Friday, October 31, 2014

The Father of Methodism

When I started thinking about my list of "soul shapers," John Wesley (1703-1791) did not immediately come to mind.  He should have  been the first since no one has had more of a shaping influence on my spiritual life than this 18th century Anglican who is known as the Father of Methodism.  The first Bible verses I learned were in a Methodist Church.  That same church provided a resting place for my Father.  Its baptismal waters and preaching called me to faith in Christ.  I attended colleges shaped by Wesleyan theology and was prepared for ministry in a Methodist seminary.  For over forty years I have preached from its pulpits.

For a long time my soul has been shaped and nurtured by the spiritual fruit of the man named Wesley.  He came to 18th century frontier Georgia full of hope and left overcome by failure.  Once home he made his way to a meeting on Aldersgate Street where his heart was made "strangely warm" by a deep and profound awareness of God's forgiveness.  With extraordinary organizational skills he created a spiritual movement on lay preaching and small group ministry.  Out of his heart came theological expressions of grace, freedom of choice, the new birth, assurance, and Christian perfection.  And from his heritage came forth a strong emphasis on spiritual discipline and order.  Unlike many of his day, he called forth faith in Christ to the poor, the uneducated, the broken and thrown away members of his world.

Even as there is no way to truly measure his significance and impact on our world, neither is there really any way for me to adequately measure the shaping influence of John Wesley and his legacy on my spiritual journey.  I would not be who I am apart from the spiritual influence set in motion by his faithfulness.  I would not be one striving toward who God is calling me to be without the nurture and care and guidance given to me by the church which God brought forth from the work of Wesley's heart.  Always I have been grateful to be one in a long line of Wesley's preachers.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Abandoned to God

It is hard to imagine my spiritual journey without the shaping influence of Oswald Chambers (1874-1917).  I am sure my sentiments are shared by generations of believers who have read and devoured "My Utmost for His Highest" as daily spiritual food.  The young woman who would become my wife introduced me to this writing of Oswald Chambers my first year at Asbury College. Over the years I have worn out one copy and had to replace it, but never has this daily spiritual guide been far from my hand and heart.

When Oswald Chambers died, he was serving as a military chaplain in Egypt.  He was stricken with appendicitis and died from complications.  He delayed in going to see about his own health because he felt wounded soldiers needed the hospital beds.  While his life was short by human standards, his influence will be long by the standards of eternity.  After his death, his wife, Biddy, took her notes of his sermons, teachings, and lectures as well as some of his manuscripts and created ""My Utmost for His Highest."  Through its pages we see a man of extraordinary faith and because of it, countless other ordinary lives have been made extraordinary as well.
The one word which has always summed up the life of Oswald Chambers is "abandonment."  More than anyone I have ever known or read, his ministry and life beckons me to abandon all that is within for God.  When Chambers was a young man, his imagination was captured by art, but then there came that moment when his heart was captured by Christ.  Once the decision for Christ was made, this man of faith never looked back, only ahead at what absolute abandonment of self meant for his life with God.  "My Utmost for His Highest" calls all who read its pages to such a life.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Missionary Extraordinary

Although I had heard of E. Stanley Jones (1884-1973) before I went to Asbury College, it was in those years that I was touched by this servant of God called "Missionary Extraordinary."  Indeed, he was.  When I went to Asbury as a Junior transfer student, I had started the journey with Christ some years earlier, but those first few years out there in the world as a young adult took its toll on the certainty of my faith in Christ.  It was during this time of spiritual confusion that I first heard E. Stanley Jones preach at a college chapel service.
Of course, E. Stanley Jones is first remembered as a missionary to India.  For over fifty years he served Christ midst the predominately Hindu culture.  He wrote of his decision to go to India in "A Song of Ascents."  In the book is a powerful story of divine calling, one often used in preaching.  He was a friend of Gandhi and a prolific author.  His first book written in 1925, 'The Christ of the Indian Road" sold over a million copies and his last written in 1975 entitled "The Divine Yes" was dictated after a stroke left him unable to write.  Among his books are many daily devotional books.  An unusual sidebar to the life of this man tells of him being elected a Bishop in the Methodist Church only to take his name out of consideration because of the leading of God.  Few people when faced with such an opportunity would allow themselves to be dissuaded by anyone--even God.

E. Stanley Jones is one of two soul shapers whom I actually saw.  I remember him in the pulpit preaching in a powerful and persuasive way even when in his '80's.  I also remember his way of raising his hand with three fingers in the air as either a greeting or a farewell.  With three fingers in the air, he would offer three accompanying words, "Jesus is Lord."  And indeed, he was for E. Stanley Jones. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Missionary Doctor

Outside of my family, the first person I remember having a shaping influence on my spiritual life was Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965).  As a child in the late 1950's, I discovered him through a summer reading program for kids at the Waycross, Ga. Public Library.  The first things I read about him were written for the mind of a young reader.  But, even the simple language told the story of an exceptional man who set me to thinking for the first time about what God can do with a person who is willing to do God's bidding.
There were so many things on this man's resume.  He was an accomplished organist who could have had an outstanding career as a concert musician.  He was also a medical doctor.  He wore the titles of theologian, philosopher, and author of books that caused people of faith to re-think their traditional understanding of Jesus.  With all of this and more in his portfolio, he chose to serve God as a missionary doctor in the west African country of Gabon.  In a place known as Lambarene, he established a hospital to offer care for the sick and needy of Africa.  It was this missionary doctor caring for the people of Africa which captured the imagination of a ten year old boy.  His life and witness caused me to start thinking about what I would do with my life.  A frequent childhood dream was going to this place where Dr. Schweitzer served God.
Of course, I never it made to the Lambarene Hospital, or any other place in Africa.  I never made it to the mission field of another country. And certainly, I never met this man who inspired me to think bigger at such a young age.  His story and witness for God made a lasting and shaping impression on a heart that was in the early stages of being molded by God.  He was the first soul shaper who opened my eyes to the possibility of living a life of service to God and those who share this world with us. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Soul Shapers

I never should have read that first book, the one entitled, "50 Books Every Christian Should Read."  By the time I finished, I was thinking about a list of books I thought every Christian should read.  But, I resisted the temptation by asking myself, "Who really would be interested in my list?"  I was not even sure if my Mother would be on it so I laid aside my list of "must read" books.  Then, more recently I found myself reading, "50 People Every Christian Should Know" and the "list temptation" demon raised its head again.  Once more I asked, "Who cares what I think?"  Once again the answer was, "No one, not even my Mother."
However, the whole list thing set me to thinking.  I started thinking about a list of spiritual giants who have had an overwhelming influence on my spiritual journey. While the term "spiritual giant" can be defined in a number of different ways, I define it as someone whose faith journey and witness significantly impacted their contemporary world but also has had such staying power as to influence the generations after them.  More specifically, a spiritual giant is defined as one whose witness for Christ transcends the time in which they lived.  And, of course, to make my list means that their lives have had significant shaping power on my own spiritual journey.  Certainly, my list is not an exclusive list of spiritual giants.  It is, instead, just a few that have blessed my journey.
So, I have made a list of ten.  By now you have probably figured I did not resist the temptation this time.  I will be writing a blog about each of those soul shapers.  Perhaps, the sharing of the faith shaping people will cause you to think about those who had shaping power in your life.  And secondly, this personal list is a way to share the faith and witness of some people God has used in extraordinary ways.  Reflecting on such lives is never a bad thing for us.  My prayer is that my list of ten will inspire, encourage, and strengthen you in your own journey of faith.