Movie Based on Wesley to hit Theaters in 2008

 

I’m not sure when this movie is coming out, but I know I will go to see it. It is being released by an Independent film company, so I don’t know how good the production will be. They say the movie is going to closely follow Wesley’s life. If that is the case, I’m sure the story will be interesting at least. I mean, after all, his life was pretty amazing (at least in my opinion). The Foundery Pictures website gives a bit more insight, so you can go there for more information, although they don’t list the date it will be released.

Hope for Transformation

100_3618 It is not only a deliverance from doubts and fears, but from sin; from all inward as well as outward sin; from evil desires and evil tempers, as well as from evil words and works. Yea, and it is not only a negative blessing, a deliverance from all evil dispositions implied in that expression, “I will circumcise thy heart;” but a positive one likewise; even the planting all good dispositions in their place; clearly implied in that other expression, “To love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul.” – John Wesley, Sermon 110, “On the Discoveries of Faith.”

I love when Wesley writes things like this. It gives me hope.

I’ve noticed that when Wesley discusses regeneration or the new birth he says things like he did here. Wesley believed that justification wasn’t just a matter of outward appearance, but there was  a real literal change in one’s life. Here he says there is a deliverance from sin, inward as well as outward sin. He even goes as far to say that this deliverance even transforms our tempers. Not only is one delivered, but God plants good dispositions in their place!

I’ve been a United Methodist for 40 years (Since there was a UMC). I’ve been a pastor for about 20 years. I’ve graduated seminary, have been to numerous annual conferences, conference and district meetings and have spent countless hours with UM clergy and laity. However, if we agree with Wesley and believe that God really does what Wesley says God does, I don’t see reflected in our churches, conferences, pastors or laity.

I’ve heard people explain why all kinds of ‘ungodly’ things happen in our churches. I’ve heard people talk a lot about God’s grace, love, forgiveness and justification. Yet, I haven’t heard many people preach on (myself included) or talk about this belief of Wesley’s that ‘real’ Christianity means a transformation of our tempers and dispositions. Instead it seems like this point is ignored. The tendency is to assume, here on earth, we will have sin, it will be a battle, and we will loose…that’s why Jesus died after all.

I’m not sure we should move too quickly away from what Wesley says though. Maybe it would be good to read what he says about the new birth and literal transformation of dispositions and tempers. Because if God really does this in the new birth…wouldn’t that be wonderful? Wouldn’t it be awesome? To have our dispositions transformed and changed from unholy to holy would be a true miracle. To be able to love God and love others, not because I’m trying to live out some commitment or ideal, but because God has changed me in a way that loving Him and others flows from new dispositions and tempers is a truly hopeful thought.

I’m convinced that Wesley believed in real transformation of individuals. A transformation so great, that they were literally new people with new tempers and dispositions able to really love God and others. I wonder if those in the UMC still believe this. To be honest…I’m beginning to believe and it gives me hope.

Like a Plant…

Flowers at Branson “The spiritual life is like a plant growing in a garden” – Dr. Susan Muto

I’m not much of a gardener myself. My daughter wanted a garden when she was about eight years old. She wanted to use her birthday money to purchase seeds. So, as any good parents would do, we let her purchase seeds. It was then that I realized that a garden doesn’t just “happen.” A garden takes work. It takes a lot of work.

First I had to prepare the ground since we never had a garden before. This meant buying dirt (which I think is completely wrong…paying for dirt!) to add to the sandy soil we have. Then came the planting, the watering, the weeding, the watching, putting up a fence to keep our dog out…etc. To be honest, we are not real good at gardening because we want the garden to just grow. We didn’t weed that often and it was hard to remember to water it.

What was the outcome? Some plants grew and others didn’t. The corn never came up. Neither did the green peppers. We did have some beans and jalapeno peppers though. It was kind of a hit and miss garden I guess.

I think Dr. Muto is correct. Our spiritual life is like  a plant in a garden. John Wesley talked about the change that happens when we are regenerated. That is as if God is planting a seed into the soil of our soul (soil he prepared through prevenient grace). There is a good chance that the seed will grow, but there is a chance that it won’t grow.

Wesley talked about the importance of keeping the ordinances of God. He felt prayer (private and public), scripture reading (private and public), attending the Lord’s supper, community and other such acts were vital to one’s spiritual life. For me, these things are the weeding and watering of the spiritual life. Keep in mind that we don’t ’cause’ the growth because of what we do. God is the one who provides the growth all through grace. What the disciplines (ordinances) do is put us in a position where we might receive that grace. After all, Wesley called them the “means” of grace. They are avenues in which God’s grace can flow into our lives. By neglecting them, we neglect the very things that can help our spiritual garden be a beautiful garden.

Newer Mind

One of Wesley’s later sermons was “On God’s Vineyard” which was written in 1779. This sermon reads like a reflection of how God has worked through Wesley’s life and some observations Wesley made. One such observation was about the new birth.

Wesley was a man who wasn’t satisfied with ‘outward’ religion. Wesley believed that in order to be a “real” Christian, one needed to be changed inwardly. He writes:

“They know, the new birth implies as great a change in the soul, in him that is “born of the Spirit,” as was wrought in his body when he was born of a woman: Not an outward change only, as from drunkenness to sobriety, from robbery or theft to honesty; (this is the poor, dry, miserable conceit of those that know nothing of real religion;) but an inward change from all unholy, to all holy tempers, — from pride to humility, from passionateness to meekness, from peevishness and discontent to patience and resignation; in a word, from an earthly, sensual, devilish mind, to the mind that was in Christ Jesus.”

Wesley compares the new birth to spiritual birth and at the same time contrasts it with merely an outward change (i.e. drunkenness to sobriety). Wesley’s point is that the “great change” is also a real change, not content with outward behavior only but a real transformation of one’s inner life (or world). Going from “pride to humility,” “passionateness to meekness” and “from peevishness and discontent to patience and resignation” is no small feat. It is such a great change that Wesley describes it as being changed from a “devilish mind” to the “mind that was in Christ.”

I find this a point to stop and reflect. In the UMC are we still preaching and teaching about this ‘inner’ change and this “mind of Christ” that the new birth bring? Do we really understand what Wesley is talking about here. He is not using figurative language it seems. In Wesley’s mind there is a real, complete, and substantial change in the individual. So substantial that he compares it to physical birth. This change is so real that it’s outflow is a life that is changed, not manufactured change, but real change; from pride to humility, etc.

I wonder if I am too content with manufactured changes; changes that look wonderful on the outside, but leave the inside unaffected. Wesley wasn’t satisfied with outward changes only. He was preaching for an inner transformational change. Should we be satisfied with less?

Wesley on Good Works before Justification

Reading through Wesley’s sermon “Justification by Faith” and ran across this nice quote where Wesley addresses “good works” before one is justified:

5. If it be objected, “Nay, but a man, before he is justified, may feed the hungry, or clothe the naked; and these are good works;” the answer is easy: He may do these, even before he is justified; and these are, in one sense, “good works;” they are “good and profitable to men.” But it does not follow, that they are, strictly speaking, good in themselves, or good in the sight of God. All truly “good works” (to use the words of our Church) “follow after justification;” and they are therefore good and “acceptable to God in Christ,” because they “spring out of a true and living faith.” By a parity of reason, all “works done before justification are not good,” in the Christian sense, “forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ;” (though from some kind of faith in God they may spring;) “yea, rather, for that they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not” (how strange soever it may appear to some) “but they have the nature of sin.”

6. Perhaps those who doubt of this have not duly considered the weighty reason which is here assigned, why no works done before justification can be truly and properly good. The argument plainly runs thus: —
No works are good, which are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done.
But no works done before justification are done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done:

Therefore, no works done before justification are good.

The first proposition is self-evident; and the second, that no works done before justification are done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, will appear equally plain and undeniable, if we only consider, God hath willed and commanded that “all our works” should “be done in charity;” (en agape) in love, in that love to God which produces love to all mankind. But none of our works can be done in this love, while the love of the Father (of God as our Father) is not in us; and this love can not be in us till we receive the Spirit of Adoption, crying in , our hearts, Abba, Father. If, therefore, God doth not justify the ungodly, and him that (in this sense) worketh not, then hath Christ died in vain; then, notwithstanding his death, can no flesh living be justified.
John Wesley, Sermons, on Several Occasions (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1999).