John Wesley Powell, the Grand Canyon and Methodism

My family is taking a trip to see the Grand Canyon. Various family members have long wanted to see this large hole in the ground, including myself. One of the few American famous places I have not been.

In preparation for the trip, I’ve been reading books about the Grand Canyon. I read a book about park rangers there and about all the gruesome ways people have died in and around the Grand Canyon, which was nice to know.

I also read part of a book about a fire ranger at the park. It got old after a while. “There was a fire. We put it out. We are awesome men.” Was pretty much every chapter.

I am now reading a biography of John Wesley Powell, who was the first white guy to go down the Colorado River and put the Grand Canyon on the map. It’s a good read.

As you may notice, Mr. Powell’s name is “John Wesley.” He was named after the founder of Methodism, as his parents were big into that.

An interesting side note: Powell’s parents were some of the founding people of Wheaton, Illinois and the founding of Wheaton College. I did not know that. Even at its beginning, Wheaton was considered a liberal school because of their views on alcohol and slavery, the two main social issues of the day.

Powell turned from his strict father’s strict Methodism and entered the realm of the natural sciences, much to his father’s annoyance–he wanted his son to be a pastor. This is right during the time of Darwinism taking off. He rejected the creation story of the Bible and dove right in to evolution.

It is amazing to me how much Christianity works into history. One of the things history classes miss out on in our public schools is an understanding of Christianity and how its teachings have led so many people to do so many things, many of those things being bad.

Dumping religion from history removes a prime motivator in historical figures. I am not one who thinks Christianity is the backbone of American culture, but you’re a fool if you don’t acknowledge its role in our nation’s past, for good and bad.

I find it interesting how many pastor’s kids (Powell’s dad preached in the Methodist church), left the religion of their childhood and made a mark in our history.

Anyway, I have no major point, other than–one reason to know Christianity is so you have a clue as to what’s going on in history class.

Where’s the Grace in “Let the Dead Bury Their Dead.”

Not long after Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, some guys told Him they’d like to follow Him. Jesus attempts to thwart their desire.

To the first, Jesus tells him that He has no place to lay His head. Are you sure you know what you’re asking? There is no creature comfort in following Christ.

The next guy said he’d like to follow BUT “suffer me first to go and bury my father.” Jesus replies with “Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead.”

I have heard the explanation that the man’s father was not dead yet, so the son was actually saying “let me go take care of my old dad until he dies.” This seems plausible since why would the guy be there in the first place if his dad had just died? People buried dead people the same day they died back then.

Since that’s the case, we tend to downplay the severity of Jesus’ words. We view this wannabe disciple as one who is looking for a loophole. “Let me chill for a few years, but I’ll get around to following you.”

But I believe this man had a sincere desire to follow Christ, and, at the same time, had a sincere desire to take care of his dying dad.

I think we do injustice to this man, as well as to Jesus’ point, if we view him as an excuse-making slacker.

Jesus’ words are severe. There is no sympathy. “Oh, sorry to hear about your dad.” There is no sentimentality, “You’re right, you should take care of the elderly, after all, he changed many of your diapers.”

Nope, “Let the dead bury their dead.”

What does that even mean? I think John Wesley put it best in his commentary, “When God calls, leave the business of the world to them who are dead to God.”

Surely you can’t be saying that following Christ means we don’t care for our elderly parents?

Well, if following Christ means that, then that is what He’s saying.

We like to soften the demands of Scripture. “Hey, what about that grace stuff, Jesus?”

If God is a God of grace, shouldn’t this man be given a break? Plenty of people are not following Jesus for dumber reasons than that.

In the end, it does not matter what anyone else is doing. When Christ calls, we are to listen, even if it does look ridiculous or cold hearted to a watching world.

Compassed About and Sin that so Easily Besets

Sin is an offense to God. Anything that is done against what God says is sin. If God never said anything, there would be no chance for sin. “With no law there is no transgression.”

As great as it is that God said stuff (how else would we be able to know Him?); it’s also a bummer, because we can then choose to go against Him.

The fact that we sin based on what God said, does not mean what God said is at fault, nor that God made us do it, nor that what God said is somehow unholy. The law is holy, just and good, but we are sold under sin.

We’re idiots.

We’ve taken God’s efforts to reveal Himself to us, and instead used it to rebel against Him. That’s so dumb.

Unfortunately, sin is all around us and even in us. We’re born into a sinful system where the moment of our conception also marks the moment we begin to die. We are born selfishly desiring to look out for ourselves.

A very mighty power is necessary to get us to live for something other than our own advancement and enjoyment.

That power is the grace of Jesus Christ.

But grace doesn’t just pop in and say, “OK, man, I’ve got it from here. You just sit back and enjoy the ride. I’ll take care of everything!”

Nope, there is still responsibility on our part.

That is a giant bummer to most people and many theologies have been devised to try to explain away human responsibility. I advise you not to go there. We will give an account for everything done in the body, whether good or bad. That’s the definition of “responsibility.”

Sin gets in the way of our progress toward God. Hebrews 12:1,2 tells us we keep pressing toward the end, keep looking to Jesus. There are a host of other faithful ones who went before us, they showed the way, they lived for a better land, you can too!

Interesting thing in Hebrews 12:1. He talks about being “compassed about” by a great cloud of witnesses, the faithful roll call of Hebrews 11.

Compassed about is a phrase from a Greek word meaning to lie all around, to fully encircle.

Later in the verse we are told to lay aside every weight and the sin that “so easily besets us.” Beset is from a Greek word meaning to stand all around.

So, get this! During our race of faith, we are surrounded by two things–first, there are faithful witnesses lying all around us. Second, there is sin standing all around us!

I don’t know entirely what to do with all that, but that’s cool! We’re surrounded by both good and bad, the difference is made in which of those things will you be looking at? Which one will you put off and which one will you follow?

Will we look at the sinful opportunities to indulge the flesh, or will we look to those who denied the fleshly lusts and lived for the world to come?

We should be choosing the one that helps us get to Christ quickest.

Graciously Christ offered Himself. He opened and completed faith. A great crowd of witnesses has already finished and gone on to Christ in the better country. We follow them there with the same end in mind.

Cool stuff.

Turning the Grace of our God into Lasciviousness

One of the false notions of grace is that it makes sin inconsequential.

There are some who think sin is just fine to do once a person “has grace.” Some even take it so far as to assume they won’t get natural consequences for sin because “God is gracious.”

Grace is indeed big, but there are some who force it right out of its boundaries and make it a joke.

These people turn “the grace of our God into lasciviousness.” When your notion of grace results in license; you’ve gone outside the bounds of Biblical revelation.

Making grace mean license is “denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.”

I’ll stick those two together for you the way Jude did.

“For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Jesus didn’t die so you could revel in sin. Jesus Christ is the embodiment of grace. Grace gives. Jesus Christ gave himself for our sins.

God’s grace, the thing that makes forgiveness/salvation possible, is summed up in what Christ did on the cross and His resurrection. The Gospel is God’s grace, His way of salvation for all who believe.

To take that Gospel, that grace, and turn it into, “Hey, no worries man! You are forgiven, go live it up in sin!” Is to deny Christ Himself.

Sin is bad.

We’re not supposed to do it.

Grace not only gets us out of past sin; it also has the power to help us overcome future temptation. “Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world.”

This deliverance isn’t just heaven in the future; it’s overcoming the world even now.

In the end, making grace mean “you can sin and get away with it,” isn’t making grace big at all, it’s merely feeding human lust. Real, true, great grace is seeing that not only does grace pardon; grace delivers!

The Man-Made and Biblical Adjectives of Grace

Grace is a great thing. Grace is foundational to Christianity. Grace should be talked about a lot.

Unfortunately, as with all things that are talked about a lot, many stupid things are said. People can’t leave well enough alone, they must press on to uncharted waters.

People want to appear to be novel and fresh. “Look at this new thing I discovered over here!”

Theology is like any other field–if you want attention, you have to come up with something new.

So, we can’t just talk about grace, we must talk about some new facet of grace that I, and I alone, have discovered. If we’re lucky, we might even get to start a new church over it.

Irresistible Grace is one example. Obviously, the Bible never speaks of grace as being irresistible. It’s a theological theory, that through much repetition, has come to be seen as “biblical.”

Prevenient Grace is a close second. Again, there is no such term in the Bible. Prevenient Grace is an Arminian idea that makes Arminianism just like Calvinism, only differing in terminology and keeping both parties entrenched in thinking they are not like the other at all. (How was that for a good attempt to offend all?!)

Theologians have also gone to talk about common grace, electing grace, preached grace, regenerating grace, justifying grace, adopting grace, ministry grace, sanctifying grace, empowering grace, provisional grace, financial grace, miraculous grace, persevering grace, glorifying grace, sacramental grace, and probably thousands more.

In the end, grace is grace. God didn’t have to define it further to build up any theological barricades to differentiate between orthodox and heretical.

For he that is not against us is on our part.” That sounds like grace.

God does use some words to further describe what Grace is. The list goes like this (all phrases from the KJV):

great grace
abundant grace
all grace
exceeding grace
manifold grace
true grace

These are not words that are limiting grace; these adjectives tend to expand our idea of grace. Grace is such a big word, and yet the Bible seems to constantly be pushing us to expand our understanding of it further, to help us see how big it really is. People define words to limit them, to buttonhole them, so they can better disagree with people.

It is the height of irony that we can turn this word into something to bash people with and divide over.

(My thanks to Onesimus for sparking this thought.)

What “My Grace Is Sufficient” Does Not Mean

Paul asked God to remove his thorn in the flesh. We do not know what the thorn was, but we can assume it was inconvenient, to say the least. It was a physical limitation of some sort, probably associated with pain.

God didn’t take it away. Instead, God said, “My grace is sufficient.”

People throw that phrase around. Perhaps it means weird things to people. Based on how I’ve heard it used, I think it’s just another flippant phrase people say with minimal thought. Here are a couple things “My grace is sufficient” does not mean:

1) Suck it up, you can do it!
Nope, not the point at all. The point of God’s grace being sufficient is that, no, you can’t do it, that’s why you need God’s provision. This is not a humanistic, power of the human spirit rallying cry. This is a phrase God spoke to Paul to help him get his eyes on the right things. To not only acknowledge his weakness, but to rejoice in it and embrace it, so that God could work through him.

2) Physical problems are minor.
Nope, not true either. Physical problems can be very major. This is not God’s attempt to minimize or trivialize pain. Remember, His mode of showing His care for our pain was to enter it with us. Physical problems can consume a life. God’s point with this is to get you off the selfishness of suffering and into the work of God that can be done through the suffering.

3) God doesn’t care about your physical problems.
Nope, again, that’s not His point. God does care, that’s why He gave you grace! If God didn’t care about your physical problems, He would ignore your needs. Instead, God says “I know your needs more than you do, watch me meet them.”

4) Just think happy thoughts about Jesus!
Nope, it’s much more than that. Certainly joy will come, but again, this is more than “Rah, rah, you and Jesus can do it all!” More than likely, we have no clue what God can do through us and as long as we’re focused on begging for problems to go away, we will be focused on ourselves, not on Him. Jesus doesn’t just want you to be happy; He wants you to live a new life, demonstrating Christ daily. Pain helps us get there.

5) God’s grace will take the problem away!
Nope, not necessarily. Sometimes He might, and thank Him for that. Other times He will let the problem stay and drive you to Him through it. The problem may get worse. Remember, He’s the one who came up with “Tribulation works patience, patience experience, experience hope and hope makes not ashamed.” He knows what is best for us. He was a man of sorrow, acquainted with grief, don’t think for a minute that being Christ-like will result in no pain or suffering!

God’s grace is Christ. It’s all that Christ brings. Rejoice that your name is written in heaven. No matter the suffering, the pain, the torment, your name is written in heaven. He loves you. He wants you with Him. Watch Him work and give thanks in all things. His grace is sufficient.