Wesley on Preaching

John Wesley is the founder of Methodism (for better or for worse), from which the branch of Christianity I serve in grew. I found this great quote in Willard’s Hearing God book and thought it deserves it’s own post.

I do preach to as many as desire to hear, every night and morning. You ask, what I would do with them: I would make them virtuous and happy, easy in themselves, and useful to others. Whither would I lead them? To heaven; to God the Judge, the lover of all, and to Jesus the mediator of the New Covenant. What religion do I preach? The religion of love; the law of kindness brought to light by the gospel. What is this good for? To make all who receive it enjoy God and themselves: to make them all like God; lovers of all; contented int heir lives; and crying out at their death, in calm assurance, “O grave, where is they victory! Thanks be unto God who giveth me the victory, through my Lord Jesus Christ.”

Willard, Hearing God

Dallas Willard is a professor at USC and an author. This book, Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God, is considered a classic on prayer and one’s relationship with Jesus. My dad suggested this book to me a couple years ago, and I read it with my book club.

The book is great for understanding the way that God desires to communicate with His people and the conversational nature of God. Willard spends a great deal of pages on the power of God expressed vocally (in words) and the way that the universe works according to words, especially God’s words.

There is one point where he seems to say that ESP is an actual and real phenomenon. Which is striking to me. How come nobody noticed this and told me about this when I read about this book? It left me wondering, does everybody just assume this is real?

If you want to have a more conversational prayer life with Jesus, this book will help. It is pretty wordy though, so it is a slow read. The very end has a 7 point list of everything he says, you could just read that if you wanted to spend only 10 minutes in this book. If that’s the case though, you probably need to slow down and relax if you want to have a conversational relationship with God!

Here’s some quotes:

  • p.32, “Our highest calling and opportunity in life is to love him with all our being.”
  • p.33, “Like King Saul many of us have our own versions of a witch of Endor.”
  • p.69, “[Jesus] taught in parables so that those who did not really want to hear the truth could avoid it.”
  • p.70, “When our lives are devoted to the will of God, he has reason to speak to us.”
  • p.111, “It would not be too much to say, however, that where these phenomena [visions, dreams and angels] were the main, as opposed to occasional, means of interaction, it indicates a less developed spiritual life both in the individual and in the church group.”
  • p.111, “That Aaron and Miriam could be jealous of Moses is a sure indication that God could not trust them with the kind of knowledge he shared freely with Moses.”
  • p.118, “Great faith, like great strength in general, is revealed by the ease of its workings. As ‘the quality of mercy is not strained,’ so also with faith. Most of what we think we see as the struggle of faith is really the struggle to act as if we had faith when in fact we do not.”
  • p.129, “‘…we met ‘a certain centurion.’ He had implicit faith in Jesus- not, it seems, on a religious basis but from his secular knowledge of the power of authoritative words.”
  • p.212, “Jesus came to respond to the universal human need to know how to live well.”

Peterson, The Pastor

As far as pastoring goes, I don’t know of another author who has wrestled with this vocation more (and better), and from within, than Eugen Peterson. He’s a church planter, an author of books and he did translation/paraphrasing work on The Message, a modern day language version of the Bible. He’s been a big influence on so many.

So, this book by Peterson, The Pastor: A Memoir was given to me as a gift, and it was an amazing gift. Peterson is gifted similarly but differently than I. He’s well thinking, yet primarily priestly. I love to be theological, yet I’m primarily prophetic. Peterson manages to share his struggle with being a pastor right in the contexts of his life and his relationships. He opens his life to the reader and brings us into the journey of his life.

I’m not sure how people who aren’t pastors would dig it, but pastors would all grow from this book. It’s simple and easy to read, yet profound and asks deep questions of calling, motivation, values and direction.

Here’s some killer quotes:

  • p.4, “The vocation of pastor has been replaced by the strategies of religious entrepreneurs with business plans. Any kind of continuity with pastors in times past is virtually nonexistent.”
  • p.10, “My father boasted to his friends that we even had running water: ‘Eugene runs down to the lake with a bucket, and runs back up the hill with the water.’ “
  • p. 16, “…the most effective strategy for change, for revolution – at least on the large scale that the kingdom of God involves – comes from a minority working from the margins.”
  • p.29, “No need for hurry if you’re confident in who you are.”
  • p.33, “The way we learn something is more influential than the something that we learn. No content comes into our lives free-floating: it is always embedded in a form of some kind.”
  • p.90, “I realized that for most of my life the people I had been living with and who had taught me had been primarily interested in getting the truth of the gospel and the Bible right, explaining it and defending it…Barth didn’t have much interest in that. He was a witness (a favorite word of his). He was calling attention to the lived quality of the Christian life, the narrative of the Bible, the good news of the gospel. Listening to God as God reveals himself in Christ and the Bible and preaching.”
  • p.254, “But there is a problem here: a program is an abstraction and inherently nonpersonal. A program defines people in terms of what they do, not who they are. The more program, the less person. Church was understood not in terms of personal relationships and a personal God but in terms of ‘getting things done’. This struck me as violation of the inherent personal dignity of souls.”
  • p.258, “A way of worship that was nonmanipulative. A way of community that was nonprogrammatic. One of the things I relished about being a pastor was being immersed in these ambiguities, the not being in control that allowed for the slow emergence of insights and resolve that developed into confessions of faith, and the unplanned, spontaneous attentiveness ‘one another’ that over the years became a culture of hospitality.”
  • p.310, quoting a Canadian, “Welcome to godless Canada, this godforsaken desert.”
  • p.313, “By this time we were used to godless and godforsaken, to death and deserts. Jan and I had been living among the godless in godforsaken deserts all our lives under the patronage of Pastor John of Patmos. Barth again: ‘only where graves are is there resurrection.’ We rather like the company.”

10 random order difficult things I didn’t know would be difficult when I became a pastor

  1. Watching people walk away from Jesus. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people pray and pray and pray for some blessing from God (often someone of the opposite gender, sometimes an opportunity or some silly material thing) and then, when God gives them their desires, it is revealed that God was not their desire but merely a means to their desire. Every single time I watch someone walk away from Jesus (in disobedience) it makes my stomach physically hurt. It sucks. It is always happening.
  2. Having normal conversations. If you are a man, you know the opener question in any conversation is going to be about your job. Try telling someone you are a pastor and see if they suddenly have to exit the conversation. It’s nutty, but I get it. People are suddenly replaying the conversation in their head to see if they cussed. What ends up happening is I avoid asking what they do for a living, so that they don’t ask me. Instead I lead with questions like, “Dang, isn’t quantum mechanics complicated?!?” or “Can you believe the number of birds being killed by the vacuums created directly behind those electrical power generating wind turbines?” or I just yell “Pinko &%#$ Commie!”. They all have the same effect.
  3. Relaxing. For real, I have serve the craziest, bravest, boldest church I’ve ever known. There are people in our church who are just amazing and lives that are being completely transformed. I love every day of my life, and I get so much energy out of leading people who serve our church and our community that I would do this 24/7 if my body could handle it. I do rest though, (and I do sleep!) because I know that it will hurt people if I burn out. So by resting, I’m actually helping. How strange is that!
  4. Not doing everything. Since I basically love everything about our church I would do everything, but (as we have learned, sometimes the hard way) then nothing gets done. If I try to do everything and make every decision I become a bottle neck for The Grove. I limit the Grove if I greedily try to be involved everywhere. When I give the Grove away, it is so much better! There’s also a weird expectation that some people have that the pastor knows everything about what is going on in the church. I think it might be because in the average sized church, that can be true. In larger organizations, though, there’s no way senior leaders can know everything . It’s through trust (not control) that the organization is able to grow and move quickly. For pastors this means trust in God and trust in people.
  5. When people leave. Some people have left the Grove because of my preaching, without having the stones to have a conversation with me. That only bothers me because, as their pastor, I haven’t taught them to have stones. The real people leaving that bothers me is when people leave because they “fit somewhere else better” or “this just isn’t home for us”. The actual reason this hurts is because they are right (for whatever reason) and so I have to choose to either think they are stupid, or admit that The Grove isn’t God’s gift to all humanity. It’s pretty easy to see which of those is more Christlike, but dang if it ain’t the more difficult way!
  6. Complexity. I like when theology fits into pretty categories and I can make fancy blog posts about it. Life is so easy when we ignore reality. In real life though, it’s hard to know where people are at and what people are thinking. It’s hard to know what is a doctrinal preference and what is biblical and what to do in a specific situation. It’s even harder when there are vocal people in your ear on both sides. It’s hard when you can make a decision that will blow up (in a positive way) on area of the the church, but the primary cost will be borne by another ministry area in the church. Life is so much more complex when you try to live in the way of Jesus without settling for a legalistic set of rules and doctrines that provide more safety than effectiveness.
  7. Pressure to rush. I move really, really slow on important stuff. Which means our church moves slow on important stuff – even though we move quickly in general. I would rather make the right decision than 4 wrong decisions to reveal the right one. For light stuff, I move quick; when it’s a no-brainer, I don’t think a lot. This makes the larger challenge identifying what’s important and what’s not. Nevertheless, there’s often a lot of pressure to make decisions. Sometimes this pressure is real and affects people, so it’s actually difficult to move slowly and still demonstrate care.
  8. When friends leave the ministry. Being a pastor involves a weird set of experiences and reality that many people just don’t get to experience. The same sort of camaraderie that you see among cops, firefighters and soldiers you can often find among pastors (except the pastors are more often overweight, wearing sweater vests and penny loafers). So pastors often develop unique friendships with other pastors who work alongside them which makes it incredibly difficult to see friends end up leaving vocational ministry. In just a moment’s thought I can identify almost 10 friends who were pastors and aren’t now. Most of the time, it’s a choice, not a scandal. It’s often just a wearing down that eventually breaks and they walk away. Whenever I hear about another friend getting out, it’s harder on me than I think it should be. I look for blame, I look for solutions, I even look to see if I know a spot where they could have a great experience and not walk away. It’s a weird feeling and it affects me in a unique way.
  9. When I make the wrong decision. More than once since we’ve started The Grove, I’ve had to go to people and apologize for decisions that I made that were wrong. I didn’t know they were the wrong choice when I made them and I had no malice, but I was wrong. For a high intensity, driven leader type of person that is so hard. My sinful nature wants to just ignore it, or justify myself with self-righteousness. It’s ugly. I do admit that there is an amazing amount of freedom in sitting in a friends’ living room and apologizing and being forgiven – for honest and poor decisions. It completely takes away my fake awesomeness that I parade around and lets people know who I am honestly. However, that freedom comes at a deep price because I have made a bad call and need to humble myself. For me, that’s difficult because even though other people make mistakes, I don’t. Surely I wouldn’t have taken that apple from Eve, right! Right…… This is a difficult lie my sinful nature tells me. The truth is in Jesus though, and Jesus is all about redemption, restoration, renewal and revival!
  10. Terror. It is terrifying to me that adults – grown, mature, smart adults – listen to what I say and then live in the way of Jesus accordingly. I recently had a friend send me a message about how a sermon I preached in 1999 was so helpful in her life. That is so amazing. To think that God could use someone like me to do such incredible stuff is just trippy – I wonder if God is sure about this part of his plan? I know that this could be easily a silly thing, like a fake humility, but it’s real. I have friends who listen to my preaching online during the week. People in our church get together and talk about the sermons I give on Sunday. People are trusting me to help them understand life and follow Jesus. For real, if I screw this up and they get to heaven and Jesus questions them, people are going to say, “Our pastor told us…” – and then Jesus is going to have some really big questions for me! The Bible talks about how teachers will be judged more severely, and I take that to heart. God, who says he knows what he is doing, has decided to work through my life and my teachings into this small band of people in this generation and because I fear God that is the most serious decision that affects my life and my prayers.