Tag Archives: Trinity

How Is Community Possible? A Note from Nouwen

In 2,000 years of church history, you will find an ebb and flow of opportunities seized and opportunities lost. While church history is often a study in fracture – who split from whom, when, and why – nevertheless, it remains remarkable that community is found even today among drastically different people. An illustrative moment comes to mind: a few years ago, a friend – a Methodist leader – found herself meeting Pope Francis at the Vatican. How much may change over 500 years.

If those of us in the United States can allow ourselves to be invited to take off our America-centric lenses for a moment, we have an opportunity to receive awe. Christians are worshiping together in Japan; Nigeria (where some recently have died due to their faith); Brazil; Nepal; Russia; Egypt; Switzerland; India; China; and a host of other countries. Just from this handful of examples, we know that China and Japan have a quite painful recent history with each other; but there are followers of Jesus in China, and followers of Jesus in Japan. Week after week, genuine believers gather in community in person (or virtually) to worship, hear Scripture, pray.

We believe in the holy catholic (universal) church, and the communion of saints. The global church is astounding in its breadth, diversity, and liveliness. Within the global church, the Wesleyan Methodist branch of the family tree is also astounding in its breadth, diversity, and liveliness – 80 Wesleyan Methodist denominations with over 80 million members in over 130 countries. Differences may remain, and yet community is also celebrated every five years at the World Methodist Conference, embodied in a procession of flags as representatives enter beaming.

How is community possible? Is it, perhaps, easier to interact with Christians from other nations who are a bit removed from more local controversy? Not always; iron sharpens iron, and sometimes believers outside of our own culture see clearly through our blind spots.

The truth is that the Christian faith has never approached community as possible solely in the confines of an echo chamber. The Holy Spirit destroys feedback loops; if we quench the Spirit, we lose our saltiness. Scripture burns; affirming the Creed tugs us into alignment; the Eucharist keeps us all beggars in a bread line; works of mercy force us to learn names, not just repeat talking points. If you approach community as a customer or a food critic, you will be hard-pressed to find it.

Like a virus, loneliness has grown to epidemic proportions. When an actual virus hit, the two collided. What does community look like when tent-pole communal rituals have to be put on pause? (What does community look like when there is significant difference in risk assessment among believers who have life insurance and health insurance, and those who don’t?) Rituals imbue time and gathering with layered symbols and actions that carry meaning far beyond the immediate and literal. When you and I lose rituals – from physically attending funerals to casually lingering in a store aisle, slowly browsing and picking up greeting cards – these actions, big and small, that mark our days and moor our identity are lost.

Who are we?

We are servants; we are the younger siblings of our sisters and brothers in Christ, who are leading believers through time zones and hemispheres and governments and languages and cultures. We are people of the Way, which means we do not belong to ourselves.

The late Henri Nouwen, a Catholic brother in the faith, lent his contemplative insight on community and solitude with these words:

“Community, like solitude, is primarily a quality of the heart. While it remains true that we will never know what community is if we never come together in one place, community does not necessarily mean being physically together. We can well live in community while being physically alone. In such a situation, we can act freely, speak honestly, and suffer patiently, because of the intimate bond of love that unites us with others even when time and place separate us from them. The community of love stretches out not only beyond the boundaries of countries and continents but also beyond the boundaries of decades and centuries. Not only the awareness of those who are far away but also the memory of those who lived long ago can lead us into a healing, sustaining, and guiding community. The space for God in community transcends all limits of time and place.

Thus the discipline of community frees us to go wherever the Spirit guides us, even to places we would rather not go. This is the real Pentecost experience. When the Spirit descended on the disciples huddled together in fear, they were set free to move out of their closed room into the world. As long as they were assembled in fear they did not yet form community. But when they had received the Spirit, they became a body of free people who could stay in communion with each other even when they were as far from each other as Rome is from Jerusalem. Thus, when it is the Spirit of God and not fear that unites us in community, no distance of time or place can separate us.”

Henri Nouwen, excerpt from Making All Things New in My Sister, My Brother: Life Together in Christ, p. 49

Who are we? You and I are called to be Pentecost people, shaped not by national affiliation but by the holy catholic church, and the communion of saints. You and I are called to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us individually and in us as a community, whether gathered or scattered makes no difference. You and I are called to train our eyes and our hearts and minds to see that, “the community of love stretches out not only beyond the boundaries of countries and continents but also beyond the boundaries of decades and centuries.” This is no Sophomore crush love; it is the self-giving, pelican love of the Trinity that makes all things new, thunders and whispers, and loves us too much to let us stay small in our hearts, small in our holy imagination, small in our words, loves, and actions.

Featured image courtesy Simone Busatto on Unsplash.

Language About God: Interviewing Dr. Jackson Lashier

I first met Dr. Jackson Lashier when we were both seminary students. Unlike many of the students who were pursuing degrees to become local church pastors, he and I found ourselves in many of the same classes as we worked toward degrees that prepared us for ministries in academic contexts. At the time, I knew him to be thoughtful, bright, and adept in handling resources that sometimes felt remote across the vast stretches of centuries and also abstract in their presentation of concepts. For pastors or academics or laypeople, the combination of remote and abstract can seem forbidding; but Jackson’s strengths lend themselves to bringing the remote and abstract both near and accessible. He’s the kind of person who comes to mind when you want to talk about the language we use when we talk about God . How we speak about God matters, and his point of view and expertise are valuable resources in exploring why we speak about God, and how.

Jackson is now a theology professor; he is also a John Wesley Fellow, about which you can read more at A Foundation for Theological Education, here. He has a passion for connecting the historic doctrines of the church to everyday lives of Christians (see his short video on “Why Church History Matters for Discipleship”) and authored Irenaeus on the Trinity and numerous scholarly articles. Currently, he is Associate Professor of Religion and Chair of the Social Science Division at Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas.

Initially we began this discussion before the pandemic hit, and I appreciate his sustained efforts through that upheaval. It’s a gift to welcome his insight today.

Elizabeth Glass Turner, Managing Editor

Wesleyan Accent: So – Americans talk about God, or describe God, in a lot of different ways. American Christians often share some commonality in the language we use about God, but even within Christianity there can be different emphases or language employed. Is there any point in trying to use common language about God, or does it matter how we speak about God? If so, why?

Dr. Jackson Lashier: I think the language we use when speaking about God or to God matters greatly. First, it reflects our beliefs about God. So to call God gracious or loving or simple or immutable or Father, to name a few common examples, is to reveal convictions about the nature of the particular God we worship that cannot be implied from the word “God” alone. Second, and related to this, when used in the liturgy or in a common place of worship, our language proclaims a shared understanding that both unifies us as the Church and marks us off from communities of other faiths.

Now, having a common language of God does not mean we must have a uniform language of God. So many times I hear in public prayer people using the same title or titles of God over and over again (“Father God,” for example, seems really popular among American evangelicals). There is nothing necessarily wrong with repeating the same titles, but this practice fails to engage the vast treasure of names and language for God provided for us by Scripture and tradition. Using names for God that we are not familiar with helps open our minds to other aspects of God’s nature that we can praise and think creatively about.

WA: In systematic theology classes, students delve into Trinitarian theology – that God is three in one, not just one God with three masks or not three Gods who are best friends. God is three persons, and often we use personal, relational language to attempt to convey that – language that is found in Scripture: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Yet Christians have also classically believed that God is spirit, which gives a different understanding of God than may be implied in the Trinitarian language which is exclusively male. Why might it be important to remember that Christians classically haven’t affirmed belief in what Marge Simpson called “Mr. Lord” or the common phrase “the old man in the sky”?

JL: I like your images, particularly the Marge Simpson reference, and I agree with you that assumptions that God is inherently male, even when we say otherwise with our qualifications, is a problem and skews our understanding of the nature of God. Because God is absolutely unique, completely unlike anything in creation (according to the basic distinction that God is the eternal Creator and everything else is contingent creation), our human language – even language used by Scripture – always falls short of fully encapsulating God.

Theological language is, as Thomas Aquinas taught, “analogical.” That is, it refers to God only by way of analogy. This is easy to grasp when we call God “a rock” or something of that sort, but it even holds true when we say that God is love. When we say that God is love, we mean that God is in some way like our human concept of love even though the love that is God’s nature transcends even the highest human examples of love. The analogical nature of our God language is crucial to keep us from bringing God to our human level and thereby to falsely and somewhat idolatrously assume the ability to completely know God in human terms.

This subject bears directly on the question of gendered language for God and male images of God that we seem to hold de facto. The Scriptures and the majority of church tradition use male titles for God (primarily Father and Son) as well as male pronouns for God. If we keep the analogical nature of theological language in mind, we can affirm that these male titles and pronouns demonstrate God’s personal and relational language (God is “Father” and “he” as opposed to an “it”). Yet we can affirm these titles without falling into the mistake of thinking that God is literally male. If we think that God is literally a male, we have failed to honor the transcendent nature of God, which, as your question rightly expressed, is affirmed in the Scriptural teaching that God is spirit.

WA: Some Christians seem to think, however, that in the Incarnation God becomes a man and so that affirms the inherent maleness of God and justifies our exclusive use of masculine titles and imagery. Does your argument here implicitly deny the reality of the Incarnation?

JL: Not at all. It is absolutely true, both historically and theologically, that at some point in history, God entered human experience and was born a man, Jesus of Nazareth. But to conclude from this that, as a whole, God is male, is to be extremely confused on our Trinitarian language. Scripture affirms not that God in total becomes human but that the Word or the Son (who the tradition will come to refer to as the Second Person) becomes truly human. The Father and the Spirit (who the tradition will come to refer to as the First and Third Persons) remain spirit, as you noted in a previous question. Moreover, the orthodox teaching of hypostatic union states clearly that Jesus’ human and divine natures exist in perfect union though remain unconfused and unmixed (indeed, certain authors like Julian of Norwich will refer to the Son as our Mother). So the incarnation in no way compels us to think of God as male. At the same time, we do not have to somehow deny the historical reality of the maleness of Jesus for fear of that reality making God male.

The path forward, then, is to remember the central teaching of the Trinity. It is not that God is male. It is that God is relational in God’s essence.

WA: Your use of the title “Mother” for the Son may sound odd to our modern ears. Despite numerous examples of very maternal, female imagery of God throughout Scripture, many Christians might think it arises from a theology of the Divine Feminine that isn’t rooted in classic Trinitarian theology. How can we walk a path in which we celebrate shared belief in the Trinity and value the Trinitarian formula – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – while affirming that while Jesus Christ experienced humanity in a male body, the Trinity is not inherently or eternally male?

JL: I think you’re right that many Christians have an immediate aversion to feminine language. I doubt whether there is a good reason behind it so much as the cumulative effect of using exclusively male language and thinking of God in exclusively male images. Indeed, it so forms our thinking about God that we cannot even recognize the many feminine images of God in Scripture —the mother hen, the woman who sweeps her floor looking for a coin, to name a couple off the top of my head. (Sometimes these images are wrongly dismissed by people who argue that God is not being “called” a feminine name [as God is called “Father”] but only compared to a feminine image; this argument makes no sense if we remember that all language and titles of God are analogical.) So for these reasons, we must reject the exclusive use of male imagery and language for God. However, for these same reasons, it is also insufficient to simply switch to using exclusively feminine language as I’ve seen some theologians and churches doing. Scripture reveals, and the tradition draws this out, that the transcendent and unique nature of God is neither male nor female but encompasses both male and female.

The path forward, then, is to remember the central teaching of the Trinity. It is not that God is male. It is that God is relational in God’s essence. Thus, God’s one nature is actually constituted by three “relations” or “persons.” This makes God eminently personable and that reality is more clearly expressed in relational titles like “Father” and “Son” than it is in titles like “spirit.” But “Mother,” for example, is also a relational name. And so I believe, along with Julian (and Gregory of Nazianzus and other Orthodox writers) that this title and other feminine titles can be used without sacrificing Trinitarian teaching in any way. Indeed, as I’ve argued elsewhere in print, I think “Mother” more faithfully retains the central Trinitarian realities than does reverting to “Creator,” “Redeemer,” and “Sustainer” often used today.

Of course pragmatically any new introduction of unfamiliar titles and imagery of God should be paired with preparation and teaching, so that congregations understand where they come from. But having said that, the use of titles like “Father” and male pronouns should also be explained better.

WA: You mention titles like Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer – in terms of how we speak about God, a popular means of representing the Trinitarian formula without relying on gendered titles. However, it seems that this formula reduces the persons of the Trinity from Scriptural ways in which they relate – Father, Son, Holy Spirit – to function, and what humanity experiences them doing. Is affirming personhood of “God in three persons, blessed Trinity” more essential than reconfiguring gender-specific language for the persons of the Trinity, even if that language had its origin in patriarchal societies?

JL: I believe in altering our language, attempts that guard against the misguided conclusion that God is literally male are admirable and needed. Nevertheless, I would answer yes to your question about this recent attempt. The formula “Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer” is simply an insufficient Trinitarian formula as it removes any inherent relational connection among the three persons that is the basis in traditional Trinitarian theology for maintaining the Oneness of the Three. Effectively, this formula implies a worship of three gods. Or, alternatively, the formula could be taken in a modalist sense, which means that the one God at one time creates, at another time redeems, and at still another time sustains. But here again, there is no eternal relation of persons. So, both conceptions are not fully Trinitarian. As I mentioned before, it is for this reason that I am much more comfortable with “Mother” language of the Divine because it maintains the essentially relational character of the Triune God. And while the tradition creatively engages such feminine language, it uniformly rejects such modalist or tri-theistic formulas.

Perhaps the most important principle is creativity with the wealth of images in Scripture. Encourage yourself to think of God using different images. 

WA: I’ve heard some theologians and pastors refer to the Holy Spirit as the “she” within the Trinity. What are your thoughts about this approach?

JL: Honestly, I don’t like it very much. For one thing, it seems to render the feminine aspect of God as secondary: masculine images still outnumber feminine images 2-1, so it seems to me there is not much to gain by this approach. But more problematically, this approach assumes that the persons of the Trinity are literally gendered. So it could be thought that Father and Son are literal male members of the Trinity, and Spirit—by virtue of not having a masculine title—is the female member of the Trinity. As we have discussed, all persons of the Trinity are fully God and together they are one God.

WA: If in God’s infinite transcendence as Creator, the nature of God encompasses male and female, then this impacts our understanding of what it means to be human, yes?

JL: So many implications. First and foremost is the question of the image of God as reflected in humanity. Genesis 1:27 clearly states that male and female are together created in the image of God. Because of the Adam and Eve story of Genesis 2, however, this primary anthropological teaching is often missed; some assume that only the man is created in the image of God, which of course undergirds all sorts of problematic teachings related to hierarchies in marriage and ministry. But male and female together created in the image of God makes sense if we think about God in the ways we have been discussing. It means that they are equal and that they need each other to fully reflect the image of God. This truth, it seems to me, grounds an egalitarian view of marriage and the full participation of women in ministry. Another implication is that humans are inherently communal creatures. This does not mean, of course, that everyone needs to be married; it does mean that everyone needs to be in human community to realize fully who they were created to be. We can’t be good disciples and be solitary.

WA: Pragmatically, I’m reminded of a time I read a description of someone’s expectation that God’s voice would sound like Morgan Freeman or Sean Connery. Both made me smile, yet I was startled by my internal response: what if God’s voice sounded like Cate Blanchett’s character, Galadriel? This funny, simple thought reminded me of the importance of how we conceive of God when we pray. What are some important principles that should shape our imagination when we pray or talk to God?

JL: This is such an important question and really gets at the heart of what is at stake in this question. It is clear that if we reduce our images to masculine ones, then we will likely fall into the trap of thinking of God as male. Perhaps the most important principle is creativity with the wealth of images in Scripture. Encourage yourself to think of God using different images. At one point, imagine God as the Father of the prodigal son running to embrace you. At another time, imagine God as the mother hen who enfolds you in her wings.

The great monastic theologian, Dionysius the Areopagite, encouraged his readers to focus their imaginations on comparisons of God to inanimate objects precisely because there is less danger mistakenly thinking that God is literally a rock, for example, than there in thinking God is literally a Father. Ultimately, every Christian must explore images that resonate. But in general, Scripture and tradition allow for more freedom and creativity here then people often allow themselves.

WA: When it comes to drawing from Scripture and tradition, do you think people of faith can affirm the value of believing that God – out of the Divine nature of holy love – really reveals the very real, actual nature of God? That our language isn’t just a Rorschach test in which we make God everything we think God should look like? At the same time, is there space to acknowledge that sometimes we think about God or speak about God in ways that are incomplete or less rich than they might be?

JL: Great questions that have been wrestled with for centuries. I agree there is a danger here, which is why I think we are wise in our creative imaginings to remain within the range of images provided by Scripture and developed by tradition. Thankfully, there is more than enough there to occupy our imagination in prayer and worship; we have just scratched the surface in our engagement with these treasures.

In answering your broader question about the tension between knowing the revealed God vs the mystery of God, I follow the Western tradition as represented by Thomas Aquinas, as opposed to the Eastern tradition as represented by Dionysius or, more recently, theologians like Vladimir Lossky. The Eastern tradition has generally said that God in God’s essence is unknowable, so the only way we can really speak of God is to say what God is not. This is the so-called “negative” approach or apophatic theology. From it we have derived such important concepts as God’s eternality (God is not limited by time boundaries), God’s simplicity (God does not have parts), and God’s immutability (God is not changeable). I understand the impetus behind this apophatic tradition and see its value, though I move away from it precisely because of your point that God has revealed Godself to us.

The Western tradition has generally been more positive in its approach, so-called cataphatic theology. It affirms that we can speak of God positively, such that when we say God is good or God is love or God is Father, we mean something like what we know of as “good” or as “love” or as a good “father.” Personally, this way helps me connect better with God through prayer and thought. It seems consistent with the Incarnate movement of God to bring Godself to our level.

Yet as we mentioned in our discussion of analogical language, even this way of doing theology insists that we cannot fully know the essence of God: God is infinitely more loving and more good than even our highest human notions. So while we can know God truly and authentically through God’s revelation to us in Christ and as recorded by Holy Scripture, we can never know God fully and comprehensively. Incidentally, this means that eternal life will be spent growing deeper and deeper into the knowledge of God’s essence. I don’t know about you, but that sounds a lot more compelling then singing “Open the Eyes of My Heart Lord” over and over for eternity!

JR Forasteros ~ Monday Messiah

This weekend’s sermon comes from Rev. JR Forasteros, Pastor of Catalyst Rowlett, a Nazarene congregation in Rowlett, Texas. This sermon plumbs John 1 and engages with the concept of the Trinity, in particular as the Second Person of the Trinity exists within the nature of God.

Find the sermon beginning at minute marker 20:50.


Note from the Editor: the featured image for this sermon is by Gustave Dore entitled “Jesus.”

Carolyn Moore ~ One Thing God Said Was Not Good

Over the last 75 years, researchers at Harvard have tracked the lives of 724 men.* These men were children when the study began. For 75 years, they’ve been tracking these lives to record the state of their home life, work, health, outlook.

Some men in the study became rich and famous. One became President of the United States. Others fared poorly. Boiling all this time, life and data down to its most basic lesson, this is what Robert Waldinger (current director of the study) labels the clearest message to emerge from this effort: “The message has nothing to do with fame or wealth or working harder. The real lesson from these lives is this: ‘Good relationships keep us happier and healthier … Over and over, over these 75 years, our study has shown that the people who fared the best were the people who leaned in to relationships, with family, with friends, with community.”

It took 75 years and 724 men to prove Genesis 2:18: “It is not good for the man to be alone.”  

Seven times in the creation story, God makes things and calls them good. The seas are good. The sun and moon are good. The plants and fish and animals are good. People are good. But then after seven scenes of goodness, God finds a flaw — one thing that isn’t quite right.

It is not good that the man should be alone.

This isn’t God adjusting a piece of furniture to get the right effect. This is God instilling in the pinnacle of his creation his most essential quality. He is a God who loves, even within himself.

God has infused his creation with his own personality. Creation will not be defined by independence. It will not be one toddler saying to the universe, “I can do it myself.” Creation will be defined by the same love that defines the Trinity. The first creation story in Genesis emphasizes the partnership between a man and a woman. The second creation story emphasizes the man’s need for relationship.

God’s brand of love only happens in community. It is the pre-fall answer to the sin of autonomous solitude — the state of believing I am all I need. Solitude is not good when solitude leads us to believe that one person alone — without community — can somehow image the God who created us.This is not good.

We are not islands unto ourselves.

This is why we join churches and go to movie theaters and happily pay $4 at Starbucks for coffee that costs less than ten cents to make at home. It is because we are designed for relationship. We are made for community, because we are made in the image of God.

And this is why the enemy of our souls would like to attract us into solitude with things like porn and video games. The enemy of our souls is working against our design. Likewise, the enemy would prefer that we view marriage as a tool primarily for fulfilling our own needs. This popular view saps the glory out of it. It fails to point to something beyond itself. Marriage is not designed primarily to get my sexual needs fulfilled. When we reduce it to a mechanical solution that meets a primal need, we miss it … completely.

Here is the real shame of what our culture has done to marriage. It isn’t that we’ve made it disposable or that we’ve made too much of the wedding and not enough of the relationship.  The real shame for the Church is that we’ve failed to teach the rich and relationship-rooting theology beneath it. We have focused more on mechanics or “chain of command” than on submission to something bigger than us. A covenantal marriage paints a picture of the love between Christ and his Church and of the covenant between God and his people. Marriage tells the Easter story — Jesus lays down his life for us — and marriage points to the glorious conclusion of the creation story, when all things will find their fulfillment not in getting our needs met cheaply but in the rich-beyond-measure love, cover and hope of a good and faithful God.


* “What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness” is a TED talk. Watch here.

Aaron Perry ~ The One You Love Is Sick

My Dad was diagnosed about six weeks before we were to move. We suspected for a while that he was sick, but didn’t know just how sick he was until he was diagnosed with Stage 4 liver cancer. There was also cancer in his bowel and in his lung.

My family had planned and announced a major move from Canada to the USA and could only move forward by faith. “God, this process of discernment has been centered on you. You could have unfolded things in a different way. We are proceeding by faith that you have unfolded with reason and intention.” That was my attitude. My words of prayer weren’t always quite so clear.

To say we were shocked would be an understatement: it was like living in a foggy dream. There was a constant blur and thickness to the world that made navigating difficult, even though in the moment you thought you were coping quite well. After moving, I coped by hauling my family back and forth across three or four states and provinces (and not the small ones) to visit my parents several times in a 12-month period.

I coped by visiting my Dad.

Thanks be to God, my Dad is doing very well. And my family is recovering from the burst of travel. After two years, I think I am emerging from the fog. I am starting to reflect on what God may have done in those visits.

Visiting the sick has a profound impact on the soul. John Wesley, in his sermon “On Visiting the Sick,” said that visiting the sick was a work of mercy, a “plain duty” for all in health, though “almost universally neglected.” The sick are those in some kind of affliction—whether in body or mind.

One of the reasons that Wesley encourages visitation is because it produces empathy. He warns that the rich do not understand the poor because they so seldom visit them. Those of us who are well might not understand the ill if we do not visit them.

Perhaps this notion of visiting the ill can illuminate the incarnate visitation of our Lord by reflecting on John 11:45-57. Let me start by asking: What would you do for a loved one who was sick? In John 4, the official begged Jesus to heal his son. Don’t miss his desperation! Whereas Jesus said that he had no honor in his hometown, the official acts as if Jesus is the most important person in the world. The official holds nothing back! Now, in John 11, we read about the sickness of Lazarus, a sickness that results in death before Jesus raises Lazarus up. The story ends in triumph, an affirmation of Jesus’ identity—“I am the resurrection and the life”—but hidden in the story is a sinister plot and a beautiful love; a story of what one might do for the loved one who is sick.

Before raising Lazarus, Jesus weeps (11:35), is deeply moved (11:38), and is troubled (11:33). I do not think these are expressions of sorrow at Lazarus’ death. If they are, they are oddly timed. Why would Jesus express sorrow when he’s on the cusp of raising Lazarus from the dead? Some remark, “See how he loved him!” (11:36), but, as has been frequent in John’s gospel, the observers are only half right. They think it’s a sign of sorrow, but they don’t know what’s coming next! They only get a surface read of the situation.

On the contrary, I do not think it is Lazarus’ death that troubles Jesus; it is his own. For what he is about to do—raise Lazarus—will lead to his own death. Jesus is troubled and Jesus weeps because if he does for Lazarus what he has come to do (11:11b), then it will lead to his own death.

This sacrifice becomes clear in 11:45. Did you see the word that started it off? “Therefore” (v. 45)! Because of this miracle, some go to the Pharisees, who, along with the chief priests, call a meeting of the Sanhedrin (11:47).  Raising Lazarus is the final straw for them!

Notice that they see what is happening. Yet while they see the miraculous signs (11:47), they do not respond in faith, but in fear. They fear a continued uprising around Jesus will result in the trampling of their temple and the destruction of their nation (11:48). So, Caiaphas cuts to the chase: Jesus needs to die. “It is better…that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish” (11:50) and so they plot to take his life (11:53).

That is the sinister plot. Where is the beautiful love?

Before raising Lazarus, Jesus weeps and is troubled because there will be no turning back from the cross. He was called the lamb of God and now he will become the slaughtered lamb (Isaiah 53:7). He will sacrifice his life for Lazarus’ life. Jesus raised a sick man who has died from sickness and we can say, remembering the prophet Isaiah, that Lazarus’ healing led to Jesus’ wounds (Isaiah 53:5).

Which brings me back to our earlier question. What would you do for a loved one who is sick?

Ultimately, the question is not about us. The question really isn’t about the official and his son (John 4); it isn’t about Martha and Mary and their brother. It is about God and his Son. In Isaiah, upon seeing the plight of his people and the Lord’s desire to send a prophet, Isaiah steps forward: “Here am I. Send me!”

With Isaiah in mind, I start to hear the word that comes to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick” not simply as word from Mary and Martha to Jesus. It is also the word that the Son carries to the Father. “Lord, the one you love is sick” is the word of the Son to the Father along with the Son’s obedient attitude: “Here am I. Send me!”

This word is prompted by the Father’s love and results in the Father’s delighted sending. Both are giving for the one who is sick.

What would God do for the loved one who is sick? He would take on flesh, go to a cross, and die so that the loved one would be healed. Yet, praise God, while Lazarus’ sickness would yet end in temporary death, Jesus’ death was followed by resurrection.

Perhaps that can be our ministry of visitation to the sick: Those with life visiting those whose life is under distress as a ministry of the Son of God visiting all of us, the loved one of God who is sick. Perhaps, then, we learn to identify not just with the sick, but in the resurrection of Christ, as well.


Note from the Editor: Today’s featured image is a painting by Edvard Munch, “The Sick Child.”

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ When Curiosity is Christ-Like

Curiosity is underrated.

In the past one hundred years, many North Americans have undergone a shift in how they’re described and in how they see themselves. We have gone from citizens to consumers. A few years back the hit drama “Mad Men” followed the lives of people in a booming advertising industry in post-World War II America. Citizens may benefit from being curious; consumers don’t need to be. After all, the product is described for you in a certain way so that you’ll see the benefits of owning it and buy it, the sooner the better.

Sometimes curiosity has been collapsed in with tired portraits of cynicism, weary portrayals of bored skepticism. Everything is spin, nothing is as it seems, the five-in-one mop you just bought will break the second time you use it, and everyone just wants something from you. This is the way of the world. The sooner you learn it, the better.

How curious, then, that our faith presents to us illustrations of a curious God; we affirm that God is all-knowing, after all, yet time and again we see Jesus showing curiosity. To affirm the ancient statements of faith means to affirm that God – Father, Son, Holy Spirit, who create, redeem, and sustain – God is omniscient. Yet it also means affirming that Christ, while fully divine, willingly put aside some of those attributes in the Incarnation when the Word Became Flesh. Fleshy God cried, wet his diaper, learned to walk, learned the skills of carpentry, and while sometimes the Spirit-anointed Jesus saw deep into people’s hearts, to read the Gospels for even a short time is to encounter the Jesus who asked questions.

Sometimes these questions were rhetorical; sometimes the questions were for the purpose of teaching or exposing something to a hearer they didn’t realize about themselves before. Sometimes – they were just questions.

Jesus saw people because he saw beyond himself, his fatigue or hunger or wishes.

Jesus was curious.

It was strange to find Jesus at age 12 in the temple teaching learned men at a stage when modern Jewish boys read from the Torah for the first time at their Bar Mitzvah. He had insight, for sure. He was different.

But if we always see his questions arising from wry divine foreknowledge, we perhaps miss the poignant cost of human interaction, and after all, we say, Christ was fully divine, fully human.

What if, when he said, “who do they say that I am?” and then, “and who do you say that I am?” he was simply asking, “tell me, how do you see me?”

What if there was urgency when he would look at someone, perceive the complex turmoil they found themselves in, and ask, “do you want to be made well?” After all, sometimes we grow comfortable with our infirmity to the point that we allow it to define us. Addicts affirm time and again that they got sober when they were ready – but not before. And so Mary’s son stood before someone and asked point-blank – “are you ready for a new life? A life of health, a life that stretches out in front of you that isn’t defined yet? Are you ready to let go of grief?”

Jesus found himself in a shoving crowd with people pressing in and quite suddenly felt power go out of him (a book in itself). He turned around (frowning?) and said, essentially, “hang on – wait a minute. Who just touched me?” And his friends replied, “um, there is a huge crowd, probably any number of people,” but Jesus knew it was different and waited until a shocked, embarrassed woman came forward and explained that her personal chronic illness had just disappeared instantaneously.

A lot of divine redemption is read into a famous exchange between Jesus and Peter, and understandably so, especially given some shifts in Greek vocabulary. But what if we peel away our hindsight-is-20-20 lenses and look at this exchange at one of its more basic layers – one friend deeply hurt by another?

“Simon – do you love me?”

“Simon – do you love me?”

“Simon – do you [even] love me [at all]? [I saw you that night, in the courtyard, and it broke my heart in ways a whiplash or nails or a spear never could, we’ve spent three years together and you pretended you’d never met me.]”

Jesus was curious.  He went to weddings, he told Zaccheus he was coming over for dinner, he ate with white collar criminals (tax collectors), he sat and talked to a woman getting water from a well in the hottest part of the day, he let himself stay up late talking to a curious religious leader who came to him in the middle of the night, he decided to send the disciples out in pairs and see how it went, he paid attention to widows and sparred with temple elites, he marveled at the faith of a pagan soldier.

And if we want to be like Jesus – if we want to be Christ-like – then we have no place in echo-chambers, cloistered off from anyone. There is no one with whom we can decide not to engage, no matter how furious their bumper sticker makes us. Because Jesus ignored the bumper sticker and saw the person. Jesus ignored the brand and saw the soul. Jesus was curious about everyone. There was no one – no one – who did not merit his time. It was Pilate who famously washed his hands of a person, not Jesus. Jesus didn’t wash his hands of anybody.

Sometimes people of faith think of faith-sharing as abusive pushiness or as a clergy specialty. But to love people is to be curious about them: to want to know more about them. Sometimes one of the most Christ-like things you can do is notice the people around you. When’s the last time you really saw somebody? When’s the last time you picked up on a casual comment and followed up on it? When’s the last time you took interest in a person no matter what bumper sticker was on their car or what social media status they last posted?

Curiosity about others, curiosity about their lives, opens us up to opportunities to acknowledge and reflect their value: they are worth noticing. In a distracted world, this is explosively powerful. If you want to revolutionize your year and quickly find areas you need to grow in, put down your phone more frequently, make eye contact more frequently, stop yourself from making snap judgments and dismissing people, and show curiosity.

And make Jesus Christ, Word Made Flesh, smile.


Edgar Bazan ~ The Trinity and the Mission of God

Rev. Edgar Bazan has written for Wesleyan Accent on transformative mission, the purpose of the Kingdom of God, and the shalom nature of God’s Kingdom.


Let’s explore how we are called to engage in the mission Dei through a Trinitarian lens.

Lesslie Newbigin uses the theology of the Trinity to offer a theological ground for the understanding and practicing of the missio Dei. He explains, “He is the Son, sent by the Father and anointed by the Spirit to be the bearer of God’s kingdom to the nations. This is the Jesus who was proclaimed by the first Christians to the world of their time.” (Newbigin, Chapter 3)

In Ministry in the Image of God: the Trinitarian Shape of Christian Service, Stephen Seamands further explains the Trinitarian paradigm to express the missio Dei in more practical and tangible ways. He describes the Trinitarian ministry as, “the ministry of the Son, to the Father, through the Holy Spirit, for the sake of the church and the world.” (Seamands, Chapter 1) If the ministry of Jesus is to the Father through the Holy Spirit, argues Seamands, then as we follow Jesus’ command of teaching everything he taught us, ministry “is not so much asking Christ to join us in our ministry as we offer him to others; ministry is participating with Christ in his ongoing ministry as he offers himself to others through us.” For Seamands this is what it means to be in ministry: Christ offering himself to others through us.

Is the ministry to the Father through the Holy Spirit a ministry offered for the sake of the other? If so, then one may assume that the missio Dei exists for the sake of humanity. This complements John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…” It is in God’s nature, in his intrinsic character, to be self-giving for the sake of the other as demonstrated in Jesus Christ. This approach to ministry or being in mission centers around what God has done and continues to do, and what God has said and continues to speak: “…so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

The ministry of the church – the mission that God has given to the church – is meant to be a continuation of the “ministry of the Son, to the Father, through the Holy Spirit, for the sake of the church and world.”

These Trinitarian observations by Newbigin and Seamands point out that Jesus is not the initiator or founder of God’s mission, but the bearer and herald of God’s kingdom. This approach to the mission of the church, through Trinitarian theology, helps us see the Christian mission in three ways: as proclaiming the kingdom of the Father, as sharing the life of the Son, and as bearing the witness of the Spirit. If in Jesus we see him accomplishing and submitting himself to the Father, listening and doing as he hears from him through the Spirit, then the church has no other option but to do likewise.

Newbigin expresses this when he says,

From the very beginning of the New Testament, the coming of Jesus, his words and works are connected directly with the power of the Spirit. It is by the Spirit that Jesus is conceived, by the Spirit that he is anointed at his baptism, by the Spirit that he is driven into the desert for his encounter with Satan. It is in the power of the Spirit that he enters upon his ministry of teaching and healing (Luke 4:14; Matt. 12:18).(Newbigin, Chapter 5)

Jesus did as he heard from the Father through the Spirit. (Jn. 12:49) So what then is Jesus doing today to the Father through the Holy Spirit?


Edgar Bazan ~ Transformative Mission and the Purpose of the Kingdom of God

For more on this subject from Rev. Edgar Bazan, read his first post, “Transformative Mission,” here.

How do we understand and define what the church is constituted to be? To answer this question, one must first ask: what is the mission of the church?

The Missio Dei

The first thing to notice in this question is the assumption that the mission is of the church. Here lies significant misunderstanding and misplaced value: the mission is not of the church but of God. To answer the question, “what is the mission of the church?” we need to learn that the mission is of God, who invites and commands the church to accomplish it together. Proclaiming Jesus as Lord, sharing his teachings and doings – this is an act of God that the church undertakes as a witness.

From here, we can say that the church is constituted to be an agency of God’s work in the world. To further explore what this agency looks like, we start by studying what is it that God is doing in the world, his missio Dei.

In The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission, author Chris Wright explains, “It is not so much the case that God has a mission for his church in the world, as that God has a church for his mission in the world. Mission was not made for the church, the church was made for mission –God’s mission.” (Wright, Chapter 1)

The mission of God precedes the church, and the church came into being for the sake of accomplishing such mission. Missio Dei refers to “all that God is doing in his great purpose for the whole of creation and all that he calls us to do in cooperation with that purpose.” (Wright, Chapter 1) There must be a fundamental understanding that the mission of the church does not belong to the church, nor does it proceed from the church; it is the acting of God through the church.

This is deeply significant because it shows us that the church does not define its mission, but rather learns it, and assumes it by discerning what God is doing.

More Than a Ticket to Heaven

For example, the church has vastly appropriated what the mission is by defining it merely as an act of sharing the gospel, often disregarding many other aspects of peoples’ lives that need healing and formation. Consider that when we use the words “missions” or “missionaries,” we tend to think mainly of evangelistic activity; however, if the task is to procure God’s mission, this understanding must be expanded. God does not only care about the salvation of peoples’ souls, but also for their feeding, care, healing, liberation, protection, defense, and justice.

In this framework of the mission of God, everything the church ought to be doing must be mission-oriented, for there is no other task for the church but to carry the works of the kingdom of God.

This definition of the mission of the church as the missio Dei sets Christianity apart as intrinsically a missionary faith, one that exists for the purposes of accomplishing the works of God in this world. This is what Jesus did as he was sent; he left succinct and character-defining instructions for the church when he sent it by saying, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28:19-20)

The “command[ing]” of Jesus refers to much more than just the salvation of souls, but indeed to all the acts of healing, reconciliation, liberation, and justice that Jesus heralded in his life and throughout his ministry. This “command[ing],” is precisely the inauguration of the presence of the kingdom of God: now we know what God wills and does for humanity (a reconciled, healed, saved, and new creation born again of the Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ).

The missio Dei, therefore, is not a specialized ministry of the church, but the realization of the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. And what is in heaven is life and not death; wellness and not illness; fullness and not brokenness. Hence, the kingdom of God, the missio Dei, can be explained in the brief statement that Jesus made: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (Jn. 10:10)

If Jesus’ arrival initiated the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven, and if his mission was to bring life, then the mission of God as revealed and demonstrated by Jesus (and that he has entrusted to the church to embody) is characterized by bringing life and everything needed to sustain it on earth right now, and not just salvation for tomorrow as an eschatological provision.

God’s Will on Earth as It Is in Heaven

This missio Dei is not a new movement or cause, but the sovereign rule of God over all people and nations, interjecting into history and each person’s story, giving and sustaining life. It is the manifestation of what God always intended for the earth since the beginning of time and now has been brought back by Jesus into the alienated and broken humanity in order to restore God’s order (kingdom).

In this regard, the purpose of the kingdom of God is to bless everyone, and to bring into completion the Father’s will: “Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…” The kingdom of God is the reality of God’s continual work in the world, not leaving it behind or to its own devices, but effectively engaging in its redemption. Thus, the Father sent his Son to manifest this kingdom and to open it to the eyes and ears of mortal human beings; and the Son sent his church to do likewise.

In The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission, Lesslie Newbigin explains this imparting of God’s kingdom by saying,

Mission seen from this angle, is faith in action. It is the acting out by proclamation and by endurance, through all the events in history, of the faith that the kingdom of God has drawn near. It is the acting out of the central prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to use: “Father, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. (Newbigin, Chapter 3)

If the mission of the church as the missio Dei is fundamentally about bringing and proclaiming the kingdom of God to restore life in humanity, what does this look like? Newbigin talks about it as love in action. (Newbigin, Chapter 5) This love in action refers to the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus as not just a matter of words, but the very presence of the kingdom of God which is revealed and experienced through redeeming acts of compassion and reconciliation. The proclamation of God’s kingdom is in the embodiment of the teachings of Jesus in everyday life. Those who follow Jesus, calling him Lord, are sent into the world to carry on this mission as the bearers of his kingdom teachings.

If we know Jesus as Lord and do what he says, that makes us the church, a constituted body for salvation and healing in the world.

Jesus said, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I send you.” His statement requires us to ask the question: what is it that Jesus was sent for? What did he do? How did he relate to people? How did he treat people? How did he speak to people? What did he say? What was his behavior around those in need, his friends, and his enemies? These questions are paramount to our understanding of why we are sent and to what we are sent.

If we are sent as he was sent by his Father, then it is critical for the church to assess the life of Jesus not only in relation to God but in relation to humanity. If we believe who Jesus is, if we do what he says, then we are on a mission alongside him. And this sending has a particular purpose: to bring peace.

Making Disciples by Being Disciples

There are a variety of academic ways to define evangelism, but at its heart it is about making disciples of Jesus Christ. And yet, if we are to make disciples, we ourselves must be disciples. And that takes work. How are you attending to your soul in these days?

Here are some ways  to get you thinking… 

1) As Christians, we believe in a Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This means that there are a variety of ways to think more deeply about God. God can be known in the beauty of creation. God can be known in the faithful covenants we discover in Scripture – in the journeys of Abraham and Sarah, in the great escape from slavery in Egypt, in the experiences of judges, monarchs, and mighty prophets. Of course, God is most fully revealed in Jesus, God’s anointed one. And God’s presence is continually with us through the power of the Holy Spirit – God’s sacred breath within us.

Reflect on the ways you know God:

  • What are some passages of Scripture that speak to you most powerfully about the nature and work of God? 
  • What long-standing convictions about God do Christians pass on to the next generation? What are the core values of the faith we are handing down? 
  • Reflect on an experience where God has been a significant personal presence in your own life. 

2) At WME, we like to remind people that Christian faith is not faith in general. It has a very specific object – the living God, revealed in Jesus Christ. Jesus is not a spiritualized, mythic teacher, but was a real person. He lived in a particular place and time, and he is alive by the power of the Holy Spirit. In him, we are able to see the clearest, most complete image of what the eternal God is like that humans are capable of seeing. This is remarkable because Jesus is God among us in human form – God in skin and bones. It is remarkable as well because in Jesus we see just how far God is willing to go to redeem and restore humanity and all of creation. 

Reflect on your response to God’s work in Jesus Christ:

  • If Jesus had never lived, how would your ways of understanding God be different? 
  • How would your motivation for doing good be different? 
  • How does gratitude for the gift of Christ fill you with joy? 

3) When my youngest daughter was small, she mastered the skill of throwing a peanut into the air and catching it in her mouth. She was excited to show me her newfound talent; however, the moment I began watching, she began missing. I told her I was going to leave the room so she could practice a bit more, but that I would be close by. As soon as I left, she was once again able to consistently catch the peanut. 

The disciples were never able to perform a miracle in Jesus’ presence; yet, after he left and they received the Holy Spirit, these same frightened and timid followers were transformed into powerful agents of the gospel. That transformative power was unleashed at Pentecost and the Holy Spirit has been remaking and restoring lives ever since. 

Reflect on your understanding of the Holy Spirit:

  • What works of the Holy Spirit can you identify in your own life? 
  • In your community? 
  • Around the world? 

Our witness for Christ is always strengthened when we become keenly aware of our journey in Christ. I pray that you will attend to your journey in Christ, so that others might be able to more clearly see him in you. 


Carolyn Moore ~ Hate: Confusing Holiness with Hierarchy

Let’s talk about hate. 

In the first few verses of the Bible, we meet our God in his Trinitarian wholeness. The Father creates, the Son speaks, the Spirit hovers. This Trinitarian God partners within himself in the work of creation. You can sense the single-mindedness — the energy flowing within himself creating goodness. There is no sense of hierarchy here. In fact, a hierarchy within the Trinity would tear at the fabric of unity and prove our faith in one God to be a lie. 

God is love, and within himself he is in complete unity and complete partnership. This is the substance and character of our God. 

Humans were created in the likeness of this loving God, so the first two chapters of Genesis tell the story of humans being created as partners in the work of stewarding God’s creation. Side by side, male and female were to tend the land, govern the animals and be intimately unified. There was a creative energy and goodness between them. As with the one, true God, a hierarchy among humans would tear at the fabric of created design. 

And yet, this is precisely what happened at the Fall. In Genesis 3, we learn that the enemy of God turned what was created as a partnership into a hierarchy. Ever since, humans have battled for control. This battle rages across genders, races, languages (in some countries, hierarchies are established by what language you know), nations … you name it. On this side of Genesis 3, fallen humanity is conditioned for division. If we can pit things against each other, we will. It is our ungodly inclination to compete, compare and control. This inclination is an incubator for hatred. 

If God is love, then the enemy of God is hatred incarnate and that hatred has become the primary driver of unholy hierarchies. Whether we sense it dramatically or subliminally, it is this pull toward hierarchy that causes us to rank one another in order to justify our own value.

Let me state the obvious and say that hierarchy and hate are at the root of white supremacy and pretty much all the other hate-filled expressions of protest that surface not just in our country but around the world. Haters are obsessed with creating the kind of hierarchies that rank everyone not like them as “lesser than.” Most of us are appalled by the extremes to which the “real” haters will go. The “real” ones make the news. They have become so hardened by their own proclivities that they will shamelessly stand in the public square and spew their hate without the slightest sense of their absurdity. 

The real haters are enemies of God, and what they do deserves our immediate and direct condemnation. There is never an option for a follower of Jesus to hate people. Never. What we so often see in the public square is simply not reflective of the heart of Christ. Our constant pull as Christians must always be against hate and toward genuine love. 

Christians never have the option to hate other people or to act in hateful ways.  

This does not mean I will always agree with you, or you with me. There are things worth our righteous anger and sharp opposition. It does mean we are required by the law of Christ to treat one another as human beings, to treat with decency even those whose values are in direct opposition to ours. This is a sticking point for those of us who follow Jesus, many of whom have confused holiness with hierarchy. We cannot allow our pursuit of holiness to devalue others. Not politically, racially, or in any other of a million different ways we compete, compare, control. 

This isn’t the way of Christ. 

Somehow we have to learn how to talk in the public square about the things on which we disagree — and even acknowledge our disagreements as uncompromising — without labeling everything that doesn’t look like us as hate-generating or worse, as “less than.” After all, the ground beneath the cross is level. 

Brothers and sisters, somehow we have to learn how to fight fair again, to engage in public debate so that honest differences can be acknowledged in mature and loving ways without devaluing one another. Because as long as we live on this side of Genesis 3, haters are going to hate, but Christians simply can’t. It is not how we are designed, and it is not how we honor a loving God. 



Reprinted with permission from www.artofholiness.com.