Friday, 24 May 2013

We've all got a bit of Wesley in us on Aldersgate day!

On this day in 1738 John Wesley was famously converted at a Society meeting in a room on Aldersgate Street, London. I say 'famously', although it wasn't particularly noteworthy at the time, other than for Wesley and his close circle, but the repercussions from this evening in London were to spin out down through the generations to such an extent that we continue to remember today.

Having tried and failed in his attempts at religion, and even church leadership, Wesley was hugely impacted by the example of genuine faith that he observed in Moravian believers. Observing their attitude and prayer life during terrifying storms on board a boat bound for America, the lack of peace with God in his own soul was highlighted. Wesley was so deeply disturbed that he lamented on his return, 'I went to America to convert the Indians but oh,who will convert me!'

Frustration growing, Wesley's story finds him arriving heavy hearted at Aldersgate Street, 'very unwillingly' according to his journals. In this state of broken reluctance, he heard someone reading from Martin Luther's preface to Paul's letter to the Romans, and suddenly everything changed. It wasn't even the scripture itself - it was just Luther's notes!

Wesley describes it this way: 'I felt that my heart was 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.'

The following New Year, whilst worshipping at 3am with a Moravian group, the Holy Spirit fell so powerfully upon Wesley that many in the room cried out and fell to the floor. From this time on his life and mission were never the same again. As opposition came from the parochial and established church, Wesley boldly declared the whole world to be his parish. Over the 50 years or so that followed, he proved it. Covering 250,000 miles on horseback and preaching somewhere in the region of 42,000 times (average of 16 times per week!)

More staggering than this personal, prolific ministry output, Wesley trained over 200 other preachers and in Britain alone, left over 70,000 people in new Methodist Societies. Because of this reproductive, multiplying DNA, within 10 years of his death there were over 825 Wesleyan or Methodist church plants in Britain.

We remember Wesley's conversion today, because if the 'six degrees of separation' laws have any basis, most of us who call ourselves British believers are connected more closely to Wesley than we realise. My own line emerges this way. Young William Booth, converted into dying Methodism a century later, breaking out to reach his own generation in true Wesleyan style - my own great Grandparents were caught up in this new movement, seeded by Wesley, their whose lives and future family heritage changed for ever!

Friday, 17 May 2013

Dense crowds at Moriah Chapel. A reminder.

In November 1904 something new was happening in Moriah Chapel, Loughor, Wales, as over 800 people raced to get there night after night from their daily business to squeeze into the small building.

The Western Daily Mail reported it in this way on Nov 11th of that year:
A remarkable religious revival is now taking place at Loughor. For some days now, a young man named Evan Roberts, a native of Loughor, has been causing great surprise at Moriah Chapel. The place has been besieged by dense crowds of people unable to obtain admission.

Such excitement has prevailed that the road on which the chapel is situated has been lined with people from end to end.........The preacher soon launches out into a fervent and at times, impassioned oration. His statements have had stirring effects upon his listeners. Many who have disbelieved Christianity for years are again returning to the fold of their younger days.

One night, so great was the enthusiasm invoked by the young revivalist that, after his sermon which lasted two hours, the vast congregation remained praying and singing until 2.30 in the morning! Shopkeepers are closing early in order to get a place in the chapel,and tin and steel workers throng to the place in their working clothes.

Psalm 78.2-4 says: 'I will utter hidden things, things from of old. What we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation. The glorious deeds of The Lord and his might and the wonders that he has done.'

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Marriage: Mars, Venus, dogs and balloon flights!

Charles Darwin was considering marriage to his cousin Emma Wedgewood, and wrote some brilliant thoughts on the subject. Writing out of his scientific personality, Darwin drafted this rather cold sounding logic as an argument for marriage. Ladies, don't expect to swoon over the next few lines with romance heaving in your bosom!

Against the idea of marriage Darwin noted, "the expense and anxiety of children" and the fact that a married man could never "go up in a balloon". An odd one perhaps, but maybe just his way of expressing that marriage will tie him down and limit his risk taking (in his view!)

More positively, in favour of marriage, he spoke of acquiring a "constant companion and friend in old age". The clincher that settled the argument was that a wife would be "better than a dog, anyhow."

Remarkably, (and leaving aside the thought of marrying your cousin!) Mr and Mrs Darwin continued on to have a strong and happy marriage. On his deathbed in 1882, Darwin the logical, obsessive scientist cried out, "My love, my precious love."

Ten children in seventeen years shows that this love was genuine and that it wasn't all theory for our Charles and Emma, even with their extreme differences in personality which personify the 'Mars/Venus' analogy!

Mars and Venus is just a way of highlighting the subtle differences in gender, role, and expectations which we bring crashing with us into a new marriage relationship. Left alone, these differences can lead to tension and conflict, but if celebrated and understood, they can strengthen a marriage and make it shine. The key as ever is how we communicate with eachother. The aim is not to iron out differences or reduce contrasts to some awful shared level of shallow acceptance - the goal is to love one another selflessly and provide the foundation for a fruitful, lasting marriage.

It helps if you find a partner who 'gets' you and speaks your language, even if it isn't their primary way of functioning in the world. For all of us guys who live unthinkingly with our odd personality types, we find a good woman breaks her way into our closed in world and refuses to conform to our funny little ways.

Emma Darwin used emotion and humour with her man who was renowned for trusting clinical science and observation. She wrote to Charles early on in their relationship to say"After our marriage you will be forming theories about me, and if I am cross or out of temper you will only consider: 'What does that prove?' which will be a very philosophical way of considering it."

Emma Darwin was such a polar opposite that her Christian faith enabled her to stand by her man through all the flack and battles that Charles faced for proposing theories which purported to undermine that very same faith!

Ultimately, and in spite of their divergent personalities, the marriage worked because both were committed to serving one another out of deep love. Even if you don't agree with your husband's theories of evolution, when the journalists come knocking at the door you do the only thing a loving and loyal wife can do - pretend that your husband isn't at home!

Now, husband, you may not go up in a balloon so frequently, but that kind of love is even greater than a dog!