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Andy Stoddard ~ Receiving the Value of Sabbaticals

I’m at just about the halfway point of renewal leave (i.e. Sabbatical).

I took my first church job in 1997, and ever since then, I’ve worked in the church.  A couple of them were part-time, and then I took my first appointment at a pastor in 1999 to three small United Methodist Churches outside of Cleveland, MS.  In other words, I’ve worked in the church for over 20 years and never really taken a moment to breathe.

First, let me tell you what I’ve done:

  1. Spent time with my wife and kids.  I feel like I’ve been more present with family than I have in years.  Holly and I talk, really talk, more than ever.  We’ve always been good, but I feel like we’re closer than ever.  I’ve also done a lot of Mr. Mom: I’ve taken the kids to appointments, VBS, camps, I’ve been the taxi service this summer.  It’s been fun to spend lazy time with them.  I haven’t done that during their lives.  Something (or someone) else always took importance over them.  I’m doing my very best to focus on them and spend both quantity and quality time together. Sarah and I went to Hamilton and are going to another concert this summer.  Thomas and I started playing golf together.  I’m just trying to spend as much “present” time with them as possible.  I know I can’t make up for missed time, but I can be present now.
  2. Spent time with family.  On the weekends we go south to either my parents or Holly’s parents.  My mom is 89, daddy is 79.  Just like the kids, I haven’t been present with them.  I’m trying to take advantage of this gift and just be present with them as well.
  3. Gone to church.  While with family, we’ve gone to church with them.  We’ve worshiped at Holly’s parents’ church and my home church.  It’s been great to be on the same pew with family, and for the first time since 1997, I’ve been able to go to church with my mom and dad.  I am thankful for that.
  4. Prayed.  One of the hardest things to do as a preacher is to read the Bible and pray simply for your own soul.  So often when you go to the Bible and pray, you are looking to feed others, not to be fed yourself.  I’ve been serious and intentional in my prayer life to not think about what God wants me to say to you.  What does God want to say to me?  And I am thankful because I’ve heard his voice this summer.
  5. Exercised.  One of my great weaknesses is that I am unhealthy in my lifestyle.  I eat too much.  I don’t exercise.  This summer I have been intentional in this area as well; I’ve sought to walk, every day.  It’s been good for my body and my soul.
  6. Reconnected with old friends and mentors.  I’ve had some dear friends and mentors in ministry that the last few weeks I’ve reconnected with.  For this as well I am thankful.
  7. Oh and I’m growing a beard.  Just because.  Thus far Holly hasn’t killed me.  Yet.

Interesting observations:

  1. The number of clergy persons older than me wishing they had done it.  At Conference this year, I had many people come up to me and tell me that they wish that they had done this: taken a break and focus on their family and their health.  Listen, I don’t want to sit here and tell you that being a preacher is harder than any other job.  My daddy drove a truck for a living.  But I will say this; preaching has a way if you are not careful, of burning you out.  You put everything over your family.  You live and die with weekly worship numbers.  You put pressure on yourself to be perfect.  You can’t have a bad day.  You can’t mess up.  It can just get inside your soul.  I am not going to live like that any longer.
  2. The number of preachers my age and younger that would love to do it.  But they are worried about what people would think. What about their church?  Their DS?  Others?  I can tell you is this, if taking a break is something that you feel like you need to do, do it.  You will be more effective for the Kingdom by doing this.
  3. Social media gets into your soul.  One of the things I’ve done is gotten off Facebook. It’s been good for me.  I am less anxious about a lot of things, I’m not as worried about so many things.  Am I less informed?  I still read the news and the newspaper. But I don’t feel the same onslaught that I have before.  But at first, you don’t realize how much you are on it until it’s not there.  I took the app off my phone, and for the first week I found myself going to it subconsciously all the time.  That really surprised me.
  4. I am thankful to be a Mississippi United Methodist.  I have an amazing church, District Superintendent, and Bishop.  They have all loved me enough to help me take this time.  I am thankful for each of them.

What I’ve learned spiritually:

  1. I care too much about what people think.  For too long I have worried more about what people think than I do with being faithful and following the call of the Gospel.  I have worried more about what people think than what is best for my soul, my family, and honestly, the church. Through God’s grace, I will not return to this way of thinking.
  2. I have forgotten that Jesus is the main thing.  I have focused on numbers.  Success.  Growth.  All of these things.  They don’t matter. What matters?  Jesus.  Being loved by Jesus, loving Jesus, and loving others through Jesus.  That is what matters.
  3. My spiritual life had become a chess game. If I am faithful spiritually, God will do amazing things. Or if I am not, God will not be. And if I mess up, God will get my family or me as punishment. If I read my Bible and pray, God will protect my family and grow my church. If I don’t, he won’t. And it will be my fault. But it’s not my church; it’s his. And he loves my family even more than I do.  I was not seeking God to know his face and his grace, but for protection and blessing.  I need to delight in him because that is where my life is found.  For no other reason.

What are we going to do the rest of the summer?

  1. Spend more time with family.  We’ll be heading south to see our family some more.  We’ll get to go to Homecoming at Johnston Chapel, worship with our family on the coast, and just spend some time together.
  2. Go to the coast for a short vacation.  We don’t have big plans, just spending time together.
  3. See Imagine Dragons.  Sarah and I have gone to Hamilton and later next month we’ll go to an Imagine Dragons concert together.  We are having a good time.
  4. Golf with Thomas. Thomas and I have been going to the driving range a good bit, and I’m looking forward to some more.
  5. Go to Church.  We’ll worship with family, probably go to church with a friend who serves here in Madison, and worship with one of Sarah’s friends, whose dad is a pastor in Jackson.

I’ll be back in the office August 1 and my first Sunday back in the pulpit is August 5.  I am thankful for this summer, this renewal.  I really believe it is making me a more faithful follower of Christ, a better husband and father, and hopefully a better pastor.

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ #notwithoutmychild

Today’s post is written alongside others delving into the moral, ethical, and biblical ramifications of the current practice in the United States of separating immigrant parents from their children. In it, we include reflections on the plight of children in the Old Testament; the plight of families in the Western hemisphere; and the ways in which Jesus, a Messiah who saw the suffering of families, stretched his followers’ moral imaginations.

It is also written with consciousness that this is not the first time parents and children in the United States have been separated from each other, as the history of Native Americans and the Black slave trade demonstrate.

Please feel free to share today’s post with the hashtags #notwithoutmychild and #familiesbelongtogether.

Children Adrift: The Old Testament

Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.

Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it. She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said. – Exodus 2:1-6

I do not think I’ve ever heard someone preach on the compassion of Pharoah’s daughter. She also strikes me as a savvy woman. She came face to face with a squalling infant who was suffering because of her father’s decree to kill the Hebrew infants and toddlers who could potentially pose a future threat to the Egyptian way of life. She probably surmised precisely who the young girl was half-hidden in the reeds near the basket. She knew it was a Hebrew baby; here was a nearby young girl. Not only did Moses’ birth mother get to raise him while he was young, she was now paid to do so. Yes, Pharoah’s daughter was compassionate, and savvy.

I don’t know if she was able to intervene in the fate of other little baby boys; maybe she saved the one she could. Maybe she was haunted by the fates of the ones she couldn’t.


Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba.

When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she began to sob.

God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid;God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”

Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. – Genesis 21:14-20

Hagar didn’t ask to sleep with Abraham. She was a servant, and Sarah, impatient and distrustful of God’s promise, lent her to Abraham. But Sarah couldn’t put away her jealousy of Hagar’s son, even after having her own. She wanted Hagar to go. Hagar didn’t get autonomy over her own body, and once she had a son, the injustices continued. With no secure future, she was sent away.

Yet what a tender passage we encounter: she is sobbing, she cannot bear the notion of watching her son die. And this little slave woman and her beloved son do not escape God’s notice. What’s the matter, Hagar? Don’t be afraid.

Later, Pharoah’s daughter will hear a young one crying and feel sorry for him. Here, God hears a young one crying under a bush, and responds as well.


The king asked, “Is there no one still alive from the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?”

Ziba answered the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is lame in both feet.” So King David had him brought from Lo Debar, from the house of Makir son of Ammiel. When Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, he bowed down to pay him honor. David said, “Mephibosheth!” “At your service,” he replied.

“Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.” Mephibosheth bowed down and said, “What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?”

Then the king summoned Ziba, Saul’s steward, and said to him, “I have given your master’s grandson everything that belonged to Saul and his family. You and your sons and your servants are to farm the land for him and bring in the crops, so that your master’s grandson may be provided for. And Mephibosheth, grandson of your master, will always eat at my table.” 

 And Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, because he always ate at the king’s table; he was lame in both feet. – II Samuel 9:3-13

Mephibosheth was five years old when the news about his dad and granddad came. While David was mourning the loss of his best friend, Jonathan, Jonathan’s son was being spirited away by his nurse, to protect him in the political upheaval; but in her hurry, Mephibosheth fell and was disabled the rest of his life: the little boy’s feet would never work again. On top of the tragedy of his father dying, he would equate receiving the news with the loss of being able to properly run, jump, and play.

Mephibosheth was a child of tragedy and grief, through no fault of his own. He didn’t ask to be in the middle of political upheaval; he didn’t choose his family, he wasn’t old enough to weigh in on their decisions.

But David wants to “show God’s kindness” to any lingering survivors of Saul’s line. He restores property; he ensures income and livelihood; he bestows honor by issuing a standing invitation to supper, any time. David can’t erase Mephibosheth’s past, but he can ensure a future of dignity and safety. And he can make sure that Mephibosheth’s family is provided for.

The cries of other sons had been heard by God, had been heard by a Pharoah’s daughter. David went searching for a child whose cries had faded, if the injuries to spirit and body had not.

In a basket; under a bush; in the arms of a nurse.

The lost children of the Old Testament were not overlooked by God.

Children Adrift: The Western Hemisphere

Currently in the United States of America, immigrant parents are being separated from their children. No law requires this.

It can be difficult for American citizens with quick access to WiFi to imagine life with dubious communication connections; frequently immigrants to the United States have incomplete or inaccurate information about what lies ahead, what policies they will face, how much money they’ll have to pay to whom.

Some parents are trying to get their kids away from cartel violence, food shortages, and political upheaval. In Venezuela, children are starving to death. In Guatemala, the raid of one workplace in the U.S. can directly affect the sustenance of an entire village.

Children Adrift: A Messiah for Families

In a time when Americans often suffer compassion fatigue, seeing footage of wildfires and hurricanes, volcano eruptions and war, school shootings and tragedy, we are called to step back and reflect. Frequently in the Gospels we read of a Messiah gone AWOL: frustrated disciples search high and low, scout around town, attempting to find Jesus. In these moments, he had always withdrawn to pray in quiet away from the frequent chaos that surrounded him.

When Jesus encountered people swept up in debate or confusion about ethics or religious laws or the will of God, he invited them into the insight and truth he centered on in those times of prayer. Often, he met their questions with stories.

“Who is my neighbor?”

“Once, a man was traveling…”

In these teaching moments, Jesus was stretching the moral imaginations of his hearers. He took them from a narrow question to a broad principle, by way of illustrating vivid characters. Jesus’ responses may as well have been prefaced with the phrase, “imagine this…”

Over on First Things, Jonathan Jones describes the strengths and virtues of moral imagination: “a uniquely human ability to conceive of fellow humanity as moral beings and as persons, not as objects whose value rests in utility or usefulness.” This is a profound challenge: to conceive of other humans as persons, not as objects useful or unuseful to us. Neighbor implies valuable personhood, not just asset or liability. To be fully human, Jones posits, is, “to embrace the duties and obligations toward a purpose of security and endurance for, first and foremost, the family and the local community.”

This personhood is woven in the most essential fabric of human existence, the family. To deny family is to deny personhood. To deny personhood is to relegate people to existence as asset or liability in a ledger. But to deny recognition of personhood to another is also to undermine our own humanity, because, as Jones asserts, moral imagination is a uniquely human ability.

Jesus was a Messiah who saw families: frantic parents like Jairus asked him to heal their children; young kids offered their fish Happy Meals to him, which he happily multiplied and fed the masses with. When the disciples tried to remind parents how important Jesus was, he stopped them, and said, “let the little kids come over.” To stuffy adults, he sternly reminded them that to enter the Kingdom of God, one had to become like a child.

Jesus constantly reframed the questions his followers threw at him. He challenged the edges of their imagination, coaxing them to a place of empathy. Imagine this, he’d say: your neighbor is the Samaritan you fear who saves you from robbers on a barren road and pays for your recovery; maybe the person you distrust will be the means of your survival. Maybe the dynamic between you will be turned upside-down and you’ll end up receiving, not just sacrificing and giving.

Today, what do we as Christians believe about who God is?

We see that God cares about moms and children who have had an unfair life and are left out in the cold without resources.

We see that God allowed a savvy, compassionate woman and a completely vulnerable infant to encounter each other in a river in ancient Egypt, restoring the baby to his worried mama and preparing him for leadership later.

We see that God intersected David’s life in such a way that David knew and trusted God’s kindness and wanted to show God’s kindness to the devastated survivors of warfare, a family ripped apart at the seams.

We see that Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, valued the personhood of sons and daughters, moms and dads, and saw their lives as valuable and worth intervention.

We see that Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, constantly pivoted questions away from the concerns of the asker and toward the concerns of those being asked about. Jesus Christ celebrated the humanity, the personhood, of those who were deemed a liability.

In continuity with God-who-heard-a-child-crying-under-a-bush, in continuity with God-who-made-his-way-to-the-dying-daughter-of-Jairus, today, we affirm that families matter to God; that children have personhood and value, and that to willfully separate parents from their children and children from their parents is to deface our own “uniquely human ability to conceive of fellow humanity as moral beings and as persons, not as objects whose value rests in utility or usefulness.”

We affirm the beauty of parenthood, the value of childhood, and the imperative to honor both. We appreciate the parenthood of Mary and Joseph, the childhood of the toddler Jesus, and the care Jesus extended to his mother while he was dying by crucifixion.

We grieve violence, food shortage, corruption of leaders, and lack of infrastructure that places families in the impossible scenario of weighing whether their children will be safer in their home towns or migrating to a new place. We agree with Jesus that it would be better to have a millstone around the neck and to be thrown into the sea than to deliberately hurt and harm a child.

We pray that a robust vision of the value of human life will prevail over short-term practices that separate kids from their dads and moms. We pray that a holistic value of human life will stretch from dangerous school hallways to full social services for impoverished pregnant women, from holistic crisis pregnancy centers to bleak nursing home hallways, from law enforcement encounters with people of color to immigrant detention centers.

We reject notions that ease us into giving up our moral imaginations, like the necessity of evil “for the greater good,” the necessity of social “collateral damage,” the necessity of inflicting damage on others’ families in order to prevent potential future harm on our own.

We condemn the use of human lives as pawns in political maneuvering when done by any portion of the political spectrum. We celebrate expressions of immigration policy that maintain the dignity and God-given value of every individual human life.

We know that the government of the United States is separate from any one religious body. But we pray that current and future government officials and representatives will recall the ethical principles at work in many world religions and that often guide our common life together in the public square of our democratic republic. Our grand experiment in the United States cannot succeed without a robust appreciation of individual personhood existing in the fabric of family.

And so, we stand, sit, and kneel with those who are crying for their children and their parents; we pray for peace, stability, and opportunity in their home countries; and we pray for wisdom for the leaders who have the power and the moment to create humane policies, if they will only have the imagination to do so.


Aaron Perry ~ The Troubled Savior

“Do not let your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1-31).

Imagine how the disciples are feeling in this moment. Jesus has just predicted Peter’s denial and another’s betrayal: they could hardly be a happy group. How would his words have been heard? Would they have been comforting?

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Certainly more easily said than done. How are we to hear them? The word “troubled” has been used before in John’s Gospel.

Jesus was troubled when Martha wept at Lazarus’ death (11:33); Jesus was troubled as he saw the time for his death had come (12:27); Jesus was troubled when he told the disciples of Judas’ coming betrayal (13:21). Do you see the connection? They are all connected with Jesus’ death. (Read the previous article in this brief series to see the connection with Martha’s weeping at Lazarus’ and Jesus’ death.)

Jesus was troubled at his own death, yet he tells the disciples not to be troubled. Why would he do this? Better yet, how could he do this? Isn’t it inconsistent?

Recall John’s narrative of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. John tells us that the hour had come for Jesus to go to the Father and that Jesus, having loved those who belonged to him, now showed them his love to the full (13:1). In washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus took the posture of a slave, a posture Jesus would show fully on the cross. So, why was Jesus troubled by his own death, but told the disciples not to be troubled?

Because Jesus was taking their trouble on himself. Jesus was troubled because he was going to die a death that would make a way for their life. He took their “trouble” and made it his own so that his life could be made theirs. He took their trouble, so there was no need for them to be troubled.

Let’s go a little deeper. Jesus said he was going to the Father and that the disciples would follow at a later time (13:36) and by going to the Father, Jesus would make room for us to abide (14:2). Jesus also said that he and the Father will come to abide (“make our home”) with those who love Jesus (14:23).

Do you see what is happening? Just as God made a way through the waters in the Exodus (and recalled in Isaiah 43:16), so does Jesus walk on the water in John’s Gospel (6:16-24). When pressed by the disciples’ ignorance of where he is going and their subsequent ignorance of the way, Jesus says, “I am the way” (14:6). Jesus is the way to the Father. Through his death, Jesus opens a way to the Father. He has made a way through trouble by his death and so while his death troubles Jesus, through it he is able to say, “Do not be troubled.”

“Wait a minute,” you might be asking. “Didn’t Jesus say that in this world we would have trouble?” The phrase comes from John 16:33, but John uses a different word here. In John 14, John uses the word tarasso (trouble) whereas in John 16:33 he uses the word thlipsis (tribulation).

We might say it like this: Don’t let the tribulations trouble you. Tribulations are those things that press us down, that afflict us. They are profound and they matter. They are the expected pressures and trials of life, of being part of a world at odds with God. But trouble is a deeper disquiet, anxiety, uneasiness. Trials will come and even so troubles can be dismissed because Jesus has made a way. The deepest danger of life has been solved.

But this brings us back to the start, doesn’t it? Don’t be troubled? Isn’t that easier said than done? It is.

It is hard to endure the tribulations and to dismiss the trouble. Let me draw a seemingly light-hearted parallel. “Don’t worry; be happy.” Do you remember the phrase? If not, then go to YouTube and watch the video. Even if you don’t know the song, the phrase can still be heard in everyday conversation, even 30 years after it was used as the title of Bobby McFerrin’s hypnotic tune that stayed atop Billboard Hot 100 chart for two weeks in 1988. The words are effortless, epitomizing what it means to be “easier said than done.”

If you’ve ever been told, “Don’t worry; be happy,” “Calm down!”, “Just take it easy,” “Settle down,” or, for our purposes, “Don’t be troubled,” you might know that the words can have the opposite effect. Without due seriousness, they can sound dismissive, raising our suspicion rather than calming our nerves, coming across as condescending rather than empathetic. Depending, of course, on the speaker. “Don’t worry; be happy.” McFerrin’s song was prevalent on the relaxed island in the wake of Hurricane Gilbert. If the words came from a Jamaican survivor of this devastating hurricane, then you might pay attention. When people have gone through actual turmoil, pain, and anxiety, their words might carry a little more weight. I think we can learn to take at his word the one who gave us these words.

“Do not be troubled” means something coming from the one who took our trouble on himself and made a way through his own trouble.

These are not easy words; they are good words. They are not flippant words, rolling off the tongue; they are earned words, spoken because the cross was endured. So, how ought we to hear these words?

Perhaps, especially on days when their application seems so impossible, we can hear them as a promise. A way has been made; a day is coming when our hearts will not need be troubled.


Note from the Editor: The featured image for this reflection is “Christ in Gethsemane” by Vasily Perov.

David Watson ~ Grace

Christians in the Wesleyan tradition love to talk about grace, and with good reason. God’s grace is another way of talking about God’s love, love that can overcome anything, including the many ways in which we humans rebel against our creator. Paul writes to the church in Ephesus, “God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.” And then to underscore the point that this is God’s doing, and not our own, he interjects, “By grace you have been saved!” (2:4-5). In case it wasn’t clear enough the first time, he repeats it again just a few verses later: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God — not the result of works, so that no one may boast” (2:8-9).

When we speak of God’s grace, we mean an undeserved gift. In a world where we so often hear that people “get what they deserve,” our faith tells us that God gives us exactly what we do not deserve.” In fact, God offers us something much better than we deserve. In the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16), Jesus teaches us that the kingdom of heaven is like a place where we receive not on the basis of our efforts, but on the basis of God’s generosity, and our God is indeed generous.

We cannot earn God’s love. Rather, God simply loves us. As we read in Psalm 103:8-10,

The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.

The clearest sign of God’s love and grace is the gift of his Son Jesus Christ. Christ humbled himself and became human (Phil 2:5-11), a person with flesh, blood, and emotions, like any of us. He went to the cross as a sacrifice for our sins. He truly suffered and truly died so that broken people like us could have new life. In The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls this “costly grace.” Costly indeed: the Holy One of God, the beloved Son of the Father, who was without sin, gave himself up to suffering and death for our salvation. In Romans Paul observes, “Rarely will anyone die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:7-8).

The theme of God’s grace shows up regularly in Wesley’s sermons. Grace, for Wesley, was a way of talking about all the work God does in our lives to lead us more deeply into salvation. Wesley sometimes spoke of preventing (or prevenient) grace. The term “preventing” here meant something different in Wesley’s day than it does in ours. In Wesley’s sermons, it means that God’s grace comes to us before we ever have the slightest inkling that we need God. The Holy Spirit creates in us “the first wish to please God, the first dawn of light concerning his will, and the first slight, transient conviction of having sinned against him” (“On Working Out Our Own Salvation,” II.i).  In other words, preventing grace creates in us the first awareness that something is not right in our lives, and that only God can truly make things right.

We can, of course, entirely reject these inclinations. We can push them aside, chalk them up to sentimentality or heartburn, and go on our way. Wesley was well aware that many people do just that. Alternatively, however, if we allow these feelings to grow in our hearts, if we begin to take seriously the desire for repentance that God creates within us, we will begin to feel a deep conviction of sin. Wesley calls this convincing grace, or, simply, repentance, “which brings a larger measure of self-knowledge, and a farther deliverance from the heart of stone” (“On Working Out Our Own Salvation,” II.i.). Why do we think of repentance as a form of grace? Remember that, without God’s help, we could never repent to start with, and without repentance, we cannot be saved from sin and death.

With repentance, however, comes a deep desire to be freed from both the guilt and the power of sin. This is where justifying and sanctifying grace come in. Every one of us has acted many times in ways that are out of sync with God’s will. That’s simply part of the human condition. Or, to put it another way, our sins create a chasm between God and us. Jesus, on the cross, has bridged that chasm. He has atoned for our sins. Think of atonement as at-one-ment. In his death on the cross, Jesus has made it possible for us to return to a right relationship with God. Jesus didn’t have to do this. He did it out of love for us. It is a gift. It is grace. It is, in fact, justifying grace – the gift of God’s forgiveness of our sins.

God doesn’t just free us from the guilt of sin, however. God frees us from the power of sin as well. From that first moment when we begin to feel God drawing us into a closer relationship with him, the Holy Spirit is at work in our hearts. God begins to change us from the inside out. Our desires begin to change. The way we see the world changes. We begin to hope for different things. We begin to react to adversity differently than we would have before. We begin to regard other people in a new way–even the ones who are hard to like. This is God’s gift to us. It is the gift of sanctifying grace. “Sanctification” is just another way of saying that God is making us holier people, and that is just another way of saying that God is making us into the people we were always meant to be.

The grace of God in our lives changes us, and in turn we extend grace to others. When someone is unkind to us, we can extend him or her grace. We can forgive those who have hurt us. We can give without thought of what we might receive in return. We can even love our enemies. Whether or not the recipients of our grace deserve it or not is beside the point. God gave to us simply out of love, and God requires and empowers us to do the same to others. God’s grace is so abundant that it flows out of our lives and into the lives of other people. As Wesley put it, “God works; therefore you can work. Secondly, God works; therefore you must work” (“On Working Out Our Own Salvation,” III.3).

There is real beauty in the work of God – glorious, simple, earth-shaking beauty. That beauty is expressed more perfectly in poetry than prose, as Charles Wesley so aptly demonstrates in his hymn, “Father of Everlasting Grace”:

Send us the Spirit of Thy Son,
To make the depths of Godhead known,
To make us share the life divine;
Send Him the sprinkled blood to apply,
Send Him our souls to sanctify,
And show and seal us ever Thine.

Freely we have received, and so freely let us give. May God make it so in our lives.


Reprinted with permission.

Featured image is “Grace Lake,” painted by Canadian artist Franklin Carmichael in 1934.

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ The Narrative of Evil

Note from the Editor: At the time of original publication, Wesleyan Accent suspended its usual posting of a weekend sermon to reflect on the 2015 coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris, France.

Where haute couture fashion houses dominate and the Mona Lisa smiles, where the Notre Dame cathedral towers with long-held cultural memories of a famed hunchback and the Eiffel Tower beckons to retainer-wearing junior high tourists, where Rick and Ilsa looked out as the Nazis rolled in.

What is the true narrative of Paris, a very old city with a colorful history, the grand dame of Europe whose eyes twinkle as she alludes to youthful scandal?

What is the true narrative of Paris, where St. Thomas Aquinas studied, wrote and taught? The same Paris that boiled with blood during the French Revolution? The same Paris overtaken by the Third Reich? The same Paris scourged by the Black Plague? The same Paris now in a state of emergency with enforced curfew marooned in a nation whose borders have had to clang shut.

The true narrative of Paris is the narrative of any individual – at moments glorious, fallible, heartbroken, and exquisite.

Like the true narrative of Baghdad.

Or Damascus.

Recently Canon Andrew White, “the vicar of Baghdad,” alluded to his chiaroscuro life. 

They were coming for him and his people. Friends were being killed or fleeing for their lives. So Andrew White did what he always does when faced with an enemy. “I invited the leaders of Isis [Islamic State] for dinner. I am a great believer in that. I have asked some of the worst people ever to eat with me.”

This extraordinarily self-confident priest is best known as the vicar of Baghdad, leader of a church in the chaos outside the protected Green Zone. He made his offer last year as the terrorist forces threatened to take the city. Did he get a reply? 

“Isis said, ‘You can invite us to dinner, but we’ll chop your head off.’ So I didn’t invite them again!” 

And he roars with laughter, despite believing that Islamic State has put a huge price on his head, apparently willing to pay $157m (£100m) to anyone who can kill this harmless-looking eccentric. Canon White was a doctor before he became a priest and could be one still, in his colourful bow-tie and double-breasted blazer with a pocket square spilling silk. But appearances are deceptive. 

For the last two decades, he has worked as a mediator in some of the deadliest disputes on Earth, in Israel and Palestine, Iraq and Nigeria. He has sat down to eat with terrorists, extremists, warlords and the sons of Saddam Hussein, with presidents and prime ministers. 

White has been shot at and kidnapped, and was once held captive in a room littered with other people’s severed fingers and toes, until he talked his way out of it. He is an Anglican priest but was raised a Pentecostal and has that church’s gift of the gab.

Canon Andrew has served as a voice from a region that we skim over in the headlines because it troubles us. But something that troubles you will eventually force its way into your consciousness, like a lump you want to ignore or the scrabbling of a mouse across the floor in the night.

Damascus, Baghdad, Paris.

What next? Miami, Atlanta, Boston? How might the narrative of more cities morph under the influence of evil? Paris is closer to the Western world than Damascus or Baghdad are in many ways. The American Statue of Liberty was a gift from France. French thinkers and writers have influenced intellectual development over the past few centuries. Our language is dotted with vocabulary we don’t think twice about because we don’t pronounce it in proper nasal fashion, but chaperone, restaurant, coup de grace – all these illustrate the invisible ties that stretch like cords across Atlantic waves. And so we sit up and take notice when Paris is beaten up and left bloodied on the roadside more than we do when Damascus and Baghdad are kidnapped and held for ransom.

Canon Andrew does not underestimate the strength of the evil that has been brutalizing Iraqis, Syrians, and now Parisians.

So what is to be done? “We must try and continue to keep the door open. We have to show that there is a willingness to engage. There are good Sunni leaders; they are not all evil like Isis.”

But surely there is only one logical conclusion to be drawn? He sighs, and answers slowly. “You are asking me how we can deal radically with Isis. The only answer is to radically destroy them. I don’t think we can do it by dropping bombs. We have got to bring about real change. It is a terrible thing to say as a priest. 

“You’re probably thinking, ‘So you’re telling me there should be war?’ Yes!” 

I am shocked by his answer, because this is a man who has risked his life many times to bring peace.

“It really hurts. I have tried so hard. I will do anything to save life and bring about tranquillity, and here I am forced by death and destruction to say there should be war.”

White had to be ordered to leave Baghdad at Christmas by his close friend the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby.

Evil is not the narrative of terror: terror is the narrative of evil. That which destroys for destruction’s sake; that which desecrates for desecration’s sake; that which relishes in inflicting suffering for suffering’s sake; that which forces death unannounced for death’s sake – this is the nature of evil.

And destroying for destruction’s sake, desecrating for desecration’s sake, inflicting suffering for suffering’s sake, forcing death for death’s sake – this leaves paralyzing fear in its wake, the kind of dry-mouthed, helpless terror that watches in vivid slow motion. This leaves night terror in its wake, thrashing in blankets from flashbacks. This leaves fear in its wake, the kind that bars windows and triple-checks locks, the kind that huddles in groups and squints in suspicion.

David wrote of this anguish in Psalm 22, and while it’s often read through the lens of the crucifixion of Christ, it also stands on its own, as his own distress:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me,
    so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
    by night, but I find no rest.

But I am a worm and not a man,
    scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
    they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
“He trusts in the Lord,” they say,
    “let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
    since he delights in him.”

My heart has turned to wax;
    it has melted within me.
My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
    and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
    you lay me in the dust of death.

Dogs surround me,
    a pack of villains encircles me.

There is no shame in feeling fear, or sorrow, or terror. There is no shame in shaking with grief, and loss, and shock. There is no shame in finding your mind paralyzed, your heart numb, your eyes glazed. No, there is no shame in bolting awake in the dark night with your heart pounding.

But in the midst of fear, grief, paralysis, and panic, there remains a quiet, immovable promise – the kind of promise that doesn’t erase suffering, but buys it out and remodels it. This hushed promise of granite-like solidity transcends laughter, happiness, and joy. It includes hope but exists outside of your ability to hope. Truth exists outside of your ability to feel happiness.

David finishes his song like this:

All the ends of the earth
    will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
    will bow down before him,
for dominion belongs to the Lord
    and he rules over the nations.

All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
    all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
    those who cannot keep themselves alive.
Posterity will serve him;
    future generations will be told about the Lord.
They will proclaim his righteousness,
    declaring to a people yet unborn:
    He has done it!

No one can obliterate the future. No one can obliterate your life so completely that it is irredeemable. This is the truth that was not burned up in the furnaces of death camps. It cannot be buried in a mass grave.  It can’t be executed at a concert or detonated at a soccer game.

“For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.”

Oh, the promise that trumps the narrative of evil. Oh, the promise that takes our sweaty palms in its hands.

We are not at the mercy of terrorists. They are at our mercy as we live in flesh and blood and bone the loving mercy of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel-God-With-Us, who was and is and is to come. As the orange-suited martyrs cried to Jesus on their sandy beach deathbeds, evil crumpled. They have no power over Jesus Christ, they have no power over the world to come, they have no power over your soul. 

And so today we do not pray first and foremost for safety – as if it could be achieved in this life anyway. We pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. We pray for boldness and courage. We pray for peace, for healing, for comfort, for hope. We pray for faithfulness, for wisdom, for vision. We pray for Spirit-led choices, for grace, for redemption. And we pray for those who blow themselves up, kill other people, threaten and bully, remembering the Apostle Paul, who, before he met Christ, harassed believers and breathed murderous threats against them.

Lord, have mercy.

Christ, have mercy.

Lord, have mercy.

And root out the sneaking parts of my own soul that wish harm on others, flare up in anger, or belittle my valuable fellow humans. For we all stand in need of the mercy of Jesus Christ.

Tom Fuerst ~ Mothers, Sons and the Crucifix

The fundamental difference between the Protestant’s cross and the Catholic’s crucifix lies in the Protestant belief that Christ is no longer on the cross. He has resurrected and ascended.

Or so Protestant polemics go.

In what follows, I do not care to discuss Catholic vs. Protestant soteriology or the differences between their accounts of the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. All I wish to discuss is the fact that, a few years ago, this here Protestant found immeasurable comfort in Christ on the cross – a crucifix on the wall in a Catholic nursing home chapel.

I’d been in and out of the nursing home visiting my 51-year-old mom in the last days of her fight with cancer. None of us expected the illness to progress as quickly as it did. But in a mere month and a half, we went from optimism about her diagnosis to staring down her mortality and releasing her into the loving hands of Jesus.

My encounter with the crucifix began on the night I had to decide to sign my mom up for hospice care. She was so weak I had to help her hold the pen. Even then she could only make a scratch on the page. Her once-beautiful signature which used to sign my birthday cards, report cards, and detention slips was reduced to a single scratch on several pieces of hospice paperwork.

In this moment I was forced to grapple with the existential angst, fear, and brokenness that smothers ever-shattered souls stepping one inch closer to the inevitable realization of our mortality.


Mom is mortal.

I am mortal.

I needed to leave the room as soon as we signed all the forms. I didn’t know where I was going. I found myself in a wing of the nursing home I hadn’t visited before, looking for some privacy.

Barely holding back tears, I stumbled into the chapel.

Now, despite the fact that I’m a Christian – not to mention a pastor – I did not choose the chapel for some spiritual reason. I simply chose it because no one would be able to find me in there. Or more specifically, no one would be able to hear me weeping in there.

I looked around for a second or two, not noticing anything about the chapel except the fact that the least visible place in the room was on the floor behind the back few pews. It was the perfect place to hide. It was a perfectly private place to grieve.

I don’t know how long I sat there with my face in my knees. Fifteen minutes. Thirty minutes. An hour. I don’t know. But after a while, I looked around the room and saw a plethora of Catholic images and icons, most of which are probably quite familiar to Catholic Christians but are quite foreign to us Protestants, who sanctimoniously brag of our lack of “graven images” and our risen Christ.

It was clear in these various items that the crucifixion of Jesus and the sufferings of Mary are of foremost importance in the hearts of the persons who designed this chapel. From the seven depictions of Christ’s crucifixion story to the mother of Jesus holding her infant son as she stretched out her arms to the weeping worshiper, the entire chapel was an invitation to see our sufferings – our very humanity – in light of the fact that neither Jesus nor Mary was exempt from suffering, pain, or death.

In fact, the truth experienced in that chapel was not merely that Jesus was not exempt from suffering or death, but more specifically, that Jesus shares in our suffering and death and we share in his.

On the opposite wall from the statue of the virgin and her baby boy hung a wooden crucifix. Not a pretty one. Not a bloodless one. A horrific one. A crucifix agonizing to see, even though its monochromatic varnish shields viewers from all the viciousness of the reality it depicts. In this crucifix, I saw that with every broken rib and visible wound, our God hung naked before the world, taking upon himself, not only all of our sin but all of our suffering. This is a God who did not remain indifferent to our suffering, our illnesses, our cancers, but who on that cross waged war against our mortality.

This is a God whose resurrection was preceded by a deep and unrelenting experience of our mortality. Before he ever won the war, he first lost this battle to death.

Could it be that Catholics “leave Christ on the cross,” not because they fail to recognize his resurrection, but because they believe the God who lost his Son on the cross suffers with me as I hide on the floor of this chapel? Maybe God is not just up in the sky somewhere looking down half-callously saying, “Hey, don’t worry about how bad it hurts now. She’s going to heaven because Jesus died for her sins.” He’s not up there saying, “Here, have this opiate and buck up.” Instead, in the crucified Jesus, God draws near to us, weeps with us, feels forsaken with us, knows loss with us, and even dies with us. Even his mother shudders from the pain of it.


Mom is mortal.

I am mortal.

Jesus was mortal.

Jesus died.

God was dead.


And while I know that the story does not end there, while I know Jesus came down off that cross and ascended as the Lord of Life, there is a deep and infinite beauty in knowing that my mother’s broken body is preceded by the broken body of her Creator.

An empty cross certainly announces victory over death. But a crucifix, hoisting the dying Savior with outstretched arms, is a warm welcome to all who are wrecked and weary.

Resurrection is coming.

But for now, we suffer. Together.

Maxie Dunnam ~ Witness: Reflecting on Billy Graham’s Funeral

Honor comes to us in all sorts of ways. When we think of personal honors, we usually think of the ways we have been recognized and affirmed in a formal way. But some honors, just as or more meaningful, are not formally bestowed. To be among the 2,300 people invited to witness the private funeral of Billy Graham was a surprising non-formal honor which moved me deeply.  Though I did not have a personal relationship with Billy (I refer to him that way, because that’s the way he would have it), I met him on a couple of occasions.

Because of his biblical and theological perspective, people often fail to reflect on how creative and innovative he was: the way he pioneered the use of radio and television; the way he harnessed print media; the role he played in launching a world-class magazine; and his influence in higher education, particularly theological education.

His funeral, for which he was the primary architect, was in keeping with that ongoing stream of creativity. He was certainly one of the two or three most outstanding Christian leaders of the 20th century if not the most and would certainly have massive attention in death. I can imagine him thinking, “why not use the funeral to make a witness for Christ through the tv coverage?” And that’s a big part of what happened.

The core of the service was the witness of his children, all of them simple and clear, doing what I’m sure pleased him: not praising their father, but emphasizing his message.  The most meaningful for me was the sharing of one daughter who had a painful marriage that ended in divorce, talking about her shame and how dreadful it was to think of how this was affecting her Mom and Dad, but how redemptive it was when she was welcomed home by Billy with open arms. It was a powerful story. There was no pretension of perfection. The feeling was that we were at a large family funeral, friends gathered to remember, to share their grief and celebrate the life of a loved one.

Presidents had visited the family in the days before the funeral, and both the President and Vice President were in attendance at the funeral. Nothing was made of their presence. Most of us in attendance would not have even known they were there, but for a simple naming of them when a few other distinguished “visitors” were welcomed.

The entire service was full of worshipful and grateful joy. My emotions were stirred in a surprising way. For a time in the service I was overcome as my own conversion and Christian experience began to pervade my thoughts. Two men were dominant in that vivid reliving: Wiley Grisson, a fifth grade-educated Baptist preacher under whose powerful preaching I was converted, and my baptism by him, along with my father, in a cold creek, and David McKeithen, a seminary-educated Methodist preacher who paid attention to a poor country boy in the youth group, taking me under his wing and nurturing me in the faith, becoming my father in ministry.

Both of those men belong in the company of Billy Graham. Tears of joy flowed for my being blessed by those two men, and for Billy blessing millions.

Tears of repentance and sadness came when I reflected on the state of our nation today. During the service, we were remembering and celebrating the passionate ministry of this man who was relentlessly driven in sharing the Gospel and calling people to saving faith in Jesus Christ. I couldn’t help but think of Francis Asbury, the powerful evangelist that led so much of the planting of the Gospel and the Methodist movement in America.  Billy Graham lay in state in our Capitol building in Washington; some folks were critical of that.  I wondered if folks were critical when public monies paid for a statue of Francis Asbury on horseback, still present in our capital city.

I was sad and tearful because the signs are far from clear that we are still in the spirit of Francis Asbury, or were ever very much in the spirit of Billy Graham. So, our Methodist movement, once the most obvious presence of the Christian faith and way in this country, is diminishing in number and influence.

There are those who still insist that Billy was never as prophetic as he should have been. Some of that, though in my mind not much, may be so. As I shared in the funeral experience, my mind went back to the mid-sixties in Mississippi. I was not as prophetic, bold and courageous as I should have been, but I did take a stand for the Gospel.

Mississippi was a “closed society” as related to civil rights. Black students couldn’t get into the University of Mississippi, public schools were being integrated and private schools for whites only were rising everywhere; and not only restrooms and lunch counters but white church doors were closed to Black citizens. Along with a few other young Methodist ministers, we took a stand for justice and reconciliation. Billy Graham refused to have a crusade in Mississippi that was not open to all races.

Though not an honor formally bestowed, the invitation to Billy’s private funeral was a signal honor for which I am deeply grateful.  I have long believed that my evangelical faith calls me to be passionate in sharing the Gospel, which means calling people to salvation: personal faith in Jesus Christ which means reconciliation with God and neighbor, and personal and social holiness. Billy’s funeral intensified that belief and commitment.

Edgar Bazan ~ Transformative Mission: When the Church Malfunctions

Previously in this series, Rev. Edgar Bazan has written on transformative missionthe purpose of the Kingdom of God, the shalom nature of God’s Kingdom. and the Trinity and the mission of God.


In A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good, Miroslav Volf cautions against the errors the church falls into that hinders it accomplishing what it was constituted to be. He calls it malfunction. He describes this malfunctioning as a poisoned well when he says,

In the course of Christianity’s long history—full of remarkable achievements by its saints and thinkers, artists and builders, reformers and ordinary folks—the Christian faith has sometimes failed to live up to its own standards as a prophetic religion. Too often, it neither mends the world nor helps human beings thrive. To the contrary, it seems to shatter things into pieces, to choke up what is new and beautiful before it has a chance to take root, to trample underfoot what is good and true. When this happens, faith is no longer a spring of fresh water helping good life to grow lushly, but a poisoned well, more harmful to those who drink its waters than any single vice could possibly be. (See Friederich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols and The Anti-Christ.) (Volf, Chapter 1)

This “poisoning of the well” presents a very significant challenge to the viability of the church to accomplish the missio Dei.

Gregg Okesson talks about the problems that cause the church to malfunction when it has a misplaced understanding of what it means to be in mission for the sake of the church and the world. He frames his argument as a mission in the public and private settings. He describes them as follows:

Theology divorced from the rest of life is privatization of what always meant to be proclaimed publicly. The challenge is that we tend to associate theology with the private realm, divorced from public realities, for special people, not everyone… We have allowed “mission” to be compromised by culture. We think of mission as a distinct, sacred task done by special people we call “missionaries.” We give it a separate line-item in our budget, and/or give a week or month to missions in the entire year. We think of it in terms of what we do “over there” as oppose to what every follower of Christ is commanded to do. (Okesson, Why Public Theology PPT, Asbury Theological Seminary 2017)

Okesson’s main concern is that theology has become too specialized, distant from the lives of people (too limited to scholarly elites), and that missions have become a human enterprise, removed from who God is and what God has been doing, limited in agency (to just a few spiritual people), focus (just upon souls), and scope (people within the church but not the public places).

Dr. Stephen Seamands also addresses these malfunctions when he speaks about the understanding and nature of the Christian mission and ministry through the lenses of the theology of the Trinity: the mission and ministry into which we have been called is the mission and, “ministry of Jesus Christ, the Son, to the Father through the Holy Spirit for the sake of the church and the world.” He challenges the privatization of the Christian mission by arguing that the church has become self-obsessed and self-focused. He explains:

Self-will.  I make the plans.  I rather than the Lord initiate things vs. “of Jesus Christ.”

Self-effort.  I do God’s work for him through my own effort, my own strength, my own abilities vs. “through the Holy Spirit”.

Self-glory.  I do things for the furtherance of my own name, my own reputation, my own glory vs. “to the Father.” (Seamands, “Trinity Ministry PPT-Class” Asbury Theological Seminary 2017)

Seamands states that Christian ministry is not, “my asking Christ to join me in my ministry as I offer him to others, but rather it is my joining with him in his ongoing ministry and mission as he offers himself to others through me.(Seamands, “Trinity Ministry PPT-Class” Asbury Theological Seminary 2017)

This framework for the mission of the church as presented by Okesson and Seamands addresses the malfunctions of the church in public and private settings and is helpful to assess how faithfully and effectively the church is in carrying out the missio Dei.

The tension between the public and private settings have always been a challenge for the church. Okesson describes this divide between the public and the private when he distinguishes between, “everyday people who daily seek to make sense of their world, interact with the sacred, and try to find meaning in life, and theologians who do theology, especially for the academy, that is primarily concerned with the cognitive, theoretical, and academic aspects.”(Okesson, Why Public Theology PPT, Asbury Theological Seminary 2017)

For Okesson, theology has become too specialized, distant from the lives of people; missions have become a simplistic human enterprise, removed from who God is and what God has been doing. Thus, we have made “mission” what we do (not who God is, or what God is doing); we have made mission a specialized task (what only particular spiritual people do), in specific locations (over there), limited in salvific intent (to save souls, but not the rest of humanity), and too narrow in scope (to humans, but not to the public places where people live: work, leisure, economics, power, governance, etc.).

Newbigin picks up on the themes of what Okesson is presenting when he notes,

We cannot look for the security which would be ours in a restored Christendom. Nor can we continue to accept the security which is offered in an agnostic pluralism where we are free to have our own opinions provided we agree that they are only personal opinions. We are called, I think, to bring our faith into the public arena, to publish it, to put it at risk in the encounter with other faiths and ideologies in open debate and argument, and in the risky business of discovering what Christian obedience means in radically new circumstances and in radically different human cultures. (Newbigin, Truth to Tell: The Gospel as Public Truth 59-60)

If missio Dei is the initiative of God to redeem, bring Shalom, and heal his creation, then the church needs to reclaim its mission as the mission of God in which the church has been invited to join alongside God to accomplish God’s work from everywhere to everywhere.

In this regard, being missional is not about a specialized ministry somewhere (else), but the embodiment of the gospel of Jesus Christ in everything we do, to teach everywhere we go, to everyone we meet. It is not only the theological understanding, revelation, and confession of Jesus as Lord that ultimately constitutes the church as the mission-carrier of the missio Dei; rather, it is the full engagement in doing what he taught and commanded us to do.

Faith Parry ~ Dying Well

“Do you never think about [death]? Why do you not? Are you never to die? Nay, it is appointed for all men to die. And what comes after? Only heaven or hell. Will the not thinking of death, put it farther off? No; not a day; not one hour.”

— Rev. John Wesley, “A Word to an Unhappy Woman”

This might seem to be a strange post but I think it’s a perfect one, because the reason we, as Methodists, die well, is because of Christ’s death and resurrection. Let me back up and explain.


The early Methodists were known as people who died well. They had grace and assurance of God’s love and forgiveness for them, so they did not fear death. Furthermore, John Wesley (the founder of Methodism) made it a point to share the stories of those who died and went on to glory. Wesley knew that if we are going to die well, then we must live well. We must live every day honoring God so that we are alright if it is our last.

The country song “Live Like you are Dying” has it right in the title, but wrong in the words. It’s not about taking extra vacations (although you should spend plenty of time with your family). We should live every day in a way that, if we were to die, we would be proud of the lives we lived when we stood before God.


If you read my post on Lent, then you know that Lent is really about a time for us to mourn Christ’s death. If you go to an Ash Wednesday service, you’ll hear something like, “From ashes you came, and to ashes you will return. Repent and you will be forgiven.” The point of this is to remember that we all will die one day.

When Holy Week comes (the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday), we really crank things up. On Maundy Thursday, we relive Christ’s last supper in different ways, then on Good Friday, many people go into mourning on a deeper level. Many churches cover the cross in their sanctuaries. The Catholic church always covers the crucifix and it’s the one time the Christ candle is burned out and the tabernacle is emptied. Christ has left the building.

But then, on Easter morning, Christ overcomes death and returns to life! For us as Christians, this is our reminder every year that when we die, our death isn’t permanent. One day, we will be physically resurrected and rejoined with everyone we love in the life everlasting.


A couple of weeks ago, I had the distinct pleasure to usher a young girl, just a few years younger than me, into glory. I always consider this to be one of the most unique honors I have as a pastor because it’s a living testimony of this girl’s life. I get to listen to her family share of the life she lived for God and we get to ask God to welcome her into his loving arms. In the end, we pray that he will care for her until we all get to meet her again one day.

This is the hope of our faith. It’s the most beautiful thing to watch people, who in their grief, still see God at work. I want to live my life in a way that people will look back on it and know that I spent every day dedicated to God. This was one of the things Wesley wrote in his death accounts, and I hope someone can say it about me when the Lord takes me home:

“She was a woman of faith and prayer; in life and death adorning the doctrine of God her Saviour.”

— John Wesley



Rev. Faith Parry blogs about church life at www.faithparry.com. 

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ The Persecutor

“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

On the road, an interesting question is posed. First of all, consider what we know of Saul in the early portion of the book of Acts. He watched the coats of the witnesses who approved the men creating the first Christian martyr, stoning Stephen. Later Saul “breathes murderous threats” against the followers of Jesus. For all intents and purposes, this man is a persecutor of men, women and even children.

“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” When Jesus Christ appears to Saul on the road leading to Damascus, the statement slices through the air: average women and men may be suffering, but Saul is actually acting out against Jesus Christ, Word Made Flesh, fully God and fully human. This doesn’t downgrade the suffering of Jesus’ followers: it elevates it. Saul, when you raise your hand against these people, you strike the second person of the Triune God.

Second, consider Saul’s zeal. He was chasing people down, hunting them out like a religious bounty hunter determined to get his dues. Saul wasn’t an internet troll spewing hateful comments; he wasn’t just a jerk spouting opinions. He was actively determined to physically intervene in the lives of those who believed differently than he did.

“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” This powerful man stands up from the ground with his world flipped upside-down. He is led by the hand like a child, taken into town blinded by truth, stunned. He doesn’t eat or drink for three days. He does pray. The big raid planned for Damascus has turned into a completely different scene. God speaks to Ananias (maybe someone on Saul’s list of suspects?) to go and pray over Saul. Ananias coughs and splutters. When Ananias arrives, he addresses the famous scourge of Christ-followers, knowing this man will have a difficult road ahead: “Brother Saul…”

What do we learn from the persecutor who would later be chased down, shipwrecked, beaten, and tossed in jail – eventually to himself be martyred?

We learn that anyone can have an encounter with Jesus Christ at any time. It doesn’t matter who you deem evil; it doesn’t even matter if that person has caused you personally to suffer greatly because of your faith. No one is beyond being confronted with the blinding light of Christ, in this world or the next. Followers of Jesus are actually told to pray for those who persecute them.

We learn that those who receive a hard lesson of a spiritual truth need help along the way. Saul, whose hands had dragged believers, was led by the hand, completely helpless until someone came to him. Ananias prayed for him, and Saul depended on others to baptize him and get him something to eat as he regained strength.

While praying, Saul had seen a vision of someone named Ananias coming to him. Why? Was he despairing? Thinking he would be blind forever? Was he terrified of the people in Damascus, fearing retribution once it became known that the great persecutor was helpless and vulnerable? Was he in need of some profound gesture of grace – the kind of gesture it would be if he knew Ananias’ profile already when he had gotten the priests’ permission to go to Damascus in the first place? Saul needed to know Ananias was coming. He needed to know he was going to be healed, to be welcomed into the family. And then he heard the words, “Brother Saul.”

We learn that a converted persecutor doesn’t lose his zeal. Immediately, Saul began preaching in Damascus that Jesus is the Son of God. Saul after the vision on the road to Damascus is, after all, still Saul: the same temperament, the same personality. Believers slowly creak into acceptance after initial (and not unwarranted) skepticism, fearing a trap. And almost as immediately, Saul now is the one hunted, the one on the run, escaping death threats and traps, even being lowered over the city wall in a basket as an escape measure. The hunter is the hunted, but his zeal doesn’t wane. The persecutor now proclaims.

Why does this matter?

Because during Lent we have the opportunity to examine our lives for ways in which we persecute others. You may not have lit a match to burn someone at the stake in modern-day North America; but what about the words we speak, the characters we assault, the gossip or slander that slices at speaker, listener and subject with the cold, deep bite of a sword? What about the violence we express in our interactions with others, rage that pours out and refuses to be scooped back up and contained? What about the thoughts in our minds as we assess in the blink of an eye the character of another person because of her skin tone or language? What about the ways in which our selfishness steals opportunity or joy from others when self-will motivates generosity and twists it into manipulation?

Because our brothers and sisters in this world are suffering for their faith. Complex geopolitical matters aside, the facts remain that recently a mass beheading was carried out because the victims professed Christian faith. While we pray for the victims’ souls, the victims’ families, we are also entreated to pray for the executors by none other than Jesus himself: “pray for those who persecute you.” We are called to imagine a scenario in which someone zealous for their cause bumps up against Jesus Christ on their way to raise havoc. We are called to extend a hand, to pray for and to proclaim, “brother…the Lord, who you met on the road, has sent me…”

Because we need to remember our own hate, our own anger, our own zealousness, our own ungentle or damaging words, our own ability to destroy. What more is Ash Wednesday than this? To bow the head, receive the ash, and be led by the hand to a time of fasting and prayer? What more is Lent than putting to death the inner persecutor and praying determinedly for the outer one?

From dust we come…

Saul? Saul?

And to dust…

Why are you persecuting me?

We shall return.