Monday, March 29, 2010

ELCA Reprise

Today I want to take a few moments and remember those of you who are suffering in an on going spiritual struggle with the ELCA.  Yes, Zion and I have left the ELCA and we're well and happy and fulfilling the Great Commission. We pray the same for you.  In the past, this blog served as solace for some of you and I will never forget your kind comments.   Lately, more and more disturbing news is reaching me from within the ELCA and so I want to have a "moment" to pass on what I'm hearing and reading.  It isn’t really possible to have a moment of silence on a blog, so I’ll make this a “moment of comment.”

I started to notice an up-tick in the number of people from various congregations across the midwest contacting me off line asking for prayers and help in their struggle with the ELCA.  The stories they share are incredible.  One pastor actually went to the nursing home and brought a van load of folks to the vote in order to insure that the vote to leave the ELCA wouldn't pass.  In another, the behavior of the local bishop at a congregational meeting pretty much galvanized the church against him.  In another, the bishop brought in all the inactive members who hadn’t even been to church in a year to vote. In many cases, people didn't want to see strife in their congregations and simply wanted to dual affiliate with the ELCA and LCMC.  Such a strategy would solve many, many issues within the ELCA and would stop the slow bleed that many congregations who can't make the 2/3rds vote are experiencing.  (I’ve heard from a lot of you who have 60% support to leave but lack the last 6.7% - doesn’t the ELCA doesn’t realize how many congregations are deeply divided?) However, the ELCA has decided that any such joint affiliations will not be tolerated.  The stories go on and on.  All I can say is, "So much for respecting bound consciences."  What I see is that the ELCA sees any organized opposition to its policies as infidelity.  So much for respecting each other’s bound consciences.

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure to be part of a panel that was interviewing a pastor wanting to join LCMC from the ELCA.  His story was disturbing.  His congregation had voted to leave the ELCA.  He was a mere 9 months from retirement and had stated his intention to simply serve out his remaining 9 months in that congregation he had served for a decade.  His bishop "fired" him.  Dropped him from the clergy roster.  Kicked him out.  So much for respecting each other's bound consciences.

Then there is the case of NE Iowa. Can you imagine that they would like to bar clergy who side with CORE or WordAlone from holding office in their Synod? Check out the article (whose authenticity has been verified) on page 7: So much for respecting each other’s bound consciences.

In the same issue, read about the Florida congregation (pg 2) who isn’t being allowed to leave the ELCA after 2 votes by the congregation confirm their decision to leave:
So much for respecting each other’s bound consciences.

I just want you to know that those of you still grappling with the ELCA are on our hearts. We love you. We support you. Stand firm in your faith. Stand on the Word of God. The Lord is your deliverance.

To pastors who face divided congregations: stand with the truth. You are living in times which demand of you a great witness on behalf of the Gospel, perhaps even suffering or persecution. The Lord will be your provision.

To pastors who are on the fence and think that things will change: Consider this hypothetical situation.  Let's say that I hang out with a bunch of guys who are bullies.  Of course, I'm not a bully, they are.  I hang out with them because I think that I can convert them from bullying and make them nice people.  I don't participate in their bullying, in fact, I chastise them when they come back from their bullying and tell me about it.  Every once in a while, one of the them honors me with a nearly spiritual conversation about how he's feeling about eternity.  After an episode of sharing "deep thoughts," he goes right back out to bully.  Here's my question:  How long do you continue to try and bring them around?  How long before you become an enabling presence?  How long before your attempt at being a good witness actually has the opposite affect?  

For all of us: let us continue to remember that our behavior, our words, are a witness. Let us be salt and light and stand for the truth in perfect peace. God bless you all. Thanks for reading. PJ

Saturday, March 20, 2010

We Just Don't Get Grace

It seems to me that one of the biggest problems in Christianity today is that there are so many Christians who just don’t “get” grace. They don’t understand this very basic concept upon which so many other doctrines rely. For instance, if you don’t understand the grace of God, how can you really understand justification, sanctification or salvation?

One of the biggest obstacles to true faith is the failure by many Christ followers to understand the grace of God and apply it to their own lives and the lives of others. Simply put: if we don’t “get” grace, we don’t “get” Jesus. This failure can lead entire churches to misrepresent the gospel and fail in their witness.  Normally, a grace failure might manifest itself in one of several ways:

1. Failure to be graceful to other people. This leads to perceptions of Christians as either angry people with an axe to grind or “holier than thou” folks who are too good for the unconverted. We who have been forgiven much sometimes like to throw our brothers and sisters into debtor’s prison for failure to pay us what they owe us, figuratively speaking. (See Mt 18) We come across as judgmental, full of condemnation. “You sinners!,” we say. By doing so we show the world that we simply judge people by their acts and fail to see in them the potential for repentance and transformation. Now this will be seen in some circles as a generalization. What Christ followers need to have is the discernment to understand when strong words to address sin are called for and when behavior is overlooked for the sake of a future relationship. Early Christ followers lived in a society that was full of biblically prohibited practices. They didn’t spend their days walking the streets and markets shaking their fingers at people. Instead, they changed their lives to conform with their new faith and their counter cultural lives was a witness that drew many away from the world and into Christ following. There are occasions when we are called to make a stand and address governments and societies and individuals about their actions, but those times seem to be fewer and farther between than our opportunities to simply show the light of Christ in our life.

2. Failure to apply grace to our own lives. This leads to Christians who are truly neither meek nor humble but who seem always to be down on themselves and unable to accept that they are good enough in Christ for God to use for his purposes in this life. They are slow to believe in the miraculous power of God at work in the world around them and their life doesn’t bear testimony to the joy of a changed life, but of the misery of being stuck in an endless struggle with sin. They are also quick to judge those who live in the joy of Jesus as being, ironically, too full of themselves. Having themselves never experienced the joy of grace, they are quick to condemn those who live in this grace.

3. Failure to apply grace within the church.  The church as an institution also needs to be forgiven, also requires patience, and needs to be treated gracefully and to treat others gracefully as well. The church is expected to be the place where judgment doesn’t greet the sinner who wants to be changed, but where repentance and amendment of life can truly happen. Naturally, the church must also speak against sin and urge its membership on to transformation and encourage them in their Christ following. Naturally, the church must hold it’s members to account that they live out the gospel together and individually. And naturally there is a time and a place for the church to discipline members whose lives harm the body or the witness. But both Jesus and Paul remind us that over everything, put on love. Discipline is to be the exception, grace the rule.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Grace is Mission

The gospel in a nutshell: Jesus Christ was given to die for us and for his sake, our sins are forgiven when we believe in his name. What does that mean, to believe in his name? It means to be changed, converted, to repent of the former life and to live a new life in Christ. Simply put, it means to stop following the ways of all others (which lead to death) and to follow only Jesus who leads us to life. Christ followers were once dead in their sin but now, having been washed in the blood of Jesus, they are alive in him. They strive to live out their new life everyday in their thoughts, words and deeds. They strive to live such good lives in the world that people will give glory to the Father and will want themselves to follow Jesus the Son. How do you live such a life? You live gracefully, freely giving away from the grace upon grace which has been bestowed upon you by your Savior.

The Christian’s experience of grace is to be so transformative that we are “expected” (that is, the expected result is to be) to forgive quickly as we have been forgiven, to be merciful as we have been shown mercy, to believe and hope the best for people and to never give up on them. It is expected of us that because we love the One who showed us grace, we will feed his lambs, tend his sheep, shepherd his people. It is expected of us, by our master, that we who have been forgiven greatly will also greatly forgive. Why? Because we have received his grace, been changed by his grace, and therefore love him so much that we are willing to lay down our lives, our rights, and all that we have in order to serve him in this way.

God gave us his grace by giving us the Son. We now live in this grace of Jesus every day and from within that life with him we seek to be graceful ourselves and to flood the lives of those we encounter with grace.

Grace is contagious. We live in an often times grace starved world. People are hungry for grace.

What is grace? Grace is incarnate in Jesus Christ. It is the type of undeserved, unmerited, unearned, sacrificial love that God gave us in Christ. It is multiplied, honored, manifested, when we who have received this grace spread it around by treating others better than they deserve, surpass their expectations, and sacrifice ourselves or something of ourselves in acts of love (grace) to them.

Living gracefully makes Christ followers different. And that difference is noticed by a graceless world and when the people of that world ask us why we are so generous with grace we can tell them, “Because my master has treated me better than I deserve and I seek to do the same for others for the sake of his reputation.”