Banding Together

At the heart of the Methodist movement in its earliest stages were two communal experiences: the class meeting and the band meeting. The class meeting was the entry point into the Methodist societies. Men and women would come together and answer the question, “How does your soul prosper?” For people who were there because they wanted to “flee from the wrath to come,” an honest answer to that question was the starting line from which they ran into the nail-scarred, justifying hands of Jesus Christ. As these men and women grew in their faith, the answers changed. There was more of God and testimony to God’s goodness and grace. Many people in class meetings, however, would experience a restlessness as though there were something more, something deeper available to them. They didn’t only want to know Jesus saved them from the guilt of their sin, they wanted Jesus to break their hearts free from power of sin. Those desiring to do so would attend band meetings where the questions shifted to ones like “What known sins have you committed since we last met?”

Methodism in all of its forms hasn’t set much store by the band meeting in a long time. They faded out of institutional memory and practice long before I was born. I don’t think I heard them mentioned until I was in seminary, and even then it was as a historical footnote. I found the idea of a group of people hearing me confess sin, sharing the temptations I experienced from week to week, and whether I was keeping anything a secret both exhilarating and terrifying. Do I really want to be known that deeply? Will my friends still want to be my friends when they discover how depraved I still am? These questions became walls between me and others, people I loved. And yet, my deeper desire was to experience the depths of God’s love and his ability to cleanse the human heart so that I could live a life released from the bondage of sin’s power.

In September 2017, I began to meet weekly with four other men for the purpose of banding together in order that we might be freed and healed. There is nothing I look forward to more from week to week. Our band has been a challenging source of sanctifying grace both in learning to love and work alongside others and in having people love me and pronounce the biblical exhortation of forgiveness over me. Ever since the first meeting I have noticed that my heart and my thought patterns have changed. I’m more aware of myself and my surroundings. I treat others with more love and grace. I’m quicker to repent. All because of those men and those questions[^1].

My love for God and my love for people have taken a turn for the better since I started meeting with my beloved brothers in Christ. If you desire to do the same, let me recommend a great starting point, a book called The Band Meeting by Kevin Watson and Scott Kisker. They not only explore the historical and theological importance of the band meeting, they offer practical suggestions and testimonies from people who, like me, have found it an extraordinary means of grace.

[1]: The questions are:

1. What known sins have you committed since we last met?
2. What temptations have you met with?
3. How were you delivered?
4. What have you thought, said, or done, of which you doubt whether it be sin or not?
5. Is there anything you desire to keep secret?

Dr Kinlaw - In Memoriam, Part 1

Hastily written? Yes. But if I don't write something down I might forget what I'm feeling and I don't want to do that.

There are two problems facing me at the moment. The first is that I really need to be doing the edits and revisions on my dissertation project instead of writing this. The second, how do I write this without making it all about me? As to the first, this project has a lot of roots in what I learned and experienced from Dr. Kinlaw. He's all over the pages I've written so this is my 10 minute break. Second, well, as he taught me through Buber's I and Thou there's really nothing I can say about him apart from our relationship.

One of the most powerful lessons I've ever learned is that the essence of sin is self-interest. I face that self-interest all the time. Every second of my waking hours. Opposing that reality, however, is an even more powerful lesson: God can cleanse the human heart of self-interest.

Both of these lessons I learned from Dr. Dennis Kinlaw who died this morning at 94 years of age.

I write to process and I usually post rough drafts, so I imagine this will be the first in a series of processes I'll work through this week as we approach Easter. Dr. Kinlaw's death will add a layer of significance to my personal preparation for the celebration of the death-defeating event of the resurrection.

My heart hurts over the loss of a genuinely wonderful person who brought much joy and love into my life. But that hurt is massively curbed by the stunning reality that he is in the presence of Jesus, whom he has known intimately since 1935. Mary Fisher, a former student and professor at Asbury Seminary, wrote on her Facebook page, “There are so many things I could say but no-one made me as hungry to know Jesus.” She writes what many of us experienced.

I’m going to try and leaf through, as best I can, some of the notes and journal entries about Dr. Kinlaw during this week and post some more tributes to him. Please pray for his dear sweet family.

Our friend Dennis,
the via salutis now complete,
sees his best friend Jesus
face to face

Some of you may or may not know who Dr. Kinlaw is. I have attached some links below if you want to find out more. I hope your life will be as affected by his as mine was.

Silence - New Read

UPDATE: I probably should write a new post about the books I read, but for now let me say that I finished this book on 2 December. It was moving and difficult to absorb emotionally. The themes of the 1600s written about in the 1960s seem so very relevant today.

Note: I have to start posting something here, otherwise I have no good reason to keep paying for it. So, I'm going to follow in the footsteps of my Twitter friends @johnthelutheran and @mackramer and start blogging through stuff I'm reading - partly to embarrass myself if I don't finish what I start.

Started reading Silence, by Shūsaku Endō. I saw the trailer for the film directed by Martin Scorsese and found out about the book on Twitter.

New Room 2015 is Near

During World War II, British Methodist W.E. Sangster wrote his PhD thesis on Christian perfection while also serving as the pastor of Central Hall, Westminster. During the Nazi bombing raids, he and others gathered in the bomb shelter underneath Central Hall's sanctuary. It was in this place and during these trials that Sangster writes, "I filled the hours of the vigil which had still to be kept by thinking on perfection. If that seems a little mad to some who read this, I can only reply that it was part of the way in which I kept sane."

I love the image of a pastor, bombs falling all around him, serving his people and keeping his wits about him by reflecting on holiness.

Wednesday morning my wife and I will drive to Nashville for the New Room Conference, a gathering I've been looking forward to since I left the one in September of last year. It's been an interesting year with many traps and pitfalls along the way. I remain convinced that "we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (Eph 6:12) The way I've kept sane, like Sangster, is to think on holiness. Thankfully, opportunities to gather with others from the Wesleyan-Methodist tribe reinforce my delight in these things; they offer a brief reprieve from the battles of life and ministry and reinforce our commitment to the whole gospel.

Whether you attend with us or get a chance to watch the sessions after New Room terminates on Friday, join me in prayer, that no matter what comes our way, we will maintain our joy and our resolve by reflecting on God's holy love.


I entered a bit of a sidetrack while reading for my DMin project on Christian perfection. For the last couple of days I have chased down some readings on what Jonathan Edwards) calls "Religious Affections". Part of the reason for doing so is because I happened onto a paragraph in Fred Sanders' Wesley on the Christian Life in which he connects Wesley to Puritan spirituality. I'm not at all surprised he makes the connection given Wesley had grandparents on both sides who were Puritans. Sanders notes that Wesley, "sounds so much like his contemporary Jonathan Edwards in his insistence on religious affections" (Sanders, 90).

This piqued my interest, so I started reading Edwards' long treatise "On Religious Affections" and found myself surprised at how often Edwards writes passages sounding like they came straight out of A Plain Account of Christian Perfection or Wesley's sermon On Zeal [^1]. Reading both Wesley and Edwards it strikes me that what they are talking about cannot be reduced to mere enthusiasm. What they are saying is that one cannot come into contact with the one true God, our Triune Creator, and come away unaffected. Arid spirituality is no spirituality at all. Faith cannot be mere mental assent, it must be accompanied by a change in our affections which Edwards' defines as "exercises of the inclination and will of the soul." How can one encounter God and come away unaffected? It reminds me of an early passage in Umberto Eco's book Foucault's Pendulum in which he writes, "A moment later the couple went off - he, trained on some textbook that had blunted his capacity for wonder, she, inert and insensitive to the thrill of the infinite, both oblivious of the awesomeness of their encoutner - their first and last encounter - with the One, the Ein-Sof, the Ineffable. How could you fail to kneel down before this altar of certitude?"

How can one encounter the Triune God and fail to kneel down before him? Either there was no encounter or we have blunted our capacity for wonder. We can blunt our affections. A year and a half ago, I made two lists: things that stir my affections for God and things that rob my affections for God.

What stirs your affections for God?
+ Praying with other people, particularly in groups.
+ Prayer.
+ When people pray for me before church.
+ Fasting.
+ Reading biographies of Methodist/holiness giants.
+ Listening to sermons by Dennis Kinlaw.
+ Music.
+ Victory over sin.
+ When people follow Jesus.
+ Baptisms.

What robs your affections for God?
+ Sin.
+ Internet.
+ T.V.
+ Anger.
+ Frustration with myself.
+ Procrastination.
+ Bawdy humor.
+ Not knowing what to do/indecision.
+ Giving in to self-gratifying desires, particularly food.

My intention in creating these lists wasn't to engage in a form of Pharisaism, but instead to recognize when my affections were growing cold and to exercise the inclination of my heart in God's direction by replacing, say, the internet with listening to sermons by Dennis Kinlaw.

Hebrews 10:24-25 says, "Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near." Do you have anyone in your life who stirs your affections for God? In keeping with the heart of the Methodist revival of the 18th and 19th centuries, meeting together to stir one another up is an important practice which can keep our capacity for marveling over God's majesty and love from fading out.

[^1]: Of particular note, Wesley says, "In a Christian believer love sits upon the throne which is erected in the inmost soul; namely, love of God and man, which fills the whole heart, and reigns without a rival," while Edwards says that our where our affections have their "principle and original seat is in the heart" (Edwards 238)

Memorizing Scripture

Seedbed published a piece I wrote on Scripture memorization this morning. I'm a very enthusiastic supporter of Seedbed, so this was a dream come true for me.

I want to add something that was too long for that post here in case people were curious about one thing in that post. I created a sheet of cards covering the thirty texts scholars determined were the basis for Wesley's teaching on Christian Perfection. When I created this sheet, I used the English Standard Version for the text of the cards. Some may wonder why a United Methodist would use the ESV.

When I was 8 years old, St. Paul UMC in El Paso, TX gave me a Bible and it was the Revised Standard Version. I read that Bible all the way through elementary, junior high, high school, and most of college. I picked up a paperback version I used for Inductive Bible Study classes in seminary primarily because I was familiar with it and the language. I switched to the ESV in 2001 because it was 95% the same as the RSV and I could get it in nice leather bindings. That wasn't an option for the RSV by that time. So, although there are some translation quirks, I'm mostly familiar with the language and even though I've tried the NIV, NLT, and NRSV, I keep coming back to the ESV because of its familiarity, not because I'm tempted to go Calvinist. μὴ γένοιτο!

(That's not a slam - some of my best friends are Calvinists.)

Ministry Templates and TextExpander

I occasionally want to write some nerdy ministry posts and I felt like this one needed to be next. It is difficult, however, to write about using TextExpander without being able to show it and I'm not going to spend the money on ScreenFlow to shoot a video. So, bear with me as I'm typing this up instead of videoing it and I'm probably not going to edit before posting.

Other pastors have been talking about using templates in ministry to aid efficiency. I've been using them for some time but now I've added a power-wrinkle to them. Sometimes, we have to use the same format for different things like a first-time guest email or a worship service. My workflow for that was using the find/replace function in most text editors. That didn't take very long, but I knew it took longer than I liked. In walks TextExpander. TextExpander, for the uninitiated, is an app that will take a simple keystroke and expand it into the full text you want. For instance, instead of typing my whole name out, I can type "nname" and "Matthew Johnson" will appear on the screen. Or, when I'm writing for my dissertation prospectus, I can type " eent" and "entire sanctification" will appear. TextExpander is perfect for lazy writers like me.

One of the best features of TextExpander is that the user can create auto-fill forms. I'll use the example of the template I use when I get ready for a funeral. When I was an associate pastor, I followed the lead of my senior pastor who was an amazing teacher when it came to caring for the grieving and leading funeral services. He used a document he created from the 1964 Methodist Church Book of Worship. I still use it and, as I mentioned earlier, I used the find/replace feature to change the names and pronouns. No more, though. I created an auto-fill snippet that looks like this:

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You can use the %fill:% language to create a pop-up form that looks like this:

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The great thing about this is, when there are two or more %fill:% items that are exactly alike, it fills the others as you type (I typed my first name and part of my last name for %fill:name% to show you).

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I also use Markdown, so the asterisks you see indicate that the words are supposed to be in bold. Using Marked, I can preview the rich text and export to PDF, Word, or just print directly from Marked.

Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 12.36.32 PM.png

I can't recommend templates or TextExpander highly enough.


I never liked reading an essay or hearing a speaker begin with, "The dictionary defines..." What a rotten way to begin a thought, right? Maybe it is rotten, but I actually had to look up something tonight in order to write down what was on my mind. The title of this blog comes from the Francis Asbury quotation over there on the left. You can take a second to read it if you'd like. I'll wait.

I've been using a pencil and a piece of paper during the last couple of weeks to map out what I want this blog to exist for. I don't really want to write about the random things I think about. I want it to have focus so that I can discipline myself and get down to writing. One thought that keeps recurring is, "Why not the holiness Francis was talking about in that quotation?" It's a decent question. My dissertation is going to be about sanctification in the Wesleyan tradition. Why not blog about it, too? Or is that too narrow a focus?

Being the slightly distracted person I am, I left the holy part of the quotation and started fixating on the "live more to God" part. That's an odd choice of prepositions, isn't it? I tell people all the time when I'm teaching the Bible that the prepositions are the most important words in any passage. I get strange looks from time to time, but if you were nursed by the inductive method like I was in seminary, you'd probably agree. Why, "to"? Why not "live more for God" or "live more in God"? Those make a little more sense, especially if you take our religious jargon into account.

I did what I despise. I looked up "to" in the dictionary. The funny thing is, "to" is a pretty versatile preposition. Most of the definitions made sense.

  • "Identifying the recipient of something." God receives my life.
  • "Identifying a particular relationship between one person and another." Living to God identifies the relationship involved in living.
  • "Indicating that two things are attached." There's a candidate for a discussion on holiness.

The one I liked the best was "expressing motion in the direction of". Brian Russell, Asbury Seminary professor and friend, once talked about repentance in terms of "realignment". The Hebrew word for "repent" basically means "to turn" (that's a bit simplistic but it'll work). Turn toward what? Turn from what? Answer: turn from sin and turn toward God. It's a simple (at least in theory) realignment of our hearts with God's heart. When you're off course in a boat, you've got to turn the wheel until you've realigned yourself with the course that's been set. Is this not what it means to express motion in the direction of God?

I think, despite the slight embarrassment for having to look up a word I've been using since I started talking, that I'm finding the focus for writing I've been looking for. What does life look like when it's sailing in a Godward direction? How do we realign when we get off course? Those are questions I want to dig into for life and if they spill into a blog, great. I'll see what happens.

A new beginning

I'm doing a little spitballing here.

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I do not like the practice of Christians telling people to begin a relationship with Jesus by "asking Jesus into your heart." Maybe I haven't read the Bible through enough times but I think it's a terrible practice. Nowhere does Jesus say, "Ask me into your heart and that's that." Jesus tells people to follow him. Asking Jesus into one's heart is passive: it's a one time event that, given the state of American Christianity, doesn't require much of the inviter. On the other hand, following Jesus is a daily practice of discipleship (Luke 9:23) that demands much of the believer and is consistent with the witness of the New Testament. 

This is on my mind at the moment because several of the men on our church are about to help on a weekend event designed to help men encounter Jesus. One guy asked me this recently: "What do we do if someone decides to become a Christian? How can I help them do that?" It's a great question. I've discouraged people in the past from merely thinking about conversion as "asking Jesus into your heart" and I often explain what it means to follow Jesus. In doing so, I remind them that if you get up out of your chair to follow someone, there is a first step and I think a prayer acknowledging that is helpful. But what to pray? I've been scratching out some ideas, and here's the rough draft:

Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Lord of all: 
Through your love and grace, this is the moment I choose to follow you. I believe that you are Lord and that God raised you from the dead and now I want to follow you by denying myself and taking up my cross. Hear my confession of my sin. You are faithful and just. Thank you for forgiving me and cleansing me from all my sin. With the gift of your Holy Spirit, I pray that your work in me will bear fruit as I am now a new creation; the old is gone and the new has come. Thank you, Jesus. AMEN.


You're Invited

Today, I got to live an illustration of God's grace. I didn't extend grace. It was given to me. Some of you might find my use of the word "grace" tenuous but hang with me anyway. I won't tell the whole story but Ellsworth Kalas invited me to lunch today. If there is a more concrete example of "unmerited favor" in my life this week, I can't think of it (though several are close while I'm here at Asbury.) If you don't know who Dr. Kalas is, he is an author, a preacher, a beloved professor of preaching, and a past president of Asbury Seminary who guided the seminary through a tumultuous time like a pastor. I know it sounds like bragging, but I can't help it. He invited me. I experienced that as love and grace. I can't do anything for Dr. Kalas. Having lunch with me is doesn't provide him with anything special. For me, though, it is a thrill. I will benefit. I will remember it. It's a gift that I didn't earn or deserve. Dr. Kalas gave me a very gracious invitation to join him.

In the American church, we often speak of beginning a relationship with Jesus in this way: "I invited Jesus into my heart." There are a lot of reasons I don't like this idea. For one thing, we are called to follow Jesus, not ask him into our lives and forget that he is there. Another reason I don't like the idea of inviting Jesus into our hearts is because there is often an initial thrill associated with that moment that often fades out quickly. This is really different than actually following Jesus who invites us to do just that. Think of it this way, what do we do when we invite another person to join us for a meal or an activity and they agree? There might be a thrill if they say yes, or maybe some stress in getting the house ready or in making restaurant arrangements. After that, what? We might occasionally remember the time spent together. It might even be a fond memory, but does it really make a difference in the grand scheme of our lives?

What about the invited person? From this afternoon, I can tell you it's thrilling, it's humbling, and it comes with the experience of being loved. Think about how you feel when you are invited to participate in something by one or more people. Don't you feel grateful? Don't you feel loved? The reality of the Christian life is that we do not invite Jesus into our hearts. Jesus invites us to follow him. Jesus invites us into his life. Undeserving people who have nothing to offer the Creator King respond to that invitation with gratefulness, humility, and a whole heart. This kind of response is the kind of life I desire. What an invitation!

First Fruits

During the past few years I've read blog posts written by some of my Calvinist friends about some of the old Puritan writings that were shaping their souls as they read. These books were written by people I'd never heard of before like Richard Sibbes, Andrew Bonar, Thomas Brooks, and others. At the time I lamented the fact that my friends were able to drink deeply out of their own tradition while I had little outside of John Wesley and Francis Asbury - they are no slouches but they are only two. I assumed, incorrectly, that there weren't any inspiring older resources out of the Methodist tradition that could do the same for me. I had a bunch of Francis Asbury Society titles, which are great, but nothing that went back much farther than the last twenty or thirty years. Where are those resources?

Thankfully, Seedbed now provides that which I've been looking for. In cooperation with Asbury Seminary we now have available a new set of resources that satisfies my desire and nourishes my soul. It's called First Fruits and they are free PDF versions of titles from people like Henry Clay Morrison (founder of Asbury Seminary) and J.C. McPheeters. I hope you'll go there, download some of them, and read. I can't wait to see what comes next.

Round Two

Tomorrow, long before the sun comes up, I will travel to the airport to begin my journey back to Asbury Seminary for my second round of classes for the Beeson Program I started last summer. A lot has happened since I went for the term last year. The people who were strangers to me on that first day are now family. I don't say that tritely. They are brothers and a sister I dearly love and cannot wait to see again. We've texted, emailed, communicated on Facebook, and even Skyped. We've prayed for and with each other. We've encouraged one another. I can't believe that God has blessed me as much as he has.

On top of all this, we begin a new adventure with new classes, new people to meet, and even a trip to Seattle the last week. I'm excited. I will miss my wife and daughter dearly, but thankfully they are going to come see me the second week to break up the drought of their presence in my life which will be a nice change from last year.

I don't know who reads my blog, but I hope that you will pray for me, my family, and my classmates as we continue our journey together to grow as people, followers of Christ, and pastors.

My blog posts from school last summer:

High Calling

I was given a tract when I graduated from seminary from the Francis Asbury Society that I've kept with me for ten years. I don't think they print it any more, but someone posted the content online and I thought I'd share it as it's been an important reminder for me from time to time.

So make up your mind that God is an infinite Sovereign and has a right to do as He pleases with His own, and that He may not explain to you a thousand things which may puzzle your reason in His dealings with you. God will take you at your word; if you absolutely sell yourself to be His slave, He will wrap you up in a jealous love and let other people say and do many things that you cannot. Settle it forever; you are to deal directly with the Holy Spirit, He is to have the privilege of tying your tongue or chaining your hand or closing your eyes in ways which others are not dealt with. However, know this great secret of the Kingdom: When you are so completely possessed with the Living God that you are, in your secret heart, pleased and delighted over this peculiar, personal, private, jealous guardianship and management of the Holy Spirit over your life, you will have found the vestibule of heaven, the high calling of God.

The rest here

Thursday Link Round-up

Some more links to check out.

Some good links to check out

In order to keep my blogging drought to a minimum, I'm reposting good reads I've come across lately. Enjoy these.