Tag Archives: Friendship

The Prayer God Always Answers

It might take time or unexpected detours, it may show up in disguise like a trick or treater at the door, but you will always find an answer from God to one particular prayer. Which kind of prayer this is reveals something important about who God is and who we are created to be. Tug on a loose thread of grace before you know what it’s connected to and where it will lead, and often you’ll find this answer to this prayer unspooling in your life. The prayer God always answers may take you where you didn’t know you needed to go.

You may find there’s work in keeping the answer; you may find areas in which growth is demanded of you as you experience the answer. You won’t always live up to the answered prayer. You may question whether the answer is really all that it first seemed. That’s alright. It’s always been so.

But in my life I’ve found God always answers one kind of prayer that my heart entrusts to God’s heart. Browse through Scripture, and you see God doing it over and over and over again.

It may take time or detours or hard work, but the prayer God always answers is the prayer asking God to bring a particular kind of person or community into your life because you recognize your need for other people.

Sometimes it’s tempting to ask God for a solution or a quick fix, when God wants to deepen your relationships with others and to answer your prayers in the healthy interdependency that comes with genuine community.

Sometimes it’s tempting to ask God to heal a particular kind of wound or to numb the pain of loneliness, when God wants you to receive the grace of presence, even if it looks different than you pictured.

Sometimes it’s tempting to ask God for strength to do it all, instead of asking God if your trust in others needs to be expanded.

When you pray and acknowledge your lack, your limitations, your learning curve, and your loneliness, God will always answer your cry for mentoring or community or help or friendship, even if it doesn’t come in the form you’re hoping for or picturing, even if it takes time, even if the circumstances are what you were trying to avoid.

If you’re grieving a gaping hole in your life where a relationship should be but is out of reach for whatever reason, God may not restore a relationship with a particular person. But God can bring into your life someone who’s a similar presence, and they will be a source of grace, growth, and comfort. If your mother abandoned you or was unavailable or absent, a relationship with her may be out of reach, but God can hear the longing of your heart and bring someone mother-ly into your life. She won’t be perfect – no mother is – but whether she’s old enough to be your Grandma or just beyond you in years like an older sister, if you see a kind of person missing in your life, start praying that God will intersect your life with embodied grace.

If you’re grieving a gaping hole in your life where a particular kind of community should be but is out of reach for whatever reason, God may not relocate you, but God can bring into your life people you may not completely realize you need. They will be a source of grace, growth, and comfort. They won’t be perfect – no one is – and you will see your own learning curves and areas for growth in new ways.

One time I sat praying for a very specific kind of small community. I was at a conference; it was a stage of life when it can be really difficult to forge new relationships, especially if you’re in a vocation like ministry when peers themselves are often far-flung or regularly relocating. Someone had been speaking on the value of a small knot of trusted friends who also seek out God’s heart. I didn’t question the value, I questioned the viability; I knew it was a good thing to want, but I could not see how it would unfold. Normally fasting isn’t my first instinct; but that day, I sat and prayed, tears streaming, as others left for lunch, telling God my heart and hurts and longing. I still can’t describe how it happened with any coherence, but by the time I left the conference, I found myself part of a small knot of kindred spirits, some casual former acquaintances, some familiar but until that conference strangers, and we had agreed to form a group together. How? I had lunch with one person, chatted with another, there might have been an introduction, maybe we decided to sit together during worship? And then the final one – I think she saw us knotted together praying during a time of prayer huddles and joined us and then that was that? I’d gone from longing but not seeing any viable avenue, to going home with a fresh set of phone numbers and friends. We still had to work at making time to connect. We’re still far-flung. We all have different points of view, backgrounds, gifts. Persisting in prayer often means you and I are aware of something good that’s missing and that we can’t orchestrate by or for ourselves.

One time when I worked in a nursing home, one of my favorite residents died. He was a rascal; mischievous; gave the social worker grey hairs. I loved him. When his kids wrote to the facility thanking us for the care we had given him, they said – “Dad had been so depressed living alone. He’s always been outgoing, and with his health he was confined to home so much. He loved living at the nursing home. He was his old self again – people to talk to. The friends he made there were so important to him.” I knew what they meant. He had loved it. Not everything about it, certainly; he made that clear. But he had friends he ate supper with every night, they shared treats from “outside” that their families had brought them. He was with others. Most people avoid or dread long-term care facilities, but his extroverted, mischievous heart found plenty of entertainment and genuine friendship there.

The prayer God always answers: your need for other people – like you, unlike you, similar to you, different than you.

That doesn’t mean that every unmarried person will be married; it doesn’t mean that every specific relationship with a specific person will be restored (sometimes they can’t or shouldn’t be).

It does mean that God who is internal community, Father Son and Holy Spirit, and who created humans for and in community, takes our longing for friendship, relationship, camaraderie, and community seriously – and joyfully.

God, I need a teacher. A mentor. A coach. An auntie in the faith.

God, I need someone who’s like a Dad or Grandpa, someone who knows Your heart.

God, I need a handful of good buddies who checks in with me, who I check in with.

God, I need a long-haul friend with whom I can meaningfully share life.

God, I need people in my life who look different than me, who have different experiences, speak different languages.

God, I need a few good prayer warriors I can turn to.

Moses needed his father-in-law’s advice; and Moses needed the people his father-in-law recommended that he entrust. Naomi and Ruth needed each other. Anna and Simeon needed to bless, and Joseph and Mary needed to witness their response to this baby. Paul needed to learn that he needed Barnabas, who was right about John Mark. Esther needed Mordecai, and Mordecai and many others needed Esther. The apostles needed the Greek widows as much as the Greek widows needed them. Mary needed Elizabeth. Saul desperately needed Ananias.

“It is not good for Human to be alone…”

These are prayers worth persisting in. Tug loose threads expectantly, be on the lookout even if you’re not sure what you’re looking for. Be wise in who you let into your heart, but trust that as you grow in self-knowledge, self-awareness, and maturity, that the Holy Spirit will collide into your day with people you didn’t expect but profoundly need. Fast from relationships that are all in your own image – a reflection of yourself. And then do the work of caring for those answers to prayer so that as you continue to grow and sharpen each other, you are tending to God’s beautifully given answers to persistent, expectant prayers.

Featured image courtesy Jeremy Yap on Unsplash.

Vicarious Faith in Community

A few years ago, I ran into a friend who was going through some tough family times. I asked him if there was anything I could do; his response caught me off-guard. He said, “I am struggling to have faith, and I just need other people to have faith for me.” I confess that before this, I didn’t really consider “having faith” for someone else. Of course I prayed for people and situations; but to have faith for someone – that seemed a bit strange to me. But I have come to believe that having faith for others – what you might call vicarious faith – is one of the most powerful, Christian things we can do as followers of Jesus.

How do you define faith? The writer of Hebrews defines it this way In Hebrews 11:1 – “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (ESV) So faith might be defined as “trust” or “belief.” One of my favorite definitions is that faith is “leaning our full weight upon” someone or something. I think many times we tend to think of faith as something we have (or dont have).

It wasn’t until I ran across a chapter in a book called Humanity and God by Samuel Chadwick that my thinking was challenged. He introduced the idea of vicarious faith.

Chadwick says that vicarious faith is a “faith that is exercised on behalf of another and is accepted for another,”* and he points to the Gospel of Mark for the prime example.

In the second chapter of Mark, we read a story in which Jesus has powerfully launched into his ministry and at the end of chapter one just healed a leper. He has now returned to the town of Capernaum, Jesus’ “home base” on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. A crowd has gathered, as it often does around Jesus. And then something dramatic happens. Four friends, determined to get their friend into the presence of Jesus, lower a paralyzed man through a roof. Mark then reports something that may surprise us: “Jesus saw their faith.” In other words, he saw the faith of the mans friends – he then pronounces forgiveness to the paralyzed man. There is a very interesting interchange with the scribes about whether Jesus has the authority to forgive sins, which we don’t have time for today, but then Jesus goes further and heals the man’s body. Jesus sees the faith of the friends and then turns to the man and says, your sins are forgiven. And then he said, Rise, pick up your bed and go home.

Chadwick comments on this scene, “This man received both the forgiveness of his sins and the healing of his body, through the faith of the men who brought him.” It is very interesting that out of more than 20 miracles recorded in the Gospels, at least seven of those were healed through the faith of others.

In Matthew 8:5-13 we read about the Centurion with a sick servant.

“When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, ‘Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.’ And he said to him, ‘I will come and heal him.’ But the centurion replied, ‘Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, “Go,” and he goes, and to another, “Come,” and he comes, and to my servant, “Do this,” and he does it.’ When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, ‘Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And to the centurion Jesus said, ‘Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.’ And the servant was healed at that very moment.” (ESV)

Not a word is said about the faith of the man who was healed. It is attributed entirely to vicarious faith – faith exercised for him.

In John 4:46-54 we read about the healing of an official’s child:

“So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. So Jesus said to him, ‘Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.’ The official said to him, ‘Sir, come down before my child dies.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your son will live.’ The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, ‘Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.’ The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son will live.’ And he himself believed, and all his household. This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.” (ESV)

Whose faith had resulted in Jesus saving the official’s child? That son was healed entirely through the faith of the father vicariously exercised 25 miles away.

In Mark 9:14-29, we read about the healing of a boy with an unclean spirit. The disciples had not been able to heal the boy. Here the boy’s father is struggling with faith, but he says, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (ESV)

Whose faith moved Jesus to free the boy? Not the boy’s own faith, not the disciples’, but rather his father’s.

We find a final example in Matthew 15:21-28 where a Canaanite woman approaches Jesus and begs him to heal her daughter:

“And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.’ But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she is crying out after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ And he answered, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.” (ESV)

Whose faith brought her healing through Jesus? It came, not through any faith of her own, but in response to the mighty faith of her mother.

This takes me back to my friend’s statement,  “I just need other people to have faith for me.” He was asking me to have vicarious faith for him and for his family, that Jesus might move in their lives in a powerful way. At the time, he didn’t have faith for himself or his family – he needed others.

Is there someone you know, for whom you might be called to have vicarious faith? Or maybe today you are the one who needs someone else to have faith for you.

Chadwick closes his chapter on vicarious faith with this: “Personal faith brings personal salvation, but vicarious faith brings salvation to others; and in this also it is more blessed to give than to receive. The supreme test of faith is not its personal benefit but its vicarious power.”

This is what the community of faith is about. It’s about having faith in Jesus, but it is also about having faith in Jesus for one another. Lord, may we have faith for one another and remember that it is Christ who saves and heals.

* Chadwick, S., 1904. Vicarious Faith. Humanity and God. London: Hodder and Stoughton, p. 295.

Featured image by James Tissot: “Man with Palsy Lowered to Christ” located in the Brooklyn Museum, New York City. Public domain.

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ The Courage to Be: Conferencing and the Kingdom of God

While United Methodists spend a great deal of time, money, and energy attempting to shape potential outcomes of the specially called 2019 General Conference in St. Louis, it is quite possible that the conference most potently rocking the Kingdom of God already took place in St. Louis over the summer.

The fate of the United Methodist denomination is not unimportant; but perhaps neither is it as vital as we sometimes think; after all, the connection is only about 50 years old and is only one expression of global Wesleyan Methodism. No, the fate of the universal church does not hang on the continued existence of the United Methodist Church, as I’ve written elsewhere. And on this website, we feature contributors from a variety of Wesleyan Methodist denominations. Certainly, the UMC has value – I mean ecclesial value, not just net worth, which bears pointing out in days when talks of formal separation are occurring.

But the Kingdom of God is far more expansive than any one denomination or tradition.

And one might well wonder if a modest St. Louis conference last July is the first ripple of an expansive, if demanding, movement. The leadership of the Revoice Conference represented several Christian traditions, Protestant and Catholic, Episcopalian. Over 400 people were present, and thankfully, Revoice leaders made plenary and pre-conference sessions available – for free, and thank you for that, conference organizers – on YouTube.

As the official website states, “The annual Revoice Conference is a gathering designed to encourage and support gay, lesbian, same-sex attracted, and other gender or sexual minority Christians who adhere to traditional Christian teaching about gender, marriage, and sexuality. General sessions offer opportunities to worship together with other likeminded Christians, and workshops cover a variety of topics, aiming to encourage and support gender and sexual minorities in their efforts to live faithfully before God. We also offer workshops for straight family members, friends, pastors, and other faith leaders, helping them to understand the challenges that gender and sexual minority Christians face in their faith communities and society at large and equipping them to respond with gospel-centered compassion.”

In our current cultural moment, reaction was swift from all different directions; critiques were levied at organizers, either because they were promoting celibacy, or because they chose to use phrases like “gay Christian.” In this sense, rhetorically they couldn’t win. In another sense, when one watches the plenary sessions, it’s clear that in a deep, profound, cosmic sense, they couldn’t lose. Such is the nature of chosen sacrifice. At the time, Twitter went into overdrive, and allies cropped up in figures like Southern Baptist professor and writer Karen Swallow Prior, who, despite having recently been hit by a bus – by a bus – took to the organizers’ defense.

After watching the three general sessions, here’s what I came away with:

Humility. The sweet spirit and bold courage of each presenter was evident. Each had the courage to be…well, to be. To be themselves, in their own skin, with their own stories, in the context of a great and loving God of transformation. I was humbled, watching these siblings in Christ who knew critics of all stripes were ready and waiting to dismantle their very personal testimonies and communal convictions.

Deep sadness. The conference was organized wisely around three hubs: praise, lament, and hope. This ordering makes sense, I think, for participants. For viewers who are straight, I think I’d recommend watching in the order of hope, praise, and lament: we need to sit a while with lament and not hurry through it. I was grieved, and I think you will be too, as I listened to testimony of lament – and it is powerful testimony.

Hope. Not everyone will agree with the theological beliefs that ground this conference. But I was encouraged to see that in a cultural moment where so much seems defined by polar opposition, here something grows that is unique, different, and beautiful. It does not particularly fit one mold, because it seeks to follow Christ as best it knows how, and following Christ means you simply can’t be pigeonholed.

Much of the work of this conference is based on the thinking and writing of New Testament scholar and Anglican celibate gay Christian Dr. Wesley Hill, who has authored a couple of books on the subject and has a website here. His excellent discussion topics frequently have the sting of intellectually honest analysis; he has a high view of scripture; he believes in the great tradition of the church; he has experienced mistreatment from within the church. There is a great deal here that will strike to the heart either of progressive or conservative readers.

The Spiritual Friendship website, which features multiple contributors, gives space for ongoing discussion about Christian community, friendship that is robust or even as I would describe it (I don’t know if he would) covenantal, service, and hospitality. Because as unique as this venture may sound to 21st century Western ears, in fact, there is a rich tradition of Christians choosing to live celibate lives and to serve others and the church through that. So too are there meaningful examples throughout Scripture and church history of deep friendships that sustain us in our need for human relationship.

What the Revoice Conference has given us, in part, is a potent call to receive the leadership of this ecumenical group of Christians who are wrestling through theology, philosophy, Scripture, and tradition as they exercise the courage to be. For a long time, straight Christians have spoken to topics of human sexuality. We are not in the wrong to do so. However, through gatherings like Revoice, the Holy Spirit is asking us if we are ready to listen and learn from the spiritual depth of our Christian siblings who are leading intentional, deliberate, and sacrificial lives.



Note from the Editor: The featured image is part of a work of art entitled, “A Friend of Solitary Trees” by Shitao, dated 1698.

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ Dear Millenials, I Was You Once

Dear Millenials,

I was you once.

People wanted to know what I thought. They wanted to know what I wanted to buy. They wanted to hear what I was looking for in a spouse, in a career – in a faith group. They talked about me in the news, they studied me to see which way I was likely to turn, they taught older people in churches about me: how to attract me, keep me, and prepare me to take over.

They were glorious days.

It was 2003.

I was the future of The Church, and The Church was going to crumble without me. (And I wasn’t even male!) Books were written by the cartload about Generation Y and the Emerging Church. What was emerging? Everyone wanted to know. No one knew exactly what, philosophically, postmodernism was (or wasn’t), or how, culturally, it would play out. The new Millenium was still pretty shiny, not long out of its box, and some trends were emerging. Trends were emerging, and they needed to be analyzed and utilized, stat, with urgency, or This Generation Would Be Lost, The Church As We Knew It Would Die, and We Would Fail the Great Commission While Also Failing to Be Cool Enough to Make It Attractive.

These were the days of corduroy and pseudo-bowling shoes, of iPods and the war in Iraq, of Gilmore Girls and emo music. The internet was still new-ish, a high school student named LeBron James was ready to join the NBA, the iPhone wouldn’t come out for several more years, Ellen DeGeneres was launching a new talk show after lying low for several years following the firestorm of her public coming out in 1997, and Mark Zuckerberg was still on good terms with the Winklevoss twins, though not for long.

The world was changing and the message was clear: adapt or die! We’d all seen You’ve Got Mail. We knew that print was dead and everything could now be done online. We knew that church services needed to be rich and multi-sensory, with dim lighting or mysterious incense or immersive participation. We knew that authentic expression of our emotions was important. It was time for conventional wisdom to be overturned. Generation Y was tired of The Church doing it wrong and squandering wasted opportunities.

From about 2003 to 2010, books kept churning out on Generation Y and the Emerging Church.

You see, we knew.

Except of course we only knew a little. The internet was going to be everything – but now, Amazon has brick-and-mortar stores. Immersive sensory worship was going to replace shiny fake productions – but now autistic people find immersive sensory worship intolerable. We thought we were authentic; but scandals lurked, hidden in our hip worship environments.

But it gets worse. It’s not just that we were only partially right – or perhaps, that we were right, but with limited perspective.

No, it got worse. You see, you came along. And the problem isn’t that Millenials are a problem. The problem is that you were the new us.

Youth pastors tossed their books about Generation Y into the trash, church leaders forgot about the Emerging Church, and front office workers started lining up conference speakers who could explain about the new generation we would all need: the Millenials. Generation Y turned 30, started buying infinity scarves at Target, and began to broadcast themselves in a million and one podcasts.

But these? These are the days of skinny jeans and mermaid hair, of Snapchat and protest marches, of Girls and Hamilton. Smartphones are still new-ish, LeBron has left Cleveland for the second time, virtual reality sets are popular Christmas gifts, the Obamas have retired from the White House, Ellen and Portia are a popular Hollywood couple, and Mark Zuckerberg left Harvard long behind to testify before Congress about how his social media platform could be hijacked by foreign interests to impact U.S. elections.

Now you are the future of The Church, and The Church is going to crumble without you, books are being written by the cartload about Millenials. What is emerging? Everyone wants to know, you see. No one knows exactly what will play out. Trends are emerging, and they need to be analyzed and utilized, stat, with urgency, or This Generation Would Be Lost, The Church As We Knew It Will Die, and We Will Fail the Great Commission While Also Failing to Be Cool Enough to Make It Attractive.

Enjoy it while it lasts. Generation Y will meet you at the Starbucks in Target when no one talks about Millenials anymore. We’ll show you where the infinity scarves are. If that sounds cynical and snarky, I can point you to a number of books that will delve into Gen Y and our cynicism.

Millenials, I don’t think that publishers are to blame for the popularity of the unending cycle of demographic-expert-books that church leaders fall on in a piranha-like feeding frenzy. The emerging generations aren’t to blame, either. I didn’t ask to be studied and written about, and neither did Gen X, and neither have you, and whomever follows you.

No, North American Protestants are pretty obsessed with emerging youth culture. I could blame the Baby Boomers, but that seems like something they would do to their parents, and it’s probably part of my generational quirk to not want to do anything a Baby Boomer would do.

No, Millenials, it’s not your fault that church leaders will hang on your every word until you turn 30 and disappear as the next new generation comes along with its wisdom. And you know, some of your input will be really valuable. Some of it, I’m sorry to say, will turn out to be bunk, like the late 90’s trend of wearing JNCO jeans or pastel butterfly hair clips.

The solution I think, Millenials, is to ignore the somewhat condescending flattery – I wasn’t indispensable, and neither are you – and instead to receive the weighty gift of living in community. That may mean sitting in a church service not specifically designed for your preferences; it may mean adapting to someone else because a relationship with them is worth having, even if it’s framed in ways you don’t intuitively understand. It means families with young kids, and elderly widows. It means rural settings and pick-up trucks. It means single women in their 40’s and urban gardens. It means patience, and sacrifice. There is so much to be gained by listening: not hashtagging or snapchatting, just listening: listening to people is one of the best gifts any emerging generation can give.

In Youth is an Idolone pastor touches on some of these truths. She concludes by celebrating the gift of intergenerational, multigenerational living, writing,

 If you want your church to have the vitality and influence of young minds, young faith, young energy, and young joy, then invest in spiritually mature adults with a passion for pouring into young lives. Give spiritually mature adults a vision for seeing their age as a calling. In fact, I’d argue that this is the greatest gift of eldership: it is in shepherding the next generation. Elders must learn to listen and shape and young adults must be bold in seeking out older adults who can shape them.

You already know, Millenials, just how much we all need each other. If there’s anything that will just become more true in the next ten years of your life, it’s that. Don’t believe anyone who tells you that you’re indispensable to any faith community. Because none of us is. But believe everyone who tells you that community is indispensable as part of the Christian faith. You and I aren’t always assets, our thoughts and feelings aren’t always reliable, and older people aren’t always liabilities, and their thoughts and feelings aren’t always unreliable.

The Church is always worth engaging in – but not because only you can save it.

I was you once…

And I really hope you’ll stick around after the dust settles and the next generation moves in. We need you – just not for the reasons we say. We need you, only – and completely – in the way that we need 65-year-old’s, and four-year-old’s, and 41-year-old’s.

We need you because we love you: not because of what you can do for us. So we’ll continue to need you after your moment in the spotlight has passed. Because we’ll continue to love you then, too.


Carrie Carter ~ Loneliness and Friendship in Ministry

Sometimes there are questions that simply do not have clear solutions. 

As my husband and I neared the end of our first ministry assignment, a woman said to me, “I think if you hadn’t have been in your position of leadership, we could have been good friends.” Even in my late twenties, I didn’t completely comprehend what she was saying. It stung, but we hadn’t been in ministry long enough for me to realize that there was this dance to friendship. That people viewed me differently. That there would be those who would want to cozy up and those who would avoid, as my “could-have-been” friend. 

There are books on friendship, books that touch on friendships in ministry, books on loneliness, and large portions of books dedicated to loneliness in ministry. Everyone has a slightly different take depending on personalities, positions, and history, but the one thing they all agree on is this: being in ministry leadership is one of the loneliest places in existence, and friendship within ministry can be difficult to navigate.  

So, let’s start with a couple of the easier questions. Why is ministry leadership lonely? 

First, there is an invisible burden for those under your care. You not only are constantly evaluating the spiritual health of your particular area of ministry as a whole, but you are also weighed with the spiritual burden for those individuals who make up that ministry. No one else can understand this burden you carry unless they themselves have also traveled that path. It is literally indescribable to the average layperson.

You are the keeper of secrets, the mediator of conflict, a diplomat, a coordinator, and a motivator. You put hours of sweat, tears, prayer, study, and practice into the call God has placed upon your heart. But then, fill-in-the-blank times per week, you also carry out the visible functions of your ministry, whether that is preaching, teaching, singing, administrating, etc.

What is it that people see? Do they see you helping that couple fight to save their marriage? Do they see you guiding family members in mending their broken relationships? Do they see the completed outline of the sermon or lesson that you discard because God is leading you in a different direction? Do they see your heartbreak as a mentee falls back into a previously overcome addiction? Do they see your weariness after coming back from a hospital visit that may have stretched into hours after they are fast asleep? 

No.  And in an age of performance evaluations, your “performance” is based on your speaking abilities, your pitch and rich tone, and how well you are able to pull in and keep a crowd. All the while, you know that ministry is so much more. Yet how do you explain? There are so many things that must remain unsaid for the sake of integrity. For the sake of wisdom. 

It is in this knowing that the dull pain of loneliness resides. 

Is the solution to loneliness, friendship? Yes, this would be true for the most part, but we’re adding the variable of ministry here.  

Based on what we know of loneliness in ministry, friendship is tricky. Why is this? 

Not everyone has your best interests at heart. Some want to sidle close to you in order to be a little nearer to someone in “the know.” Some avoid you in order to sidestep arousing jealousy in others (remember how you felt about the “teacher’s pet”?) Some find those in ministry leadership easy targets on which to project their own toxic behavior. 

There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for making friends within a ministry context. All I have to offer is a few observations in the friend-connecting process. (It is not 100% satisfaction guaranteed.) 

  • Know yourself. Do you make friends easily or not? Why or why not? What has worked for you in the past? 
  • Know the relationship dynamics of those within the area in which you minister. Some areas are clannish, where friends outside the extended family aren’t considered necessary. Some areas are more transient, where a single-family unit may not have other family in close proximity. Both bring a unique set of challenges. 
  • Observe. How do the individuals within your sphere of ministry interact with one another? Do they build up or tear down? How do they treat other people? Anyone who gossips to you about someone else will also gossip to someone else about you. This person is not safe. They are not to be trusted. 

Once you’ve considered these practices, what now? You’re aware of your own personality, you’re aware of your culture, and you’ve gotten a feel for the overall friend-making atmosphere. Where do you find someone that has “BFF” material? 

  • In ministry leadership. No one understands what you face like another leader. I generally don’t recommend buddying-up to lay leaders, only because it has the potential to put them in a difficult “conflict of interest” situation.  In a past ministry position, I did not follow this rule. I had a very close “inner circle” friend whom I knew I could trust to hold my heart in her hand. We went through a challenging season due to her being elected to take a higher position in leadership at the same time my husband was also appointed to a higher position. I did everything within my power to protect her in order to avoid the “conflict of interest” label, and we had to make some serious adjustments in our relationship. Our friendship survived, and today I believe it’s probably stronger than it has ever been. My closest friends are the ones who have also shared the road of ministry. 
  • In “mutual interest” groups. MOPS, story time at the library, and school are just a few. Take a class in a subject you’re interested in and connect with like-minded people. Find a hobby and bond with those who share it. I’ve made life-long bonds with people I met at the dog park. 
  • At work. A lot of times, you’re spending more time with these people than with anyone else. Get to really know one of your co-workers. Go out to lunch. Listen to their story. 

There are probably more places that I’m not thinking of. (I purposely left out online groups and social media, because my focus is connecting with someone personally, face-to-face. I have Facebook friends I’ve never met in person, and I treasure those connections. Sometimes, though, there’s nothing that can replace physical presence.) 

There are a few things I’ve learned about friendship along the way. 

  • It’s not easy. Friendships need to be nurtured. They need to be cultivated. If you can imagine yourself being the gardener over a lawn of roses, then you get the picture, because when the buds appear and the petals open bright and wide, you know it’s all been worth it. 
  • It can be seasonal. Some friendships weren’t meant to be long-term. Individuals grow apart, the connections fade, and you find yourself going in a different direction. Sometimes, the seasons shift with subtlety, sometimes the seasons end abruptly, without warning. Whether expected or not, self-evaluate, make apologies if necessary, and give yourself the gift of grace. 
  • You will go through “friendless” or lonely stages. This is normal. When I was a mom of completely dependent offspring, regardless of the myriad of kid-friendly programming, it was a lonely stage. I had recently come out of the “college” phase, where my friends and I were available anytime, any day. All of a sudden, our days were filled with diapers, laundry, tears, and Thomas the Tank Engine. If we had free time, we filled it with catching up on our own sleep. We were exhausted. Seventeen years later, I am personally moving through this lonely season again, but I developed deep, rich, friendships in my most recent phase of life that have sustained me regardless of distance. 
  1. Speaking of distance…miles do not mean a friendship has to cease. I have friends from the nearest at 310 miles to the other side of the world to the women who have earned their way into my “inner circle.” It’s not easy. Communication is often hit-and-miss; however, these women don’t jump to conclusions, assign motives, or misinterpret silence; rather, they extend grace. 

This is it: the nitty-gritty. No clear solutions. Loneliness and friendship have been challenging humanity since the beginning of time. 

Scripture is chock-full of verses on loneliness: Genesis 2:18, Deuteronomy  31:6, Psalm 23:4, Psalm 27:10, Psalm 38:9, Psalm 62:8, Isaiah 41:10, Philippians 4:6-7… and more. 

It’s also full of stories of friendship: David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, Elijah and Elisha, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, Jesus and his 12 disciples (and then his “inner circle” of three)… and more. 

I hope this is helpful. What I do know is that Jesus is a friend who will stick closer than your own sibling, and he promises never to abandon you. 

So – are you in a time of loneliness or fellowship? Do you have deep friendships or are you afloat, in isolation? Where is God leading you today? 

Carolyn Moore ~ Friendship Is a Choice (or, How the Church Teaches Me to Love)

What would you give your life for?

Your kids? Your spouse? Your family?

Would you give your life for people you don’t know? People forced into prostitution in Bangalore, or unborn babies?

Would you give your life for the Church? Paul tells us Jesus gave his life for just this thing. Jesus gave his life for the Church.

More precisely, Jesus gave his life for people, who are the flesh and blood of the Church. I can’t even begin to comprehend the motives of God. Why does he care about people who are imperfect, selfish, unkind, unthinking, unloving? How was it that Moses and God could find such frustration in fickle people, yet be fully on their side at the end of each day? That reveals a depth of patience and a quality of love I can’t fathom.

God has a vested interest in us and the cross is proof. Further, he has partnered with us through the Holy Spirit. He offers a brand of intimacy and belonging that nothing else can approach. God has literally given his life to us.

But I’m a pastor. Subtly and not so subtly, pastors are taught to detach from personal relationships for the sake of building the Body of Christ. We are taught the psychology of being in community without getting tangled up in it. Books upon books indoctrinate us in the art of boundary-making as a mark of good leadership. And maybe this is especially true of itinerating pastors.

Jesus, meanwhile, says things like, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Jesus is teaching me something radically different here. Jesus is teaching me that it is not just okay but a mark of holiness to discover the place of friendship not beyond but in the midst of ministry. Not beyond but in the midst of community.

When Jesus says, “I no longer call you servants, I call you friends,” he is teaching something radical about community. Find your friends here, he says. And when Jesus says (John 15:16), “You didn’t choose me, but I chose you,” he is challenging us to do something radical. We rejected him, but he still chooses us.

Love is a choice.

Which means I am now free to love even in the face of rejection. We are free to give our hearts to others, to community, because Jesus has chosen to live out his character in us.

In recent conversations with a few single friends, I have discovered that there is a hunger out there for genuine friendships that don’t suffer from the fear of sexual expectation. It seems that our culture has us all so afraid of each other that we default to a defensive posture, keeping ourselves at a distance from each other, unwilling to develop healthy, vulnerable relationships.

This doesn’t have to be.

Jesus had friends … not just disciples. John 11:5 says, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” This is the one personal friendship the Bible mentions for Jesus, and it includes women.

I would be lost without precious friends — male and female — who only add value to my life. Being a pastor, most of my colleagues are men (and since Steve is a teacher, most of his colleagues are women). We don’t shy away from friendship with the people God has placed in our lives. We know who we are and are able to act as responsible adults when we are with others, and our lives are enriched by this choice. Here are a few things that make our friendships work:

Transparency — Any healthy friendship requires a lack of anything resembling secrecy, especially when it is with a friend of another gender. There should be no shadow of dishonesty, nor of politics. Too often, pastors erect political boundaries that keep us from real conversations and real influence. We’ve chosen correctness over kindness. Who says we can’t be genuinely in relationship with the people in our communities? We can decide to do this, without abusing relationships, simply by being honest with people about who we are.

Boundaries — I control my own boundaries. I get to choose the nature of my relationships. I am not a victim of other people’s feelings nor of my own, and my reactions are a choice. All of us who follow Jesus should aspire to that level of maturity. “Grow up in every way,” Paul counseled. Surely he meant it for our relationships, too. This means I can decide how and when I can be present to others, and it means I can choose to love others without fear of their responses because I know who I am.

Accountability — Friends hold each other accountable for their actions. They respect and accept each other, yet they are not afraid to confront each other when the need arises. Friends depend on one another for support in times of crisis, whether emotional or material. Friendship is a relationship of trust, confidence, and intimacy. It is not southern kindness, but something deeper — a willingness to speak truth in love.

Henry Cloud and John Townsend (authors of the book Boundaries) have said, “Spiritual growth is not only coming back into a relationship with God and each other and about pursuing a pure life, but it is also about coming back to life — the life God created people to live.”

Learning to live vulnerably and maturely in relationship with others — learning to be a real friend — is a gift on the way to real life and it is the work of the Church, for which Jesus died.


For more of Carolyn Moore’s writing, visit www.artofholiness.com.

Harley Scalf ~ Then Face to Face: Remembering Ellsworth Kalas

One thing leads to another. You probably understand how this works. At first, we were just going to replace the carpet in one room. Then, the carpet in another room seemed just as bad. Since we were replacing carpet in two rooms (and now the worn flooring in the foyer area), we may as well paint. You understand.

Fast forward a bit and the flooring has been replaced, the trim is finished, the walls are painted, and things look great. However, we have no window coverings…no blinds, no curtains. So now, of course, we need new curtains. Jessica and I were looking at curtains a couple of days ago. She saw some she liked and they were really inexpensive. I mean, really inexpensive! I walked over and grabbed the fabric. It was inexpensive for a reason…the material was so thin you could see right through it. This wasn’t part of the design, it was the result of cheap materials & manufacturing.


On November 12, 2015, one of the finest preachers this world has ever borne witness to passed from this life to the next. Dr. J. Ellsworth Kalas was my preaching professor. He was more than that to me, though. He was a mentor, an influencer, an inspiration, and a friend. To be sure, it wasn’t the kind of friendship where we were together every chance we got. It was the kind of friendship that answered every letter with a letter of his own. It was the kind of friendship that spoke gracious, loving words of encouragement and sometimes words of challenge.

It was the kind of friendship where a delayed flight results in our not being able to get some ice cream together and I can sense the sadness of “the dessert we didn’t get to share” (and the note that followed that meeting where he penned that reflection).

In one of his many books, “Preaching from the Soul,” Dr. Kalas offers some advice to those who are behind the “sacred desk” every week preaching: “There is only one Sunday that matters – this one – and only one sermon to be preached – this one. So fall in love with this sermon.”

That line has stuck with me – so much so that I actually wrote a reflection paper based on those words. In typical Dr. Kalas fashion, his notes on my paper caused me to feel both humbled and encouraged: “Thank you for helping me better understand what I wrote.”

The curtains were so thin you could see right through them to the other side…

Times like this give us pause. We who are left on earth realize just how thin the veil really is between earth and heaven. Even last semester, Dr. Kalas (at age 92) was teaching and traveling.

Even the best wordsmith would come up shy in an attempt to depict the vastness of his influence on the Church.


Dr. Kalas began each class with, “let’s say our prayers…”

So today, I say my prayers.

Thank you, God, for Ellsworth Kalas, who helped me better understand your calling on my life and the faith by which I live. May I never lose hope, never give up, and continue to work  for your Kingdom till I pass through that thin veil and enter the Church Triumphant.


Michael Smith ~ All Saints’ and Mentoring: A Personal Reflection

What I Learned from Tim Bock

I was one of those kids who started going to a Christian camp before we were officially allowed to. And as far as I can remember, camp was always a part of my life. This is where I met Tim Bock.

Speaking the Truth

Tim was a guy that at first glance didn’t really want to be your friend. His dry humor and wit often left some feeling awkward around this tall, weird, skinny guy. As a child, I remember that Tim was our babysitter who didn’t want to give my sister ice cream just for the fun of it. He also wasn’t shy about speaking the truth in love to you, and sometimes that can come across very hard. Yet in our family, like in many others, Tim was able to show up at a crucial point where we needed him the most. It was a God-thing.

When I was a junior camper, Tim was my counselor. I remember one night after he finally settled all of the crazy 4th grade boys down, he said, “Guys, I love you.” I still remember the bunk I was in when he said that. I remember the feeling of God’s presence and love come to me through Tim’s simple, yet powerful, words. I was loved and Tim helped me to truly know it.

You may never know the great power that a simple word of love can have on a person, but I encourage you to share love with others. It will never leave my memory. Though a lot of time has passed through the years, the memory of a mentor’s words at a critical time in my life will never fade.

As a young adult, it was Tim who drove me out to work at this same camp for the summer. I had spent several years away from the church and camp, so I was a bit nervous to go back to a familiar (but at the same time new) place. It was in this summer that I met some great friends and connected closer to God than ever before. I would meet a lifelong friend that I would spend time at Asbury College  with. I would meet a future seminary professor that summer, though I didn’t feel called into ministry at that time. That one week of camp meeting alone when Tim was dean was life-altering.

The Most Important Message

Tim was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He fought it hard for as long as he could. I was still in college when I had to give Tim a call. He didn’t sound the same, and we both knew that his time on this earth was running short. He was too weak to speak much, so I chatted a bit about upcoming plans. My old mentor was so affirming and gracious. I knew while we talked that this would be our last conversation.

I didn’t want it to be. I didn’t know what to say. So I said simply what he had taught me when I was a 4th grader.

“Tim, I love you.”

With his struggling voice my mentor told me, “I love you too.”

Many of my friends can tell funny stories of late-night antics at camp and share wonderful memories of Tim’s short life span. My witness to him is very simple: I loved Tim Bock. And I live in the present moment knowing that he made God’s love real to me.

Love changes people. It changed me. When you love, you honor my friend Tim. But more so, you will honor the Savior that Tim loved and served, Jesus Christ. Tim is now part of the “cloud of witnesses” that surrounds us. He encourages us to run the race – and in true Tim Bock fashion – he is probably making fun of me for running it in a weird way. But after we laugh, he tells me I am loved.

This makes me want to keep running.

Who has kept you running?

Jeff Rudy ~ Simplicity: For Richer, For Poorer

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.

You Philippians indeed know that in the early days of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you alone. For even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me help for my needs more than once. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the profit that accumulates to your account. I have been paid in full and have more than enough; I am fully satisfied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Philippians 4:4-20, NRSV)

What comes to your mind when you hear the word “simplicity”? Perhaps you think of the communities of people who we might describe as primitive or at least aren’t as bogged down by the “stuff” of the material world, like Mennonites and Amish or Quakers and Shakers, the latter being the tradition from whom comes the song “Simple Gifts” we sang earlier. Perhaps hearing the word simplicity calls to mind a particular nostalgic feeling of when things were far less complicated and messy.

I think of a rusted metal sign out in front of my Papaw and Granny’s old house that read “Friendship.” It was attached to a metal pole and sat inside a planter next to the sidewalk that led to the front door. My cousins and I would often go out in the yard during the summer and play whiffle ball. We would pretend to be announcers like the late Jack Buck and say, “Broadcasting today from Friendship Field, it’s a great day for baseball!” It was a simple time, but there is a story behind that “Friendship” sign. It paid tribute to a moment in my family’s history when things weren’t so great. Papaw owned several farms around Oscar in other nearby communities named “Monkey’s Eyebrow” and “Needmore” and a farm store he owned with my father in “Bandana”…and yes, those are real names of real places in Ballard County, Kentucky.

Well, the mid-1980’s were not so easy on a lot of small town farmers in rural areas like Western Kentucky. The business, all the farms, and even their house was in jeopardy of being lost and they would have lost everything if it weren’t for the community coming to our aid. The community sponsored an event at the local high school called “Bill Rudy Day” and raised enough funds to save the house and a few acres around it, though everything else was lost. And so, Papaw and Granny and the whole family came to an intimate awareness of the significance of “friendship.” That’s a time I think of when I hear “simplicity.” It has been quipped about the modern tendency of humans in Western civilization that, “we buy things we do not need with money we do not have to impress people we do not like.” Richard Foster adds to this that the pressure placed on those who desire to live in simplicity when he said:

We are made to feel ashamed to wear clothes or drive cars until they are worn out. The mass media have convinced us that to be out of step with fashion is to be out of step with reality…[Consider that] The modern hero is the poor boy who purposefully becomes rich rather than the rich boy who voluntarily becomes poor. (We still find it hard to imagine that a girl can do either!)…It is time we awaken to the fact that conformity to a sick society is to be sick. Until we see how unbalanced our culture has become at this point, we will not be able to deal with the mammon spirit within ourselves nor will we desire Christian simplicity.

Persons who enter into a monastery have to take vows and they typically center on three virtues that become the benchmark for the life of a monk: poverty, chastity and obedience. There is a monastic community in the British Isles known as The Community of Aidan and Hilda that has reworded the first two, such that their three life-giving vows are these: simplicity, purity, and obedience. At a conference I attended several years ago in Edinburgh, Scotland, John Bell, a representative from Aidan and Hilda described how these vows are life-giving. He said this: “Simplicity leads us into a deeper experience of the generosity of God; purity leads us into a deeper experience of the love of God; obedience leads us into a deeper experience of the freedom of God.”

This ideal is so counter to the culture in which we find ourselves that we discover that the more and more inundated we become with “stuff” and the increased pace of the world, the more difficult it is to be contently serene with living in simplicity. Indeed, we could see it as challenging as Jesus’ injunction that to be his followers, we must deny ourselves and take up our crosses and follow him.

I used to think that the words “easy” and “simple” could always be used interchangeably because both words could be used to describe when a task didn’t require much mental or physical sweat – both meant “No big deal!” But now when it comes to living in simplicity, I’ve discovered that there is a tremendous difference between easiness and simplicity. We are so far from truly understanding Jesus’ admonitions in the Sermon on the Mount to not worry about anything but to do just one thing – seek God’s kingdom. We are so caught up in the modern cry for “more!” that we know next to nothing about Paul’s contentment that God’s grace is “enough!”

What comes to your mind when you hear “simplicity”? Listen to the wisdom from the ages: Thomas á Kempis said: “Simplicity and purity are the two wings that lift the soul up to heaven.” François Fénelon, a French theologian from the 17th century who had an impact on the Wesleys said: “True simplicity is that grace whereby the soul is delivered from all unprofitable reflections upon itself.” In view of the modern tendency to find solace in the “stuff” of the world, Rabbi Abraham Heschel offered this: “There is happiness in the love of labor, there is misery in the love of gain. Many hearts and pitchers are broken at the fountain of profit. Selling himself into slavery of things, man becomes a utensil that is broken at the fountain.” And before we draw from the well of the Wesleys, hear this beautiful statement that has been attributed to such luminaries as Elizabeth Seton, Gandhi, and Mother Teresa – “Live simply so that others can simply live.”

I once knew a Navy pilot who fought in World War II who lived this simplicity well. He had that humility and valuing the betterment of his neighbors rather than seeking his own prosperity. His son said that he feared of having too much money more than he worried of not having enough. A quote is often linked to John Wesley that although there is no definitive proof he ever said it, yet it sounds awfully like something he would say. The line goes like this: “When I have money, I get rid of it quickly lest it find its way into my heart.”

However, we do have multiple references to how Wesley exhorted the Methodists to live in simplicity, specifically with regard to the contentment of… ‘for richer, for poorer’ when he gave these three simple rules: “Gain all you can, save all you can, give all you can.” Some will abide by the first two suggestions, but ignore the third. Now here is where it’s going to start to sting a little bit, so don’t say you weren’t warned, but Wesley said this:

And yet nothing can be more plain than that all who observe the two first rules without the third will be twofold more the children of hell than ever they were before…Many of your brethren, beloved of God, have not food to eat; they have not raiment to put on; they have not a place where to lay their head. And why are they thus distressed? Because you impiously, unjustly, and cruelly detain from them what your Master and theirs lodges in your hands on purpose to supply their wants! So…as long as we gain and save, we must…we MUST give…otherwise I can have no more hope of your salvation than for that of Judas.”

Again, that’s Wesley, not me. So hold your tomatoes! And then this – again Wesley – “The Methodists grow more and more self-indulgent because they grow rich…many are twenty, thirty, yea, a hundred times richer than they were when they first entered the [Methodist] society. And it is an observation which admits of few exceptions, that nine in ten of these decreased in grace in the same proportion as they increased in wealth.” What does this have to do with a sermon series where we are supposed to be focusing on serenity? Sounds awfully discomforting to me! Let me give you an example, from among the early Methodists. (The following example is illustrated in Wesley’s Sermon, The More Excellent Way.)

A young man budgeted his yearly needs for living and determined that he needed 28 pounds to live on. The first year he earned 30 pounds, so he gave away the remaining two. The next year he received 60 pounds, he still lived on the 28, and gave away the other 32. The third year he received 90 pounds, he still lived on the 28 and gave away 62. The fourth year he received 120 pounds. Still he lived as before on 28, and gave to the poor 92.

I don’t know that I could do that. But here was a person who lived simply so that others could simply live. To bring this point home, Wesley suggests this piercing question as the guide for how to practice simplicity: “How can you on principles of reason spend your money in a way which God may possibly forgive, instead of spending it in a manner which God will certainly reward?”

Consider this – the first sin in the Bible is a sin of consumerism. A perceived need was portrayed to humans – “Hey you can be like God…just eat this fruit. Be powerful, live extravagantly; partake of its sweet juice.” It is as though you can hear the serpent saying, “Take and eat; this is how you become like God.”

In the story of our redemption, we have a Jewish man who grew up in a peasant family who lived and walked in simplicity, who on the night he was betrayed, offered a different vision of who God is and how we can be human, when in contrast to the perpetual temptation for love of gain, Jesus said, “Take and eat; this is how God has given and become like you.”

The redeemed, the serene, the peaceful ones who are reconciled with God will find our God-aimed identity not in what we buy, accumulate, save, or consume, but in how we give. And we will discover not a false security of peace, but a freeing life of simply enjoying and sharing of God’s friendship…God’s generous grace…for richer, for poorer. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ A Deep Freeze

Warning: this post contains references to the animated feature film “Frozen.” Overexposure to this movie may result in children shrieking song lyrics in the car, a conviction that your front yard snowman can talk, and a commitment to trip over “Frozen”-themed toys for at least the next three years.

You may have seen me in the headlines recently: “Last North American Hold-Out Finally Succumbs, Sees Popular Children’s Movie. Nobody Noticed.” Timing, big life transitions, and overexposure by osmosis eventually led to a situation in which my household, which includes two young children, simply hadn’t seen the film yet. But I’m glad we saw it when we did, all four of us hunkered down with bad colds, the oldest kid now old enough to really appreciate the message.

Because cynics, beware: there is a definite message in “Frozen,” and it’s great. Inane children’s entertainment makes cynics of us all – bland, mindless programming led Stephen Colbert to tell his children they could watch all they wanted of “Rocky and Bullwinkle” because of the intelligence behind the show’s humor. For a long time, Disney slid, slightly out of control like a crooked car on an icy inclined street, veering closer to storyless animated punchlines merchandised primarily through Happy Meals. I won’t argue that “Frozen” showcases the best narrative ever, or even that the music is that good.

But truth, beauty and goodness matter – and finally, we have a Disney film that doesn’t show the hero lying (“Aladdin”), helpless (most classic princess movies), or struggling with grown-up themes a bit beyond the imaginative play stages of children (“The Lion King,” wrestling with guilt over the unjust death of a parent and struggling to find identity and role in society – themes that work well in “Hamlet” but perhaps less so with five-year-old’s).

So if you’re late to the game like me, or you’re a parent who’s only caught bits and pieces of the movie walking through the room carrying clean laundry, or you’re not a big movie watcher and the most recent hit you remember is “A Few Good Men,” here’s why you need to watch “Frozen.”

And if you’ve seen it a million times and you want to strangle the animated snowman and never hear “Let It Go” ever again, here’s a new faith-y take on “Frozen” – a movie, as it turns out, that easily brings John Wesley to mind.

1. I could have spewed a hot beverage into a cloud of spray when I heard a main character say, “love means putting other people’s needs before your own.” Was this a Disney film or “Veggie Tales”? I think we’re seeing what I’ll term “The Veggie Tales Effect” – a renewed appreciation for childhood storytelling in film that showcases true virtue (another recent Disney movie, “Maleficent,” demonstrates this trend). There are plenty of online resources for integrating this message into children’s sermons and resources, and it ought to be done.

What does John Wesley say about this “Olaf” kind of love?

What is then the perfection of which man is capable while he dwells in a corruptible body? It is the complying with that kind command, “My son, give me thy heart.” It is the “loving the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his mind.” This is the sum of Christian perfection: It is all comprised in that one word, Love. The first branch of it is the love of God: And as he that loves God loves his brother also, it is inseparably connected with the second: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself:” Thou shalt love every man as thy own soul, as Christ loved us. “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets:” These contain the whole of Christian perfection. (John Wesley’s sermon “On Perfection”)

2. Plenty of adults need to see a story about frozen hearts and thawed hearts. All the world’s programming about effective Christian witness can’t compete with believers who have warm, thawed hearts, and all the world’s programming about effective Christian witness can’t thaw frozen hearts that sit like a cold stone on an unbending pew, rock-hard, Sunday after Sunday.  And what thaws a frozen heart? An act of true love (contrasted admirably to the trope of “true love’s kiss”).

Here, then, is the sum of the perfect law; this is the true circumcision of the heart. Let the spirit return to God that gave it, with the whole train of its affections. ‘Unto the place from whence all the rivers came thither let them flow again. Other sacrifices from us he would not; but the living sacrifice of the heart he hath chosen. Let it be continual offered up to God through Christ, in flames of holy love.’ (John Wesley, “The Circumcision of the Heart”)

Wesley also cited a beautifully well-worn passage from Ezekiel when he preached,

But the great question is, whether there is any promise in Scripture, that we shall be saved from sin. Undoubtedly there is…Such is that glorious promise given through the Prophet Ezekiel…”A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: And I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.” (“On Perfection”)

Not all grown-up cynicism springs from overexposure to trite children’s programming after all, as a recently cited thought from G.K. Chesterton reminds us: “for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” We are called to have soft, yielding hearts, the kind that grew in Simon Peter after the series of “do you love me?” questions from Jesus, the kind of heart that Judas wanted but couldn’t quite manage as he threw silver coins in a supreme act of futility, attempting to undo his actions – by going to the high priests and elders instead of Jesus himself.

3. You have ice somewhere in your veins. If only the ice in your veins made itself show in a telltale streak of light hair. The trek towards a heart full of complete, sacrificial love is one in which brittle shards of bitterness and fear melt into forgiveness and boldness – as scripture points out. “Perfect love casts out fear.” It’s true that “some people are worth melting for,” as the dripping snowman exclaimed, and your call and mine is to allow the crackling blaze of the Holy Spirit to chase away the chill that comes with living in an “always winter, never Christmas” world. Thank you, God, for the act of true love we’re getting ready to march towards in Lent, that has set the world melting.