Three Simple Rules: #3 Attend to All the Ordinances of God

Over the last two weeks we have considered the first two of John Wesley’s Three Simple Rules.
The first challenges us to do no harm and to avoid evil, and in Wesley’s words, “especially that which is
most generally practiced.” In other words, those social and cultural things we do without even thinking
about the biblical implications or the way in which we have been called to live differently than the world.
The second simple rule is “do good.” It is not enough to avoid harming others and doing any evil, we
must actively go out and be agents of good in this world “as far as possible” to all persons, not just those
we like. Both of these rules impact our relationships with others. The third rule deals with our relationship
with God. Good persons of any faith or no faith at all can adhere to the first two rules. It is the third rule
which sets us apart and makes all the difference in the world and all the difference for the world.
“Thirdly: By attending upon all the ordinances of God; such are: The public worship of God. The
ministry of the Word, either read or expounded. The Supper of the Lord. Family and private prayer.
Searching the Scriptures. Fasting or abstinence.”
These practices draw us into the presence of the living God, bringing us to a state of
attentiveness and openness to all that God has for us, His grace, love, mercy, compassion, and wisdom.
As Christians we are called to live lives of constant transformation, of being in a process of sanctification
in which we are constantly growing closer to the image of Christ. The Apostle Paul wrote, “And all of us,
with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed
into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit” (NRS, 2
Cor 3:18). When we practice the ordinances of God, we allow God to do that sanctifying work in our
lives, to take us from one glory to another.
This list is not meant to be exclusive. In Wesley’s Sermon No. 39 he also speaks of the
ordinances of God and describes the life of a Christian (please excuse the archaic “he” language to refer
to any Christian), “There he partakes of all the ordinances of God. There he receives the supper of the
Lord. There he pours out his soul in public prayer, and joins in public praise and thanksgiving. There he
rejoices to hear the word of reconciliation, the gospel of the grace of God. With these his nearest, his
best-beloved brethren, on solemn occasions, he seeks God by fasting. These particularly he watches
over in love, as they do over his soul; admonishing, exhorting, comforting, reproving, and every way
building up each other in the faith. These he regards as his own household; and therefore, according to
the ability God has given him, naturally cares for them, and provides that they may have all the things that
are needful for life and godliness.” Consider the list of the Ten Timeless Practices along with those
above. The last two sentences of the quote are examples of what is called “Christian conferencing” or
spending meaningful time together with other Christians for support and encouragement.
As much as possible we are to attend to all the ordinances of God, not just the ones we prefer or
find appealing. When we follow this exhortation, we permit God to work in all aspects of our lives, not just
the convenient ones.
The ordinances of God lead us back to doing no harm and avoiding evil and doing good, but as
vessels of His love, mercy, and compassion and girded by His power and wisdom. The ordinances of
God are the path of transformation and renewal in our own lives, in our families, in our church, in our
community, and in our world. Thanks be to God.
Grace and Peace,
Pastor Scot

Three Simple Rules: #2 Do Good

Last week I wrote about the first of John Wesley’s “Three Simple Rules,” “Do no harm.” This week we will take a look at the second, “Do good.” It is not enough simply to avoid evil, we are called to be the “salt of the earth,” our actions should change the flavor of the world in which we live. Some would ask, “Why bother, the problem is too big.” Others, especially those who view the world as the authors of the Left Behind series, might say, “Things have to get much worse before Jesus comes back so let’s just let nature run its course. It’s no use trying to change the world, that will only delay the return of Christ.”

To the first statement, I would reply, “Consider a snowflake. It is one of the least powerful objects we encounter in our lives. Now think of the destructive power of an avalanche and how it can change the face of a mountainside. An avalanche is nothing more than a whole lot of powerless snowflakes all acting together with the power of gravity thrown in.”

To the second objection, I would answer, “This is a simple misreading of the Bible.” How many times must scripture teach us to do good? Remember Micah 6:8: “You have already been told what is right and what Yahweh wants of you. Only this, to do what is right,” (NJB) or James 2:26: “so faith without works is also dead.” How about Deuteronomy 6:18: “Do what is right and good in the sight of the LORD, so that it may go well with you,”? The New Living Translation of Luke 3:8 says, “Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God.” I’m sure you can think of many other examples, too.

Wesley wrote, “Secondly: By doing good; by being in every kind merciful after their power; as they have opportunity, doing good of every possible sort, and, as far as possible, to all men: To their bodies, of the ability which God giveth, by giving food to the hungry, by clothing the naked, by visiting or helping them that are sick or in prison. To their souls, by instructing, reproving, or exhorting all we have any intercourse with; trampling under foot that enthusiastic doctrine that ‘we are not to do good unless our hearts be free to it.’ By doing good, especially to them that are of the household of faith or groaning so to be; employing them preferably to others; buying one of another, helping each other in business, and so much the more because the world will love its own and them only. By all possible diligence and frugality, that the gospel be not blamed. By running with patience the race which is set before them, denying themselves, and taking up their cross daily; submitting to bear the reproach of Christ, to be as the filth and offscouring of the world; and looking that men should say all manner of evil of them falsely, for the Lord’s sake. It is expected of all who desire to continue in these societies that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation…”

These are not John Wesley’s ideas, they are simply his rephrasing of scripture. Wesley called himself a “man of one book.” In other words, all of his life experiences and everything he read he viewed through the lens of the Bible. He saw the poor and hungry, the imprisoned and he did something about it. These were not just helpful suggestions, this was his way of living out of the scriptures and Wesley expected no less from those called Methodists.

Watch for opportunities to do good in your everyday life, “doing good of every possible sort” and do them to all persons. Wesley encourages us to live frugally. What does that have to do with good deeds? Frugal living frees up funds to feed the poor, clothe the naked, support missionaries, and to be a counter example to the waste of the world. If each of us did a single good deed, a simple act of kindness, each day that would be almost 25,000 acts of kindness each month or 300,000 per year! That would surely be a goodness avalanche
that would change this community for the better, in a way that would help us all and bring glory to God.

Grace and Peace,
Pastor Scot

Three Simple Rules

John Wesley firmly believed, and so do I, that anyone who is truly saved, who has known the saving grace of God in his/her life, will live differently than the rest of the world. For Wesley, evangelical faith would be revealed in evangelical living. For those who joined his movement Wesley had “three simple rules” to guide persons in their life of discipleship. Very simply these were: 1. Do no harm, 2. Do good, 3. Love God. These rules still have value for us today and are worth considering. We need to remember some of the specific examples Wesley cited were in response to the world in which he lived. We may need to consider other examples for life in the 21st century. Over the next several weeks we will be taking a closer look at each of these rules.

First do no harm. Wesley wrote, “By doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind, especially that which is most generally practiced, such as: The taking of the name of God in vain. The profaning the day of the Lord, either by doing ordinary work therein or by buying or selling. Drunkenness: buying or selling spirituous liquors, or drinking them, unless in cases of extreme necessity. Slaveholding; buying or selling slaves. Fighting, quarreling, brawling, brother going to law with brother; returning evil for evil, or railing for railing; the using many words in buying or selling. The buying or selling goods that have not paid the duty. The giving or taking things on usury—i.e., unlawful interest. Uncharitable or unprofitable conversation; particularly speaking evil of magistrates or of ministers. Doing to others as we would not they should do unto us. Doing what we know is not for the glory of God, as: The putting on of gold and costly apparel. The taking such diversions as cannot be used in the name of the Lord Jesus. The singing those songs, or reading those books, which do not tend to the knowledge or love of God. Softness and needless self-indulgence. Laying up treasure upon earth. Borrowing without a probability of paying; or taking up goods without a probability of paying for them. It is expected of all who continue in these societies that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation…”

Consider the opening words, “by avoiding evil of every kind, especially that which is most generally practiced…” Wesley was not afraid to tell his followers, “I don’t care what the rest of the world does, we need to live differently.” His challenge is for us as well. Consider his admonition about the Sabbath. If we look at scripture, there is more said about the Sabbath than any of the other commandments and God does not speak kindly of those who violate the Sabbath. How would our lives and our world be different if we truly observed the Sabbath? Some may argue that it is not economically possible, as if profit is a higher consideration than God. Chick-fil-a and Hobby Lobby are two large corporations that will not open on Sunday, yet they survive. In Israel all stores are closed on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, even though the majority of the people do not identify themselves as being religious. In Kentucky (and elsewhere) there are payday lenders, who while they may be charging what has been determined to be “lawful” certainly falls under the category of usury. These lenders only charge 20% per month and our legislators go along with it. After last Tuesday’s Boyd County Fiscal Court “hearing” (and I use the term loosely) it would be easy to slip into the evil commonly practiced “returning evil for evil, or railing for railing” but we are called to a different kind of response.

Wesley addresses our private lives, too. He challenged Methodists to avoid “reading those books, which do not tend to the knowledge or love of God.” Wesley was well-read and did not mean avoid reading any book other than the Bible. In today’s terms, I think he would have had a problem with the Harry Potter books, books that promote witchcraft and sorcery and a source of power other than God. Many of the video games do not point us to the knowledge or love of God. What are we letting our children and grandchildren read and play? What about “needless self-indulgence?” I do not believe
we need to live in extreme austerity or poverty, and Wesley even taught that families need to be taken care of, but the question each of us needs to consider is “Where is the line between necessity and needless self-indulgence for me?”

As I consider the events of recent years I see disturbing trends, many of which go back to “Laying up treasure on earth.” Not too long ago the business of financial planning grew. These days financial planners have been replaced by “wealth managers.” We are no longer satisfied with economic security, now we want wealth! Think about Bernie Maddoff who was willing to cheat even his friends for his personal gain and when found out tried to transfer money to his wife to avoid repaying what he had stolen. Chase Bank just paid a $410 million fine for manipulating gas prices to increase profits. That money came out of your pocket and mine. The list goes on and on.
Sometimes nothing short of law will suffice to correct a social evil quickly. Slavery is a good example of this. But even though the institution of slavery was abolished, the effects still linger today. Laws can change what is legal, but
they cannot change the hearts, minds, and souls of women and men. When we are willing to embrace and live out a life of personal and social holiness by avoiding evil of every sort, especially that which we see every day, then our families, our churches, our communities, our nation and our world will change.

~ Grace & Peace, Pastor Scot

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