by John Weston | May 23, 2018
Justification in popular American culture today is almost portrayed as a vice. All of us try to justify our actions, even when we know we are veering off target or even when we are out-right sinning. Have you ever heard politically-motivated leaders say, “The ends justify the means?” Spooky! But for those of us adopted into God's family through the blood of Jesus Christ, the term “justification” has an entirely different sense, and one that is critical for understanding just how it is that we have faith that saves us.
When each of us experiences spiritual “justification,” we are each experiencing the forgiveness of God through faith in his Son who died for us all. John Wesley and the early Methodists understood this to be a core and pivotal doctrine of the Church universal. In his sermon, “Justification by Faith,” Wesley explains the biblical path to this necessary state of grace. His main (but by no means his only) scriptural reference for that message was Romans 4:5 “But people are declared righteous because of their faith, not because of their work.” (New Living Translation) What the NLT translates as “declared righteous” is “justified” in the King James Version which Wesley and most people used in that day. The basic flow is this (some of the wording is more Weston than Wesley):
People Are Messed Up: People are made in the image of God, but ever since Adam & Eve's fall from grace, all of us are “children of wrath,” living in a fallen state requiring God's forgiveness and spiritual repair. The only solution to rescue humanity was for God's Son to die in our place, receiving the penalty of death and thereby satisfying God's perfect, righteous anger, or “wrath.”
Justification Is Pardon; not ignoring or overlooking or choosing not act on what we have done wrong. Nothing has been swept under the rug or deferred to a sub-committee or expired because of a divine statute of limitations. God is the perfect judge and he knows all that each of us has done wrong. And he is legally justified to absolve us of the penalties by the substitution of his Son's death for each of ours.
Justification Is for the Ungodly. But here is the catch: EVERYONE needs to be justified by Christ's sacrificial death. Compared to God's perfection ALL OF US are ungodly. Good deeds before you have faith? Nope. You might as well try to buy the moon. Good deeds after you have faith? They're great (and necessary) but they don't buy you the moon or your entry ticket into heaven—they simply express gratitude and confirm that God is working in your life.
Justification Is by Faith. You can't produce God's forgiveness. You can't earn it (or the moon). You can't deserve it. That drives some people crazy. But it's the only way: heaven is for people who are humble and know they deserve hell, but instead are receiving forever love. You have to believe to be justified—it doesn't automatically accrue because you're sucking wind. No one is entitled to God's forgiveness.
Making sense? Justification is everything to do with God's Grand Scales of Justice tipping heavily out of our favor, and God finding a way to make it right. Justification is about God's forgiveness because of Jesus' death on the cross. The instant a person turns from sin and receives this forgiveness, something wonderful happens: the Holy Spirit comes into their heart and starts house cleaning, as well as adopting that person into God's family. This new process is called “sanctification,” but that is for another time.
Justification is critical for every Christian to understand. It puts everything in perspective, puts each of us in our place, and puts God in the highest place. Without it, heaven would be full of a bunch of seething, spoiled brats who can't get enough of ourselves. But that doesn't describe the residents of heaven, does it? More like hell.
by John Weston | May 16, 2018
Baptism: sprinkle or immersion?
Bible: King James or any other English translation?
Food: always pray before eating, sometimes pray, or only on special occasions?
Prayer: eyes open or closed?
Music: classical hymns or contemporary choruses?
Worship atmosphere: quiet & contemplative or loud & lively?
Worship day: Saturday or Sunday or any day?
Worship posture: hands raised or hands down?
This is just the beginning of a long list of traditions and rituals that Christians don't agree on. Have you ever had an awkward moment where you were with another Christian and one of you was following a ritual or practice in a moment where the other wasn't? Yesterday I was at a Christian conference and we ate lunch together, and it was a gradual, staggered start for the food line. One of my table mates and I were the first to get back with our food. The rest of our table was out talking, in line, or out of the room. I was going to start eating without prayer, but my table mate said she would pray, so she bowed her head, and prayed, and I put my utensils down, put my head down, joined her in prayer and offered a prayer out loud as well when she finished.
When the church was merely years, not centuries old, there were a lot of traditions of man and commandments of God to sort through and figure what stays and what goes? Jesus had ushered in a new covenant, and some of the Law of Moses continued to be in effect (ethical statutes on matters like sexuality) while others became optional or passe (ceremonial statutes for things like worship format and dietary restrictions). But Jesus didn't spell out each individual rule. The church had to figure it out with the aid of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 15). So there were a lot of awkward moments and also a lot of heated arguments over what things were important and essential and what weren't. The Apostle Paul knew this, and after giving perhaps his greatest and most complete explanation of people, sin, the Holy Spirit, and how salvation works in Romans 1-12, he attends to some housekeeping matters in the last few chapters including this matter:
Romans 14:1-4 Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. 2 For instance, one person believes it’s all right to eat anything. But another believer with a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. 3 Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don’t. And those who don’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them. 4 Who are you to condemn someone else’s servants? Their own master will judge whether they stand or fall. And with the Lord’s help, they will stand and receive his approval.
Before Jesus came, dietary restrictions were a big deal to the pre-Christian Jews. If you didn't keep kosher, you couldn't go to the temple and people might whisper about you behind your back or worse. But Paul says essentially, “Keep your salvation in Christ center stage, and don't waste time bickering about stuff in the store room.” Sometimes it may mean humoring someone and not eating pork when sharing a meal with them. Or it might be the other way around: someone keeps their mouth shut when bacon is on the breakfast menu but they are still keeping kosher. Some Christians call this line of thinking the principle of “the weaker brother,” referring to Christians who may not understand that a particular opinion they hold is not a command of God.
Give other Christians a break, and I'm guessing that over time we will give you a break too.
(I can report that a few minutes after my table mate and I gave thanks for our meal a pastor got on the microphone and offered a blessing for the meal in progress. Phew! Double coverage...!)
by John Weston | May 9, 2018
Religious divisions can be the hardest and most bitter to overcome. Consider this: when Jesus was ministering in 1st century Palestine in Roman-occupied Jewish territories, where did he experience the most friction? Was it from Roman rulers? Was it from masses of people who were offended by his teachings? Not even close. It was from the religious leaders. The Saducees you could understand why they were against him: with no belief in an afterlife, their hold on the temple was their only shot at serving God and enjoying life (look at Matthew 22:23ff). But the scriptural Pharisees should have known better, right? They went round and round with Jesus (see John 9:39ff for one of many examples in all four gospels). Holding onto control and power? There was some of that. But also there was disagreement over deeply held beliefs. Some of those deeply held beliefs became wedges between them and God. It was just hard. Bad attitudes only compounded the difficulty for the Lord. Ultimately the cross was the only way forward.
This Saturday, May 12th, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. @ Olympia First United Methodist Church, clergy and laity from our denomination will be gathering for a “Table Talk” on human sexuality. We are going to practice respectful, loving conversation and debate about the issues that are flash-points for conflict. I will be attending, and anyone is welcome to come and be part. You can RSVP here. I am expecting at least a couple of our church's leaders will accompany me. Do I relish this opportunity, knowing that I will represent a tiny minority who uphold a traditional approach to sexual ethics that is informed by face-value statements from the Bible in context? No, I don't. But I am happy to live out my calling to be a voice for orthodox, classic expressions of the Christian faith in a region where progressive approaches have dominated for decades.
This is hard to talk about. But it doesn't mean that we shouldn't. If we can't talk about it, there's something even bigger that's going wrong. If you want to come, RSVP with the Conference, and let me know: email@example.com. I'm happy to give a ride to whoever wants to come. You don't even have to agree with me. Everyone has a voice. Part of the Good News is that having the right opinion about every issue is not what gets us into heaven: it's the cross of Jesus.
Let's pray for Saturday.
Proverbs 15:1-4 A gentle answer turns away wrath, but harsh words stir up anger. 2 The wise person makes learning a joy; fools spout only foolishness. 3 The LORD is watching everywhere, keeping his eye on both the evil and the good. 4 Gentle words bring life and health; a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.
Titus 3:1-2 Remind your people to submit to the government and its officers. They should be obedient, always ready to do what is good. 2 They must not speak evil of anyone, and they must avoid quarreling. Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone.
James 3:17-18 17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no partiality and is always sincere. 18 And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of goodness.
John 13:34-35 34 “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. 35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples."
by Pastor John Weston | May 7, 2018
A Taste of Heaven
By John Weston
When I lived in southern California, I was working at Pitzer College and volunteering in the neighborhood where I lived in nearby Pomona. Pomona was very brown, while Pitzer was pretty white. But one of my co-workers, the Dean of Students, was a young African American woman named Mickey Clowney, and she was not only great with students, but was also a sister in the Lord for me. She knew I was living as part of a team of friends who were reaching out to our neighbors. At home I was learning about Mexican American culture. But Mickey invited me to her church to experience worship in a largely African American congregation. The music was movin'. The people were clappin' and throwing their hands up in the air. And the guest speaker was a teacher and prophet who spoke in tongues and could have made serious money as a stand-up comic. Because Mickey's church was so welcoming and encouraging, I have continued to jump on opportunities to worship with people ethnically different from myself, and I am never disappointed. Why is that?
When we worship and fellowship and serve with brothers and sisters from different backgrounds and cultures, we get a taste of heaven. Even if Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week in America today, heavenly will be exactly the opposite. Listen to John's description of this:
Revelation 7:9-10 9 After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white and held palm branches in their hands. 10 And they were shouting with a mighty shout, "Salvation comes from our God on the throne and from the Lamb!"
Our church has a taste of heaven every week. Since Christian Bible Fellowship merged with Silverdale United Methodist Church years ago, our church is more diverse than ever. How are we doing with that? Are we getting to know each other? Are we truly one church, one body? Are we getting to know people who grew up with different experiences from our own? Do we reach out to each other with the confidence that not only are we all Americans, but more importantly we are all children of God, literally brothers and sisters in Christ?
Coming up on Tuesday, May 15th, a group from our church will be attending a short conference at Seattle Pacific University:
Multiethnic and Missional? Leading Diverse and Vibrant Churches
Tuesday, May 15, 2018 from 12:00 - 2:00 p.m., with optional breakout groups from 2:00 - 3:00 p.m.
Upper Gwinn, Seattle Pacific University, $25
Led by Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil, Dr. David Leong, and Dr. Darrell Guder.
Come with us. Register yourself online and let me know so we can all caravan together. A group from SUMC is already forming. Click here for more info and to register!
Tomorrow evening, Thursday, May 3rd, 6:30 p.m. @ SUMC a small group of us will be gathering both from our church and from other churches in Kitsap who are going to this event. We will fellowship, pray, and plan our transportation together to the event. You should join us!
Who doesn't want another taste of heaven?