1465) A Prayer for Easter and Every Day

By Joshua Rogers at http://www.joshuarogers.com, April 13, 2017

     I was five years old when I walked into my mother’s bedroom and told her I wanted to give my life to Christ.  We got down on our knees beside the bed and I asked Jesus into my heart.  After that, I proudly told everyone that Jesus had saved me; but my pride slowly diminished over the years.

     As I got older, the more I questioned the efficacy of my salvation prayer because, let’s be honest, the five-year-old motives behind it didn’t exactly demonstrate any depth of understanding about what I was doing.

     On the one hand, my parents taught me a lot about the Bible, so by that age, I really had developed a childhood affection for the miracle-working Savior who held little kids in His lap and then died to save them.

     On the other hand, I wanted to be born again because I would get to take the grape juice and cracker during communion at our Baptist Church — not to mention the most important reason of all:  I would avoid going to hell.  These reasons didn’t seem like very good ones for wanting to commit my eternal life to God, so I eventually began to wonder if perhaps I hadn’t actually been saved after all.

     My insecurity about my salvation inspired me to repeatedly redo my salvation prayer, but it never seemed like it was enough.  I wanted something more official.  I needed a prayer that would unquestionably provide my eternal connection to Jesus.  But there was a vignette in the Easter story that provided the security that a prayer for salvation never could.

     As Jesus was hanging there and His life was almost over, He had a brief conversation with one of the two thieves hanging on either side of Him.  The gospel of Matthew tells us that this thief had actually been mocking Jesus earlier in his crucifixion.  But Luke tells us the rest of the story:  With the clock ticking down on his life, the thief had a sudden change of heart and made a simple request:  “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom.”

     The man was a low-life, a common criminal attempting a desperate deathbed conversion, and all he could utter was a request that wasn’t exactly profound:  “Remember me.”

     Jesus didn’t do an inventory of the man’s good or bad deeds before He responded.  He didn’t ignore him or wait until the man said the perfect words.  “Remember me” was more than enough.  In the final minutes of their lives, Jesus responded, “Truly I say to you, today you’ll be with Me in Paradise.”

     Maybe you won’t go to church this Easter — maybe you don’t even want to.  Maybe you’re a believer who’s insecure about your salvation.  Maybe the idea of praying about something as monumental as your eternal salvation seems intimidating to you — you wouldn’t even know where to start.  Start here:  “Remember me.”

     It doesn’t matter if your motives are self-interested or if you’ve never shown any desire to follow Jesus.  It doesn’t matter how many mistakes you’ve made.  He’s there willing and waiting to take you home with Him.

     Call out to Him.  Trust that He’s willing to welcome you into His kingdom.  Ask Him to remember you today.  His certain response will have nothing to do with your worthiness and everything to do with His unfailing love.

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“Start here,” Rogers says.  The thief was near the end of his life, so he ended right after he started.  But unless you are near the end of your life (though, who knows?), this prayer must not be the sum total of the Christian life.  Jesus wants you to grow in your faith, do what is right, fight against your temptations, and keep in touch with Him through more prayer and worship and reading his Word.  

But just like for the thief on the cross who first said these words to Jesus, this simple request is a place to start, and, something to return to often.  Keep this prayer in mind.  You can say it anytime and anywhere:  when you are looking for help, looking for hope, or even when you are so blessed as to be doing just fine and want to express your gratitude by remembering the One who is the giver of all your blessings. 

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Luke 23:42-43  —  (The thief on the cross next to Jesus) said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

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John 8:10-11  —  Jesus asked her, “Woman, where are they?  Has no one condemned you?”  

“No one, sir,” she said.  

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

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Psalm 106:4  —  Remember me, Lord, when you show favor to your people, come to my aid when you save them.

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Jesus, remember me.

Image result for thief on cross images

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1173) Do You Really “Get It?”

God Is Not That Holy I Am Not That Bad

By Tim Challlies, November 9, 2015 article at:  www.challies.com

     How do you know that you really get the gospel, that you really understand and believe it?  Or perhaps better said, how do you know that the gospel has really gotten you, that it has taken hold of you and begun to permanently transform you?…

     You know that you really get the gospel when it is God’s grace rather than God’s wrath that amazes you.  I often hear people express their amazement and even their disgust at the very notion of a wrathful God.  But when I hear true believers, I hear them express amazement at the reality of a gracious God.  It is grace, not wrath, that baffles them.  “Why?  Why me?  Why would God extend such grace to me?”

     This is, I think, why John Newton’s “Amazing Grace” has remained such a popular and powerful hymn.  Newton’s cry was “amazing grace.”  Wrath did not surprise or offend him.  He knew of his wretchedness, his own deep depravity.  He was already convicted that he was fully deserving of God’s justice.  So it was grace that shocked him.  It was grace that seemed so out-of-place.  If there was any offense to the gospel it was that God would take the sin of a very bad man like John Newton and place it on the perfect man Jesus Christ.

     You know that you really get it when the shocking thing about the gospel is not that God extends wrath to sinners, but that he extends grace.  And here’s why:  The basic human condition is to believe that God isn’t really all that holy and that I’m not really that bad.  God is lenient toward sin, and, as it happens, I am not really all that deeply sinful anyway.  So we are a good match, God and I.  It takes no faith to believe that.  It takes no great change of mind and heart.

     But the gospel unmasks that kind of delusion.  The gospel helps us see things as they really are.  The gospel says that God really is far holier than I dared even imagine and that I am far more sinful than I ever could have guessed.  And, right there— with the right assessment of both God and me— right there the gospel blazes forth.  Right there the gospel gives hope.

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Romans 7:15…18…21b-25  —  I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…  For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out…  Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God’s law;  but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.  What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Romans 6:23  —  For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Philippians 2:12-13  —  Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed— not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence— continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

Romans 5:1-5…8-9  —  Therefore, since we have been justified through faith,we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.  And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.   And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us…  God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!

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Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

–John Newton

952) A Good Kid?

Tedashii: How I Went from Called-Out Chump to Christian Rapper

Tedashii Lavoy Anderson is a Christian hip-hop artist living in Atlanta.  His newest album, Below Paradise, reached No. 17 on the Billboard Top 200.  This testimony appeared in the November 2015 issue of Christianity Today, pages 103-4 (www.christianity.com)

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     I grew up thinking I was the good kid.  I believed that most of my life.  I never got into a lot of trouble, and never saw myself going down a wrong path.

     As a kid who attended church occasionally while growing up near Houston, everyone looked at me and said as much.  My family and I sat in pews on certain Sundays throughout the year, so I quickly learned the church’s traditions, but I didn’t know much about the God spoken of there.  I knew how to obey during Sunday services, and eagerly awaited their conclusion.

     My main teachers in how to view myself, relationships, and money were movies and music.  I took my cues from them and lived accordingly.  And I was applauded.  I knew how to follow the rules and do my work in school so I could get good grades.  I knew how to attract the ladies.  I knew how to physically intimidate people, so they knew not to mess with me.  And all those around me applauded me.  I was a good kid.

     I thought that all the way to college.

     I got the chance to go to Baylor University in Waco.  By the grace of God, I got a scholarship and walked onto the football and track teams.  My dreams were coming true.  I get to play sports, my grades are looking good, I’m looking good, I remember thinking.  I’m living my dream.

     Halfway through my first semester, a student walks up to me and tells me that he knows me.  I deny it.

     “You were in the Student Center, hanging out with some of my friends, and I was there,” he says.

     “Okay, I guess you’ve seen me,” I say.

     “I heard the way you speak about girls, how you talk about your life.  I heard the jokes you told and how you interact with other guys.  And I gotta be honest, I think the Bible would call that sin.”

     What?

     “Sin is disobedience to a holy God.  Sinning against a holy God makes you his enemy.  If you break his commandments and do something he tells you not to do, you become his enemy.”

     I’m shocked.  “What?”

     “You become an enemy, and this is what happens,” he says.  “There’s a place called heaven and a place called hell, and God’s enemies don’t go to heaven.  So listen, I want to tell you about Jesus.”

     I’m still shocked— and now I’m angry.  I get in his face, yelling over and over, “You don’t know me!”  I shove him and go on to class.

     I don’t even know if what he said is true.  I just know that, for the first time in my life, someone is telling me that I’m not a good kid.  And it’s not just him.  He is saying that God is saying that— and I don’t know what to do with it.  So, like many when they hear gospel truth spoken plainly for the first time, I get offended.

     I go on to class, then to the weight room.  It’s leg day, so I prep the bar to do squats.  I had 675 pounds on the squat bar.  The school record was 810, and I wanted to break it as a freshman.

     Down, then up— one squat.  Easy.

     I put 700 on the bar.  Down, then up— another squat.

     Next, I put 725 on the bar, thinking that if I can do this now, next semester I’ll be able to break the school record.  Down— and I don’t come back up.

     I hear some kind of snap and, not sure if it was inside my head or coming from my body, I scream out.

     The guys in the weight room quickly help me up and drive me to a hospital.  Once there, a doctor tells me that my back is curved in three places.  He says that if I get hit the wrong way in a game, I may never play football again— and might not ever walk again.  He tells me I have a choice:  I can continue playing football and risk permanent injury, or I can stop playing football and keep my ability to walk.

     I choose walking.  But I leave the doctor defeated.

     Two days later I’m sitting on campus, sulking.  The same guy who approached me days before comes up to me again.  He starts telling me the gospel again.

     He says that, even though I am an enemy of God, Jesus came to this world and lived the perfect life that I couldn’t live.  He died innocently on the cross, dying the death that we, that I, should have died.  Three days later, because he loves this world, God raised his Son from the dead and in so doing, proved that Jesus is God and that he is Lord over sin, death, and the grave.

     I had never heard any of this before.  I knew little of the full truth of what Christ’s death on the cross meant.  For me, the cross had simply been a backdrop to my ability to live a supposedly good life.  This time I hear him.

     This guy continues to explain the gospel.  Jesus, who did all this even when I didn’t love him, loved me enough to do that.  He doesn’t just want my good behavior.  No, he wants relationship.

     He goes on to explain that, at the end of the day, every person on this planet is created in the image of God.  And our being created in the image of God comes with purpose— not so we can stand in the mirror and brag to ourselves.  We are made in his image so that we can reflect him.  When people see us, made in God’s image and made a new creation in Christ, they should ask, “How are you that way?  Why do you live like that?”  And we can tell them, “When I was a sinner, the very God whose image I was created in died for me.”

     Hearing this rocks my world.

     Later that week, I break down in my dorm room.  I see with fresh eyes that I am not a good person— as far as God is concerned.  I come face to face with my sin and neediness, and it grieves me to the point of tears.

     I fall to my knees and cry out to God.  I kneel down feeling helpless, unable, and disgusting.  And then what comes to my mind is that God has already dealt with my sin and my inability to be good.  For the first time, I have faith to believe that the gospel is true.

     My life circumstances weren’t instantaneously different after that night.  But I had a new way of seeing and understanding.  I had this new relationship with Christ that I was eager to deepen.  I was hungry for truth.  I felt like I had been lied to most of my life, and I wanted to know what was actually true.

     So I got connected to other believers by joining a local church.  I was taught how to read and study the Bible and how to grow in intimacy with God.

     Over time, how I viewed and responded to life began to change.  I no longer saw myself as the good kid, but as a sinner saved by grace, through no effort of my own.  I began to view romantic relationships not as a means to gratify selfish desires, but as a purposeful means to one day obtain the good gift of a wife.  Physical intimidation, anger, and pride didn’t fuel me like they once had.  A heart of service started to grow in me.

     The guy who called me out and shared the gospel with me is to this day a close friend.  He influenced many young men and women during our time at Baylor.  He was not ashamed to communicate the life-changing truth he believed.  I am beyond grateful for his boldness that day on campus.

     He was ultimately the one to encourage me to put a Christian message in the rap lyrics I was practicing in my dorm room.  After Baylor, I got connected with Lecrae and trip Lee and Reach Records, based in Atlanta, and have recorded four solo albums with them.  Making and performing music have allowed me to process both hope and tragedy, including the sudden death of my wife’s and my one-year-old son due to natural causes.  The Lord has allowed me room to wrestle within his grace, but he’s kept me.

     And because I have a treasure so good, I can’t just keep it to myself.

     The good news of the gospel has radically transformed this good kid.

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Romans 5:10  —  For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life.

Romans 3:22-24  —  This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.  There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Romans 3:27a  —  Where, then, is boasting?  It is excluded.

II Corinthians 5:7  —  If any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.

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Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a poor sinner.

–Ancient Jesus prayer

406) Soft or Hard Words? (part two of two)

          (…continued)  Michael Barone was a writer for US News and World Report for eighteen years and is now the senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner.  He has written numerous articles and a book about what he calls ‘Hard America and Soft America.’   He says ‘Hard America’ is the dog-eat-dog real world that is ruled by competition and accountability and performance.  Life is tough out there in America’s work place and economy; there are winners and losers, moments of brilliant success, and times of crushing failure.  Even good people get beat up and knocked down, and they have to just up get up and keep going.  There are many opportunities in America, but there are no guarantees.  That is what Barone calls Hard America.

     But, says Barone, there is also ‘Soft America.’  Soft America tries to protect people from such realities.  In education, for example, he says, there are many who are more concerned about self-esteem than about competence, more concerned that no one ever has to feel bad about anything than about whether or not anyone learns anything.  And so there are efforts to downplay and even avoid the rigors of testing.  Therefore, the numbers of A’s received keeps going up and up, but the abilities of students keeps going down.  Standards continue to be lowered in what has been called the ‘dumbing down’ of everything.  And still, everyone who shows up gets promoted, and then receives a diploma.  Many ‘experts’ on parenting also proclaim this softness, encouraging parents to be positive and supportive of the child’s every spontaneous whim.  Parents are told to be careful to avoid too much discipline, too many restrictions, even, some say, one should avoid the use of the word ‘no.’  This, says Barone, is Soft America.

      Barone then goes on the argue that even though Soft America coddles and spoils, Hard America plays for keeps.  Students might get automatically promoted through 12 grades of doing nothing, but on the job if they do nothing, they will get fired, not promoted.  Average students may in high school be “A” students, but they find in the competition for jobs they are no longer on the top of the heap.  The private sector lays off people when profits fall, the military trains under live fire, and young people who never before heard the word ‘no,’ will now hear it from the banker and the boss.

     Then, says Barone, an interesting thing happens.  The kids will often grow up when they reach Hard America.  America, he says, produces very incompetent 18-year olds, but remarkably competent 30-year olds.  By way of contrast, he points to Europe.  In Europe, education is competitive and demanding, and students in practically every European nation beat the pants off American students in test scores.  But, he says, in Europe, adult life is often soft, and many workers are protected from the rigors of competition and the marketplace.  There, it is the adult workers that are coddled and spoiled with short work weeks, long vacations, and incredible benefits and job security.  So what happens?  Even though European students do better than their American counterparts, the adult American workers do better on the job, keeping American dominant in the world, economically, scientifically, technologically, and militarily.  It is Hard America, says Barone, that leads to our competence, productivity, creativity, and unparalleled success in the world.  (NOTE:  Hard America, Soft America was written in 2004.)

     Of course, this is all greatly oversimplified, and much more needs to be said– and Barone does say much more in his book.  For example, Barone argues that these competing visions of hard America and soft America affect every aspect of our lives; not only our education and our jobs, but also what we pay in taxes and how government benefits are designated, how our military’s effectiveness is maintained, and how our courts are run.  And yes, Barone would say, there is a place for the soft touch in every aspect of society.  But we can afford to be soft, he says, only when we also maintain the aspects of Hard America.  The soft touch is sometimes what is needed, but we cannot only be soft, all the time, with everyone.

     I found that article by Barone in my file, read it, said to myself ‘that’s interesting,’ and threw it away.  Then I read Jesus’ parable in Luke 12:32-40 (see previous blog), and I went digging through the garbage to retrieve the article.  Michael Barone writes about ‘hard and soft America,’ and I think he is on to something.  We also see in Luke 12, and in other parables and sayings of Jesus, both hard and soft words.  God’s grace offers to us the kind and soft word of love and forgiveness and mercy.  Sinful human nature turns away and rebels, and that brings forth from God the hard word of command and threat and judgment.  You see both the hard word and the soft word in every book of the Bible.

     Martin Luther said that all of the Bible, all of theology, indeed, all of life can be divided into two parts, the Law and the Gospel, his words for the hard word and the soft word of God.  In the Law, Luther says, God commands and forbids, he thunders and he threatens, he judges and condemns.  That is not how God wanted to deal with the people he created to love and to cherish.  But from the beginning, people have turned away from God, disobeyed him, mistrusted him, and went their own way.  God could allow everyone do this, live out their years, and then return to the dust without hope.  God could do that; but still God wants us, he wants our attention, he wants a relationship with us, and he wants us to be with him for all eternity.  And God wants us to treat each other with kindness and dignity.  So in the Law God tells us what we do not want to hear but need most of all.  The Law, that hard word, is spoken only so that we may hear and return to him and then receive the Gospel, that soft word of God’s love and mercy and forgiveness, and, his promise of an eternal home for us.  

     So, the simple pleasant and soft word from Jesus to you in Luke 12 is simply to ‘be ready,’ because then, if you are ready, when he returns, ‘it will be good for you.’

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Hebrews 4:12  — For the Word of God is alive and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

1 Peter 5:6  —  Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 

Matthew 24:42  —  Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.

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O gracious God and most merciful Father, you have given us the rich and precious jewel of your holy Word.  Assist us with your Spirit, that it may be written in our hearts to our everlasting comfort, to reform us, to renew us according to your image, to build us up into the perfect building of Christ, and to increase us in all heavenly virtues.  Grant this, O heavenly Father, for the same Jesus Christ’s sake.  Amen.  –Geneva Bible, 1560

405) Soft or Hard Words? (part one of two)

      Jesus said, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom…  Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him.  It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes.  Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them.  It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak.  But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.  You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”  –Luke 12:32…35-40

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     This one of several parables Jesus told to illustrate the need for us to ‘be ready’ for the time when he will return.  In this parable Jesus uses the example of the master of a house who has gone away and left his servants in charge.  Those servants, says Jesus, better be ready for when the master returns.  If they are, says verse 37, “it will be good for them.”  Very good indeed, it would seem, because the master himself will put on his work clothes and serve them.  The master will serve the servants!  You don’t see that every day.  But this is a very good master, and he treats his obedient servants like friends.  These parables bring to mind Jesus himself who does not place himself above his disciples, but takes the place of a servant and washes his disciples feet (John 13).  And then, in that most incredible story of all, Jesus chooses to give his life for them, dying a cruel death on the cross.  Many of Jesus’ parables tell of such masters whose kindness and goodness is beyond belief– they serve, they wait, they forgive, and they are unbelievably patient with those who are beneath them.  How wonderful it would be to serve in the house of such a master.  And that is precisely the point Jesus is trying to make.  Jesus was here on earth to give everyone the opportunity to serve such a Master.  In another parable, even the street people are invited to come into the King’s palace to be served at the feast for the wedding of the King’s son.  What a world, what a master, what a Kingdom!, where such a good master is so kind to his people.  “This Kingdom of God is at hand,” said Jesus, “Believe in me and you will be saved, and you will be brought into the wonderful kingdom of this wonderful master; believe in me, and you will be ready.”

     “BUT” says Jesus in verse 39, “understand this…;” and then he goes on to say that the master may return at anytime, and don’t let him find you NOT ready.  Other parables tell what will happen then.  Then, if this kind and patient master who has given his servants every opportunity and bestowed on them every goodness finds them not ready and not obeying him, but instead abusing and mistreating the other servants, then those wicked servants will be punished, fired, and cast out into the outer darkness “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  This soft master also has hard words for those who reject or ignore or live contrary to his goodness.  This master, who in so many ways has such a soft heart, can, when despised, be very hard in his dealings with his servants.  So, says Jesus, watch, be on guard, and always be ready for his return.  (continued…)

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“I’m very glad that you’ve seen that Christianity is as hard as nails; i.e., hard and tender at the same time.  It’s the blend that does it; neither quality would be any good without the other.”  

Letters of C. S. Lewis, ed. by W. H. Lewis, 1966, page 250

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Help me, O Lord, to make a true use of all disappointments and calamities in this life, in such a way that they may unite my heart more closely with you.  Cause them to separate my affections from worldly things and inspire my soul with more vigor in the pursuit of true happiness.  Amen.

–Susanna Wesley (1669-1742), mother of John and Charles Wesley and 17 other children