‘Finish, then, thy new creation’

Talbot Davis asks whether conversion or childhood has more of a shaping effect of who we are as Christians.

[I]n more than a few of those “new creation” situations, I’ve watched with despair as people fall back into unhealthy patterns of ungodly living.

The same folks who emerge triumphantly from baptismal waters later descend painfully into cycles of addiction and abuse.

The same people who pray for salvation in my office end up paying a bail bondsman to free them from a DUI arrest.

And people who come forward in a rush of commitment sometimes fall away in a haze of apathy.

The thread that connects those instances I cite?  Childhood.  People develop patterns of behavior as adults that — knowingly and unknowingly — serve as coping mechanisms for traumas they endured as children.  

Davis’ post reminds me of all the ink and energy John Wesley spent getting people to watch over each other in love and to watch over themselves, being constantly aware that the sin that no longer reigns in them still remains in them.

The old Wesleyan-Methodist wisdom was that we could slide back into old patterns and ways if we did not continue going on to perfection. To read a sermon such as “On Zeal” is to see Wesley’s concern for creating new habits in us to counter the bad old ones that Davis sees.

Justification — as Davis’ experience confirms — is the start of something not the end. It is a birth — a new creation. We have much growing to do and there is much danger if we abandon the new creation to the not-so-tender mercies of the sin that is jealous for its old place in our hearts and lives.

This is why Charles Wesley wrote in the hymn the plea “finish, then, thy new creation.” Being new and being finished are not the same thing.

Are you a Bible moth?

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. (Psalm 119:105, NIV)

The glories of the law of God are praised nowhere higher than in Psalm 119, which I have been reading the last couple of days in the morning and evening.

Verse after verse, the psalmist praises the commands, instruction, statutes, and precepts of the LORD. They are a source of hope, a guide to life, and a shield against the many foes and troubles of the psalmist’s life.

What is remarkable to me — as a Christian in the USA in 2014 — is how clear the law is to the psalmist. The psalmist writes of meditating upon the law and pondering God’s precepts, but never puzzling over them. He does not cherish fuzziness. I often feel that our instincts run in the opposite direction. We seem to exalt obscurity when it comes to the law of God and the commands of Christ. We spend great energy looking for ways to stretch meanings or find loop holes. We do not meditate on the law so much as argue with it.

The psalmist does not argue with the law. He argues with God. He calls God to do what God has promised. He asks how God can let so many law-breakers run about with impunity. But all these questions appear to be so pressing precisely because the psalmist glories in the law of the LORD.

I suspect he’d be called a biblicist today. Or perhaps — to bring up an old epithet used against the first Methodists — a Bible moth.

In the preface to his sermons, John Wesley wrote:

To candid, reasonable men, I am not afraid to lay open what have been the inmost thoughts of my heart. I have thought, I am a creature of a day, passing through life as an arrow through the air. I am a spirit come from God and returning to God: Just hovering over the great gulf; till, a few moments hence, I am no more seen; I drop into an unchangeable eternity! I want to know one thing — the way to heaven; how to land on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach the way: For this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. Give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God!

His passion to know and do the will of God remind me of the voice of the Psalms.

Would that people heard such passion in my voice and saw it in my life.

Praying for all of us

Thank you, Sky McCracken for this story. May those with ears, hear.

McCracken tells a story about some Methodists from Mexico visiting his district’s office, which is in a church that closed after a church split led to dwindling membership and finances.

When our Mexican friends arrived at our district office, we met to talk about the Hispanic population in our area, which is almost all Mexican. Some work at nearby poultry processing plants, others work on large farms. After some conversation (with a translator), I took them on a tour of our facilities, which includes a church/sanctuary that is currently not being used (pictured). As we went in, their eyes got wide. They asked if they could pray. One man brought in a guitar and they sang praise songs. And then some went into extemporaneous prayer. One woman, Sandra (in the foreground), was praying and weeping. My Spanish is close to nonexistent, but I was told she was asking God to forgive us for our not being faithful with this building, for whatever disagreement that led to its closing. She didn’t pray “them.” Or “others.” She prayed, “us.” As if they shared in the sin of this particular church of being more driven by disagreement and pride than being driven by the Christ who was God Among Us.

Read the full post here.

Chongho Kim: ‘We all cried’

I finally got the time to listen to the sermon given by Rev. Chongho Kim at Marsh Chapel at Boston University School of Theology. You can watch it here.

The sermon, which was a series of personal stories about his theological struggles, including his struggles with the biblical and pastoral issues related to homosexual sex, caused an uproar and provoked condemnation from a committee at the seminary.

Kim has been characterized as being unfeeling and/or overly dogmatic in his talk. I personally do not see this.

His affirmation of the United Methodist Church’s Social Principles regarding human sexuality and a story he told from the late 1980s are at the center of the storm over the sermon. Before telling the story, Kim acknowledged that the details of the story would hurt or offend some of the congregation. He asked the congregation for their forgiveness for his insensitivity or ignorance.

The story he told was this. The District Committee on Ordained Ministry that Kim chaired was split on the vote to approve a woman who had come out as a lesbian and — as I understand through the poor sound on the video — she was rejected in part because he abstained from voting.

He explained his abstention as his deep uncertainty about the right way to balance his biblical interpretation with the people he knows who are are gay and lesbian. He went on at some length earlier in the sermon about how he finds himself accused by progressives and conservatives — and even his own family — of being in the wrong, but that he can’t find any way to interpret the Bible other than the way the United Methodist Church’s official statements have done so.

After the woman was denied ordination, and as a result of being in the center of controversy and the subject of harsh criticism, she took her own life.

And this is the point where people accuse Kim of being insensitive. Some in comments have implied he made some grand pronouncement about holding on to dogma despite her death. But I do not hear that in the sermon. He criticizes those in his annual conference who used the woman’s death as justification for her rejection by the committee on ministry.

He describes how in the aftermath of the woman’s suicide, he was asked to preach at a deeply divided annual conference. He recounts part of the sermon he gave:

I preached saying I did not know how to understand this issue, but I know that we are Christians. Christians are of Christ. If we are of Christ, we should have given her a message of hope, love, and grace instead of hatred and rejection. I asked the conference to ask God for healing and forgiveness … and I started crying. That was all I could do. In fact, we all cried. Everybody cried. Out of guilt, out of anger, we all cried.

Kim called on the church to be one in Christ and lamented the divisions within the denomination. (I hope the quote above is word-for-word accurate. As I say, the sound is poor, and I’m not sure I heard each word properly.)

I have listened to this sermon twice — and parts of it more than that. If the way he spoke about this topic is considered beyond the pale and the creation of an “unsafe” space in worship, then I do not see how anyone could ever address these issues from the pulpit.

Kim said he preached on this topic because the lectionary text from which he preached included Paul’s call to the church to be of Christ and united. He noted in his sermon that he has served in the Chicago area and in North Georgia. His own experiences inform him of the deep divisions in the church. I suspect he preached what he did because he wants the church to get beyond division. The reaction to his sermon certainly demonstrates that we are deeply divided.