Sermon 3/31/2019: An Assurance of Grace

Sermon at Kinmundy United Methodist Church on 3/31/2019.

Title: An Assurance of Grace Jeremiah 29:11-13 Romans 8:15-17 Matthew 

Sermon Series: Distinctive Wesleyan Emphases

Audio link – Right click, open in new tab to play: [Kinmundy]

Right click, open in new tab to view slides as a PDF: [Slides]

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION: Let’s have a conversation! Please reflect upon the questions below as you consider the material

presented above. In a comment, share your thoughts and additional questions. What would you like to know?

What grabbed your attention?
What is the human need or problem?
What questions do you have about any quotes provided?
Does the Bible say anything about this?
What solutions do you see for the problem?
What specifically could we begin to do to make a change?


John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, who is the ancestor, several hundred years ago, of this church. John Wesley grew up as the son of a minister in a small rural town in England. The town was not very wealthy. John Wesley’s family was not very wealthy, but his parents taught him how to work. The solution to anything was to work harder. If you weren’t the kind of person you should be, you should work harder. If you are not as holy as you should be, you should work harder. John Wesley was taught that the way we’ve always done it before, that’s the right way because you can count on it. You can rely on it because after all, his parents taught him, the way we’ve always done it before is the way we want it to be. Now, what’s that like? It’s a little bit like square wheels. They’re not very good for going forward, but if you want to stay at one place, square wheels are great. And as a result– what you’ve seen over centuries in the church is the church loves square wheels, even when square wheels don’t work very well.
But every now and then God has a desire to change His church, and God brings ideas of change into the church. And it feels a little bit like those dangerous round wheels. I have big feet. They’re a little bit like square wheels. The first time I ever went roller skating with the youth group, it was scary. Round wheels are dangerous. You can’t trust them. And in fact, I fell down and broke my arm. Change is scary, but sometimes, change is needed. John Wesley kept working harder. He went to college. He went to seminary. He became a priest in the Church of England. He decided that wasn’t enough, and he was going to work harder. He became a professor of New Testament, Greek,and Oxford. That wasn’t good enough, so he worked harder and harder. And he finally decided to become a missionary in Georgia. And he came to Georgia, and he worked harder. And he work harder, and he failed miserably.
Kim and I visited Savannah a couple of years ago, and we took the beautiful carriage ride [inaudible]. And we said to the carriage driver, “We’re Methodists. We know John Wesley lived here. Tell us some John Wesley stories.” He said, “Well, I only know one, and that’s that the people here didn’t like him. He was the pastor of the church in Savannah.” We said, “Well, tell us more.” He said, “Well, here’s the only thing I know. He had a little black book, and he would walk around everywhere he went, and he watched everybody around him. And anytime they committed a sin, he wrote it down in his little black book. And if you saw him writing something in the little black book, you know within a week, he’d be coming to you and telling you that you needed to work harder.” Because that’s how he was raised he didn’t know any other way. But on the ship coming to Georgia, the ship came through a whole bunch of storms, and the English people on the ship, including John Wesley, were scared of losing their lives. They were scared. And to John Wesley, you know what that meant? Their faith isn’t strong enough. On the other hand, John Wesley was honest with himself. He was scared of losing his life, and he said to himself, “My faith isn’t strong enough.” But there was some round wheels on that ship. It’s a long story, so I’ll tell you more of the story another time, but the round wheels on that ship were a group of people from Moravia – they’re called Moravians – and when a wave broke over the ship while they were having church, the whole group of them just kept singing the hymn as if nothing happened. And John Wesley went up to the leader of the group. He said, “You kept singing. Weren’t you afraid to die?” And this man looked at him and said, “No, we’re not afraid to die.” “Well,” John Wesley said, trying to salvage his pride, he was a manly man and all that, “Aren’t your women and children afraid to die?” And the man just smiled, he looked at him and said, “No, our women and children are not afraid to die.” And John Wesley said, “Why?” And the answer, to translate it into modern day, was, “Do you know in your heart the love of God?” Another way to say that question today would be, “Do you know in your heart that you’re born again?” Now here’s the thing about John Wesley. Remember, he was a really hard worker, so he did God’s will with his hands. He was really intelligent. He was a New Testament Greek lecturer at Oxford University. He knew about God in his brain, but this poor man had this shrivelled up little heart. And he never thought that his heart was worth much. But in some ways, you can say in all honesty, it’s in your heart that Jesus lives. Now, John Wesley decided – because, remember, he was a hard worker – he was going to work so hard he’d figure out how to open up his heart. And he pursued this religious experience for almost three years. And then he found it. But first, let’s talk a little bit more about square wheels and round wheels. That term comes from a thing called natural church development. Have you noticed that when you put a seed in the ground, you don’t need to tell it how to sprout? You don’t need to tell it how to grow? If you put a seed in the ground, it just naturally grows, because God made it that way. All you need to do is keep an eye on it, and when it’s time to go out there and pick the fruit, you just go out there and get it. All by itself, it grows. And some brilliant researchers in Germany decided, “We’re going to study the churches and figure out what makes a difference when churches grow.” And they came up with eight characteristics of growing churches. And they came up with a way to measure churches so that you could, just like when you go into the doctor and take a medical test, you get a number that shows where you are compared to what they consider healthy. And they developed this test. With the basis of a thousand churches. Now, this was in 1989. Since 1989, the sample is now over 79,000 churches. So you can take this test and get a number, just like with your cholesterol or your blood pressure as to the health of your church with regard to these eight characteristics. And the main thing you want to do is to find out what’s called the minimum factor. See the stains in the barrel there? The heart is there to help you see which one is the lowest. It doesn’t matter how brilliant you are in all the other characteristics of growth, you’re not going to grow beyond that minimum factor. That place where, no matter how much water God pours in, it just pours out over the side. But if you want to make a difference in your church, the round wheel is to work on the minimum factor. Now what they found is that 70% of pastors, remember 79,000 churches, 79,000 pastors, 70% of those pastors, when they’re asked to guess what it is, they guess wrong. That’s why they have a test. If your doctor said, “Hey, tell you what. You guess what your cholesterol numbers are, that’s good enough for me. I’ll write them down.” Do you think that would be good? That would not be good. That would not be good. Well, when I went to work on my doctorate in the year 2000, this test was a whole big thing, and we took it at the Jacksonville Centenary United Methodist Church. And when I went to Caseyville in 2005, we took it in the Caseyville church to discover the minimum factor. It’s interesting. In both churches, it was exactly the same. The minimum factor was passionate spirituality. And how that’s defined is, people were spiritual, but their spirituality wasn’t emotional. Not too different from [inaudible]. And there’s a part of me that wonders how common that is across the United Methodist Church. We are spiritual, but we’re really calm and relaxed about our spitiuality. And that’s the limiting factor. How much our hearts feel our spirituality. Jeremiah 29:11. “For I know the plans, God says, that I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me. And then, I will listen to you. You will seek me, and you’ll find me.” You’ll find me when you seek me with all your mind. Nope, You’ll find me when you seek me by doing lots of good work with your hands. Nope. You’ll find me when you seek me when everyone in the church is on a committee. No. You’ll find me, God says to Israel, and I think God says to us, you’ll find me when you seek me with all your heart. And during those three years of seeking, John Wesley was beginning to learn how to seek with his heart. “In the evening,” John Wesley wrote in May, “In the evening, I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. Now, what did people do in the days before television? They listened to the radio. What did people do in the days before they listened to the radio? They read books. Back in the days where a lot of people didn’t read, you know what they did 300 years ago? They got together in somebody’s house and listened to somebody read from a book. Now, if you were a fourth grader, and your teacher in your school read to you from a book, you know how exciting that can be. But this is what they would do. And John Wesley knew that this little group was meeting, and they were going to read from this book and talk about it. And notice what he said. “I went very unwillingly.” But you remember he went. You know why he went? Because if you don’t want to do something, you just try harder. You just work harder.
And so he went very unwillingly, but he went. And God met him there. The next sentence in his journal says this, “About a quarter before 9:00, while he,” the one reading, “was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ,” ideas that John Wesley was very familiar with. He had studied these. He was a professor. But while he was describing the ideas about the change which God works in his heart through faith, John Wesley felt something. John Wesley felt his heart strangely warmed. That’s how he phrased it. In other words, perhaps for the first time in his life, he actually had a feeling. I don’t think it was that bad. But his heart began to fill up with feelings. And here’s how he described the feelings. “I felt I did trust in Christ.” I felt that I did trust in Christ alone. I felt that I did trust in Christ for salvation. I felt an assurance was given me. I felt that he had taken away my sins. I felt that he had taken away even my sins. I felt that he had saved me from the law of sin and death. And John Wesley felt something. It was a long journey, but he finally achieved what he wished. He found God on the day that his heart finally opened.
Friends, I’m glad you have an understanding of the faith. I’m glad I’m a part of a church that does things to help people, that does things to show people our faith. And, friends, we need to open our hearts


. Romans 8:15, here’s where it talks about– and by the way, just a little background on this, there is no way that John Wesley wasn’t a Christian. John Wesley was a Christian. This was not his conversation if you look at his behavior. Holiness was his main goal in life. This was not his conversation if you looked at what he believed because everything he believed was exactly right, remember? It was a square wheel kind of belief. But this was his conversation in the sense that God gave him an assurance where he knew, because of something he felt in his heart, that he was a child of God. And in the Methodist understanding of grace, we believe that you can know in your heart that you are a child of God. And here’s where it talks about that in scripture, Romans 8:15. But you have received the spirit of adoption– the feeling that you’ve been adopted. You receive the spirit of adoption as sons by whom we cry Abba, Papa, Father. The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. What form does that witness take? It’s different with every person, but you might say my heart was strangely [warned?]. That’s how John Wesley described it. Verse 17. “And if we are children, then heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided that we continue to follow him and serve Him.” And what’s going to happen if we do that? Provided that we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him. John Wesley didn’t stop working, but now he had his heart open. And God gave him energy to work because the work was in his heart.
When you take the Natural Church Development test, they give you your score on the eight characteristics. What they have found is there’s a 99.4% reality that if your church reaches above 65 on all of them, no matter where you are, no matter what’s going on, your church will be growing. This happened to be the results from [Kaysville?]. Now, the minimum factor was passionate spirituality. Notice the thing that they really down pat was loving relationships. This church in Kaysville was a church that passionately and deeply loved each other. Here’s the sad reality, they did not love God as much as they loved the human being sitting next to them. We may have to reorganize our thinking. We may have to reorganize our understanding of what’s important. We may need to reorganize some of our goals because you’ll notice– here’s what Jesus said in Matthew 22:37. Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God–” what’s that word we read? With all your heart. That’s important. Not only that, it comes first. Oh, and also love the Lord your God with all your soul. That’s important.
Oh, and love the Lord your God with all your mind. That’s important. John Wesley had that down pat. He had advanced degrees in. Luke says, “Love the Lord your God with all your strength by the things that you do.” That’s the number one commandment. That’s the great and the first commandment. We’re doing so well with all your strength. We’re doing so well with all your mind. And we’re probably doing pretty well with all your soul, but maybe we’re struggling with loving God with all our heart. And the idea of the bucket is that if you get better at that, God can put more in the bucket, and you’ll grow. But not only that, I would say if you love God with all your heart– if you love God more than baseball and chocolate– if you love God more than your favorite TV show or your favorite band– if you love God first, I would suggest to you, it will miraculously and beautifully change your whole life. It is a worthy goal to open our hearts to God.
Please pray with me. Lord Jesus, church is many things, and we get so busy with all the things we’re busy with. And life is many things, and we get so busy with all the things we’re busy with. Help us, Lord, not to be so busy to forget the simplest of things. Loving you is the wisest and most beneficial thing that we can do with our time. Help us, Lord, to open our hearts to you. And if we don’t understand what that means– if we don’t understand how to do it– if we don’t understand how to work toward it, Lord, we’re just like John Wesley. But if we keep trying to learn how to open our hearts to you, I believe, Lord, we’ll find that our hearts will be opening up because it’s your will that our hearts be open and be filled with your presence. In Jesus’ name, we ask you, Lord, to open our hearts. Amen. This song is a testimony of open hearts. I Know Whom I Have Believed. One of my favorites. Let’s stand and sing it together


[Discussion questions.]

Kinmundy United Methodist Church is located at 308 E. Third Street, Kinmundy, IL 62854. Worship begins at 9 am Sundays. The building is handicap accessible.

Wesley United Methodist Church is located at 3381 Kinoka Raod, Patoka, IL 62875 in the country between Kinmundy and Patoka. Worship begins at 10.45 am Sundays.

VISION: We are a functional family of God, where Jesus is Lord and people grow.
MISSION: Every layperson is called to carry out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20); every layperson is called to be missional. (¶126 of the 2016 Book of Discipline)

Paradigm: There are two kinds of people in this world: people who need to become disciples and disciples who need to become disciple makers.

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