On February 18, 1750 John Wesley wrote in his Journal:
“Today, likewise, wherever we assembled together, God caused his power to be known, but particularly at the love-feast. The honest simplicity with which several spoke, in declaring the manner of God’s dealings with them, set the hearts of others on fire, and the flame spread more and more, till, having stayed near an hour longer than usual, we were constrained to part.” (Works 20:321)
Recently, I have been experiencing the way that God does seem to cause his power to be known when people speak with “honest simplicity” about the ways they have experienced God’s work in their lives. Yesterday, I was able to be a part of a love feast with Seattle Pacific Seminary students. We took an hour and a half in the middle of finals to share some light food and talk about how we have experienced God over the past few months.
The best part was that Wesley’s testimony to the power of the love feast in the above account came to life for me in a new way. As we shared with each other, I gained an experiential understanding of what the early Methodists experienced at this love feast when the Holy Spirit “set the hearts of others on fire, and the flame spread more and more.” And I think all of us left feeling like we had been renewed by our encounter with the living God.
In fact, I have been experiencing God’s presence in my life in new ways over the last month or so. I have been blessed several times in the last month with a tangible experience of God’s presence as I have been a part of conversations where people spoke with honesty and simplicity about “the manner of God’s dealings with them.” I have left each of these conversations with a deeper awareness of God’s goodness and his steadfast love for me.
Through these conversations I have experienced my own brokenness more deeply than ever and my deep need for the healing that only God can bring. In one conversation, a dear friend reminded me of two qualities of God: gentle and jealous. I was reminded that God is gentle, that he is so tender and careful with us. God loves us deeply and perfectly at every single moment of our lives. He has never been disappointed in us.
And yet he is jealous. God wants all of us. He wants us to be wholly given to him and the purposes that he has for our lives.
This is why, as I tweeted a few days ago, I still believe entire sanctification is the grand depositum that God has given to the people called Methodist. The gospel is the good news of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ through the crucifixion and the resurrection. Christianity is the promise of salvation, of healing, of rescue to the broken, the hurting, the perishing. But just like the church cannot get to Easter Sunday without Good Friday, we cannot get to the hope for new life in Jesus Christ without recognizing our own brokenness. We cannot save ourselves, we need a savior. And thanks be to God, we are offered salvation through the person and work of Jesus.
I am convinced that the fullness of the gospel is not only hope for life after death. The fullness of the gospel is not a few strategies for improving your life at work or at home. And though I love The United Methodist Church and desperately want it to have a future that is filled with God’s presence, the fullness of the gospel is not survival.
The fullness of the gospel is that at every point of need in our lives God has already acted to meet the need. The fullness of the gospel is that salvation is freely offered to every single person. The fullness of the gospel is that sin is no longer necessary, because the Great Physician is ready to heal us of all that is not in accordance with his purposes. The fullness of the gospel is that we can experience forgiveness for all that we have done that we should not have done and that we can actually live the kind of life that God created us to live.
When I was in high school I read a quote by Henry David Thoreau that has haunted me every since I first read it, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” I think Thoreau is probably right. This would be very bad news, if this were all there news there is. But thanks be to God it isn’t. The good news is that we do not need to live lives of quiet desperation, it is not necessary or inevitable. We can live fully and obediently in God’s presence today!
As Paul says in a moving passage at the end of Romans 8, “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38)
Anything contrary to God’s purposes in our lives is no longer necessary. Which is not to say that it no longer has a hold on our lives. We cannot release ourselves. But God can and thanks be to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit that he is both able and willing.
These are some of the ways my heart has been set on fire as I have heard others share God’s “manner of dealing with them.” Thanks be to God for love feasts!