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After 4.5 years and 270 posts — including 30 podcasts and more than 60 pieces of original reporting — MethodistThinker.com is being discontinued. The archive will remain intact, but this site will not be updated, except for occasional new material in the ThinkerTwitter field at right.-

I invite you to subscribe to a radio program/podcast — The World & Everything in It — for which I now serve as senior producer and co-host. Gospel Coalition blogger Trevin Wax describes it as being “like NPR from a Christian worldview.”

The program, produced by WORLD News Group (publisher of WORLD Magazine), is available via iTunes, RSS, and online streaming. Details here.

TW&E is also heard on more than 250 broadcast outlets in the U.S.

Thank you for reading MethodistThinker.com.

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Joseph Slife, editor

The Apostle Paul pronounced this blessing on the Church at Rome: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, until, by the power of the Holy Spirit, you overflow with hope” (Rom. 15:13).

LORD God, give followers of Jesus such a full measure of joy and peace that our hope overflows to those around us who are without hope in the world.

hope-in-the-lordYou have put us here to touch others with a message of profound hope — the gospel of Jesus Christ. By the power of your Holy Spirit, give us success in that fulfilling that mission.

Cause our joy and peace to attract the attention of people who don’t yet know Jesus.

When they ask about the reason for the hope we have, may we be prepared to give an answer that points to Jesus the Righteous One — the One who lived and died and lives again.


Spiritual growth resources for 2013
Reading the Bible in 2013 | Justin Taylor, The Gospel Coalition
Yearly Bible-reading schedule (PDF)
A Wesleyan Spiritual Reader, edited by Bishop Rueben P. Job (Abingdon, 1998) (preview here)
Renew My Heart: Classic Insights from John Wesley (Barbour, 2011) (also available for Kindle)
A quiet-times calendar (a tool for keeping track of your consistency in maintaining a daily devotional time — PDF)

A Christmas prayer

Father, we stand in awe of what we celebrate. How can it be that the all-sufficient God of the universe became a helpless child resting in a feed trough?

mary_joseph_jesus_mangerHow can it be that the divine Word reduced Himself to unintelligible sounds?

How can it be that the hands that once sculpted mountain ranges, now made flesh, reach to grab hold of a loving mother’s finger?

We don’t know. Yet it happened. Jesus came, the visible expression of the invisible God, to bring God to us and us to God.

The darkness of this world at times seems overwhelming, but in midst of the darkness we again see the Light of Christmas — the Light that cannot be overcome.

Before Him, we bow down and worship.

The prayer above is adapted from the first chapter of Ken Gire’s 1989 book, Intimate Moments with the Savior (Zondervan).

Editor’s note: In 1996, I had the privilege of recording a portion of Ken Gire’s retelling of the nativity story for a nationally syndicated radio program. The piece was produced by Duane Harms, now of i5810 Media. To listen, use the audio player below (4 minutes). — jms

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Looking for just the right gift for a preacher? Consider Warren Lathem and Dan Dunn’s 2008 book, Preaching for a Response: Leading New Believers into Spiritual Maturity, published by Bristol House. preaching-for-a-response2

The authors (Lathem has served as a pastor, district superintendent, and seminary president; Dunn has been a pastor, associate pastor, and missionary) know how to declare biblical truths in ways that elicit a clear response from listeners — a skill neither learned in seminary.

From the book:

These authors have a collective 17 years of formal theological education.

Yet never in those years did anyone attempt to instruct either of us in how to preach for a response, how to give the invitation for a response, or even why we ought to find a way to invite and encourage a response….

[But r]esponse is inherent in the gospel and the gospel preacher who does night invite response is not being completely faithful to the gospel.

Other excerpts:

How many sermons are preached, how many worship services are conducted in church all across America without any thought being given to a response by the hearer? How often do preachers and worship leaders prepare a great banquet, set it before the people, entice them to this gospel feast with beautiful words and music, yet never say, “Come and get it”?…

We may delude ourselves into thinking that just because the listener recognizes the need to respond, that he or she will know how to make a proper response to the gospel.

More likely, without direction, guidance and invitation from the preacher, most will simply make no overt, conscious, intentional response, and by failing to do so will in fact reject the message they just heard….

Why do most mainline preachers fail to issue an invitation or give an opportunity for response? There are several possible reasons….

  • We do not really believe people are lost…
  • We do not believe the power of the gospel…
  • We do not know how to invite a response…
  • We would not know what do if they did respond…
  • Our order of worship does not accommodate a response…
  • We are fearful of the opinion of others…
  • We do not take preaching seriously enough….

Preaching for a Response includes advice about “what to say” and “how to say it.” The chapter “Twelve Keys to Effective Preaching” emphasizes the basic building blocks of effective speaking — such as maintaining strong eye contact, using varied pacing, employing short sentences, and ending strong.

Warren_Lathem

Warren Lathem

Dan_Dunn

Dan Dunn

The book also includes detailed suggestions on how to plan worship services, week after week, aimed at eliciting responses that move people toward maturity in Christ.

You can order Preaching for a Response here (Amazon) or here (Bristol House).

The Holy Spirit plays a key and prominent role in the Christmas story, as detailed most fully in the Gospel According to Luke. Yet the outbreak of the Spirit’s activity that surrounds the birth of Jesus Christ receives relatively little attention in contemporary preaching/teaching about Advent and Christmas.

Charismatic Theology of St. LukeThe sudden stirring of the Holy Spirit recorded in Luke 1 and 2 is in sharp contrast to Spirit’s apparent absence during the 400 years of the intertestamental period.

As noted by scholar Roger Stronstad in The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke (Baker Academic, 2012), during those long years, Judaism had become identified with devotion to the Law, rather than prophetic proclamation, and the prophet had been replaced by the scribe.

One rabbinic teaching stated that when the last of the prophets died, “the holy spirit ceased out of Israel.”

But early in Luke’s gospel, the Holy Spirit “returns” in what Stronstad describes as “an outburst of charismatic activity.”

[T]he angel [Gabriel] announces [that the baby who is to be called John] “will be filled with the Holy Spirit, while yet in his mother’s womb.” Moreover, Gabriel informs Mary that she will conceive Jesus in this miraculous manner, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you , and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”

Furthermore, not only will John be filled with the Holy Spirit, but subsequent events find both his mother, Elizabeth, and his father, Zacharias, “filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Finally, in a remarkable clustering of terms, the aged Simeon has

the Holy Spirit…upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the Temple….

Interpreted against the background of Judaism [that expected the revival of the activity of the Spirit when Messiah came]…the outburst of prophetic inspiration which Luke reports in the infancy narrative heralds nothing less than the dawning of the messianic age.

The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke goes on to track the record of the Holy Spirit’s activity throughout Luke and Acts, illustrating how that activity shares a fundamental continuity with the Spirit’s actions in the Old Testament. But a radical new dimension has been added, as the Spirit acts to empower the church (“the charismatic community”) for the advancement of God’s Kingdom.

Roger Stronstad is the Biblical Theology Director at Summit Pacific College in Abbotsford, British Columbia, and co-editor (with French L. Arrington) of the Life in the Spirit New Testament Commentary (Zondervan, 2003).

Roger Stronstad

For several years, he served as editor of the now-defunct Canadian C.S. Lewis Journal.

Stronstad is ordained in the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada and serves on the editorial board of The Journal of Biblical and Pneumatological Research.

The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke was originally published in 1984 (Hendrickson Publishers) and was released earlier this year in a second edition. It is available in paperback and in a Kindle edition.

Roger Stronstad’s 1999 book The Prophethood of All Believers: A Study in Luke’s Charismatic Theology was re-published in 2010 by CPT Press.


Related posts
Bishop Lindsey Davis: The wind-and-flame faith of Pentecost
Podcast: Tom Atkins — ‘We Need the Power of the Holy Spirit’
Podcast: E. Stanley Jones on ‘The Gift of the Holy Spirit’
Podcast: Bishop James King — ‘Preaching Authority’

Related articles and information
An excerpt from Chapter 1 of The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke
Academic and Pentecostal: An Appreciation of Roger Stronstad (PDF) | Martin W. Mittelstadt (Evangel University), Canadian Journal of Pentecostal-Charismatic Christianity 1 (2010)

December 6, 345 (traditional date): Nicholas, bishop of Myra (right), one of the most popular saints in the Greek and Latin churches, dies.

Eventually, stories of his generosity and cheer became part of the Christmas tradition, and St. Nicholas became the basis for Santa Claus.

December 18, 1707: Charles Wesley, who founded the Methodist movement with his brother John, is born in England. A celebrated and prolific hymnwriter, his Hark the Herald Angels Sing is widely sung this time of year.

December 18, 1865: Slavery is abolished in the United States as the 13th Amendment to the Constitution is ratified. Many of the abolitionists who pushed for its passage were Christians seeking to make America more like the Kingdom of God.

December 24, 1223: Francis of Assisi stages history’s first living nativity scene, complete with live animals, in a cave near Greccio, Italy.

December 24, 1818: Franz Gruber composes the music for Silent Night in the St. Nicholas Church of Oberndorf, Austria.

December 27, 1784: Francis Asbury is ordained superintendent of the Methodist Church in America at the famous “Christmas Conference” (left) held in Baltimore, Maryland. He soon took the title “bishop.”

December 29, 1851: The first Young Men’s Christian Association (Y.M.C.A.) in the U.S. is organized in Boston.

December 30, 1823: Charles G. Finney, the most effective evangelist in American history, is licensed to preach.

December 30, 1852: Future U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes marries “Lemonade Lucy,” so called because, as first lady, she forbade alcohol in the Executive Mansion.

The Hayeses (right, photographed on their wedding day) were both devout Methodists who began each day with prayer and organized Sunday evening worship services at the White House.

Adapted with permission from ChristianHistory.net.

United Methodist Bishop Mack B. Stokes died last week just shy of his 101st birthday.

Bishop Mack B. Stokes (UMNS photo)

Below are insights from Bishop Stokes on the topic of human sexuality, offered from the standpoint of Christianity’s historic teaching and the particular emphasis of Wesleyan believers regarding on holiness of heart and life.

The material is excerpted from the out-of-print book Scriptural Holiness For the United Methodist Christian (Discipleship Resources, 1987).

Bishop Stokes’ other books include The Holy Spirit in the Wesleyan Heritage (1993), Major United Methodist Beliefs (revised 1998), and person-to-Person: Building a Relationship with God Through Prayer (2007).

Marion “Mack” Boyd Stokes served on the faculty of Emory University’s Candler School of Theology from 1941 until 1972, when he was elected to serve as a bishop of the United Methodist Church.

(NOTE: References below to the United Methodist Book of Discipline have been updated to conform to current wording and paragraph numbering.)

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When God created human beings in his image, God made them male and female (Gen. 1:27). And God called them to be “fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28)…. Therefore, in keeping with the biblical revelation, “we affirm that sexuality is God’s good gift to all persons” (¶161F, The Book of Discipline—2008).

As is the case with all human desires, sexual desires need to be directed and controlled. God’s call to holiness includes Christian stewardship of our sexuality. For this reason the biblical teaching is that “sexual relations are affirmed only with the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage” (¶161F).

This raises serious questions…. What about premarital sex? What about homosexuality? What about promiscuity? What about adultery?…

[W]hen God’s love is immediately present and operative in us, how do we act?… For one thing, we act in full respect for the sacredness of our own body and soul, as well as for the body and soul of the other person…. It is not enough to think in terms of “consenting adults.” That is relevant in democratic courts of law…. [But] Christian youth and adults are governed by the presence of the living Christ in them and reserve for their life-partners in marriage the full expression of their sexuality….

[In regard to homosexuality,] the basic question is: What does holiness — the love of God and neighbor — move us to do?

Beyond question there are persons with homosexual tendencies. And beyond question they are precious in the sight of God. Christ’s grand redemptive work has been done for all. And all are called to be redeemed by grace through faith. But is the practice of homosexuality in keeping with God’s holy purpose for our lives?

Among the ancient Greeks and Romans the practice of homosexuality was condoned. And among some people today this practice is condoned and even publicly acclaimed. But in the Hebrew-Christian heritage this practice has not been approved. It has been repudiated as contrary to the revealed purpose of God for our lives.

Our standards are not to be governed by the pagans of ancient Greece and Rome. Nor are they to be guided by the standards and values of those of our own time who are not interested in what the Holy Creator requires.

It is one thing to have homosexual tendencies — just as it is to have tendencies toward promiscuity — but it is another to practice it. This is why we United Methodists say that “we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching” (¶161F)….

[As regards promiscuity, i]s it not one of the cheapest and most contemptible ways of using others as means to the gratification of elemental selfish desires? And is not this on the side of evil and against God and his righteousness?… In the light of the Bible and God’s holy purpose, promiscuity is as far removed from the grace of God in Christ as hell is from heaven….

[In summary, w]e may say that scriptural holiness leads us to practice the formula: In singleness, chastity; in marriage, fidelity.


Related posts
What will the bishops do?
Worth reading: ‘Forgetting How to Blush: United Methodism’s Compromise with the Sexual Revolution’
Chasing away young people by being faithful to the gospel?
What is at stake in the battle over marriage
Should United Methodists agree to disagree on homosexuality?
A word from Mr. Wesley: Holiness in singleness
Why the United Methodist Church cannot condone homosexuality
Pro-homosexuality foundation pours millions into Catholic and mainline Protestant dissident groups
Riley Case: Retired bishops’ statement is a sign of UMC’s sickness
Renewal & Reform Coalition responds to retired bishops’ call to alter UMC’s sexuality standards
In GBCS article, UM elder argues against celibacy for single clergy
Board of Church and Society sex-ed writer: Sex outside of marriage can be ‘moral, ethical’
Judicial Council overturns bishop’s ruling on sexuality statement
Billy Abraham on United Methodism: ‘There is no common faith among us’

Related articles information
Why The Church is so concerned with same-sex marriage and homosexual ordination | Timothy C. Tennent (Nov. 26, 2012)
United Methodists uphold policy that calls homosexual acts ‘incompatible with Christian teaching’ | Daniel Burke, Religion News Service (May 3, 2012)
The church addresses marriage and sexuality | Thomas A. Lambrecht, Good News (January/February 2012)
Outsider influence over homosexuality at General Conference | Karen Booth, Good News (January/February 2012)
Eros defended or eros defiled — What do Wesley and the Bible say? | Ben Witherington, The Bible and Culture (Patheos.com) (Feb. 14, 2011)
Christianity elevates sexual morality (a historical overview of the Christian church’s teaching on sexual morality) — Chapter 3 of How Christianity Changed the World | Alvin Schmidt (Zondervan, 2004 — via Google Books)
Book: Staying the Course: Supporting the Church’s Position on Homosexuality (ordering details) | Maxie Dunnam and H. Newton Malony, ed. (Abingdon Press, 2003)
Anyone who works under the authority or auspices of the Church must be held to the highest standards of behavior, free of misconduct in any form | UMSexualEthics.org
United Methodist churches perform same-sex weddings with one foot in the closet | Amanda Hess, TBD.com (Sept. 30, 2010)
UM Judicial Council backs clergy dismissal over affair | Linda Bloom, UMNS (April 27, 2010)
What the evidence really says about Scripture and homosexual practice: Five issues (PDF) | Robert A. J. Gagnon (March 2009)
How churches can refine message on homosexuality | Robin Russell, United Methodist Reporter (May 19, 2008)
The church and homosexuality | Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker, e-Review (Florida United Methodist News Service) (July 12, 2006)
Resources list: Ministry for and with homosexual persons (requested by the UMC’s 2004 General Conference) (PDF) | United Methodist Publishing House
Homosexuality and the Bible (PDF) | R. Albert Mohler Jr., Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Homosexuality and the Great Commandment (an address to the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh) | Peter C. Moore (November 2002)
‘Good News’ says push to accept homosexual practice threatens to split United Methodist Church | United Methodist News Service (May 6, 1997)
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