who can stop, drop and pray. Hold her hand while you’re praying or better yet, let her find you praying on your knees. Why does praying matter? It reveals what’s really inside. Women in my circles love a man who loves the Lord.

6. Disciplined
As one woman put it, “laziness is not sexy.” Women like men who work hard, who know their responsibilities and fulfill them, who understand their role as providers. Discipline breeds integrity. Disciplined men know how to stand by their word. Their yes is yes and their no is no. You can trust their follow-through, and that breeds trust. Without trust, you’ve got nothing.

7. Able to see a big picture
A man with his priorities in order is free to dream. He isn’t so focused on immediate concerns that he can’t pitch a big vision for his life and family. He is ready and willing to make a difference in the world; he isn’t stymied by fear.

8. Wants more for his life than simply to be a provider
Good family men are so much more than guys who know how to make money and babies. They have a passion for raising up children with strong character, who want to model for their daughters what a good husband can be and for their sons what a good father acts like. And good men take initiative. Women aren’t generally drawn to men who still have to be told to help around the house. Real men change diapers. Real men clean.

9. Has a servant’s heart
To understand true humility we must first understand pride. Pride and self-hatred are related and often manifest as false humility. A person with inadequacy issues or a lack of self-respect will be overly focused on himself. He will be self-conscious and self-defensive. Humility, on the other hand, is related to self-acceptance. One who accepts himself no longer has to focus on himself. He is free to be fully present to others. What a great quality to find in a man! This is someone who listens well, who learns from every conversation, who isn’t waiting for you to finish talking so he can tell you what he knows. He is an encourager who loves mercy and seeks justice. He offers to open the door not because he is a chauvinist but because he prefers to serve others. Humble men are the opposite of weak; they are unafraid to take a stand but do so for all the right reasons.

10. A good lover
I need to note here that in the dozens of comments I received from my Facebook query, not one woman mentioned sex. At least, not directly. Not the way men tend to talk about it. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter to women but that it is packaged differently. Women are intrigued by kindness and vulnerability and most notably, women want to be pursued. One of our core needs is to be treasured. This is reflected in the biblical narrative. Read Song of Solomon and watch the joy generated in that pursuit. Women who feel wanted — not needed, but wanted — are inspired toward passion by someone who understands how to pursue a relationship with intentionality.

Paul encouraged the Ephesian men to aspire to mature manhood (4:13). Of course, no human being can hit on all cylinders all the time, but men who pursue the deep things of God will end up connecting more successfully with the women in their lives.

*I am sharing, of course, only out of my own experience, having been joyfully married to a really great man for nearly thirty years.

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How to act on the brink of brokenness (or, divorce and the mercy of God)

Roly-poly1We used to call them roly polies. When I was a kid, they were hands-down my favorite bugs. Finding a family of them under a brick in the dirt was like finding a whole other world.

When a roly poly is stretched out and moving forward, he is one of the most flexible animals on God’s green earth. But when he balls up to protect himself he becomes the opposite of flexible. Stretched out, he can maneuver through dirt and grass and under rocks. Rolled up, he is incapable of mobilizing at all. He is just a hard ball of crustacean trying to protect himself.

When Jesus talks about divorce in Matthew,* it makes me think of the roly poly. Jesus says, “When you ball up to protect yourself, you default to a hard heart. And in a marriage, a hard heart can be a killer.” That “rolling up’ we do can manifest as anger, emotional withdrawal, dishonesty, manipulation or even bitterness. It is us, backing off emotionally until we feel nothing and have lost all sense of possibility.

Stretched out and moving forward, we put ourselves in line with immense possibilities. In a self-protective crouch, we are incapable of seeing the options.

In Jesus’ word about marriage and divorce, he reveals what he knows about human nature. The one who spoke us into being knows how we are made —  our weaknesses, how we cope, how we tend to protect ourselves. He knows our tendency toward self-protection leads us in directions we don’t intend to go.

And in his great kindness he offers mercy even at the dying end of a marriage. Not because it is God’s best but because sometimes it is the best we can do.

Sometimes marriages will fail. I believe this is exactly the point Jesus was making in Matthew. In a fallen world, tough things happen, things that are not God’s best. Sometimes it will happen because of our own fallenness; sometimes it will happen in spite of our best efforts at restoration.

What then? We are limited but we serve a God of immense possibilities. In the middle of something that feels like a valley of dry bones, what is our right response?

Acknowledge what is. Recently I had a conversation with someone whose marriage is teetering on the brink of brokenness. The comment was made: “I have to decide whether I want to be married to this person or not.” To which I replied, “Too late. You already are.” Married is married. Vows are vows. At the very least, be honest about what is.

Remember: there are a million steps between your unhappiness and divorce. When things go wrong, we tend to default to “fight or flight” mode and neglect all the options available to us. Keep in mind that we serve the most creative Being in the Universe. Surely he can come up with a solution or a way through that we haven’t yet considered. Is counseling an option? A conversation with your pastor? What about a weekend away? Or a weekend apart (but in safe places)? Spend time listening to the Holy Spirit and writing down every option you hear. Don’t discount any of them; allow God to open up the possibilities for you. A crisis will often narrow our perspective. Allow God the chance to widen it again. Remember the roly poly and stretch yourself. You can’t move forward in a defensive crouch.

Let Jesus referee. When face-to-face communication stops working, try knee-to-knee communication. Bring Jesus into the conversation through prayer. Praying together does two things in a marriage. First, because it is such a real and intimate thing, it is a place where you really get to hear the other person’s heart. People tend to be more honest, more transparent when they pray. Second, because it is a prayer, God hears it. Jesus says that wherever two or three are gathered together, he is right there with them. So if you want to make that triangle thing happen in your marriage, prayer will do it for you. Prayer is like a zipline that takes you immediately into God’s presence. If praying aloud isn’t comfortable, sit together and pray quietly. Start somewhere.

Remember that your circumstances are not the foundation of your happiness; God is. By focusing on circumstances, we make others responsible for our joy. Others must behave in a certain way in order for us to be at peace. If, on the other hand, we’re able to focus on what Christ has done, we find ourselves rooted in something more stable. Root your emotions in your relationship with Christ, especially in times of uncertainty. This change in perspective may be the key to moving us from hard-heartedness to whole-heartedness.

Is there room for divorce within a Christian worldview? Yes. When infidelity happens, the trust that is broken may be irreparable. When there is abuse, it is both our right and responsibility to remove ourselves from the abuser (some boundaries are holy; this is one of them). When others are acting immorally or illegally it is an act of mercy and maturity to hold them responsible for that. To let a person persist unchallenged in their sin is not healthy for either of you.

We will also get divorced for reasons that aren’t so noble or clear-cut but even then, we must remember that divorce — while it is not God’s best for us — is not the unforgivable sin. We can rebuild, restore and become new people as we forgive and take responsibility. Even when we miss out on God’s best, we remember that we are not sinners in the hands of an angry God. We are people who sin in the hands of a merciful God.

Praise God for grace enough to cover all of it — the good, the bad and the painful.

 

* They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” — Matthew 19:7-9

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