Will we bend our knees?

I have been away from regular blogging for some time, and I am finding it difficult to get into the regular pattern once again. Such is the way with all things in life, yes?

As I try to pick up this habit and discipline again, I am going to return to something that has long sustained me in both my writing and my spiritual life: Reading and responding to the works of John Wesley.

In the past, I have written some on his 13 sermons on the Sermon on the Mount. For a time, I am going to read through them again and write about some of the things I encounter in them. I hope it is useful for you.

And so, let us begin with his first sermon in this series, where I come across these words.

Let us observe, who it is that is here speaking, that we may take heed how we hear. It is the Lord of heaven and earth, the Creator of all; who, as such, has a right to dispose of all his creatures; the Lord our Governor, whose kingdom is from everlasting, and ruleth over all; the great Lawgiver, who can well enforce all his laws, being “able to save and to destroy,” yea, to punish with “everlasting destruction from his presence and from the glory of his power.”

In my notes in the margin of my book, I wrote in response to this: “our democratic instincts rebel against this.” And they do, do they not?

We Christians who have been born and raised in America have within us a deep passion and prejudice in favor of democracy. We consider it by reflex the only just way for a country to be organized and resist by instinct any suggestion otherwise. We expect our rulers to be responsive to the “will of the people” and for the laws of our land to be constantly adjusted to the changing — we always flatter ourselves by saying advancing — norms and values of our society.

All of this prepares us poorly to be people who understand what we mean when we say “Jesus is Lord.” We use the words, but we do not really grasp what we say or we say it without really believing it. In some part of our soul, we do not bend the knee.

Of course, this problem did not start with us. Genesis 3 is the same story. Exodus 32 is the same story. And on and on.

We can recite the creeds as many times as we like, but we still must wrestle with the temptation to say in our heart: “Yes, Jesus is Lord, but …”

The simple truth is this. Jesus is Lord, the Creator of all, and he can therefore do whatever he wishes. We have no “rights” to invoke against him. If Jesus were to require our life right now, we have no room to protest. If Jesus lifts us up, we have no reason to boast at our achievements and if Jesus brings us low, we have no reason to complain at our treatment.

If we cannot say “amen” to this, then there is very little chance we will hear the rest of what Jesus has to say in the Sermon on the Mount with proper ears.

And so, I am called to examine my heart. Do I say the words “Jesus is Lord” and truly mean what I say? Or do I reserve some of my democratic demands to press on God? Do I bend the knee? Do I say it is better to die on my feet? Am I ready to be taught or do I have things I want the teacher to agree to first?

I pray that Jesus gives me supple knees and a ready heart.

A few pretty ideas and nothing more

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them. (John 3:36)

Do you ever encounter this in church? Do you ever meet Christians who cling tightly to verses that promise life to those who believe in Christ and yet ignore the call that Christ puts on their lives? They act as if “belief” in Christ means nothing more than saying a few words with sincerity about his divine nature and his resurrection from the dead.

I find this attitude rather widespread and also quite difficult to change. Christians have been persuaded that this thin version of belief is all that is required for them to get to heaven, and so they rest happy in the delusion that Jesus Christ, their Lord and Savior, calls them to do nothing more than to hold a few pretty ideas in their head. They cling to John 3:16 and Romans 10:9 and look for loopholes in the Sermon on the Mount and the parable of the sheep and the goats.

The phrase I picked up from somewhere along the way goes like this: “The hardest people to convert to Jesus Christ are nominal Christians.”

Have you found this to be true? Do you have an experience with moving people deeper in their belief?

A person not a self-help program

This is an old blog post, but it came across my Facebook feed this morning, so it is new to me.

United Methodist Communications shared this post connecting a song by Tim McGraw with the teaching of 19th century British Methodism. The gist of the short article is that McGraw’s song, which calls people to “always stay humble and kind” mirrors the advice of Methodist devotional writers in the 19th century.

Of course, on the surface, this is probably true. Humility and kindness are fruits of the Spirit, and so it is not at all out of place for a Christian writer to praise them. But in making this connection, the article misses a rather large and important point.

What is the point?

Well, for Christians the point is Jesus Christ.

We are Christians because of Jesus. Our faith is in a person not a set of values or character traits. If we focus on the outward things — the character traits — we can discover that we have the surface but none of the depth.

The truth is this: People are capable of being humble and kind without knowing Jesus Christ. There are kind atheists and humble Muslims. There are generous Buddhists and peaceful Hindus. We worship Jesus Christ, we follow him, we pray to him because he is the Son of God, the Word, the Lord of Lords and King of Kings, the Savior of all humanity. Through him we are forgiven and saved from the power of the devil and grasp of evil.

Christianity is not a set of socially valuable character traits. It is about a person.

Does this mean praising humility and kindness is a bad thing? Well, of course not. But my sense of American Christianity is that we are very good at looking at the outward things and confusing them for the real thing. We point to humility and kindness and fail to seek Jesus. We point with pride at never missing a Sunday worship service and always putting our tithe in the offering plate and ignore the fact that we have no living relationship with the one we worship. We put up posters in our churches of “The Three Simple Rules” and rarely look each other in the eye and ask “Do you know the Lord?”

I am sure I am not being entirely fair to the writer of the post that prompted this blog post of mine, but I do hope my concern is clear. Let us as the church make sure that we never confuse the main point of what we do and who we are. Let us always err on the side of too much Jesus and not enough of everything else. He is the reason we exist.