Author Archives: rob.haynes

Why Share Your Faith by Rob Haynes

Why share your faith? The Father uses your fallout

Evangelism has gotten a bad name over the last few years. For more reasons than we have time to go into in this article, “The ‘E’ Word” is a problem for many people in some parts of the world. Recent polls show that younger generations of Christians in many parts of the world are grappling with not just how to share their faith, but whether or not they should do so at all.

Yet, Scripture provides clear commands for Christians to share the story of how Jesus has made a difference in their lives. Jesus himself told his followers that the plan for spreading the Good News included them—in their success, their failures, and everything in between. What, then, is the answer? What if we looked at Evangelism not as a program or strategy, but as an overflow of what God has done in our lives? Let me see if I can illustrate.

Several years ago, why wife and I were traveling on a road trip with our preschool-aged son. We were driving down the highway as a thunderstorm approached. We were startled by a bolt of lightning as it hit the edge of the road a few hundred meters in front of us. The noise and bright light shocked us all. However, what really surprised us was what happened after the ground strike. The lightning bolt made a hole in the ground at the side of the road.  As we approached the place where the lightning hit, the dirt from the newly created hole had flown in the air and now rained down on our car. It was the fallout of the strike, and it fell on us as we went by.

When talking about why we share our faith, that lightning strike and the resulting fallout might be helpful. The story of the New Testament church is that the people were startled by an unexpected and cataclysmic event. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus shook the world. It came upon them with the same surprise, and brilliance, of a lightning strike. The miraculous events around the birth of the church at Pentecost and throughout the Book of Acts are like a fallout that continued to rain down upon all those that were near it.

However, the strikes, and the fallout, did not stop there. This pattern is repeated every day in the lives of women and men who put their faith in Christ. Its effects find their way to any who put their trust in the Risen Lord today.

But why share this with others? Why not let God strike them with their own lightning bolts? God could do that. Yet, in another divine mystery, God has chosen to use Christ followers to share the Good News of the gospel. We are reminded of this joy and privilege in 1 Peter 2:9: “[Y]ou are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

God has created in every one of us a desire to know Him and His purposes for our lives. Followers of Jesus share their faith in Christ with others because the Holy Spirit has pierced the darkness in their own lives with God’s wonderful light. This truth should be shared far and wide. The Bible tells us that it should not remain a private opinion. In sharing this truth, we give others the opportunity to know the truth for themselves, and about themselves. They can know themselves more deeply because they will discover who they are in Christ.

Lightning comes in all types: A bolt that hits near us or maybe a flash of light in a distant cloud that illuminates a dark night. Some Christians can tell the story of their decision to follow Jesus in a way that looks more like a nearby lightening strike. Others would recall a story of a slow process, like flashes of lightening in clouds on the horizon. Either way, the result is the same: the Light of Christ has shone into the darkness and that Light has made all the difference.

After we encountered that lightning strike on the highway and the results of it, our young son, who had seen the whole thing unfold, said in a loud voice, “Do it again, Daddy!” When we share our faith like this, we want to ask our Heavenly Father to “Do it again!” Why share your faith? Simply because Christ has chosen His followers to share their own experience with the Light, and the resulting positive fallout, of what He has done in them. As you look for ways to share your faith, that’s a good prayer to begin: “Do it again, Daddy!”

Three-Stranded Cords by Rob Haynes

A few years ago, in a town not too far away, there was a traffic accident involving a car and a motorcycle. The person driving the car was unhurt and was able to walk away from the accident. However, the motorcyclist was trapped under the car and unable to move, though he was still conscious and alert. A witness to the accident yelled out that the car was now on fire. If someone did not act soon, the motorcyclist would perish.

The accident and subsequent fire drew a crowd on the busy street. One person stepped forward to test his strength at lifting the 4,000-pound car off the trapped man, but it would not budge. One by one, people stepped forward to help. With the contributions of several in the crowd they were able to lift the car enough to pull the motorcyclist to safety as emergency crews arrived to extinguish the flames. It was through the collective efforts of the group, no matter how individually small, that they were able to save the man who could not be saved through one individual’s actions.

The Bible teaches that small contributions can lead to tremendous things when used collectively in Ecclesiastes 4:12 “A three-stranded cord is not easily broken.” This wisdom comes in the middle of an instruction from the Teacher that work done solely for oneself is futile. The chapter reminds us that two people can help each other out when needed, but there is an extra measure of strength when three work or more together. The image of the rope is a powerful one. Much like the people trying to lift the car, even if three ropes are working at the same task but doing it alone, they will not be as strong as they are when they work together. If you make a three-stranded cord, the rope is exponentially stronger than when the three strands of rope are detached from one another and work alone.

Jesus repeats this promise when he reminds us that: “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:20) Even when two Christians are gathered in the Name of Jesus, the Holy Spirit moves among them making that strong, three-stranded cord. One richness of our heritage as the People Called Methodists is the understanding that our faith is not to be only expressed in personal holiness. It must also be lived in community with other Christians and expressed in acts of love. John Wesley was emphatic that “the gospel of Christ knows of no religion, but social; no holiness, but social holiness.”  Some people have misunderstood this as a message to only seek to rework political systems, economic structures, or social norms. However, that misses some important points of Wesley’s message and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Social holiness is intended to help one another to grow more in the image of Jesus in every way.

The richness of the theological heritage of the Methodist movement teaches us that use of Bands, Classes, and Societies were an important force in the revival that began in England in the 1700’s and is alive in many parts of the world today. Social Holiness happens in a variety of settings: a gathering of a handful of people in a Band, a group of a dozen or so in a Class, or a larger worship service in a Society. These can help someone grow in an existing relationship with God or introduce new people to faith in Jesus Christ. All of them provide a space for people to grow in community with one another.

There is one more interesting thing to point out about that three-stranded rope and Wesleyan Social Holiness. To realize their full strength, the fibers of a rope cannot all be twisted in a uniform direction and manner. Rather, they must be twisted in such a way that they provide just the right amount of friction against one another. In doing so, they become stronger. Just as the maker of the rope has one purpose in this design, it is important that we come together for one purpose: growing more like Jesus. We expect people to put away the sin that so easily entangles and anything that hinders us from pursuing the race marked out for us. At the same time, we recognize that not everyone has to be just like us. Rather, we learn more from the richness of the diversity that God gives us.

I encourage you to find a group of people to grow in God’s grace in the Wesleyan way. If you already have such a group, invite others who need to what it means to follow Jesus. You will find yourself growing stronger in the Lord together. And, hey, you may just provide the rescue that someone else needs.

A Time to Ponder, A Time to Proclaim by Rob Haynes

“Mary treasured up all [the words of the shepherds] and pondered them in her heart.” Luke 2:19

In Luke’s account of the birth of Christ, we see angelic messengers proclaim the newborn King. Shepherds, the first recipients of this Good News, share the message all over town. In what seems like a sharp contrast, Jesus’ mother quietly contemplates all of this. Yet, I think there are lessons in both the Old and New Testament that can teach us about when to ponder and when to proclaim.

Ecclesiastes 3 reminds us that there is a time for every matter and a season for everything. What follows this declaration is a list of fourteen pairs of seemingly opposite events: birth and death, weeping and laughing, war and peace, etc. It is a beautiful piece of both wisdom and poetry. These truths resonate with people at some of the deepest levels, though they may never have realized that this truth comes from God’s Word. The American folk-rock group, The Byrds set these words to music in their hit, “Turn, Turn, Turn.” The song was an instant success, hitting the top of the charts in the US, the UK, and Canada. It has been covered by several other artists and remains an iconic song for both its music and message.

Though these paired events may seem to be opposites, when we take a closer look, we can see that they are deeply dependent upon one another. Each one needs the other to exist. (Go ahead and read them for yourself now in Ecclesiastes 3:2-8.)

In a similar set of seemingly opposite events, Luke’s Gospel records Mary’s quiet, contemplative response to the shepherds’ proclamations of miraculous signs and wonders. The shepherds had heard promises and declarations directly from heaven itself and found everything exactly as the angels described. They could not hold back the great news and told everyone they could find. However, Jesus’ mother—certainly no stranger to miraculous events by now—keeps things to herself and ponders them in her heart, at least for the time being. This is an important lesson for us to remember: there is a time to ponder and a time to proclaim.

Western culture does little to reward pondering over proclaiming. Rather, it seems to reward a steady stream of barely constrained information through pictures, posts, and videos. Content creators on social media who are “influencers” are rewarded with likes, hearts, and follows. However, much of this content can seem shallow, irrelevant, and frequently ill-advised. The effect can snowball until viewers, readers, followers, and listeners can demand more immediate content. The room for pondering is seldom encouraged or rewarded.

This is not limited to impersonal social media streams but can spill into our interpersonal interactions as well. Not long ago, I got into a rather tense discussion with a local businessman. The businessman was responsible for some damage to a piece of my personal property. This fact was not in dispute. When I asked for compensation and discussed how we might resolve the matter, the conversation became argumentative. He attacked my character and made all sorts of unfounded accusations. My immediate response was to tell him how wrong he was. The more I tried, the worse it got. All of my proclamations made little difference. Over the course of our three or four conversations, I debated how I would stand up for myself and witness the love of Christ in the situation. I gave it some time and space and, of course, gave it a ponder. I tried to consider how I had appeared to the businessman and what he may have been going through. I considered how my words might have come across. I considered what things may have been going on in his life that would lead to his hurtful words to me. As a mentor once told me, “What someone says, says more about them than it does about you.”

The Christmas season is a wonderful time for the proclamation of the glorious fact that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. It is also an important time for pondering. Maybe you are like I was, and facing unfounded attacks, hurtful words, or just wanting someone else to know that you are the one who has the right point of view. Take some time to ponder. It is in the pondering that we can listen to what the Holy Spirit wants to tell us. It is fascinating that the same idiom used for Mary’s pondering in Luke is also seen in Psalm 119:11: “I treasure your word in my heart, so that I may not sin against you.” In other words, spiritual pondering leads to holiness.

My friends, go do some pondering and then go proclaim Jesus’ love boldly. There is a time and season for both.

The Wonder in Silence by Rob Haynes

When I was young, my grandmother had strict rules against working on Sunday. We were not allowed to do household chores, work in the yard, or other such jobs. She insisted that we remember the day as one to rest from our work. She was so insistent on it that it frequently seemed that we worked hard to rest.

We are wired for the need to regularly rest. Yet, many of us are not very good at it. Frequently, we try to put our value in what we produce or what we can accomplish. As such, we run harder to accomplish and produce. However, consistent rest is good for both our bodies and our souls.

The Bible records the first day of respite in the creation story when God himself rested on the seventh day. The Hebrew people are commanded to take a day of rest as an act of faith. In an agrarian society where daily work was required to survive, a day of rest was an affirmation that Yahweh would provide every need. Jesus affirmed the need for a Sabbath rest and its benefits for the believer and the Kingdom alike.

Just as then, our modern age of always-on and always-available information does not lend itself well to rest. Many things are asking for our attention, twenty-four hours a day. Is it possible that a modern Sabbath is not just about putting down subsistence farming tools, but putting down our information devices?

The importance of a daily and weekly period of silence cannot be overstated. Time spent in prayer with the Lord, reading the Scriptures, participating in the means of grace, and enjoying the creation are all valuable. We who are created in the image of God are made for such things. Recently, I learned this in a new way when I committed to a day of silence. The absence of phone calls, text messages, and even the music on the radio created space for the Lord to work in my heart when nothing else could. I went to a nearby body of water and just took it all in. I truly felt that the Lord had led me beside the still waters to restore my soul. It was nothing complicated or planned. Rather, I just allowed the Lord to speak in whatever way he wanted to do so.

Rest throughout the year is important as well. When I first began serving in ministry full-time at a church, my senior pastor insisted that each staff member take two consecutive weeks of vacation each year. We were instructed to not call into the church and no one from the church would call us. While we were responsible for arranging things during our absence, our time away was to be a gift to us and to our families. This is likely the greatest gift in ministry anyone has every given me. Those two-week vacations, though not elaborate nor expensive, provided cherished memories for our family. The disconnect from communication provided a space where I could reconnect with my family and with the Lord.

Though it may seem counter-intuitive, there is something that happens when we take these times of rest that lead to even greater things. Fred Rogers hosted an American children’s show that lasted nearly 900 episodes. He wrote more than 200 songs. He was also an ordained minister. In a 1994 television interview, he was asked, “Who has made a difference in your life?” His answer is a master class in remembering the sabbath. “A lot of people. A lot of people who have allowed me to have some silence. I don’t think we give that gift very much anymore. I’m very concerned that our society is much more interested in information than wonder, in noise rather than silence…. Oh my, this is a noisy world.”

In that same interview, Rogers said that the most important part of any book is the space between paragraphs. When we get to those spaces our minds have a moment to process what we have just read. You may have a full routine of activities for God each day, week, month, and year. Yet are you allowing yourself time prioritize the wonder of God over the information about God?

At the core of our Wesleyan theology is the belief that God is calling all people unto himself, that God wants to be in relationship with each of us. As we want to know God better, and introduce others to Christ, we would do well to create space for conveying the gospel message in word and deed as well as creating space for silence before our Triune God. Mr. Rogers was right: it is a noisy world. Go spend some time enjoying God’s created world in stillness and wonder.

When Christians Quarrel by Rob Haynes

“Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends! I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel…” Philippians 4:1-3

Paul writes these words to the young Philippian church. We know from Acts 16 that Paul had a profound experience in Philippi after sharing the Gospel there. He went there in obedience to a message in a vision from the Lord. A community leader named Lydia, a Philippian jailer, and others responded favorably to Paul’s invitation to follow Jesus and were baptized. As was Paul’s pattern, he established a church there before moving on to spread the Good News in other cities.

However, the letter to the Philippians shows us that it did not take long for the church to run into conflict. Euodia and Syntyche are at odds with one another for reasons that are not entirely clear to us. It may have been something as trite as the modern-day disagreements in some churches, like arguing over the color of the paint. However, it was enough to cause problems in the new church and to get back to Paul who was sitting in prison waiting for the Roman guards to bring him before Caesar.

Paul’s solution to the disagreement is simple and profound: he reminds them that they were, at one time, focused together on the cause of the gospel. Today’s church, just like the church in Paul’s time, is not immune from disagreement about matters both large and small. As I have said in this space before, theology matters. There are significant issues that the church should address with sound biblical, theological work that leads to right thinking and right practice. We should work hard to lovingly seek a scriptural holiness of life and practice. However, the matter Paul addresses here must not have been too significant since he does not directly address the principles of the matter. Nonetheless, such quarrels can be a device of the Enemy to distract from the Gospel of Jesus Christ and can hurt our witness for Christ to the world. The world outside the church is looking around asking, “Why would I want to be a part of that sort of fighting?” Yet, the number of people who are interested in learning about a relationship with God is not decreasing but increasing. How, then, can the church bear witness to messages of hope and joy amidst internal conflict? We can begin by adjusting our focus. Let me offer a story as an example.

A woman came to her pastor complaining and informing him that she was never coming back to church. She said too many people were dressing inappropriately, others were spending too much time playing on their phones, and the kids were too noisy. She was fed up.

The pastor calmly reached into a nearby cabinet and took out a small waterglass. He gave her the glass and said, “Fill this glass all the way to the top. Very carefully carry it around the block without spilling a single drop and come back here.” She was puzzled by the request but followed it anyway.

When she returned, she proudly set the glass on the desk. “I did it without spilling a drop, just like you asked. I focused on it with all my attention and energy and accomplished it!”

“Great!” the pastor replied. “Now, how many people on the sidewalk were making too much noise with their kids, playing on their phones, and weren’t dressed properly?”

“I don’t know,” she replied. “I was focused on the job you gave me to do.”

“So, it is with the church,” the pastor said. “When we place our attention on the things Christ asked us to do, we will not be distracted by the small things that would get in the way.”

Just like the New Testament church, the modern-day church is not immune from quarrels. However, we do well to remember that we are to live peaceably with others: “so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:18) Jesus described his ministry as “living water” to meet the deep needs of a thirsty world. He also invited us to participate in the great privilege of carrying that message to others. (Can you picture yourself carrying that water glass?) When we focus on the cause of the gospel above all else, we will bear a faithful witness to the Church and the World that rises above the distractions of potential quarrels.

To Grow Bigger, Think Smaller by Rob Haynes

Many of us continue to deal with the effects of the pandemic in our schools, communities, and churches. No matter the location or size of the church, one universal and lingering effect of the post-pandemic reality is that church attendance has not rebounded as well as other aspects of our pre-COVID19 lives. Recent studies show, regardless of the size of the church, attendance is usually 25-50% of the pre-COVID19 attendance numbers. In my conversations with church leaders from different contexts around the world, one theme seems to be consistent as to why people are not returning: many lacked a place of meaningful connection to others in the church. Even those who were active in worship or in a ministry program, but not intentional discipleship, are not returning in large numbers. The power of a discipling small-group community is evident more than ever, both in the churches where these communities existed and the places they did not. How should churches respond next? Our Wesleyan/Methodist history of small-group discipleship has much to offer.

Many churches utilize small groups for a variety of functions: education, fellowship, mission, and social activities. But it was the early Methodists who began the modern-day small group ministry to fulfill a high calling: The transformation of souls for the transformation of others, e.g. making disciples who make disciples. This movement began in response to a real need in the early Methodist revival.

After John Wesley’s “heartwarming” experience on Aldersgate Street in May 1738, his whole ministry changed. His preaching was on fire, you might say! He was considered much too enthusiastic by many of his church colleagues and fellow ministers and was subsequently shunned by many. As a result, several churches refused to allow him to preach in their sanctuaries.

However, this did not deter Wesley from preaching to those who needed to be awakened to the gospel’s power. Less than a year after the experience that started the Methodist revival, Wesley was urged by his fellow minister George Whitefield to preach in the open fields. He was in the city of Bristol when he “submitted ‘to be more vile’ and proclaimed in the highways the glad tidings of salvation.” That day in the open air outside the city, he preached to 3,000 people. Seeing the strong movement of God in this he preached in more and more in places considered outside of normal church ministry: city centers, open fields, the entrance to coal mines, etc. The response was strong, and many people committed their lives to Christ.

But Wesley had a problem: how to disciple all those people? He was resolute in the idea that it was a travesty to make people aware of their need for salvation without providing follow up for working out that salvation. Referencing Jesus’ admonishment in Matthew 23:25, he said that doing so made them twice as fit for hell than before. Wesley was not satisfied to merely provide information without providing opportunities for transformation. Yet, providing avenues for true transformation with such larger numbers of people was a challenge.

Wesley’s answer: To grow bigger, think smaller. He organized the larger numbers of people into small groups that could be provide opportunities for spiritual growth. The largest groups were called “Societies” and were frequently used for preaching and teaching to large groups of people. “Class Meetings” were groups of about twelve people who gathered weekly to minister to the poor, use the Scripture to shape one another’s lives, and to ask about one other’s relationship with God that week. The “Band Meetings” were groups of four or five and provided the highest level of accountability to the members. It was this structure and the spiritual growth that it fostered that was the powerful engine for the Methodist movement. These early small groups were so powerful because they were led by the laity and designed for multiplication. They were not created to be a destination, but an avenue of growth for both current and future members.

Church and ministries face a variety of challenges today, of which COVID19 is but one. Some are wondering if they will survive at all. The ones that will only survive, but grow stronger from our current difficulties, will be the ones that emphasize transformational discipling communities. This will require some to abandon unhealthy programs or old models of ministry. That’s perfectly okay. With great change comes great opportunity.

The pattern of Wesleyan small groups provides a venue for meaningful connection while allowing members watch over one another in love as they grow together in Christ. As churches look to adjust to contemporary needs, this is a perfect opportunity to rebuild ministries with the structures that carried the first Methodist revival and can do so in the next one!

Recalculating by Rob Haynes

I don’t always have the best sense of direction. That is one reason why I was particularly thankful when GPS systems became available for your car. I no longer had to pull over to look at a map, rather I could just obediently listen to the voice traveling with me, telling me where to turn. When I strayed from the best path, the voice in the GPS gently reminded me that the device is “recalculating,” and told me where I needed to go.

Some years ago, I was in visiting family in another city. We had to run an errand in a part of the city that was unfamiliar to me, so I got out my GPS. Our eight-year-old son with us and, to have a bit of fun with him, I set the voice on the GPS to “Yeti.” Yep, Yeti. I’m just weird that way. (I have no idea how the programmers “knew” what a Yeti sounded like.) Well, Joshua loved to hear the funny sounds that the “Yeti” made when it gave you directions in its “Yeti” language.

To have even more fun with our son, we intentionally disobeyed the GPS’s directions so that the “Yeti” would have to correct us. The more we drove, the more it yelled at us in its unintelligible, nonsense language. The more he yelled, the more Joshua laughed at the funny voice. I drove blissfully along, not really knowing where I was going, while we all laughed at Joshua laughing at the funny voice. You see, I had the form and function to accomplish what I needed to do. But rather than listen to the voice that would get me where I needed to go, I decided to listen to the voice that was cute and novel.

The Bible tells us that, in life, we have a guide who reminds us of what we should be doing and where we should be going: the Holy Spirit. Throughout Scripture, we see that the Holy Spirit only affirms what is written in God’s Word to us and is to be our source of direction in all things. This means that individuals and communities will flourish under the Spirit’s guidance. But I’m not so sure we are always listening as we should.

I have an evangelism mentor who tells me, “In order to share your faith, show up in someone else’s life and pay attention to what the Holy Spirit is doing.” Discerning the many competing voices in our lives and the lives of others can seem difficult. We can face pressures to follow the voices around us, though they may be in direct conflict with God’s desires for us. For those who want to share with faith with others, trying to be winsome when the world’s novel voices contradict Jesus’ commands can be exhausting.

However, we do not have to navigate this alone. This is a key reason why John Wesley instructed the early Methodists to “attend upon all the Ordinances of God.” These, he said, included, but are not limited to: The public worship of God, the study of Scriptures, celebrating Holy Communion, private prayer, and fasting/abstinence. These are ways in which the Holy Spirit speaks to us so that we can discern the Lord’s voice from all the competing voices in world. We best recognize the voices of those with whom we spend the most time. Simply put: To recognize God’s voice, spend time with Him.

I might still be lost on the errand with my son if it had not been for the fact that I took along a brother-in-law who lived nearby. He knew the way we were to go and guided me over the “noise” of the Yeti and my son’s laughter. All I had to do was to discern which voice was just for fun and which one would get me where I needed to go. So it is in our spiritual journeys. We could all use some “recalculating” to make sure we are listening, and obeying, the Holy Spirit’s perfect directions.


Share your faith … again by Rob Haynes

Have you ever watched a caterpillar transform into a butterfly? It is a miraculous sight. The plain, ordinary caterpillar becomes something spectacular. A transformation, a metamorphosis, has occurs when it emerges from the cocoon. The Christian life is one of transformation, one of metamorphosis, and of regular renewal thereafter.

Paul wrote to the church in Rome about transformation: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1, 2) The root word for “transformed” here is where we get the word for “metamorphosis.” Unlike the butterfly, however, the transformation described here is not merely a once-in-a-lifetime emergence from a dark cocoon.

Let me be clear: I am not suggesting that Jesus must save you multiple times. Not at all. His sacrifice and our confession of our need for this forgiveness is enough. (see Romans 10:9, for example). Paul is writing to the church gathered in Rome whom he says “are called to be saints” and whose “faith is proclaimed throughout the world” (Romans 1:7,8). This group of early Christians are living in a place and time when it is not always easy to be a follower of Jesus. Despite these difficulties, their faith is an example to be heeded by other Christ followers.

If things are going so well, why would he still tell them to be “transformed”, to offer themselves as “sacrifices”, to be “renewed”? Paul knows that the Christian life can be hard. Trials and temptations abound, and there are many distractions. He also knows that regular attention to the means of grace like worship, prayer, Scripture reading, small group discipleship, celebration of the sacraments, and others is vital to growing more in the image of Christ. Relying only on the first experience is not enough.

John Wesley stressed this important principle to the People Called Methodists. Wesley saw many Christians who were relying upon a weak and static faith. He warned them to “not lean on the broken reed of their baptism” (See his “Marks of the New Birth” sermon). Wesley was adamant that God had raised up the Methodist movement to reform the church which was full of people who would already consider themselves Christ followers. Yes, transformation was still required. This ongoing movement of encouraging people to actively peruse a life that seeks renewal remains vital today. One of the richest lessons of the Methodist movement is that we don’t have to do this on our own. Rather than merely preach to them once and then leave them to their own devices, Wesley organized the Classes, Bands, and Societies to help people experience the continuing transform offered through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Today, we refer to the transformation Romans commands and Wesley taught as “discipleship.” True discipleship is personal, but it is not private. Each of must take personal responsibility for response to Christ’s offer of salvation, and growth in Christ is done in community. Notice how many of those means of grace that we mentioned above are done in community, things like worship, small groups, and Holy Communion.

When it comes to faith-sharing, we need to practice the personal-not-private posture. Part of evangelism is to tell someone else the Good News of Jesus Christ for the first time. It is also sharing faith with others while walking in Christian fellowship with them and telling them the Good News of Jesus Christ when they need to hear it again. And again. And again. For example, later in Romans 7 Paul laments that he does not always do the things he should be doing. Yet, he can celebrate that God rescues us from this dilemma though Jesus. We all need to be reminded of the ongoing transformation that God offers in Jesus, through the Holy Spirit. Simply put: sometimes faith-sharing requires sharing faith again.

Redeeming the Tragedy by Rob Haynes

In 1940, Sergei Prokofiev shook the world with his ballet adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Prokofiev, an accomplished composer and artist, brought many new elements to his rendition of Romeo and Juliet. However, he stirred a great deal of controversy when he gave this well-known tragedy a happy ending. Audiences were appalled at the idea.

Since 1597 people have watched Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers play out their calamity. Across the world, audiences know that the show they are about to watch is going to end in the most tragic of circumstances. If someone were to arrive unaware, the narrator lays out the ending in the opening lines of the prologue. To paraphrase, the narrator tells us, “Welcome to our show. They die in the end. Enjoy the story.” But why do we still listen to the story when we know the disastrous results?

I have a hunch that  it is because none of us are immune from tragedy. We live in a fallen world that is racked by the effects of sin. Everywhere we turn we can see brokenness and decay. But we long for something more. We enter into the stories of tragedies in hopes that they will turn out differently. But as Prokofiev learned, we still want to know that someone else knows our pain.

To sing a sad song, to tell a tragic story—as if it might end differently this time—is an exercise is both mourning and hope. We mourn for what was and what is. And we hope for what could be. We long for something more. We long for the world to be the way that it could be, not just the way it is.

The Scriptures tell us that God is making all things new. The Spirit is at work to restore things as revealed in the Revelation of John. This is exemplified in Jesus Christ. The gospel’s message is that we do, in fact, have someone who knows our pain. There is no temptation, nor sorrow, in any of humanity that Jesus himself does not know.

Believe it or not, Advent and Christmas are perfect occasions to remember that we live in tragedy. The first Christmas was full of lament. Mary and Joseph faced the difficulty of their plight. The people of Israel were under occupied rule, and they longed for deliverance. The fact that Jesus enters the world in such a state proves at an even deeper level that he is no stranger to any difficulty we face. The baby born in the manger knew that the tragedy of the cross that was to come. He also knew the victory over all of life’s tragedies that would come through the Resurrection.

We are still journeying through tragedies. Justice is denied to those who deserve it. The innocents suffer at no fault of their own. Exiles long for home. In our modern Christmas commemorations, we sing this in the well-known carol “O Come, O Come, Immanuel.” We desire that God would hear our cries and know our struggles.

Evangelism with honesty and integrity admits this reality. There is no need to gloss over the pain; there’s plenty to go around. However, we can also acknowledge that there is more to life than the pain we see now. As the words of that hymn remind us, we can sing for what we long for:

O come, O Bright and Morning Star,
and bring us comfort from afar!
Dispel the shadows of the night
and turn our darkness into light.

This is an Advent Season like no other. People around the world, and around your community, are living through some tragic situations. Maybe you are going one yourself. Unlike a Shakespearean tragedy, the message of Christmas is that Christ has conquered all the tragedies we may endure. Through the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit, may this truth bring us peace in whatever difficulties we may face.

I Stand at the Door … of Your Church by Rob Haynes

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” –Jesus, Revelation 3:20

When I was a boy, my grandmother had a picture of Jesus standing outside a door. He was knocking gently, as if asking politely to come inside. This image was burned in my mind when, years later, I heard an evangelistic sermon built around this text and the accompanying painting. The preacher reminded us that there is no handle on the door of that painting. Rather, is it up to us to open the door to Jesus. Maybe you have heard a similar message preached on this passage.

Jesus’ proclamation by itself sounds like something he would say in an open field to a large group of people, calling unbelievers to follow him for the first time. While there is certainly an evangelistic message in Jesus’ words that is consistent with his teaching throughout Scripture, the content of this verse deserves a closer look. Jesus’ words are found at the end of his message to the seven churches in the third chapter of the Book of Revelation. He is speaking to the church at Laodicea. If you have heard a sermon or Bible Study on this before, the teacher probably emphasized this church as being the “lukewarm church.” 

While the church in Laodicea was once on fire for the Kingdom of God, Jesus points out that it has become neither hot nor cold. They had begun to rely on their own wealth, fine clothes, and medical abilities. They were tempted in several ways by worldly comforts and accomplishments, and Jesus points them out, one by one. About ten years before these words were written, the city of Laodicea was destroyed by an earthquake. The population of the city was so wealthy, they completely rebuilt without government assistance. Can you imagine a city today recovering from a natural disaster and not expecting the government’s help? There were hot springs near the city, and they were one of the first to have hot and cold running water in their homes. They raised sheep that produced fine wool, which made great clothes. They produced a unique ointment that was known to cure certain eye problems. The Laodicean church didn’t have any problem meeting the budget, clothing the community, or with medical missions. Yet, Jesus says they are “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” (v17) Ouch! He calls them to repentance and says that he does so in great love.

His solution to their wayward state is to come to them and knock at the door. He wants to be invited in and to share a meal together. Don’t miss the significance of this: Jesus could have disowned the church or easily have wiped the city off the map. Yet, he is standing at the door and asking to be invited in. There are three things in verse 20 that he invites them to do:

  1. PAY ATTENTION: There is a saying that goes, “Power doesn’t move.” I learned this when I was an elementary school student and was called to the principal’s office. The weaker one comes to the one with power. Yet, here is Jesus, the one who sits on the throne in Revelation, who has emptied himself to call his church to repentance. Because of this posture, he is highly exalted and praised. (See Philippians 2:6-11) This is the type of leader that deserves our attention, and we should listen to him.
  1. OPEN: It is important to point out that Jesus says we should open the door for him. He does not force himself upon us, though he certainly could. God respects our divine right of refusal. This is another demonstration of his love for us. Love does not coerce or force itself on another. If you cannot say “no” to the offer, then your “yes” would mean nothing. The church in Laodicea is asked to say “yes” to Jesus’ love again and again.
  1. FEAST: The original Greek translation gives the image of people sharing a feast together. The word used here indicates that all formalities of a banquet are dropped– no heavy rules of protocol and decorum. Rather, the meal that Jesus wants to share is a reciprocal relationship between two people who share a deep bond.

Around the world, there is a great deal of anxiety about the future of the church. The pandemic is but one of the concerns I hear from people. However, the lesson to the first-century church in Laodicea is just as relevant today. Jesus is still knocking at the door, still inviting, and still admonishing: “Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”