At Jackson First UMC, we are in the midst of a four-week sermon series on a Wesleyan understanding of grace. The basic pattern we’ve followed is to go in the order of: 1. Prevenient grace (or “preventing grace” as John Wesley termed it); 2. Justifying grace; 3. Sanctifying grace; 4. Glorifying grace (or as we are calling it “Triumphant grace”). When Dan and I met to talk about what our plans were for this series, I must admit that I was tempted to ask if I could preach the sermons on prevenient and sanctifying grace. Our Wesleyan understanding of these modes of grace is part of what makes us distinct from other traditions within the whole Church, which is why I would have loved to unpack these for our congregation, but as the schedule began to unfold it seemed to fit better for me to preach on the other modes of grace: justification and glorification.

What has stood out to me from my very subjective, perhaps armchair theologian’s perspective is that many of us in the Wesleyan theological tradition have sought to distance ourselves from the Reformed tradition to such a degree that we miss out on the mode of grace that was so central to many movements of the Reformation, including the Wesleyan revival within the Church of England – justification. It is pretty well-documented that the Methodist movement exponentially grew because of several significant factors, but these two are among the top: 1. John Wesley’s ‘submitting to be more vile’ by preaching in the open air, outside the walls of the church buildings; 2. Wesley’s realization in the late 1730’s that salvation comes by faith. At the heart of this was his assertion that God justifies the “ungodly…the sinner” and not the one who first makes oneself pure via sanctification. Says Wesley, “Does then the Good Shepherd seek and save only those that are found already? No. He seeks and saves that which is lost. He pardons those who need his pardoning mercy.”

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Could it be that the common practical error put forth in modern Wesleyan circles is not that we put sanctification prior to justification but that we bypass the latter altogether? The subtle transition seems to move from prevenient grace directly to sanctification without ever highlighting our need to confess our sin and hear the beautiful declaration of the promise of our absolution. As I said in the sermon, which I’m humbled was picked up by A Wesleyan Accent, “The problem is that in narrative terms, this is like going straight from the beautiful message of Christmas directly to the empty tomb. But in the midst of that we have a bloody, torturous cross that bears an Innocent Redeemer who cries at the hour of his execution a piercing word – ‘Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing’.”

For more, check out the text of my sermon here. Or you can watch the 11:00am traditional worship service in which I preached it here.

Is it worth listening to someone who has no experience in the subject matter about which they’re talking?

This past Sunday, I preached a sermon about the healthy upbringing of children and shared a few directions that John Wesley had to say about the education of children in a sermon he wrote in his later years. The question above entered my mind as I prepared the sermon and some have pressed me on the matter as well given that John Wesley never had children of his own. In addition, his well-documented failure of a love life add fuel to the desire to simply ignore much, if not all, of what he had to say about family life.

Given the facts of Wesley’s lack of (fruitful) experiences in these areas of life, it’s likely wise to at least take what he had to say with a grain…or a pillar…of salt, but somewhere amidst the bathwater there might be a baby worth redeeming. John Wesley, while admittedly having abysmal family experiences in his adulthood, was raised by a remarkable mother in Susannah Wesley, who also raised his younger brother Charles. By all appearances, Charles had a rather healthy marriage, rarely traveled away from home after getting married, and did have children of his own, unlike John. The reality, it seems to me, is that John’s “family” as an adult was the Methodist movement itself. He valued the nurture of Methodists at home and abroad more than anything. Why else would he continue to travel to see them even in into his upper 80s?  This is not to excuse the hot mess John contributed to his failed marriage at home, but to acknowledge the reality of where his heart, mind, and hands were fixed.

So while his advice on the education/raising of children is certainly not perfect nor does it come from years of proven success, perhaps there are some bits of wisdom from John that are quite valuable and can be implemented in the home and in the church as we find ways to share God’s grace with children.

Here are some of the best suggestions from John that I thought worth sharing:

  • “From the first dawn of [a child’s] reason continually inculcate, God is in this and every place. God made you, and me, and the earth, and the sun, and the moon, and everything. And everything is his; heaven, and earth, and all that is therein.”
  • “With regard to the management of your children, steadily keep the reins in your own hands.” (He said this in the context of telling parents to not let the grandparents of the children manage the children, which I think he probably overstated. That said, it is vital to take ownership in your child’s development and not leave the task for someone else to do.
  • “From their very infancy sow the seeds of justice in their hearts, and train them up in the exactest practice of it.”
  • “In the morning, in the evening, and all the day beside, press upon all your children, ‘to walk in love, as Christ also loved us, and gave himself for us;’ to mind that one point, ‘God is love, and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him’.”

Some of the other things John said in his sermons on the raising of children sound quite harsh or outdated to the modern ear and mind. To hear a couple of examples (and to hear what else I said on the matter of nurturing children), you can view one of the services at Jackson FUMC.

First Awakening service (sermon starts about 40 minutes in):

Traditional Worship service (sermon starts about 33 minutes in):

On the whole, it is worth considering that John Wesley’s aim was to spread the emphasis of sanctifying grace throughout his lifetime. I believe that when taken in this context, we have some valuable lessons to learn from the founder of our movement because these suggestions lend themselves to the following of the great commandments: “love God with all your heart, mind, soul, might” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” And in the nurture of children, we adults (parents, teachers, mentors, all people in the church) have a role to play in this. As Wesley reminded us: “Let it be carefully remembered all this time, that God, not man, is the physician of souls…that ‘it is God who worketh in us, both to will and to do of his good pleasure.’ But it is generally God’s pleasure to work by his creatures; to help man by man. God honors [humans] to be, in this sense, ‘workers together with him’.”

Let us join in that great work!

It is with both great sadness and tremendous excitement that I share the news that was broke Sunday that I am projected to move from Liberty & Post Oak United Methodist Churches in Camden, Tennessee to become the Associate Pastor at First United Methodist Church in Jackson, Tennessee.

It was only two years ago that my family packed up our stuff in Nicholasville, Kentucky to move to Camden, where we were welcomed by a remarkably hospitable community of people at these two loving churches. Liberty & Post Oak have undergone several leadership transitions in the last few years. What is a true testament to the health and resilience of these congregations is that amidst these transitions, Liberty & Post Oak have experienced growth in worship attendance, professions of faith in Christ, and increased participation in mission efforts and lay leadership, including young people who are often taking the lead in exciting new ways. It is truly difficult to leave these growing congregations when things are moving forward. But I want to commend Bishop Bill McAlilly (see his recent post about pastoral appointment announcements here) and the cabinet for identifying and sending a quality pastor here in Rev. Travis Penney, who has served as the pastor at Big Springs UMC in Hardeman County the last four years. Travis is young, energetic and eager to lead Liberty & Post Oak as they turn the page from this short chapter I have shared with them. Just as my predecessor did a great job of making my entry into this appointment quite seamless, I will do my best to do the same in working with Travis to make this transition a healthy and fruitful one!

While I will greatly miss these great folks in Camden, I am also thrilled for the opportunity to take on a new role by joining the great work that the people at First UMC in Jackson are doing by serving as their Associate Pastor. First Church is located in downtown Jackson and has recently added a campus at Andrews Chapel, which is situated just a few miles west of the downtown campus. With there being two campuses, I will still be able to preach on a weekly/regular basis and lead in worship, which is one of the most fulfilling parts of my ministry. I will also have pastoral care responsibilities, which is one of my strongest spiritual gifts, including leading Stephen Ministry. In addition, I will have opportunities once or twice per week to lead in Christian formation and discipleship by teaching classes. To go along with this, I will get to work with the Senior Pastor, Rev. Dan Camp, who is a great leader from whom I will have much to learn. One of the areas where I feel confident I will grow in this context will be in terms of administration.

This, of course, only scratches the surface of what all is going on at FUMC and I am very eager learn more of how I can and will be co-laboring with them and taking part in the great kingdom work being done in their midst! See you in June, Jackson!

A look inside the beautiful sanctuary at Jackson FUMC! (photo credit: jacksonfumc.org/about/wedding_policies)

A look inside the beautiful sanctuary at Jackson FUMC! (photo credit: jacksonfumc.org/about/wedding_policies)