Friday, December 01, 2017

United Methodists Will "Unwrap Christmas" With Bus Tour

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The United Methodist Church is sponsoring a 16 state, 21 city tour "centered on advancing the real meaning of Christmas."

The tour begins tomorrow.

We know what John Wesley believed, but some are wondering what the "real meaning" of Christmas may be to the Methodist Church of 2017.

The United Methodist Church Communications office told the Christian Post that the tour "seeks to reach out in a new and creative way with a message of hospitality to connect those who are searching for a more meaningful Christmas with a local United Methodist Church."

The spokesperson said, "The tour centers on the true meaning of Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ, and an invitation to attend a local Methodist Church to continue to explore one's faith in community with others."

And, she said, "Our message is hope and joy and faith to seek a deeper meaning in their lives, which many people are seeking during the Christmas season."

John Wesley was fond of telling his Christian audiences, "You have one business on earth--to save souls."

That, of course, would be his "true meaning" of Christmas.

Wesley also said, "Get on fire for God and men will come to see you burn."

The story behind "the fire" Wesley experienced embodies the "true meaning of Christmas."

Wesley was born into a strong Anglican home. His father was a priest and his mother taught religion and morals to their 19 children.

Wesley attended Oxford, was an excellent student, and was ordained into the Anglican ministry.

While at Oxford, John Wesley joined a society (founded by his brother Charles) whose members took vows to lead holy lives, take communion once a week, pray daily and visit prisons regularly. In addition, they spent 3 hours every afternoon studying the Bible and other devotional materials.

From what some of his student peers negatively called "the holy club," he was called to be pastor of a church in Savannah, Georgia. When he tried to enforce the disciplines of the "holy club" on the congregation, they rebelled. Adding insult to injury, the girl from Savannah that John was courting, chose to marry another man.

He returned to England bitter and discouraged.

However, on May 24, 1738, John Wesley had an experience that would change his life forever. And impact the course of human events in America.

In late 1735, Wesley was sailing to his pastoral assignment in Savannah, Georgia when the weather turned stormy---very stormy, and the ship found itself in serious trouble.

Wesley had been named chaplain of the vessel but admitted he feared for his life. He noticed that a group of German Moravians, who were on their way to preach the gospel to the American Indians, were not afraid at all. In fact, throughout the storm, they calmly sang hymns.

When the trip ended, Wesley asked the Moravian leader about his serenity, and the leader responded with a question: "Did he, Wesley, have personal faith in Christ?" Wesley said he did, but later reflected, "I fear they were vain words."

In fact, Wesley was confused by the experience, but his perplexity led to a time of soul searching---and ultimately to one of the consequential conversions in evangelical church history.

On May 24, 1738, a still discouraged and questioning Wesley unwillingly went to a society meeting in Aldersgate Street where a man was reading Martin Luther's preface to the Epistle to the Romans.

Wesley recounted in his personal diary that "at about a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death."

Influenced by another former member of the "holy club" George Whitfield, who had a tremendous spiritual impact in America and England, Wesley began to preach the gospel he knew and the gospel he had experienced---the power of God unto salvation.

He never intended to start a church denomination, but one grew from the home meetings he organized with new converts.

Each had 11 members and a leader. Classes met weekly to pray, read the Bible, discuss their spiritual lives, and to collect money for charity.

The moral and spiritual fervor of the meetings is expressed in one of Wesley's most well known quotes: "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you can."

In his public preaching, John Wesley told the masses, "What one generation tolerates, the next generation will embrace." He preached holiness. And he often said, "Vice does not lose its character by becoming fashionable."

But Wesley's message to the church remained consistent throughout his public ministry:

"You have one business on earth---to save souls."

There may be value in "exploring one's faith in community with others"---but the true meaning of Christmas lies in the message of Luther and Wesley and Whitfield and Edwards and Moody and Graham and thousands more who have faithfully preached the gospel: "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved" (Romans 10:9).

And this is the true meaning of Christmas. This is the Truth that came to John Wesley on that eventful evening of May 24, 1738.

May hearts be "strangely warmed" this Christmas season.

Be Joyful. Be Blessed.