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.

Law of the Heart

"…did Jesus support the law or undermine it? What was at stake was his implicit, and sometimes explicit, claim: that in and through his own work Israel’s god was doing a new thing, or rather the new thing, that for which Israel had longed. And when that happened everything would be different. Torah could regulate certain aspects of human behaviour, but ti could not touch the heart. That did not constitute a criticism of Torah; Torah operates in its own sphere. But when the promises of scripture were fulfilled, then the heart itself would be changed, and the supreme position of Torah would in consequence be relativized. What was at stake was eschatology, in the sense already argued, not a comparison between two styles or patterns of religion." – N. T. Wright Jesus and the Victory of God (380).

I found this section from Wright insightful. As I read it, I immediately thought of John Wesley’s heart warming experience. For years before this experience, Wesley had operated as a Christian. He did the right things, didn’t do the wrong things and tried hard to be holy. Yet, what he found was that he failed.

After May 24, 1738, Wesley found that he still struggled, but his heart had been changed. Instead of always being victim, he was victor! This is what happens when God grants us the gift of His grace. It isn’t about what we can do, it is about what God does within us. This led Wesley to teach that, for the Christian, sin no longer dominates. Instead the Holy Spirit empowers the believer so they can have victory over sins that at one time would imprison them.

As Wright explains, the Torah (Law) has its place, but when scripture is fulfilled (and it has been through Jesus), the consequence is that it is relativized. Now the transformed heart fulfills the role of the law. We fulfill the law not because we beat ourselves into submission by obedience, but because we live out the gift that God has given us; the power of true inner transformation. 

Like Falling Off a Bike

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Hmmm….. It is been qite a while since I’ve made an entry. Blogger has changed some things too. Not sure what the number above is (or if it will show up on the post).

Anyway, the past four months have been interesting to say the least. I’m now at my new appointment….still trying to make the transition. I’m learning that I was in denial before I moved. To make a long story short, I made quite a few changes (career, location, house, etc), but I didn’t think it would be that big of a deal. Now, I’ve slowed down a bit.

To be honest, things are going fairly well. The kids have adjusted quite well and really like their new school. That took quite a bit of pressure off.

I’m trying to ‘relearn’ how to be a pastor. Actually, I’m not sure I knew how to be a pastor before. I was all about building a kingdom and trying to impress other people. Now, I’m trying to remember that there isn’t anyone I need to impress. My goal is to listen for the movement of God and move in that direction. At times, I feel like I should be “doing”, but I keep hearing God’s voice moving me in a new direction. Some of my old goals and directions have changed.

I’ve been reading a book by Philip Yancey. I love his writing. It rings true with my soul. Everyday, I’m dealing with people trying to understand what it means to be a christian within the context of their lives. I feel like many times the church doesn’t help with the struggle. Instead of helping people to become all God is calling them to be, the church puts demands and asks a lot of their time of energy.

If there were one thing God was calling the church to do….what would that be?

That question haunts me. My fear is we are so busy doing many things…we aren’t doing the one thing.

enough for now…..Dave.