Presidential Address

With thanks to the Methodist Newsletter for sharing the following address from Rev. Bill Mullally:
Inaugural address of the Rev Bill Mullally, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland.

St Mark’s Parish Church, Portadown, Wednesday 14 June 2016.
 

'The renewed mind – the foundation for Christian living'.

There is a saying that when you are a caterpillar in a turnip, you think the whole world is turnip. You think that’s all there is to life.

At the Methodist Conference in June 2014, the Faith and Order Committee presented a document entitled God’s Mission: Our Mission. It says that Methodists are called to be a people of warm hearts, tough hands and wet feet in our generation.

And, as I take responsibility in the role of President of the Methodist Church in Ireland for this year ahead, my challenge to all of us is: Let’s not think like caterpillars. Let’s be a people of renewed minds. Let’s be a people who think differently to how the world thinks.  Let’s be a people of the inside-out, upside-down awesome message of love that can come only from minds transformed by God.

We share our experience of Christ as our loving Saviour, not only through our words but also through our warm hearts, tough hands and wet feet - all of which only happens when Christ renews our minds, as he did John Wesley’s.

So, let’s spend the next few minutes considering the call to renew our minds as we find it in Romans 12. For in this passage we discover:

  • why renewed minds matter;
  • how we make the renewal of our minds a reality;
  • and what difference having a renewed mind makes;

 WHY RENEWED MINDS MATTER

You might be asking yourself: ‘What’s wrong with the human mind? Why do our minds need renewing? What does this renewal look like? How can we experience this renewal?’

A renewed mind - thinking differently - isn’t just a good idea.

A renewed mind is an act of worship.

JB Phillips’ translation of Romans 12:1-2 helps us to grapple with what God is saying to us about this topic: ‘With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers and sisters, as an act of intelligent worship, to give him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him and acceptable by him.

‘Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God remould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.’

To fulfil God’s mission call, to demonstrate the healing power of the Gospel and to be instruments of his peace, we need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Why? 

So that we may prove in the practice of our daily lives that the plan of God for us is good, meets all his demands and moves us towards the goal of true maturity.

Surely that is his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:1 says that we should present our bodies as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him - that is, we should give our whole active lives in service to him and to his world - as living sacrifices, which is our spiritual act of worship.

So the aim of all life - our heart, soul, strength and our mind - is worship. That is, we are to use our whole lives to show to others the worth of God and all that he is for us in Christ.

Now it makes perfect sense when Romans 12:2 says that in order for this to happen, our minds must be renewed - because our minds are not by nature God-worshiping minds.

They are by nature self-worshipping minds.

To live lives in God’s love, we need to have minds aligned with God. Renewed minds. This is why Paul encourages us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

Remember the caterpillar?

In a sense, all we see and experience is the turnip of life. 

Have we become so immersed with the world and its philosophies that it is hard to escape its corruption; it’s hard not to internalise the world’s viewpoints and priorities.

God wants us to break free from the turnip of life.

He desires us to be transformed people.

Paul urges us to be transformed by renewing our minds.

Imagine a caterpillar as it turns into a butterfly; this complete transformation is what Paul is talking about. No more turnip

- but a completely different perspective and experience of life.  

Through the knowledge of God’s Word and the experience of Christ in our lives we are able to rise above the unhappy state in the world and offer to the world, hope, love and compassion.

Paul urges us: ‘Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’

Do you remember as a child pouring plaster of Paris into rubber moulds to produce identical figurines?

Well, here Paul is creating a descriptive word picture of something we should not allow to happen to us.

We should not allow ourselves to be poured into the world's mould. If we are poured into the world’s mould we will be like identical figurines - the same as those who have not experienced God’s transforming love and Christ’s saving power.

We will be more interested in religion than in a relationship with the Creator. We’ll be more devoted to the institution of Church than the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We’ll be more committed to tradition than transformation.    

This will not only cause us to look like the world, but we will act like the world; we’ll think like the world and we will talk like the world.

Instead, the old is gone - the new has come (II Corinthians 5:17). We are a new creation. Living outside the turnip. Breaking the mould.

Renewing our minds to everything God says that we are,

will transform our lives - one step, one day at a time -

into the new creation that God desires us to be.

This is an amazing truth in Scripture - not because this change comes with anything we do, but because it comes by what God does in us.

As John Wesley did, we can try to work on being religious and on being good, but without the transforming power of a renewed mind,

nothing changes. It takes a personal experience of God to transform our minds.

 

HOW DO WE MAKE RENEWED MINDS A REALITY?

We, as a Methodist people, are called to be people of warm hearts. This phrase, ‘warm-hearted’, stems from John Wesley’s ‘heart-warming’ experience and has led to Methodists describing themselves as a warm-hearted people.

For Wesley, this was a head to heart experience. He had the head knowledge of a God of grace, who loved and forgave him,

but then he had a life-changing encounter with the living God. Wesley had a personal life-changing experience of God’s heart-warming love for himself that led to a renewed mind.

We are invited to be people of ‘tough hands’, who are committed to being disciples of Christ, to being more like Jesus and to helping one another to live that love - to seeing our ministry and mission as an offering to Christ and his kingdom, even when it’s demanding of our time, energy and resources.

Following World War II some German students volunteered to help rebuild a cathedral in England that had been badly damaged by the bombings.

As the work progressed, they weren't sure how to best restore a large statue of Jesus with arms outstretched and bearing the familiar inscription: ‘Come unto me.’



They were able to repair all the damage to the statue except for Christ's hands, which had been completely destroyed. Should they even attempt to rebuild these? Finally, the workers reached a decision that still stands today. They decided to leave the hands off and changed the inscription to read: ‘Christ has no hands but ours.’ 

Do we as a Methodist people have tough hands that work daily for a more loving and healing world? Tough hands whose work gives glory to Christ?

We are called to be a people with ‘wet feet’, who take risks to serve the God of Mission as he leads us together into an ever-changing Ireland and beyond; a people growing in faith who believe that God still speaks; a people who say ‘Yes, I will go,’ when the Spirit prompts.

To say ‘No, Lord’ is a contradiction of terms. If Christ is Lord of our lives, then our response to him can only be ‘Yes’ to whatever he calls us to be or to do. Will we say ‘Yes, Lord’ to wherever he calls us to go?  

Let’s look again at the life-changing experience of our founder to discover how he experienced a renewed mind.

We’re told Wesley's 'evangelical' conversion was really the end of a long process of searching. He had worked harder than most at trying to be religious and with an incredible degree of self-discipline. But he still did not have the power, the peace, or the joy he desired.

In the month following Wesley’s return from America, a Moravian, Peter Bohler, advised him that faith could not be obtained through philosophy or reasoning, which had always been for him the ground of his hope of salvation. John began to pray for 'justifying, saving grace; a full reliance on the blood of Christ shed for me; a trust in him as my Christ, my sole justification, sanctification and redemption.'

Let’s savour those words: 'Justifying, saving grace; a full reliance on the blood of Christ shed for me; a trust in him as my Christ,

my sole justification, sanctification and redemption.'

On 24 May 1738, John found the faith he had been looking for. He described it in this way: 'In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street where one was reading Luther's preface to the Epistle to the Romans.

‘About a quarter to nine, while he was describing the change, which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for my salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.'

In a moment, everything had changed. A new spiritual climate, a new note of assurance, certainty and victory had come.

God came into the centre of Wesley's life and transformed his will, his heart and mind, and changed a rather rigid, self-disciplined, yet always sincere person into a leader on fire for God.

His cultured and somewhat academic piety had given way to a dynamic faith, which affected everything he did.

His preaching was different and the response of those who heard him preach was different too. John now had a Gospel to offer - salvation by faith.

Wesley heard God’s Word and was moved by the Holy Spirit.

His conversion experience was a changed heart, a transformed will and a renewed mind.

What does Wesley’s experience say to us?

If we truly seek God and soak our hearts in Scripture, as Wesley did, God’s Spirit can transform our heart, our will and mind,

and bring our lives into alignment with God’s plan. 

When our minds are transformed, we won’t let the world around us squeeze us into its own mould, but we will be open to God re-moulding our minds from within. Then we will experience that the plan of God for us is good, that it moves us towards true maturity, as individuals, as local churches and as the worldwide community of Christians.

Everything we need for a life worth living comes through the knowledge of Christ. Wesley earnestly sought God’s transforming power in his life. He studied God’s Word. He earnestly prayed.

He opened his heart to the infilling of the Holy Spirit. He had prepared the ground for God’s Spirit to flourish in his life;

And the outcome was a renewed mind.

One of the key things we need to grasp is that it is the Holy Spirit that renews our minds.

How do we obey Romans 12: 2, ‘Be transformed in the renewal of your mind’?

Before we can do anything, the action of the Holy Spirit is required.

The reason I say the Holy Spirit is required is because this word ‘renewal’ in Romans 12: 2 is only used one other place in all the Greek Bible. In Titus 3: 5, Paul says:  ‘He [God] saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.’

 

There’s the word ‘renewal’ - the Spirit renews the mind.

It is first and decisively the Spirit’s work. We are radically dependent on the enabling power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

 

II Corinthians 3: 18 sets the stage for this renewal: ‘And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.’

What does the Spirit do to ‘transform’ us into the likeness and image of Christ? Enabling us to ‘behold the glory of the Lord’.

This is how the mind is renewed - by steadfastly gazing at the glory of God in Christ.

But to enable us to do that, the Spirit must work from the outside-in and from the inside-out. The Spirit must work from the outside-in, by exposing the mind to Christ-exalting truth. The Spirit must lead us to hear the Gospel, to read the Scripture and to meditate on the perfect example of Christ.

This is exactly what our great enemy does not want us to do according to  II Corinthians 4: 4 – ‘The god of this world [Satan] has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.’ Because to see that for what it really is, Paul says, will renew the mind and transform the life and produce unending worship.

The Spirit must also work from the inside out - softening and warming our hearts, that we would see ourselves, see one another and see the world with Christ’s loving, compassionate gaze - freeing our minds from the corruption of our society, that we would experience the wonder of God within us and within our world.

The Spirit must work from the outside in, through our minds to discover Christ-exalting truth; and from the inside out through humility that embraces the truth.

Let us pray, pray, pray that the Holy Spirit will renew our minds.

 

WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES A RENEWED MIND MAKE?

As a Church, God wants to grow us to true maturity, to be the dynamic force Christ intends us to be, in this time, in this place, in this world.   

This is why it is so important to experience a renewal our minds.

One of the guiding truths for all who follow Christ is the keeping of the first and greatest commandment. According to the gospel of Luke, we are to: ‘Love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength and with all our mind.' This is the will of God.

Have we grasped what God’s will is? The transformation not only of ourselves but also of this present age; that we as Christians are called to restore health and holiness to God’s creation.   

Wesley himself needed to undergo a life-changing, transformational experience to understand this and so do we!

For each of us this needs to be a personal experience. An experience of not conforming to the pattern of this world, but being transformed by the renewing of our mind. Why? So that we can ‘test and approve what God’s will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will’.

We are perfectly useless as Christians if all we do is conform to the world around us. Not conforming means, not wasting our lives with artificial success and worldly prosperity. But rather to be Christ-exalting people, through the transformational power of the Spirit.

That word ‘transformed’ is used to describe only one incident in all the gospels. It’s used to describe Jesus on the mountain of transfiguration (the mountain of ‘transformation’). ‘And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light’ (Matthew 17: 2; Mark 9: 2).

Something like that happens to us spiritually and morally when we are receptive and willing to receive the divine presence and glory of God in our lives.

When Christ was transformed he was visibly different – God’s love and light shone in him and through him.

How does the society see us as Christian people? Is our transformation evident? Being transformed is not merely a matter of non-conformity. One can avoid all kinds of worldly behaviours and not be transformed.

So we need to be careful - transformation is not switching from the ‘to do’ list of the flesh to the ‘to do’ list of the law.

When Paul replaces the list - the works of the flesh - he does not replace it with the works of the law, but with the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5: 22-23) - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Paul reminds us in II Corinthians 3: 6, that ‘[God] has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit. For the letter, we’re told, kills, but the Spirit gives life’.

The Christian alternative to unloving behaviours is not a new list of moral behaviours. Rather, it is the gift of transformation through faith in Christ and in the Holy Spirit.  

Paul focuses on the one essential way to achieve this transformation – ‘the renewal of our mind’.

A renewed mind is what will make the difference:

  • If we long to break loose from conformity of the world;
  • if we long to be transformed and to be renewed from the inside out;
  • if we long to be free from a form of Christianity that is merely a duty-driven religion;
  • if we long to do what we love to do, because what we love to do, is what we ought to do.

When we renew our minds in Christ, we offer our whole life as a spiritual act of worship. 

Today and in all the days ahead, let’s give ourselves to pursuing the gift of a renewed mind.  

‘As a person thinks in their heart so they are’ (Proverbs 23:7).

When what we think and know is aligned with God's word,

then it will show in the way we live. Our actions are a result of what we think.

 

CONCLUSION

We have a rich heritage. As Methodist people we have a powerful DNA; we have a Gospel to proclaim, a God to glorify. God’s Mission is our Mission.

We are, and God calls us to be, a warm-hearted people who rejoice in the gospel of love, whose faith expresses itself through love.

We are, and God calls us to be, committed disciples labouring in his vineyard with tough hands, to help one another and build God’s kingdom.

We are, and God calls us to be, a people with wet feet, who take risks to serve the God of Mission as he leads us together into new and exciting times.

We are, and God calls us to be, a people with renewed minds – minds re-moulded from within – who prove in practice that the plan of God for us is good and move towards the goal of true maturity.