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A prayer of hope for the New Year

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)

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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).

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Christmas and the Holy Spirit

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)

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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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A Thanksgiving prayer

This classic prayer of thanksgiving is adapted from the Book of Common Prayer:

Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you’ve done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole creation, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love.

thanksgiving_prayerWe thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for the loving care which surrounds us on every side.

We thank you for our successes, which satisfy and delight us — but also for the disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.

Above all, we thank you for your Son, Jesus Christ — for the truth of his Word and the example of his life.

We thank you for his dying, through which he overcame death — and for his rising to life again, in which we are raised to the life of your Kingdom.

Father, may we — at all times and in all places — give thanks to you in all things. Amen.

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Bill Bouknight

This post is by Dr. William R. Bouknight, associate director of the Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church.

It first appeared in a slightly different form in the October 2012 Confessing Movement e-newsletter.

Bill Bouknight is the author of The Authoritative Word: Preaching Trust in a Skeptical Age (Abingdon, 2001) and If Disciples Grew Like Kudzu (Bristol House, 2007).

Links have been added by MethodistThinker.com. — Ed.

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When members of the United Methodist Council of Bishops gather next week (Nov. 4-9) at St. Simons Island, Ga., they will find it difficult to ignore a retired bishop, Melvin G. Talbert.

Bishop Talbert has urged more than 1,000 UM clergy who have committed to officiating at union ceremonies for homosexual couples “to stand firm in their resolve” — even though officiating at homosexual unions would violate the United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline.

Furthermore, the Western Jurisdiction has asked Bishop Talbert to oversee a grassroots movement that challenges the entire UMC to operate as if Paragraph 161F of the Book of Discipline “does not exist.” That is called nullification.

In reaction to these developments, more than 70 UM orthodox clergy and laity sent an open letter to the Council of Bishops urging them to “publicly censure” Bishop Talbert. The letter also asks the executive committee of the Council to file a formal complaint against the bishop.

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No-so-great expectations

Despite strong concern within the church about Bishop Talbert’s conduct, my guess is that the Council will do little or nothing about this matter.

From the UM
Book of Discipline

¶161B Marriage

— We affirm the sanctity of the marriage covenant that is expressed in love, mutual support, personal commitment, and shared fidelity between a man and a woman…. We support laws in civil society that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

¶161F Human Sexuality

…Although all persons are sexual beings whether or not they are married, sexual relations are affirmed only within the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage….

The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider[s] this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God’s grace is available to all….

This pledge by more than 1,000 UM clergy to perform same-sex unions is not new. It was on the Council’s agenda a year ago. Yet the Council could not even bring itself to ask those 1,000 clergy to refrain from violating the Discipline.

(Do you suppose that if 1,000 clergy threatened to withhold apportionment payments, the Council would be that reticent?)

The Council’s problem is that it is hopelessly divided about Scriptural authority, theological worldview, and sexual morality.

Since about 1970, some bishops have been elected who have a relativistic view of Scriptural authority. Some ignore and/or don’t believe in some United Methodist doctrines spelled out in the Articles of Religion and Confession of Faith.

On the days of their ordination, they affirmed their belief in all of those doctrines (PDF—see pages 22 and 23). But somehow over the years they have changed. Yet not one of them has reported that change to the Board of Ordained Ministry and offered to turn in his or her credentials.

It is a safe prediction that the Council of Bishops will take no action with regard to Bishop Talbert. Nor will it ask those 1,000 clergy not to violate the Book of Discipline.

Instead, the Council will issue a call for all United Methodists to be tolerant, non-judgmental, and nice — and to engage in holy conferencing.

And the United Methodist Church in the U.S. will continue to decline.

Therefore, the Lord seems to be passing the torch of leadership to the African Methodists. Instead of rebelling against the Book of Discipline, they are focused on making disciples of Jesus Christ for the eternal salvation of persons and for the transformation of the world.


Related posts
Group of clergy, laity calls for censure of Bishop Talbert
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?
General Conference 2012: More attempts to change UM standards on sexual behavior
If defiance continues, United Methodism may come crashing down
Bishop Mack Stokes: Holiness in human sexuality
A word from Mr. Wesley: Holiness in singleness
Why the United Methodist Church cannot condone homosexuality
Renewal & Reform Coalition responds to retired bishops’ call to alter UMC’s sexuality standards
Renewal & Reform Coalition releases letter to Council of Bishops
Judicial Council says no to same-sex marriage
Billy Abraham on United Methodism: ‘There is no common faith among us’

Related articles and information
Bishop accused of urging disobedience | Heather Hahn, United Methodist News Service (Aug. 24, 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)
Book Review: Forgetting How To Blush: United Methodism’s Compromise with the Sexual Revolution by Karen Booth | James V. Heidinger II, Good News (March/April 2012)
UM clergy vow to wed homosexual couples | Sam Hodges, UM Reporter (July 15, 2011)
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)
Slavery, homosexuality, and not being of one mind | Riley B. Case, via The Sundry Times (July 1, 2008)
How churches can refine message on homosexuality | Robin Russell, United Methodist Reporter (May 19, 2008)
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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