Christ on the Wrist

Christ on the Wrist

By Steve Beard –

Her spiritual journey began by asking about a tattoo of Jesus on the wrist of a client. Aimee Burke cuts and styles hair in a hipster neighborhood in Toronto. “She partied a lot and was partial to coke,” reported The Globe and Mail, one of the largest newspapers in Canada. “Her hookups comprised partners both male and female. She was unhappy.”

The question about the image of Christ was the spark that got Burke to visit church. “I’m pretty sure I went to the service hungover from the night before,” she recalled. But she found herself weeping during the service. “I just felt less empty,” she recalled.

Burke’s is an unconventional conversion story, especially splashed on the pages of a newspaper in a country where the numbers of those who reject faith are on the rise. According to the news magazine Maclean’s, the percentage of Canadians rejecting religion (26 percent) is nearly the number of those embracing it (30 percent), with 45 percent saying they were “somewhere in between.”

“As the Christians would say, I’ve surrendered over my life,” Burke said. “I do everything. I pray in the morning, I pray at night, I read my Bible every day. … Now I’m waiting for marriage. I’ve been sober for almost two years.”

While church attendance numbers are not on the upswing for young men and women in her age demographic, Burke still detects a spiritual hunger. “I think people are looking for something to believe in,” she said, “even if it’s just themselves.”

This observation dovetails with the message of David Zahl’s book Seculosity. While it may appear that our modern culture has abandoned ancient religion, perhaps it is more accurate to surmise that we have merely replaced one set of orthodoxies, rituals, and dogmas for another in the seemingly religious pursuit of career, parenting, technology, food, politics, and romance. 

“Bombarded with poll results about declining levels of church attendance and belief in God, we assume that more and more people are abandoning faith and making their own meaning,” writes Zahl. What these polls actually tell us, he believes, is that “confidence in the religious narratives we’ve inherited has collapsed. What they fail to report is that the marketplace in replacement religion is booming. We may be sleeping in on Sunday mornings in greater numbers, but we’ve never been more pious. Religious observance hasn’t faded apace ‘secularization’ so much as migrated….” 

Zahl observes that “we fail to recognize that what we’re actually worshipping when we obsess over food or money or politics is not the thing itself but how that thing makes us feel – if only for a moment. Our religion is that which we rely on not just for meaning or hope but enoughness.” Successful enough? Happy enough? Thin enough? Desired enough? Perhaps, good enough?

One of the cruel elements of the modern-day transfer of religiousity is the inescapable absence of grace. After all, careerism, technology, and politics don’t appear to know how to speak the language of mercy, peace, and love. 

“What makes Christianity a religion of grace, ultimately, is its essential revelation of a God who meets us in both our individual and collective sin with a love that knows no bounds, the kind of love that lays down its life for its enemies,” writes Zahl. “Christianity at its sustaining core is not a religion of good people getting better, but of real people coping with their failure to be good.” 

Aimee Burke told the newspaper that all the jokes about saying Hail Marys when she swears at work are worth it. “This is going to sound really Christian-y,” she said, “but it felt like the chains came off of me.”

Interestingly enough, that is the very imagery used in “And Can It Be?,” the beloved hymn written by Charles Wesley in 1738. “Amazing love! How Can it be/ That thou, my God, should die for me!” 

For the world outside the four walls of our churches, the good news about faith in Jesus Christ is most notably not about the trappings and shortcomings and failures of church leaders, congregations, and ecclesiastical politics. Instead, it is exclusively about the “amazing love” Wesley poetically addressed. 

“Long my imprisoned spirit lay / Fast bound in sin and nature’s night; / Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray, / I woke, the dungeon flamed with light; / My chains fell off, my heart was free; / I rose, went forth and followed Thee.”

Even wrapped in 18th century language, Wesley’s refrain reflects the heartfelt testimony of Christian believers around the globe. The image of being unshackled universally resonates. 

In an illuminating essay entitled, “I Spent Years Searching for Magic – I Found God Instead,” Dr. Tara Isabella Burton describes a time in her life of wavering between being a Wiccan and believing in nothingness, years not long ago “where the world seemed too bereft of significance to bother.” Dreamily, she longed for life to be more like a novel, a poem – something miraculous and with flamboyant pizazz. “I wanted magic. The kind of magic that transforms. Frogs into princes. Women into trees. Loneliness into poetry.”

As a student and travel-writer, Burton scrambled frantically from one exotic wanderlust destination to another, experimenting with fleeting romances, red wine, and tarot cards. “I wanted to outrun the Nothing,” she wrote for Catapult. “There was nothing I would not have sacrificed…. I hit bottom, in a thousand different ways, and got what I wanted, in a thousand more….” 

One day, she stopped running. “I found myself sitting eyes downcast in a midtown church with stained glass windows and Gothic arches and incense and magnificent voices proclaiming the glory of whatever poetry was pointing toward.” 

Burton embraced a faith that “proclaimed a sanctified world, and a redeemed one – an enchanted world, if you want to call it that – but one where meanings were concrete. It offered me not just a sense of emotional intensity, but a direction in which to channel it. It contained magic not for the sake of magic, but rather miracle for the sake of goodness. God died and came back from the dead not because magic was real, but because love was stronger than an unmagical world.”

Burton understands the difficulty of stepping out in faith to those who live in uncertainty: “God was made man, and died, and came back from the dead – which is an utterly absurd thing to say if you are not Christian, and even if you are,” she wrote. Nevertheless, there is a compelling magnetism and spiritual allure to the ancient proclamation that Christ died, Christ rose, and that Christ will come again.

“It is a story not just about the possibility of a world with meaning in it, but a story about a world where the meaning is, quite specifically, and utterly fully, love. It is a world that is predicated upon the love of a creator who has built a good world, and who – when sin afflicts it – comes into that world, in all his vulnerability, in all his mortality to save it. Love birthed the world; love redeems it; love sanctifies it. Our very humanity, our very existence, is contingent upon it.”

In a different era, it was Charles Wesley’s duty and gift as the poet to describe the Christ-centered liberation of the soul. “No condemnation now I dread; / Jesus, and all in Him is mine! / Alive in Him, my living Head, / And clothed in righteousness divine, / Bold I approach th’eternal throne, / And claim the crown, through Christ my own.”

Strangely, it all kind of connects if you saw the face of Jesus on a wrist in a hair salon. Second chances at life work like that. 

Steve Beard is the editor of Good News. 

Christ on the Wrist

God’s Royal Family

Young king at the castle walls. The boy is holding a sword and is deep in thought. The future of his kingdom is depending on his decisions.

By Bob Kaylor –

I recently did one of those Ancestry DNA tests – you know, that test where you send in a small capsule of your spit and $100 and they send you back a multi-page, full-color profile that tells you who’s been swimming in your personal gene pool. It used to be that if you had a striking physical resemblance to one of your parents or grandparents that people would say that you were their “spitting image.” Who knew that we would one day use actual spit to found out why? 

When I took the test I was hoping to find out a little more about my own background. I was adopted as an infant and knew very little about my birth family. When I was a kid, I used to fantasize that one day my birth family would discover me, and that they would somehow actually be a royal family that had misplaced me. I dreamed that they would take me back to Scotland (where I always imagined I was from) and set me up with the castle in the highlands that I had inherited, where I would spend my days ordering servants around while gnawing on huge turkey legs and guzzling goblets of chocolate milk. Such were the dreams of an exiled, secretly royal 8 year-old! 

Like many people who do these DNA tests, I was hoping to discover something interesting, if not royal, in my genetic makeup. Alas, however, while I am 28 percent Scottish, my DNA is not of the royal sort. It is the Scots-Irish DNA of poor Presbyterians who left the isles in the 1740s and hacked a life out of the frontier woods of western Pennsylvania.  

But there’s a little more to my DNA than that. A few years before I took the Ancestry test, I contacted the agency that handled my adoption. A sympathetic caseworker actually contacted my birth mother, who was still alive. While my birth mother didn’t want contact with me (I was still, apparently, a family secret), she did give the caseworker some of the story. At age 24, she had me in a Salvation Army hospital in Pittsburgh. She had become pregnant after a brief but passionate affair with a young man – not unusual. I was the result of that mistake. What was unusual, however, was that my biological father was an officer in the Army – the Salvation Army – a clergyman in the Wesleyan tradition. It took a moment, but then it hit me: I am the result of clergy misconduct. 

I had already been pastoring for a couple of decades when I found this out. The good news is that I seem to have been wired all along to be a pastor, despite taking various detours in my life like ten years as an infantry officer in the Army. I was meant to do this. Then again, I also have the wiring to be a very bad pastor. The dual nature of that reality is something that I think about all the time. It causes me to be mindful and vigilant. It keeps me connected to two other pastors in a weekly band meeting. I want to live the best part of my wiring while avoiding the worst. 

My story is not unique. In every one of us is the genetic wiring, the spiritual wiring, to be people who reflect the image of God. We were created that way. But we also have the potential to reflect a different image, a different identity, which is grounded in brokenness and sin. Understanding the image of God for which we were created, profiling our original spiritual DNA, is the key to living an abundant life that glorifies God. 

My adoptive family was of the same DNA mix as me and thus staunchly Presbyterian. And it wasn’t just a Presbyterian church we attended, it was a really Presbyterian church – like, Shiite Presbyterian. It was a church that took doctrine seriously (for which I am grateful). When I was in 9th grade, for example, I went through confirmation where we had to memorize the entire Westminster Shorter Catechism and then explain it in our own words in front of the church elders. It was such an arduous task that only one other guy in the youth group and I actually did it. The other kids were apparently into other things like “dating” and “having fun.” 

The first question of the Catechism is the one that I still remember most vividly. “Question: What is the chief end of man? Answer: To glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Then again, I think there is another reason this question and answer has stuck with me. It’s always been a reminder to me, as a child who was born out misconduct and mistake, that it’s not where you start that matters, it’s where you end. The “chief end” or the “chief purpose” of being human doesn’t depend on the circumstances of your birth, the quality of your upbringing, or whatever is in your DNA. Instead, it’s about finding your identity, your glory, in glorifying God and enjoying an eternal relationship with him. 

The catechism invites us to remember that being truly human is about being part of a story that began long before you and I were born. It’s the story that transcends all of our stories, whether they are tragic or triumphant, and gives each of our stories meaning and purpose. And when we learn that story, when we live that story, we come to know that our existence isn’t a mistake. Indeed, we are shocked to learn that all of us – every one of us – is, indeed, actually part of a royal family! 

This the foundational truth that the Bible expresses at the very beginning of the story: “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and of the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:26-27). 

In the world of the ancient Near East in which Genesis 1 was written, kings and pharaohs were often referred to as the “image” of a particular god – the human embodiment of that god, who ruled in the place of that god. The “image” was invested in the king alone. Often there was a temple with the king’s image in it in the form of a statue, a concrete symbol of the god’s reign through the king. 

In that context, Genesis 1 is a bold statement declaring that there is one Creator God whose image is invested not in a singular king, but in all of humanity – both male and female – who are to be concrete, embodied symbols and stewards of God’s reign on the earth. It’s not a matter of birth or one’s family tree, it’s a gift of the creator. Humans were made to be royalty. 

Psalm 8 reflects this reality. “You have made [human beings] a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honor” (v. 5). John Wesley called this the “political” image of God in humanity – a vocation to be “the governor of this lower world” (his sermon, The New Birth).

But while there is a “political” nature to the image of God, there is also a “moral” image, which Wesley found to be even more compelling. It’s the image of “righteousness and true holiness,” the moral characteristics of the Creator God himself. Humans were not merely to reign; they were to reign as a reflection of God’s character and glory. They were, in other words, to bear a family resemblance to God. One of the explanations for the origins of the term “spitting image” is that it’s a mashup of saying “spirit and image” together quickly. Spirit ‘n image: spitting image. We were made to be spitting images of God.   

But it’s a quick trip from the glory and spitting image of Genesis 1 and 2 on to the unraveling of God’s image in Genesis 3. The snake showed up and convinced the archetypical humans that they could be more than the image of God they were created to be – that they could be gods themselves. This was a lie, of course, but they were hooked. They grasped at determining the knowledge of good and evil for themselves and, instantly, they were dethroned. Instead of ruling God’s creation as kings and queens in a fellowship of equals, they instead began comparing themselves and sought to rule over one another. Instead of having dominion over the earth, they are ruled by the fallen creation’s resistance to their efforts. Instead of stewarding God’s kingdom, they begin to build their own. Instead of living a royal life in the castle garden God had created for them, they found themselves to be spiritual paupers, hungry exiles in a strange land hacking their existence out of the hostile and unforgiving soil.  

This is the story that the Old Testament tells. It is a story in which the image of God in humanity fades quickly, replaced by a constant battle with idolatry. This is the image of God turned inward. It’s the story of mistaken identity; of missing the mark of what God intended for us, which is the very definition of sin. Sin clouds our ability to know who we really are; it strips us of our royalty; it enslaves us to being ruled by things that make good servants but terrible masters – things like money, sex, power. It puts us at war with our bodies; it makes our eyes wander, our hearing selective, and our speech self-serving. It binds us to our past mistakes. In fact, sin convinces us that we are a mistake. 

This is the situation in which we find ourselves: We all have the royal image of God and royal vocation of God in our DNA – and we all have the potential to be really bad at it. As Wesley put it more succinctly: We were created able to stand, but liable to fall. 

The image of God fades in the biblical narrative after the opening chapters of Genesis. But then, powerfully and unexpectedly in the New Testament, the image reappears. This time, however, it is not just a human being made in the image of God, it is a human being who is the image of God. He is the crystal-clear image that replaces and reboots the image that was marred in Adam and distorted in us. The New Testament writers announce his arrival: “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation,” says Paul in Colossians 1. “For in him all things were created: things visible and invisible … He is before all things and in him all things hold together.” “For us and for our salvation,” says the Creed, “he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human.” The perfect image of God was embedded from the beginning of creation – the model for humanity – revealed at the right time in the person of Jesus Christ. 

As the perfect image of God, Christ completes the original royal vocation of humanity and, at the same time, reveals what true humanity, what real royalty looks like. In the great hymn in Philippians 2, Paul proclaims that Jesus did not consider that royal image of God something to be grasped or exploited but humbled himself and took the form of an obedient servant, walking the way of perfect submission all the way to the pain of the cross. He shows humanity who they were intended to be – servant kings and queens – and then, through the cross and resurrection, frees them from the slavery of sin and death so that they can live that royal vocation. He offers that new life, a new birth, a new name, a new identity, a royal vocation, a place in the family, a community of love. When we receive him, we discover the family from which we have long been estranged. We receive a new birth story. “To all who received him, who believed on his name,” says John, “he gave power to become children of God who were born, not of blood, or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).

In other words, when we receive him, we share a common new birth no matter how we came into the world, no matter what the DNA test says about us. Our lives become restarted, renewed, and rewired. The long-lost exiles become part of his royal family again. We were created by him, through him, and for him. As Paul puts it in Romans 8:29, we were “predestined to be conformed to the image of [God’s] Son.” This is true humanity. This is our true identity. This is the goal, the chief end for which Christ has come – that we might glorify God as his royal created image once again. To put it another way, Jesus became like us so that we might become like him.

This is the foundational aim of Methodism, the “one thing needful” according to Wesley. Renewal in the image of God is the goal of sanctification, the means of grace, the aim of preaching, the work of the Spirit. We have a theology of new birth that doesn’t leave us as infants but invites us to grow up and claim the identity for which God has made us. Our theology is not so much about where we begin as where we end as the result of God’s grace and the work of the Spirit. We are all adopted children growing up together in that grace. We band together to remind one another who we are and to name the false identities we take on, the sins that would bind us, and spur one another on to perfection in Christ. 

And we go forth to carry out our royal vocation. Think of the Great Commission, for example, and notice how much it parallels the vocation God gave humanity in Genesis 1: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” says Jesus – royal authority delegated from King Jesus to his royal representatives. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” – proclaim new birth, leading to a new family, in the model of God’s own family, the Trinity. “And teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” – give them a new vocation. “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” – a Christ-empowered movement, leading toward a new creation! 

One of Ancestry’s slogans is, “Everyone has a fascinating story. We’ll help you find yours.” Well, our goal is to help everyone find themselves in the story. My story doesn’t begin in a Salvation Army hospital in Pittsburgh. It began at creation. So does yours. And this is the good news we need to share with the world: You are not a mistake; you were made to be the spitting image of God! You are not your title, your career, your degrees, your desires, your preferences, your sins, your past, or your present. Friends, you are royalty. Your destiny has always been to be a part of the royal family of God. This is the good news we proclaim to all those who wrestle with their identity, who think they are a mistake: the king has been looking for you, lost though you may have been, to give you a royal inheritance of abundant, eternal life. 

It’s the kind of news that calls for a celebration. Turkey legs and chocolate milk for everyone! Better yet, how about bread and wine? That’s the sort of feast prepared for real royalty by the world’s true king.

Bob Kaylor is the pastor of Tri-Lakes United Methodist Church in Monument, Colorado. This article is adapted from his address to the Wesleyan Covenant Association gathering in Tulsa in November.

Christ on the Wrist

God is Birthing a New Methodist Movement

The Rev. Keith Boyette, president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, speaking at the WCA’s Global Gathering. Photo: Mark Moore.

By Keith Boyette –

What follows is an adaptation of the address the Rev. Keith Boyette, president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, delivered at the WCA’s Global Gathering held at Asbury United Methodist Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Saturday, November 9, 2019.

I love the church. We are the body of Christ – poured out in the midst of a broken and troubled world to offer God’s love, his salvation, and his transforming grace to each and every person to become more and more like Jesus. In the words of Peter, we are God’s very own possession so that we can show others the goodness of God who called us out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

God desires for the church – which he called into being – to be one, to be holy, to be catholic in the sense of serving all of his creation, and to be apostolic. The Wesleyan Covenant Association fully embraces God’s call upon the church. 

Recently, the words of the prophet Isaiah have come alive for me as the prophet declared God’s message to a people who were traversing troubled times in their relationship with God. Isaiah declares God’s message: “I will lead blind Israel down a new path, guiding them along an unfamiliar way. I will brighten the darkness before them and smooth out the road ahead of them. Yes, I will indeed do these things; I will not forsake them” (Isaiah 42:16). Isaiah continues, “For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland” (43:19).

God is birthing a new Wesleyan movement – rekindling the fires that burned in the hearts of those first Methodists who let no social convention or obstacle stand in the way of their sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with anyone and everyone. There are three movements that are part of God birthing this new thing.

The first movement is extricating the new thing from the old. As it became apparent that The United Methodist Church was being rent asunder by irreconcilable differences, the Wesleyan Covenant Association has worked to ensure traditionalist churches will be able to move from the UM Church to what is next with the resources with which God has blessed them.

Therefore, the WCA supports the adoption of the Indianapolis Plan for Amicable Separation because it creates the best path for entirely separate groups of theologically aligned churches to emerge from the UM Church. It will enable every church and clergyperson to be aligned with others who hold the same core theological and ethical commitments. Every church will have an opportunity to decide about such alignment. Now, not later, is the season for leaders to prepare the local church for the future. To leaders: Educate your people. Define your mission. Draw closer to the Lord. Speak with boldness and love. Engage in the conversations that are necessary.

The second movement is developing the new. As churches and clergy move from the old to the new, what will the new thing look like? The WCA believes the UM Church will come apart, either by an agreed plan of separation enacted by the 2020 General Conference or through local churches deciding to exit the denomination due to a never-ending cycle of conflict, inaction, and dysfunction. We are preparing for the launch of a new Methodist church in the aftermath of GC2020. We see the WCA as the bridge to this new church. We will provide a framework for churches and clergy to move to an interim expression of this church under the auspices of the WCA.

The November WCA assembly in Tulsa voted overwhelming to commend a draft of the WCA’s “Book of Doctrines and Discipline.” This is a working document for local churches, laity, and clergy who long for a warm-hearted, mission driven expression of Wesleyan Christianity. The WCA will continue to refine this document between now and the holding of a convening conference for a new church. Once again, it is a work in progress. Our goal is to help a convening conference to move forward deliberately and expeditiously in creating a healthy and vibrant church.

We envision a leaner, more nimble church which is not top heavy with an institutional bureaucracy that constrains rather than liberates us to share the Good News. This new denomination will exist to serve local congregations – not for local congregations to serve it. There will be no trust clause on the property of churches. We want our movement to be a coalition of the willing, not the constrained.

The structure of this new church will define broad parameters for how local churches will be in connection with one another, but it will grant local churches maximum flexibility to organize for and advance the ministry to which God has called them. As a consequence, more of the tithes and offerings received by local churches will remain with them so they can deploy their resources for reaching the lost, feeding the hungry, and making disciples.

This church will be served by a term-limited episcopacy, elected by – and accountable to – the whole church, not just a college of like-minded bishops. We intend for these episcopal leaders to be apostolic, to promote and defend the church’s teachings, and to act with integrity as they fulfill their duties.

We envision a church which has laser-sharp focus on its mission – to introduce people to Jesus and challenge each person to become his fully devoted follower – which will be our first and foremost priority. Each church will have the freedom to determine how it fulfills this mission, and the expectation will be that every church will bear fruit – making disciples and developing them into disciple-makers.

We envision a church that finds its unity in Christ, and that is fully committed to the great confessions of our faith that we know bring well-being and wholeness to us, both individually and corporately. We truly believe a tenacious commitment to the church universal’s core teachings and beliefs will enable us to identify and deploy faithful, energetic, and effective clergy who are dedicated and excited about practicing, teaching, and proclaiming Scriptural Christianity.

Just as in the early days of the Methodist movement, we envision a church that empowers and releases laity to be leaders of the church. We affirm the priesthood of all believers! In ever more diverse and secular cultures, laity will increasingly find themselves on the frontlines of the church’s great mission to share the Good News with grace and truth. To our great embarrassment, we seem to forget laity are absolutely essential to the church. It is time for each lay person to take their place as persons whom God has called, gifted, and deployed both within and beyond the church. 

Following Christ is not a spectator sport. Jesus reminds us that the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Yet Jesus has provided workers sufficient for the task in response to our prayers. We need to get out of the way and release that which God has already called forth.

Participants at the Wesleyan Covenant Association’s Global Gathering worshipped together, heard uplifting messages, and participated in Holy Communion. Photos: Mark Moore.

The third movement involves our seeing the future that God has for this new church he is calling into being. Here are some signposts which we see pointing to where God wants to take us.

God wants every person to encounter Jesus, enter into relationship with him, and receive the salvation which he alone provides. We repent of the lack of fruit produced by a significant part of Methodist churches worldwide, especially in the United States. We cannot talk about being a world-changing movement when our branch of the body of Christ is in precipitous decline. The history of Christianity is the story of how God has used those whom the world regards as being foolish and weak to reach ever-increasing numbers of people for Jesus.

Our hearts are broken for those who do not yet know Jesus or who are indifferent to who he is and what he has done for us. We have no reason to exist apart from the mission of sharing the Gospel with our neighbors – all of them without exception – globally. The preeminent priority in a new Methodist church will be revitalizing existing churches so they become vital, vibrant missional outposts bearing fruit in God’s kingdom, and planting vital, vibrant new churches that advance the historic Christian faith in the Wesleyan tradition, especially in communities where the historic Methodist witness is not present. Some of this will occur through the multiplication of existing churches as they open new sites of their church and the expansion of online worshiping communities. This will occur as the Holy Spirit moves through individuals and local churches which reclaim their first love of Jesus, which are broken by the desperate needs which he brings to their attention, and which take initiative not limited by institutional restrictions and efforts to control and micro-manage such initiatives. As a new church, we want to empower, embrace, and unleash such initiatives. 

A strength of Methodism in its most fruitful season was ensuring followers of Jesus were connected to small groups where they could celebrate God’s activity in their lives, confess their sins to one another, seek God’s face, and discover how God was empowering them to live out the Christian faith in all of its aspects with authenticity. Unless we reclaim this imperative of discipling people in community and equipping them to be disciples who make disciples, our branch of the church universal will continue to be weak and anemic. We envision vibrant accountability groups in each and every local church. 

John Wesley declared, “The world is my parish.” That has never been truer for the people called Methodists than in our day. We are part of a global community. We are called to be a global church. Already God is doing something new, linking together parts of the Wesleyan family of churches around the globe who share the theological commitments of the Wesleyan Covenant Association. Part of our vision for the new church God is birthing is for a church that enables significant global missional partnerships. We are committed to developing and deploying effective partnerships for local churches to be in ministry with one another globally across geographic boundaries to advance the Kingdom of God and reach people of diverse cultures with the love of Jesus. Missiologists tell us that one of the largest mission fields for the church is in the United States where more than 180,000,000 are unmoored spiritually. 

Methodism has always had a focus on the poor and marginalized. We come by that naturally as that is the heart of our God, reflected in the life and ministry of Jesus. We dream of a church which effectively responds to its calling to be in ministry with the poor, marginalized, addicted, and recovering. Our pursuit of holiness must include being in community with those who have been abandoned by the systems of this world.

We are committed to addressing the challenge for local churches in reaching teens, shepherding them through the transition to adulthood, and engaging those who are navigating further education or entering the workforce so that they continue as committed Christ-followers. We desire to empower local churches to be more effective in their ministry with young people and young adults.

The Bible tells us that at the culmination of history every nation and tribe and people and language will gather around the throne of our God to worship Him. Yet God desires that his church increasingly embody that reality here and now. We envision a church which deals transparently with the sins of racism and prejudice that are still present in our lives today and which increasingly ensures that when we gather, we experience the worship God calls us to with the presence of the full diversity of the communities where we live and serve. 

We are a people in need of healing. We do not trust some of our present leaders. We are suspicious and wary of anything that has the slightest hint of what we have endured for too long. Yet this is a catalytic moment. God is doing something new. We are not doing the new thing; God is!

God is looking for a people who will be radically surrendered to his sovereignty. God is looking for a people who joyfully proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. God is looking for a people who will be desperately dependent upon the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. 

On that people God will pour out His rich blessings, and he will use them to reach all nations, races, and peoples with the Good News of Jesus Christ. When we are fully committed to that great vision, in God’s good time, he will claim us as part of his one holy catholic and apostolic church. Let us dare to believe He is bringing that reality to pass in our day. 

Keith Boyette is a United Methodist clergyperson and the president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association. 

Christ on the Wrist

Turning Point

The Rev. Dr. William J. Abraham speaks at the Fourth Global Gathering of the Wesleyan Covenant Association. Photo: Mark Moore.

By William J. Abraham –

We are at a crucial turning point in our culture, but also in the history of the Wesleyan church. We are at an absolutely crucial turning point in the history of the Methodist tradition. We now face a clear choice. Sometimes things are presented in strict either/or alternatives. The Lord did this when he said there was a “broad way” and a “narrow way.” 

The broad way is straightforward. There’s going to be a church that is built on sex and gender. There’s going to be a church built on rebellion against the policies and practices of the church. There’s going to be a church that’s built on non-rational means of persuasion. It’s a church that will be built on individual personalities and even rock star public personas and a church that will be built on the shifting sand of post secular experience and cultural proclivities.

I do not want to be part of a church like that. Here’s an alternative. A church that is built on our Lord’s teaching on marriage – and the vision that informs it. A church that will be built on respect for canon law, for corporate discipline, and for civility towards our critics and our enemies. It’s a church that will be built on rational, respectful means of persuasion. It’s a church that will be built on hard consensus in conferencing and thinking and speaking and arguing together like they did in Acts 15. And it’s a church that will be built on the rock of divine revelation in the scriptures and the reliably annunciated material given in the great creeds of the church, especially the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed. 

This is a stark and inescapable choice for United Methodists as we move forward. 

We are unapologetically intending a fresh start for the people called Methodist across the world. This is not simply a parochial North American matter. We are a global church and we are interested in a fresh start for a global version of Methodism that’s built on Scripture and on the creeds. 

What’s the primary task of Scripture? According to 2 Timothy 2:16, it is to make us wise unto salvation and to enable us to come and be all God wants us to be in the life of the church. It’s there to form us, to change us, to transform us. And that’s why there’s such magnificent diversity in Scripture.

Living a life of obedience will be a life of health and success in the appropriate way. And we need the book of Job when our children die and we face insoluble and difficult problems. In our everyday lives, we need Paul. And we need James. We need the synoptic material and the Gospel of John. We read it every week and preach it every Sunday because it makes us wise unto salvation. But one of the ways it makes us wise unto salvation is precisely that it gives us indispensable information about God and about ourselves, about how to come to God, and what the future is going to be like. That is absolutely crucial information that comes from God and is mediated through the scriptures. 

Now, Wesley considered this in terms of a form of revelation. Revelation given solely in our conscience can be very, very wobbly. And there’s revelation given in law and prophets. That helps direct our misdirected consciences. And the full magnificent revelation is given in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ risen from the dead and coming again in glory to clean up the mess which we occupy.

When people talk about Scripture and divine revelation, it’s all about interpretation: You’ve got your interpretation. I’ve got my interpretation. And then you develop a set of buckets or whatever set of images you’ve got. 

Here is where we must stand firm. When God speaks to us in Scripture, God is not incompetent. When he says “yes,” we understand it. When he says “no,” we can understand it. And otherwise we’ve got a totally incompetent deity. We have a God who didn’t make us in such a way we can hear him and understand him, and when he speaks to us in his word, he can’t get through to us. That’s not the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. And that’s why we’re not intimidated by claims about relativism of interpretation.

God is not incompetent. He’s spoken to us and we’re going to stand by the revelation that’s given in Scripture. And we’ll be immersed in Scripture to be all God wants us to be.

Now, the place of the creeds has been more controversial. Why do the creeds exist? Why did the great shapers and framers of the creeds bring them into existence? Just as they developed a list of books, they developed a canon or list of doctrines. And those doctrines were straightforward. “I believe in God the Father.” “I believe in God the Son.” Add bells and whistles, and you got that in your head and you’ll not be fooled. You’ll not be fooled by television. You’ll not be fooled by heretics. The creeds were developed in relationship to baptism. 

Read the gospels first. Read about Jesus first. Start thinking about what the good and life-giving Holy Spirit will do in your life first, then you’ll be ready for the meaty summary of the tradition. The goal was to provide crucial basic teaching for the Church as a whole. It was our forebearers in the North African Church that developed this material and we are indebted to them. 

Here’s what went wrong when we lost the emphasis on the creeds as a part of our doctrines. We became prey to the temptations of what I call Big “L” Liberal Protestantism. In the 19th century we lost our nerve on the deep faith of the church. In the 20th century, it became an open season. We borrowed and we begged and we stole anybody else’s theology out there.

By the time we came along in the 1960s, it was a zoo. And it was an incredibly difficult period and it’s a miracle we have survived this long. The first reason for the importance of the creeds is we have to put those back in formally and clearly so we are absolutely secure in the core doctrines at the heart of the Christian faith and that are shared by Christians across the world, across space and time. 

Now, there’s a new objection that’s come against all this material. When I was trained, the objection to the deep truths of the Christian faith was: It’s false, it’s irrational. How can you believe in that and science?

I spent a long time writing many boring books to defend all this stuff. Now, the objection is: It’s not false, it’s poisonous. This is bad for your health. These creeds have been put together by people who are power-hungry and trying to impose their view of God and Christ on the whole of the church. This is a matter of the raw expression of power-hungry church leaders in second, third, and fourth, and fifth centuries.

This is just nonsense. This is appallingly bad history. Our North African hero, Augustine, my favorite theologian out of the early period, was a genius and churchman of the highest caliber. He was run out of his cathedral five times by the government, no less. 

The point of the creed is not only to preserve the truth summary that’s meaty and accessible, but also as protection of the church against the elites. Scottish philosopher and theologian Donald MacKinnon has written, “The whole exterior framework of the Christian church is the poor man’s protection against the tyranny of the wise who would rob him of the heritage of the gospel.” That’s why you must have canon law and bishops who can teach and bishops who know the faith and are not trying to abandon the faith. “In one sense, one might say, too, that her visible structure, her articulate doctrinal standards, her ordered sacramental life, represents the very lashing of the Church herself to her historical moorings.” 

Let me continue with MacKinnon: “The whole church is an organ of the gospel … Those aspects of her life that most perplex hankerers after ‘spiritual religion’ are due to the fact that she proclaims, not a possibility of spiritual achievement, but a work of redemption wrought by the Son of God through human flesh and blood.” 

“Again and again,” MacKinnon says, “we have seen the pressure of external circumstances upon individual members of the Church, who have held high office within her and have usually been endowed with great personal gifts, a pressure with issues in individual demands that the Gospel of God be transformed into a human philosophy. And it’s been the external organization of the church, the character of the gospel, that has preserved its saving truths for Christ’s little ones. It is through the institutions” – practices, doctrines – “of the church that the gospel is preserved from the idiosyncrasies of its members.” 

There are two key reasons why I think we have to take the creeds seriously. One, the absence of a formal commitment to the creeds has left us vulnerable to persuasive attacks on the deep elements of the Christian faith and we need to correct that mistake in the history of Methodism.

And the second deep reason for this fabulous material is to protect the sheep from the wolves. Who is going to protect little ones who will be eaten alive by church leaders and phony intellectuals? Who will protect the little ones from all of that?

It is the deep structures, doctrines, sacraments, and life in the church and it’s crucial we be clear about the significance of Scripture and the creeds in the life of the church. We have our work cut out for us. What we need is a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit.    

William J. Abraham is the Albert Cook Outler Professor of Wesley Studies at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology. This article is an adaptation of his presentation to the recent gathering of the Wesleyan Covenant Association in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Christ on the Wrist

Jesus Saves

The Rev. Kenneth Levingston preaches at the Fourth Global Gathering of the Wesleyan Covenant Association. Photo: Mark Moore.

By Kenneth Levingston –

Let me now remind you, dear brothers and sisters, of the Good News I preached to you before. You welcomed it then, and still stand firm in it. It is this Good News that saves you, if you continue to believe the message I told you – unless, of course, you believed something that was never true in the first place. I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said.” – I Corinthians 15:1-4, NLT 

This is the word of God for the people of God.

The resurrection is still true. The church in Corinth had a cultural issue and a church issue. Because the walls of the church are permeable, whatever is in the culture cannot be kept out of the church. If we’re not careful, the teachings and the moorings of the culture become the norms for the church, and Paul has a church filled with everything going on in Corinth. Arrogant people. People who believe they have a gift that no one else has; that they have knowledge God hasn’t given anyone else.  

Earlier, Paul wrote, “I hear there’s divisions among you” (I Corinthians 11:18). In other words, You are fussing and arguing over who is a better preacher. Paul? Apollos? Listen, Apollos never saved you. Doesn’t matter who the preacher is as long as Jesus is being preached. 

Paul challenges the community with issues they raised to him – about lawsuits and marriage and idols and food they could eat. Sometimes we focus on the minor things and forget the major things God’s called us to do. While we’re legislating, God is calling people. Sometimes we fail miserably to listen to what God’s called us to do and to preach the good news, the Gospel. It’s the good news of Jesus Christ who came to redeem us from our sins. It’s the good news that says to a shaken world that Jesus still saves. The blood still cleanses and the Holy Spirit empowers and lost people can still be saved. We have a need to tell people that story over and over again. 

I didn’t know God was telling me the story of redemption when I was eight years old. Raised by a single mom, I would pick up soda bottles and you could take them to the store next door and you would get a nickel for the bottle. I figured out pretty quickly, there’s bottles everywhere. I would take the wagon and look in the ditches and sometimes dig deep in the mud to find a bottle. Most of the time they were broken and unusable.

Sometimes I would find them and they were filled with dirt and mud – but they were precious to me. I lined them up in my wagon, but the store owner didn’t want unclean bottles. On the side of my house I had a hydrant and I would wash them and get them clean and put water in until the dirt was softer and agitate it and I would do that until they were pristine and I would take my two or three or four bottles and walk in the store. She would ask how many I brought in. We would get a nickel for each bottle. She gave me 15 cents or 25 cents – and cookies were still two for a penny. I said, My goodness, we’re going to have a time in here today. 

Redemption occurred when I took something that seemed to have no value to someone that valued it. Later on in life I could see myself in those bottles. I could see myself on the side of the road filled with my sin and brokenness and corruption and meanness and evilness and someone saw something in me and began to tell me about a God who loved me and would clean me up and shake me up and pour me out.

 We have to let people know that no matter what the world says about them, we have a God who redeems. When we present ourselves to God, God cleans from the inside out and offers us eternal life. When you know that, it doesn’t matter what the world is doing. We stand in the power of the resurrection because we know who God is and we know what God has done. Jesus died for you. Jesus Christ died for my sins. He didn’t die because I was nice and worthy and for me to live my best life now. That isn’t worthy of the Savior.

God loved us so much that he came down and died for me. That tells me I’m somebody. That tells me who I am. When you take that gospel message to people who are on the margins of this world and you tell them God loves them where they are but God has something so much better for them, it will turn their lives inside out, upside down, and they can begin to live in the power of God.

We are in a church where there’s a large number who have decided the Scripture is no longer Scripture, that it no longer means what it’s always meant from generation to generation. My brothers and sisters, we’re on the cusp of reclaiming the place where we lift Scripture high. We honor the word of God. When I don’t agree with Scripture, it doesn’t make Scripture wrong. It makes me wrong. Because I can’t put my mind around what Scripture says, doesn’t invalidate Scripture. It means I have growing up to do. 

At the end of the day we want to follow what the Word of God says. In the Word there is life. In the Word there is power. In the Word there is healing. In the Word there is hope for a world that is broken. 

“He was buried,” Paul writes in our text. I think he wants to make sure we don’t think about this metaphorically and allegorically. Paul wants us to know he was buried, dead, dead. Not swooned or passed out or catatonic. He was dead, dead – dropped over the shoulder of Joseph of Arimethea and put in a tomb wrapped up and walked away from. He was dead. Rock put in front of the tomb. Nobody in. Nobody out. He was dead. Paul wants us to know the only way to overcome death is by the power of the resurrection. 

If the resurrection is true – and I believe it to be true – then we have hope in this world. Not only was Jesus buried. He was raised on the third day. If it was Easter Sunday morning, this is what I would say to my congregation: They kept him in the grave all night Friday. Did you hear me? Not a sound, not a peep, all day Saturday. Weeping and mourning. But early on Sunday morning – before the rooster crowed and birds sung a hymn, before Peter, James, and John got up and wiped sleep from their eyes – Jesus already got up. On the third day he got up! 

Here is a God who went into a tomb sealed on the outside – guards all around. Since he got up from the dead, since he’s up right now, it’s time for us to stand up, rise up and be the people God’s called us to be. 

Here’s the better news. He didn’t just do it for himself. If he died and rose again, he’s the first fruit. If he died we can die – and live again. When you get rid of the fear of dying, what else do you have to be afraid of in this world? If I know I’ll live forever what will you do to me? How can you threaten me? You can hurt me physically and talk about me – but you cannot touch my soul. You can’t touch my heart. You can’t shake my faith. 

I believe in the resurrection. My sisters and brothers, remember what Paul said to the church in Rome: “nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.” He wants you to know that “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow – not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.”

That’s why I’ve got joy. That’s why I believe in the resurrection.    

The Rev. Kenneth Levingston is the senior pastor of Jones Memorial United Methodist Church in Houston. This article is an adaptation of the closing sermon he delivered at the recent Global Gathering of the Wesleyan Covenant Association in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Christ on the Wrist

Jesus, More than a Friend

According to the Japan Times, “a 2011 survey by research company Bridal Souken found that in the first several years of the new
millennium, Christian-style weddings accounted for about two-thirds of Japanese unions, and currently a majority still prefer this
type of ceremony over Shinto or secular ones.”

By Nako Kellum –

I am from Japan. Interestingly enough, Christians make up less than one percent of the entire Japanese population, yet, according to a recent article, more than 50 percent of Japanese couples chose to have Christian weddings. The reasons for this are unclear. Perhaps it is the atmosphere of the church, or the appeal of the traditional wedding gown to future brides. It should be noted that these Japanese weddings are officiated by Christian pastors, complete with hymns, prayers, and Scripture readings. I have been to a few of these, and I have discovered that there is a hymn that is sung every time. It is, “What A Friend We Have in Jesus.” 

The hymn itself is not usually associated with weddings here in the United States, so I asked my friend – a professor at a Christian university in Japan – why he thought this hymn is used so often. He said that the hymn is sung often at Christian schools in Japan – what we call “mission schools” – and people are familiar with it. 

Mission schools were started by foreign missionaries, and many Japanese send their children to these schools for the excellence in education that the schools provide. My professor friend went on to explain to me that at the university where he works, they sing this hymn at convocation, as well as during graduation. “What A Friend We Have in Jesus” came to Japan a little over a century ago. I think it is a great way to introduce Jesus to people who have no idea who he is.

“What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear! / Can we find a friend so faithful, who will all our sorrows share? / Jesus knows our every weakness; take it to the Lord in prayer.” 

Jesus is our friend. Jesus himself said it in John 15:14, “You are my friends.” In my 8 year-old daughter’s words, Jesus is our BFF – our Best Friend Forever. He is the best, the most faithful friend we can ever have. Sometimes we have to be reminded of that. 

I went to one of the “mission schools” in Tokyo called  Aoyama Gakuin University which was founded by Methodist missionaries in the 19th century. Having been brought up in a Buddhist family, with influences of Shintoism as well, I was not a Christian. I knew about Jesus from my world history classes in high school. In the textbook, Jesus was introduced as the founder of Christianity. I knew about Jesus, but I did not know Jesus. 

I knew about God, too. 

Actually, I knew about a lot of “gods.” I prayed to and gave offerings to my ancestors, whom we believed achieved a god-like status after death. I went to Shinto shrines, and prayed and gave money to many gods. Shintoism, as you may know, is an indigenous animistic religion of Japan. 

During my senior year at university, a Christian friend of mine invited me to a Christmas concert that was sponsored by her campus ministry group. For the first time in my life, I heard the message from John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life.” For the first time in my life, I learned, and I believed, that God, who is the Creator, is real; I learned that I am created by him, that I am loved by him, and that God gave his only Son Jesus for me, so that I can go back to him and live with him forever. It was the best thing I had ever heard!  I decided to receive Jesus. 

I wanted to know this God, to know Jesus more. I started reading the New Testament Bible that was given to me at the concert. I read through it like I would any other book, but what I found was that Jesus was not like any other “gods” I knew. The gods I knew used to be humans. The gods I prayed to in the Shinto shrines used to be emperors and leaders. (Some of them were not even humans!)  My ancestors, whom we thought had achieved a “god-like” status, were merely human beings, just like I am. I never once felt like those gods knew me, or cared for me. They were not personal. I used to try to please my ancestors by giving them food offerings on the household altar. I used to ask for things at the Shinto shrine, like health, or victory at the next archery match, or the ability to do well at school, as if these “gods” were vending machines. 

However, Jesus is not like that at all. In fact, he is quite the opposite. He is God, but he became human. He lived among people, healed people, and spoke about amazing things like forgiving one’s enemies. He confronted religious hypocrites, and put his own life on the cross for us. At last, I met a God who is so personal. He loves me and sacrificed himself for me; he is always with me, and I can trust, and count on him. It is difficult to describe, but in the end, I felt like a heavy burden was lifted off of me. 

Consequently, I understand how people were confused about who Jesus was, and why the Nicene Creed was written. At that time, there was a pantheon of Roman and Greek gods in the culture, just like there are a plethora of gods in Japan, but none of them were like Jesus. Jesus is “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God.” “Through him, all things, including you and me, were made,” and “for us and for our salvation he came down from heaven.” No other “god” did that for you. 

So, I started university as a Buddhist, and graduated as a Christian. After graduation, I started working as a flight attendant that spring. But then, I got lost. I had to live close to the airport so I was away from my church and away from my home. Surrounded by new people and immersed in a new job, I did not know what it meant to live as a Christian. I knew that I would live with Jesus forever,  but what did it mean to follow Jesus in the here and now? 

God was merciful and gave me a Christian co-worker, who took me to her church. I shared with the pastor that I felt like I was lost, and I did not know what it meant to live my life as a Christian. The pastor shared with me Matthew 6:33, “Seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness.” She explained to me that as a Christian, we needed to live knowing Jesus as our Lord, and not just our Savior. This meant that to be in right relationship with Christ, we had to put our full trust in him, and that full trust was best expressed in obeying him. It was a pretty simple strategy as a new Christian, though it was not an easy way to for me to live daily. 

The second half of John 15:14, after Jesus says, “You are my friends,” reads, “if you do what I command you.” When we confess in the Apostle’s Creed, “I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,” we are confessing that Jesus is more than our friend, as he is the Lord who has authority over us. “Jesus is Lord” is actually one of the earliest creeds that Christians professed. This was extremely counter-cultural at the time since it was not the Roman emperor whom Christians worshipped and obeyed as “lord.” Instead, they confessed that their first and best loyalty was to Jesus, not the emperor, and this was very dangerous. 

Jesus is Lord and “sits at the right hand of the Father.” This means that he is above all “gods,” all rulers, all governments, all churches, all people, all created things … everything we like, love, and cherish. We are called to put ourselves under his authority, and to be loyal to him, and him alone. 

During World War II, a faction of the Methodist Church in Japan tried to be loyal to both Jesus and the emperor. They merged with other churches and created one unified Protestant church. One of the reasons was a true desire to be ecumenical, but a darker reason was to cooperate with the government so that the government could better control the Christian churches. The new church pledged that they were Christians and Japanese at the same time. But, they also confessed that their first duty was to be loyal to the Japanese Empire. A small faction of Methodists in the Holiness Movement, however, continued to teach and preach about the Kingdom of God, and how the Lord would come back, and establish his Kingdom on this earth. They claimed that someday Jesus would rule all of the nations of the world, including the Japanese Empire. They were a threat to the empire, so many of the pastors and the leaders were put into prison, and some died there. In fact, one of the leaders put into prison was the founder of the denomination I belonged to in Japan. 

My point is this: If Jesus is just our friend, it may not cost us that much, but there is a cost when we choose Jesus as Lord of all, and decide to live under his lordship. The Japanese Empire, as you know, lost the war, and it’s not the Empire any more. The Emperor, who was considered to be divine, renounced his “divinity” after the war. For you see, only the Lord Jesus sits on the throne forever. 

Where is your loyalty? We may not have to choose between an emperor and the Lord Jesus, but we have to choose between the “empire of me,” and Jesus, every single day. I know I do. There are certain things I do that the Lord wants me to stop doing, and there are certain things he wants me to do that I do not want to do. As a new Christian, I tried to be obedient to the Lord, and I started learning to listen to him. For example, one of the things I knew the Lord wanted me to do at that time was to quit drinking. As a flight attendant, it was part of the lifestyle. We would arrive at the airport, go to the hotel, clean up, and drink together, so we could relax and sleep better in different time zones. And, we were encouraged to study about wine for work, so I was justifying my drinking as “part of my job.” I am not saying alcohol consumption in and of itself is good or bad, but at that time in my life, I knew the Lord wanted me to quit. I remember while working on a flight from Tokyo to Munich, my co-worker who was studying to be a sommelier was teaching me about wine, which I found very interesting. I remember telling her I did not think I could ever quit drinking. Later, when we arrived in Munich, we went to a well-known beer restaurant. To my surprise, though, I did not order anything to drink. It was not because I thought I should not do so, but because I did not want to do so. I did not want to drink at all! And this was in Germany, where there is plenty of good beer and wine. 

If Jesus is just a friend, he would have sat with me at the beer restaurant, drunk with me. But, because he is also my Lord, he knew I needed to quit, and he wanted me to quit. And because he is my Savior, he delivered me from the desire to drink.  It was a good thing, because about a year and after this flight, He called me to go to a seminary where drinking was not allowed. He is more than a friend who knows what is best for me, or a friend who shows me the best way to live. Jesus has the power to change my life. 

I cherish my human friends. One of my best friends lives in Japan. We have been friends since seventh grade, and thanks to technology, we can talk to each other for free, and we can see each other’s pictures on social media. But for me, there is nothing better than actually seeing her in person and spending time with her when I go back to Japan. I let her know as soon as I get my plane ticket when I am going back, and we spend hours together just talking. For me, Jesus is like this. I want to see him face to face. I know Jesus feels the same way about us. Right now, we cannot be face to face, but someday, he will come back and we will see him face to face. 

When I do get to see Jesus, I want him to say to me directly, “I love you, and I know you love me, too, because I know how you lived.” I want to stand in front of him, look him in the eye, and to be able to say without hesitation, “I love you, and I love your lordship.” 

The Nicene Creed says, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.” Our friendship with Jesus will never end. It will only get stronger and deeper as we continue to love him by loving his lordship and submitting to him. 

Jesus is more than my friend. He is my everything. He is my all in all. 

Nako Kellum is co-pastor in charge at First United Methodist Church of Tarpon Springs in Tarpon Springs, Florida. This article is adapted from her address to the Wesleyan Covenant Association gathering in Tulsa in November.