The only thing that counts is Faith working through Love. – Galatians 5:6

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Grace and Peace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Last month I began a series of articles on the distinctive Wesleyan contributions to understanding the nature and mission of the church. I wrote about the Wesleyan conviction that God’s salvation (saving love) is meant for all people.

The second distinctive aspect is the saving love (salvation) of God is transformative. Wesley gave this description about the scope of God’s saving love:

By salvation I mean, not barely (according to the vulgar notion) deliverance from hell, or going to heaven; but present deliverance from sin, restoration of the soul to its primitive health, its original purity; a recovery of the divine nature; the renewal of our souls after the image of God in righteousness and true holiness, in justice, mercy and truth.

For Wesley, salvation is more than a matter of our elevator ride at the time of our death. In fact, Wesley referred to this as a vulgar notion. Instead, Wesley encouraged us to consider full salvation: present deliverance from sin and the renewal of our souls after the image of God. (Genesis 1:27)

Wesley understood sin as a power greater than humanity. Therefore resisting sin is more than just having enough will power. Like Paul, Wesley understood all of creation to be subjected to sin. Creation is freed from sin by the saving love of God revealed in Jesus Christ. This salvation frees us from the captivity of sin. We sometimes call this Christian freedom.

While in sin’s captivity, our souls become unhealthy and do not fully reveal the image of God. The saving love of God works to the restore our souls to “original righteousness”. Think of a garden and the conditions needed to have a successful one: good soil, space to grow, water, sunlight and proper pruning. When we are freed from the present power of sin, our souls are transformed and we can be the images of God in whom we are created. We refer to this as the New Creation.

To that end, God’s saving love transforms us into a community of witness, a community of worship and a community of discipleship. This leads to the final distinctive aspect of Wesleyan ecclesiology:

God’s salvation creates community.

May we all experience the saving love of God that transforms us.

Christ’s Servant,

Rev Joseph A Johnson

Rev. Joseph A Johnson

I’ll build my church on this rock. -Matthew 16:18

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Grace and Peace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

On September 16, Bishop Dyck invited United Methodists from around the Northern Illinois Annual Conference to gather in Naperville for a day of conversation regarding the unity of the Church and human sexuality. I have asked the Staff Parish Relations Committee to lead First Church in this conversation beginning in 2018.

To prime us for this conversation, I will share some thought provoking reflections about the nature of the Church and distinctive Wesleyan contributions. My reference document is “Wonder, Love, and Praise: Sharing a Vision of the Church.” (WLP) This document was written by the Committee on Faith and Order of The United Methodist Church at the request of the Council of Bishops.
With other Protestants, United Methodists affirm that the Church is a congregation of faithful men [and women] in which the pure Word of God is preached and the Sacraments are duly administered. Under the discipline of the Holy Spirit, the Church exists for the maintenance of worship, the edification of believers and the redemption of the world. These affirmations lay out the basic functions of the Church: gather, preach, administer and obedience, or in other words, to be God’s vessel of salvation to the world.

A uniquely Wesleyan conviction is that God’s salvation is meant for all people. “God our Savior…desires everyone to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4). Wesley’s comment on this passage in his Explanatory Notes on the New Testament emphasized the everyone, “It is strange that any whom He has actually saved should doubt the universality of His grace!” A second point to note is that God does not compel people to accept grace, rather the offer of grace activates human freedom and human participation.

In contemporary dialogues, three prominent models of the Church are employed: people of God, body of Christ, and temple of the Holy Spirit. Each of these models help to make the point that the Church is a gift from God and provoke us to realize this gift may take different forms.

Each of these three points provides rich material for our reflection. Are we functioning as a vessel of God’s salvation? Are we convinced God’s salvation is for all people? What form are we manifesting at this time?

I look forward to Christ’s continued building of the church through each of you and First Church as a whole.

Christ’s Servant,

Rev. Joseph A. Johnson

At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth.” Matthew 11:25 – September 2017

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:

Grace and Peace to you in the name of our Blessed Lord, Jesus Christ.

Can you remember a time when you failed: a test, in a relationship, a project at work, etc.? What was your prayer to God? Was it a lament like Psalm 13 (“How long, O Lord”)? Or a Psalm of praise like Psalm 100 (“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth”)?

In Matthew, Chapter 11, Jesus prayed the latter. This chapter in Matthew’s gospel is a reflection on the failure of the Galilean mission. Before his prayer of thanksgiving and praise to God, Jesus reassured John’s disciples that he was the One, he compared the present generation to children sitting in the market place, and pronounced woe on Bethsaida, Chorazin and Capernaum!

Jesus praised God for hiding the kingdom from some and revealing it to others.

If Jesus could experience failure in his mission, what about his church? Absolutely.

What is instructive to us is his response. He did not deny the failures or pretend they did not happen. They did. Yet he also was able to see that some did respond to his mission. He called them “infants.” He praised God, Lord of heaven and earth, for revealing the kingdom to them.

Unlike his spiritual ancestors, Jesus saw God’s will being fulfilled despite rejection and hostility. Elijah fled to the desert. Jo-nah turned and went the other way. John despaired in prison.

In the midst of the Galilean mission, Jesus praised God. He took notice of the “infants” who got his message. They were the unpretentious little ones who made no claims but could be given the gift of revelation, which comes from God alone.

May we, his disciples, hold onto this prayer of praise and keep our hearts open to God’s revelation in our time.

Christ’s Servant,

Rev. Joseph A. Johnson

Train yourself for a holy life. 1 Timothy 4:7b

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

May the grace and peace of Jesus be yours now and forever.
In the rural Midwest where I grew up, bread came in one form: a square or rectangular loaf. Every now and then, a round loaf found its way onto the grocer’s shelf. Like a gas, yeast dough will take whatever form it’s placed in. Recently, I purchased some brotforms to make round bread. These simple baskets are made from willow canes and leave gorgeous floury rings on the loaf.
Our spiritual lives are like yeast dough. They emulate the form they are put in. In writing to the younger minister, Timothy, Paul encouraged him to train himself for the holy life. Wesley commented, “Like those who were to contend in the Grecian games, exercise thyself unto godliness—Train thyself up in holiness of heart and life, with the utmost labour, vigour, and diligence.” Both Paul and Wesley understood that holy life required formation. Holy people train to be holy, just as athletes train for their sport.
How’s your training going?
Beginning in September, First Church will explore during worship and in small group settings the six major areas of discipline in the life of Jesus Christ: prayer, virtue, Spirit, compassion, Word of God, and incarnation/sacrament. The goal will be threefold: balance, knowledge and support/accountability. In balance, we will employ all six disciplines for a well-balanced spiritual life. In knowledge, we will learn the basics of the traditions so we can grow closer to God. And we will support and hold each other accountable in living these six disciplines.
Join us for a memorable September and October. Let’s get training!

Rev. Joseph A. Johnson

Reaching out to Those Who Suffer

Reaching out to those who suffer is grounded in the belief that the living Christ is present with us and those who suffer. Daily, we encounter people who suffer: a family member with a cancer diagnosis, a co-worker experiencing a divorce, or an aging parent. Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) encourages us to reach out to those who suffer.
When we reach out to those who suffer, we should not minimize the importance of physical presence because it is love made flesh. I still remember church members who have expressed gratitude to me because of my presence when they were suffering.

Pax tecum.

Pastor Joe