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. 

Transformation of the Heart

People often think of Christian morality as a kind of bargain in which God says, "If you keep a lot of rules, I’ll reward you, and if you don’t I’ll do the other thing." I do not think that is the best way of looking at it. I would much rather say that every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a Heaven creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is Heaven: that is, it is joy, and peace, and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other. – C. S. Lewis

I know there are things that if I choose to do them, I will never be the same. I believe we have all had that "after this, I will never be who I was" type of experiences. We knew that if we stepped over the line, or took the plunge, or ate the fruit, we would never be the same. I believe that is what C. S. Lewis is hinting at here. Each choice has a consequence, not just a what happens type of consequence, but also a consequence of being. Our choices have the power to change us.

I believe this is what John Wesley meant when he talked about the dispositions of the heart. As we choose to follow God and God’s way, the dispositions of our heart are changed toward the good, or God. If we choose to not follow, to allow sin to reign in our hearts and lives, well, that changes our dispositions too. Choosing to follow will transform our heart from a selfish, sinful disposition, to one that is characterized by loving God and loving others.

Practicing the means of grace (spiritual disciplines) is a way we choose to allow the dispositions of our heart to be transformed. Wesley taught that the means of grace conveyed God’s grace into the life of the individual. When we practice spiritual disciplines, we are choosing to have our heart turned toward God and transformed by God’s grace. Therefore, the disciplines are not optional practices if one has time, but essential practices if one is wanting the dispositions of the heart transformed.

Annual Conference

Our Annual Conference (annual meeting of United Methodists for a conference) begins tomorrow. I usually have a sense of tension when I go. I do want to be a part of what is happening and even want to be a part of change and transformation, yet, as I read through the reports and go through the meetings I just get frustrated.

This year, I’m sure, my frustration level will be even higher. This year we have to vote for delegates to go to General and Jurisdictional conference. So, if there are any pastors or lay people who have a power complex, this is where it can come into play. I’ve been getting emails and letters telling me who I should support for these important events.

It reminds me of the scene out of the Fellowship of the Rings when they were trying to decide who was going to take the ring to Mordor to destroy it. As the ring (of power) was in the center of the circle, all those around started fighting over who should be the bearer of the ring. Now, it hasn’t gotten that bad, but there has been positioning and such. I’ve asked to be a part of various ‘teams’ to get the ‘right’ people ‘voted in.’ I really don’t like it.

Perhaps my frustration and disconect with all of this is my belief that transformation will not happen from the ‘powers that be’ but rather from the individuals within the local churches. Yes, I want to be a part of change on the conference level…but who is the conference? Isn’t it more important to work for change at the local church level where people are living, working, loving and dying?

Hopefully I can have a good attitude through it all. Hopefully I can see God’s hand working even through this process of religious politics. Hopefully men and women who are fully following God, reading Scripture, praying and listening to God will be voted to go represent our conference. Hopefully, at General conference God will move and we will all be changed.

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Different Strokes

I keep forgetting that in a church there are various types of individuals. There are some, who seeing the church as they would any other organization, will take part in its programs, its committees and other activities even though, they don’t understand the deeper issues of being sent or that Jesus calls them. There are others who come out of a sense of history because it is what they have always done. They don’t always understand why they are there or what part they play.

Perhaps the trick is to find those people who have been touched and transformed by Jesus and who still have their hearts open and receptive to what he is wanting to to through them and understand that. If you can get those folks together it would be powerful.

Of course, the other side of this is to discover ways to draw all in the church to a deeper relationship with Jesus so they will begin to understand their part in the kingdom of God.