Friday, November 25, 2011

A Word Of Thanks From St. Paul

Mark this, the one who plants sparingly will have a spare harvest, and the one who plants bountifully will have a bountiful harvest.  Each person should give as they purpose in their heart, not grudgingly or because of duty, for God takes special delight in a hilarious giver.  God has power to make all grace abound for you, so that in every way at all times God will give you all you need so that you may overflow in every good work. As it is written,
   In many places
   he gave to the poor,
   his righteousness endures forever.

Moreover, the one who supplies seed to the planter and bread for the eater will supply and multiply your seed so that he may increase the harvest of your righteousness, in every way being enriched for all liberality which produces through us thanksgiving to God.  For the service of this worship not only completely supplies the needs of God's people, but also overflows in many thanksgivings to God.  People will glorify God because of the proof of your service, which consists of your obedience to your confession of the Good News of Jesus Christ and the your generosity of fellowship toward them and everyone else.  This will result in great regard for you, and people will pray for you because of the overflowing grace of God through you.  Thanks be to God for his indescrible gift!

II Corinthians 9:6-15

Monday, September 26, 2011

Poor Fork-legged Animal

Preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ is such a bizarre "twilight zone" endeavor.  Imagine how ludicrous it is for some mere human laden with cultural blind spots, physical frailties, and mental misperceptions --- all mixed together with a good dose of blinding arrogance --- to try to communicate the essential nature of the Creator of all to other similarly constituted humans.  Then, to top it all off, such a person dares to declare that we can know what this Creator desires for us and from us, that we can truly know the "mind" of God!  Absolutely preposterous!

Yet, this is exactly the claim of the Christian faith, that through preaching the Word of God is communicated, comprehended, apprehended, and inculcated by mere human beings.  Indeed, we are simply "poor fork-legged animals," as Frederick Buechner describes us (who, in good preacher fashion, is borrowing a phrase from someone else, in this case Shakespeare).  It is beyond incredible that the great Creator of all should condescend to such a faulty and fleshly means to be understood by such faulty and fleshly creatures such as ourselves.  No wonder the apostle Paul calls this medium "foolishness," for that is how it appears to anyone who gives it much thought.

Yet again, many of us preachers know that there is so much more than mere mental processes and chemical reactions happening when we preach.  This is on my mind right now because of my experience this last week preparing and delivering the sermon for September 25 at little Calvin Sinclair Church.  All week I wrestled with the text, Exodus 17:1-7.  I was intrigued with the "Is the Lord among us?" issue in the desert travails of the Israelites, but for some reason I wasn't coming up with anything very interesting (at least, not to me) for making a sermon out of this.  Though I squeezed out a passable few decent points, I went to sleep Saturday night feeling very dissatisfied.
In my dreams, I continued to work on this text and trying to come up with a better sermon. By the time I woke up, I had a whole new approach with much more relevant illustrations than when I went to sleep. Then, as I delivered the sermon Sunday morning, there were a number of people who seemed very intent as they listened.  Afterwards, many of these people commented on how my sermon sections derived from my "dream work" (which they did not know about) were particularly relevant to what is happening in their lives at this time.

So, how are we to understand all this?  It is apparent that there is so much more going on during a sermon than the cleverness of the preacher or the relevant use of word studies. Truly, the Holy Spirit is active, and no amount of work with the original languages, cultural and geographic settings, literary analysis, sitz im leben, or weltanschauung speculation can ever eliminate the need for God's direct intervention to make meaningful the words of one "poor fork-legged animal" trying to convey the eternal truths of the Divine to the mundane lives of other "poor fork-legged animals."

Quite literally, thank God!

Now, where is my Greek verb parsing guide?  (Sorry, Dr. Storey, my Greek isn't as good as it once was.)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

500 - 1000 - Maybe Even 2000 Years Of Schism!

(It has been pointed out to me that this posting is a bit abrupt and polemical, using broad brushed labels such as liberal and evangelical. While I must admit this tendency here, probably due to the fact that I wrote this quickly, without time to make my statements more nuanced, I believe the major points I am making are clear and along the lines of what I intend to communicate. Yes, I love "liberals" (especially those who drink Guinness) and some of my best friends are such, but my sentiments in this posting are along the lines of St. Paul's declaration (Ephesians 6:12) that "...our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.")

Okay, I'm getting a little "fed up" (as my dad used to say) with the claim by the liberals in the PCUSA that we evangelicals are now the schismatics because we believe that WHAT a person believes is important.  (Sorry, I don't have time right now to make that last sentence into something more erudite.)  Since the "how-can-you-evil-evangelicals-dare-exclude-anyone-just-because-they-do-not-believe-the Bible-is-God's-Word-or-that-Jesus-is-God-incarnate liberals" finally have cleared the way for getting what they want in this denomination, I have been reading their comments that we should all seek the unity of the church, and that if anyone does not agree with their views on Bible, sin, Jesus, gays, church government, and God, then such a person (eg: any orthodox evangelical) is resisting the leading of the Holy Spirit and fracturing this cherished unity.  It is funny that these same people did not see things this way when they were being "prophetic" as they spoke and acted against the Book of Order and majority policies up until this year.

If their assertion that the evangelicals are being schismatic by forming new structures (eg: Fellowship of Presbyterians, Evangelical Presbyterian Church, etc) for living out our discipleship as followers of Jesus is true, then I hate to break it to the PCUSA liberals that this would make them schismatics as well.  In fact, we all need to go back to the Pope and confess our sin of schism, since the very nature of being a Protestant means schism from the Roman Catholic Church!  After all, that's why we are called "Protestants," for crying out loud!

I remember being in a gathering of Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox, where one of the Roman Catholic persons said something about the nature of being a Protestant.  An Orthodox monk then quipped, "To me, you all are Protestants."  That's right, even the Roman Church is schismatic from the point of view of the Orthodox Church.  So, what are we talking about here: 500! - 1000! - maybe even 2000 years of schism? 

As long as we view unity of the church as consisting of only the institutional and organisational forms, then yes, we evangelicals in the PCUSA are being schismatic!  It would not be difficult to extend the liberal understanding of unity in the church to include persons who are not even Christian in any sense. Why not ordain a Buddhist monk to be a PCUSA minister? After all, such a person may be exemplary in lifestyle, compassionate, and possessing many gifts to be shared with others. And they probably have some kind of sense of a "Christ-consciousness" that could pass as acceptable in most of our presbyteries.

If, however, the faith of the church is organic, relational, and spiritual; rooted in a common understanding and experience of who Jesus is, and if this faith is flourishing through the shared and communicated witness of those who have encountered Jesus during the last two thousand years (and even longer for Reformed thinkers), then there is a great unity of the church that transcends all our little polity scrabbles.   In all the cultural, political, economic, and even theological diversity of Christians in all times and places, there is a core identifiable "like-mindedness" that one follower of Jesus can recognize and honor in another follower of Jesus. 

As the Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians (Ephesians 4:3-6): "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."  There is a unity that the Spirit makes between all those who follow Jesus, and this unity consist of both content and experience that can be recognized and communicated.  This is evidenced in the various ecumenical creeds that all Christians can affirm because of a "like-mindedness" created not by human organisational ingenuity, but only by the Spirit of God.

The liberals in the PCUSA place far too much emphasis on the institutional forms, while ignoring the heart of faith.  And they cannot align themselves with the heart of the faith because they cannot subject themselves to the authority of the Word, since the Word imparts corrective content upon our own ideas, assumptions, and preferences.  Therefore, they mistake unity for an organisational haven where human intuitions can thrive without the illuminating light of the Scriptures, the Church Universal, or the healing guidance of "like-minded" Christian fellowship.  This may be unity, but it is unity in darkness void of understanding.

Well, that's what I've been thinking, for what its worth.  Now, what channel is ETWN on?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Challenging Time For Seth

The last couple of months have been very challenging for Seth and the rest of the family. Due to the development of two pressure sores, particularly the one on his lower back, Seth has not been able to keep up with his exercises, which in turn has led to some loss of the progress we had been making. Instead, Seth has been dealing with the back sore, which finally resulted in his hospitalization last week. Unfortunately this also coincided with the beginning of his 6th grade school year.

The good news is that we finally got the medical people to take these sores seriously, and since then they have aggressively tended to Seth's healing. With the added focus from the medical team, we were able to track the source for these sores to Seth's wheel chair. While Seth has grown over the last two years, his wheel chair has not, which was causing him to be "compressed" in the way he was sitting, resulting in some high pressure contact with the seat cushion and other parts of the chair. After readjusting (or as the equipment people call it, "mapping") his wheel chair to accomodate his growth, his is sitting and riding much better. All this has been a big reminder for us that we are the ones who must educate ourselves on what is needed for Seth, and then to advocate strongly on his behalf.

As I mentioned before, in the last few months Seth has lost some of the advances he had made before. This, along with our lack of funds, has caused us to put on hold our next trip to Project Walk. Many of you have been very generous, and we are so thankful for the first Project Walk trip and the acquiring of the rehabilitation-grade Total Gym for the home exercise program. Yet, I know that life goes on, and that it is difficult to ask people to maintain a high level of interest in Seth's recovery. Nevertheless, we continue to ask for your thoughts, prayers, and support as we continue to seek the greatest possible recovery for Seth, while also seeking God's intervention for the impossible --- seeing Seth walk again.

As always, we seek your prayers for Seth and for our family. Pray that God would open the way for us to be in a much better place for employment, finances, and resources. This would allow us to do so much more to further Seth's recovery than we can do in our present situation.

Again, thank you all for your thoughts, prayers, and support. Without you, we would certainly not have the courage and hope that comes from knowing you care and that you desire the best for Seth. Keep on praying....


Saturday, July 2, 2011

A Short Seth Update

Here is a (sort of) short Seth update. I know it has been some time since the last one, but I want you all to know how much we appreciate your prayers, interest, and support for Seth as he seeks to recover from his paralysis.

Progress is still very slow, and advances are small, but each one keeps proving that movement can be recovered, and keeps alive our hope for a complete recovery. About a month ago, while laying down on his back, Seth was able to move his left foot to an upright position. He has done this again several times, but it seems to come and go. Plus, he claims that there is a distinct tingling sensation in his left foot, but he still has yet to sense any touch to his feet or lower legs. So, after about 1 and half years since attending Project Walk in California, he has recovered hip movement and sensation, can tell if he is being touched from his thighs down (but cannot tell exactly where or how much pressure is being applied), and can move each leg outward when he is laying down (but still cannot yet move them back). This journey is excruciatingly slow, but we keep plodding on.

We were able finally to obtain a special (especially in price!) rehabilitation model of the Total Gym. This allows us to do many more load-bearing exercises with his legs, as well as do a lot more with his core muscles in his abdomen and chest. This, along with some other useful equipment, helps immensely with Seth's home exercise program, but has left our funds for other recovery resources and a return trip to Project Walk very depleted. Many of you have been very generous, and we are so appreciative. We know that we cannot presume upon your generosity indefinitely, but for those who are so inclined I again list the address for those who want to give to the Seth Fund at River of Life Ministries. Our primary request is that you all keep praying and hoping for Seth and our family as we seek his healing and recovery.

The Seth Jackson Fund (2CMiracle Fund)
River of Life Ministries
3801 Blairs Ferry Rd NE
Cedar Rapids, IA 52402-1763

Thank you all again for your prayers, support, and encouragement. As Seth enters 6th grade later this year, we are hoping for some significant progress in the coming months, and it is still a hope that we may someday do a second trip to Project Walk in California.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

I Ain't No Prophet

In many ways, I have always been a misfit in the PCUSA, but I always sensed that theologically I was "at home," in that the major tenets of evangelical and orthodox Christianity were subscribed to by at least a slim majority of my fellow denominational participants.  And even if they were not, I could point to our strong evangelical and orthodox statements in our official documents, especially the Book of Order and the Confessions.  Well, with the passage of Amendment 10-A by the presbyteries, I now must face and deal with the reality that I am well out-of-sync with my denomination, that the major Reformed theological views I hold to are in the minority, and are even disparaged by many as backward, uninformed, and unworthy of respectful dialogue.  I am denominationally adrift, and theologically marginalized.

Does this mean I am going to jump ship at this point?  Take my Bible and seek a more accommodating climate for my evangelical soul?  No, I am not going to react blindly or self-servingly.  I need to think through my new situation, and pray about it.  I've always told the congregations I've served that we need first to seek to do what God wants --- regardless of whatever we may personally think or feel.  This has always involved prayer and reflection, so these are going to be my primary means for discerning, and then doing, whatever God wants regarding my place or role in the PCUSA.

In many ways, the passage of Amendment 10-A is a very good thing.  It has been the reality of our denomination that people who are sexually active beyond and outside of marriage are already serving as pastors and leaders.  This just makes official what was already the case.  Our orthodoxy was a paper orthodoxy, nothing more.  Now we are openly what we have really been for some time.  As National Capital Presbytery executive Wilson Gunn stated, "It's not a secret that has to be kept."  He was referring specifically to the Presbytery being able to accept marriage between persons of the same sex.  The interesting thing will be seeing how "open" we will be in this new reality .  Will those who are in a "partnership" of more than two find sanction and acceptance as they seek to serve as PCUSA pastors, or will this be "too open?"  What about other behaviours, such as practicing another religion?  After all, what is the standard we are using to decide?  Scripture is only a guide, not the Word to be obeyed, and no behaviour can be dealt with in a categorical manner, but only in a case-by-case basis.   Right now, our standards are derived only from our own sense of justice and whoever's sense has the most support in a presbytery vote.  God's standards have already been "categorically" rejected.

Finally, I must commend my liberal and progressive colleagues on their victory.  The Presbyterian Church USA as a denomination is theirs.  They have won through political savvy and patient persuasiveness, areas where my evangelical cohorts have shown themselves to be wanting.  Of course, having won the denomination does not mean that all hearts and minds are now marching to the progressive drumbeat.  In fact, it doesn't even mean that all the congregations and presbyteries are yielding anything to the victors.  There still remains considerable resistance to joining this parade, and the triumph may yet prove to be a hollow one.  The disparities in ministry standards among the presbyteries are likely to lead to a "balkanization" of the PCUSA, in which conclaves of liberal, evangelical, and whatever else are carved out in fractious maneuverings in many presbyteries.  With the prospect of most of the largest and financially able congregations moving at this moment to form a "fellowship" that effectively removes them from substantive involvement in the PCUSA, along with the energized exodus of members from many other congregations, this denomination likely will be in a couple of years only a shadow of what it is now (as it is now a shadow of what once was).  The liberal victory today may turn out to be like winning a season ticket to a pro football team's games, only to have the season cancelled due to a player's strike.

So, I will be doing what many are doing in the aftermath of Amendment 10-A:  praying, thinking, studying, discussing, reading, and deciding.  No one at this point really knows how all this is going to shake out.  The only thing any of us can do is struggle to understand what it means in this new context to be faithful to Jesus, obedient to the Word, led by the Spirit, and glorifying to God.   I am no prophet, and I cannot tell what is going to happen.  However, both the Word and the Spirit are pretty clear right now that there is a tumultuous time of judgement and purging ahead of us as a denomination.  Again, I am no prophet, but I can still be like Jeremiah, pleading to God on behalf of the people --- people loved and called by God.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

What Does It Mean To Be A Pastor?

I was just thinking (again), and here are some semi-random thoughts on being a pastor.


First and foremost, being a pastor of a church means unconditionally loving every person in the congregation with the love of Jesus Christ. While all followers of Jesus are called to express love for others and to have a servant attitude, pastors are to be living models of what this actually looks like. This does not mean a pastor is always doing this well (as we are all “simultaneously saint and sinner,” as Luther says), but it does mean that I as a pastor am transparent in my own struggles to be a loving and authentic follower of Jesus.

It is the love of God experienced in the body of Christ that truly marks Christians as truly unique (holy). It is the wonder of a group of persons who find acceptance with one another despite their differences, shortcomings, and failures that truly marks the church as different from other groups of people in this world. So, we are “holy,” that is, set apart, not by anything that makes us better or superior to anyone else. Rather, we are “holy,” because we are literally carriers (vessels) of the love of God, called to share this “treasure” (as St. Paul calls it) with everyone.

In the openness of authentic community such as this, people can experience the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, and then and only then will participation in the life of the church become blessing rather than bother, desire rather than duty. In this atmosphere of authentic relationships, people will find personal fulfillment in discovering their Spirit-given gifts, exploring the nature of their particular call to do the ministry of Christ, and then become involved in an expression of mission that serves others.

Vision Carrier

The pastor is responsible for clarifying and promoting the overall vision of a congregation, and for leading the congregation in the implementation of that vision. The guiding vision of a congregation is the product of all the fellowship as each one prays, struggles, learns, disciples, serves, worships, ministers, follows, and leads. All vision and call is the result of earnest and seeking prayer, and is the created and guided by the Word.  Pastors do not come up with their own visions, but are the carriers and interpreters of God's vision as understood in the Scriptures. It is the cultivation of prayer in the life of the people and the openness to the Holy Spirit that determine how well we hear what God is saying to us as a fellowship, and will determine how well we listen and do what God says. It is the pastor's role to emphasize leadership and decisions through prayer, and for making sure that prayer is both a regular practice of the fellowship and a special focus in extraordinary times.


The pastor is the one who leads in equipping the people for their works of service and mission in the name of Jesus. This can be done directly through discipling or mentoring emerging leaders. Generally speaking, though, the pastor leads and equips the leaders of a congregation, who in turn equip leaders under their care. It is important that in the equipping ministry of the pastor and other leaders, the guiding vision of the congregation be used to inspire the personal visions of each individual believer.

In a fellowship with a healthy equipping ministry, there is a relational emphasis that flavors every aspect of the congregation. There are no programs to attract people, only mission that arises out of the Spirit-led interaction of the people with each other. Thus, the life of the people is what attracts, or to use the more accurate word, “invites” people into the congregation. When people who desire to live earnest and authentic lives see a group of believers in Christ living out active lives of mission service and doing this in a genuine spirit of Christ-likeness, they come and invest themselves unreservedly.


Good pastors take the lead in developing effective communication structures that nurture the health of the congregation. It is critical for a fellowship to be open and authentic in addressing concerns and issues in above-board and honest ways. Biblically healthy congregations do not participate in private alliances to challenge or subvert the vision and goals that have been arrived at through open discussion and prayerful discernment.

In order for openness to everyone’s concerns and issues to work well, the leadership of the congregation must have a clear grasp of a shared vision and core values. This understanding of the fellowship’s identity will enable the leadership to provide biblical and encouraging rationale for both positive and negative responses to people and their concerns.  The pastor, however, is the one responsible for providing the essential support for all the leaders of the congregation as they seek to communicate and implement clearly defined ministry values and goals.

Preacher And Teacher

Preaching is not just verbal proclamation of the Gospel, but also the lifestyle and ministries of the church’s participants. So a member who talks to someone at their job about Jesus and the member who goes on the mission trip are both part of the “preaching” activity. Everything about a missional church will be geared to presenting the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a great invitation to know and experience God through truth, love, and grace. It is the pastor who inspires and equips others through the biblical and relevant proclaiming of the Word.

Teaching is the discipling process, and is absolutely critical for creating an atmosphere of spiritual growth into Christ-likeness. This should take several forms, from one to one mentoring to conferences, workshops, and retreats. While everyone in a church should be able to identify and explain the process their church uses to “make disciples,” the pastor bears the primary responsibility for making sure there is a clear and working discipling process in a congregation.  Pastors are called to encourage an atmosphere of discovery where people are free to explore the frontiers of faith and to have their understanding of themselves and God be continually transformed by the Word.


Every church body has a number of persons who are gifted by the Holy Spirit to be in the “healing” ministries of the church, which would include intercessory prayer, care-giving in illness and distress, counseling, spiritual direction, and church discipline. While it is important for a congregation to identify and deploy these people for service to others, it is the pastor who is called to be the catalyst in leading, overseeing, supporting, and encouraging them in their ministries.

The Word of God makes clear that the healing power of pastoral care (which includes discipline) is experienced in the relationships formed in community with one another, as evidenced in the scriptural call to “Let us not give up meeting together, but let us encourage one another...” (Hebrews 10:25) and James’ exhortation to “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed (James 5:16). For a church to be alive and interesting to anyone (especially to God), people must experience the presence of the Holy Spirit in healing ways that transform their lives. Jesus reached out to people (us) at the point of their (our) needs, which is the quintessential missional action.

Anyway, I was just thinking (again) ....

Monday, April 4, 2011

Is The Reformation Dead?

Is it possible that we are witnessing the end of the classic expressions of the Reformation in American society?  Now, I know that the Reformation itself was over a few hundred years ago, but the American churches that can claim to be direct descendants of Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli's teachings may well be nearing their final days (and in some cases, like the Episcopal Church and the UCC, are already buried in their fine ecclesiastical coffins).  With the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America having officially renounced the Word of God last year by opening the way for ordaining practicing gays, and the Presbyterian Church (USA) about to do the same thing by adopting the new form of government and/or opening the way for presbyteries to ordain persons who reject the authority of God's Word and the reign of Christ in their lives (on a "case-by-case" basis, of course), the result will be the self-elimination of two primary Reformation streams from the apostolic, orthodox, and catholic expressions of Christianity.

O yes, there are still other groups that can claim to be carrying on the banner of the Reformation, such as the Baptists, Mennonites, and other assorted groups that can trace their origins back to the ecclesiastical upheavals of the 16th century.  But these groups identify more with the Radical Reformation, and were never the major expressions of the church resulting from the major protestant efforts to reform the Roman Catholic Church rather than reject it.  After all, it was the refusal of the Roman Church to respond positively that forced the emergence of the "separated brethren" of the Lutheran and Reformed traditions, as Luther, Calvin, and even Zwingli had hopes of "reforming" the Roman Church.  As for the Methodists, Disciples, and Assemblies of God, they have an even less direct lineage to the Reformers.

Then, there are the "other" Lutheran and Reformed expressions, such as the Missouri Synod Lutherans and the assorted smaller Reformed bodies.  It remains to be seen, however, if any of these can grow and assume the mantle of maintaining or expanding the influence and presence of a Reformation-oriented fellowship in the growing secular society in America.  The Reformed Church in America did this in the early days of this country, but it rapidly became a sectional church for the New England  and upper Midwest areas as time went by and America expanded.  If the RCA and the Christian Reformed churches can become more established throughout the country and grow substantially in numbers, they may emerge someday as the new heralds of the Reformation in American society, but this is clearly not an impending reality today. 

Then, there are the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and the Presbyterian Church in America, both of which are growing, and showing some significant energy, but, being rather new to the scene, they are still fairly introspective denominations seeking their true identities.  Plus, neither denomination has the infrastructure to do mission and ministry on the scale that the Presbyterian Church (USA) has done (though what both do with their resources is very impressive).  The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod is perhaps the one denomination that is best poised to carry the Reformation banner.  Yet, despite its size, longevity, and organizational capabilities, it has been a rather insular church and therefore not very adept at being a presence and influence in today's American society.  So, if the ELCA and the PCUSA abdicate their places as the major Reformation expressions in the United States, there is really no one able or ready to assume this role at this time.

So, from where I stand, it looks like the churches that have carried the heritage and promise of the Reformation in American society are abdicating their theological birthrights.  They are trading them for a very bad stew prepared by "the world, the flesh, and the devil."  Thank God for the vibrancy of the Reformed, Lutheran, and Anglican churches in the world outside of the United States and Europe.   Thank God that the words and actions of Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Bucer, Melancthon, Knox, and Beza are inspiring anew the theologies and lives of Christians in the other three corners of the globe (especially Asia and Africa), where most of the church of Jesus Christ resides today.  The message and mission of the Reformers will continue strong and unabated in these faithful followers of Jesus Christ.  And maybe, just maybe, someday their faithfulness will return the truth of the Word and faith in Christ to American hearts --- rekindling a new and greater presence of the message and mission of the Reformation.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Seeking God's Face

It is the love of God experienced in the body of Christ that truly marks Christians as truly unique. It is the wonder of a group of persons who find acceptance with one another despite their differences, shortcomings, and failures that truly marks the church as different from other groups of people in this world. So, we are “holy,” that is, set apart, not by anything that makes us better or superior to anyone else. Rather, we are “holy,” because we are literally carriers (vessels) of the love of God, called to share this “treasure” (as St. Paul calls it) with everyone.

However, we can only carry God’s love to others when we ourselves are in a love relationship with God. Yet, our hearts are indeed restless (as St. Augustine reminds us), and they are prone to wane in passion for God as we wrestle with our affections for the attractions of this world. So it is clear that we need brand new hearts, hearts that can “rest” in God. The prophet Ezekiel states this picturesquely when he proclaims, “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19). Only God can give us the kind of love needed to desire God, and here this kind of love is described as an “undivided heart” and as a “heart of flesh.” This is not any kind of human love. It is the work of God in us. It is God’s doing entirely!

So this is why St. Augustine says, “our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they find their rest in You.” All other objects of our affection are for the satisfaction of our own desires, so they just make our hearts “harder” and more “divided,” like crushed stone. When God is our desire, our hearts are transformed into something real, something living, something whole — something from God. This is why only with our hearts can we believe, because a heart in love with God is God’s gift of being made right with Him. As the Apostle Paul proclaims in his letter to the Romans, “…with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness…(Romans 10:10).

How, then, do we love God with a steadfast love, an “undivided heart,” a “heart of flesh?” Do we strive in Herculean spiritual effort to produce this love? Do we immerse ourselves in deep theological studies? Do we give ourselves in great sacrificial service to others? No, we cast ourselves upon God’s Word, trusting God with our lives. “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart” (Deuteronomy 30:14). God’s promises are sure, and it is through trusting God’s Word that we “may love Him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live” (Deuteronomy 30:6)!

In Christ’s Peace,


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Aymer's Mirror

As usual, I am a "Johnny-come-lately" to the many observations regarding Margaret Aymer's response to the now infamous "Letter to the PCUSA."  Many have written well about her main points and the various nuances of her rather remarkable response, so there is little need for me to get too deep into deciphering what she wrote (especially since it is very likely that no one will be reading this anyway).  I commend her on her insights and her ability to get a good discussion going, even though I pretty much disagree with her on most everything she said.

 There is only one thing that I would like to point out that no one else seems to have noted.  According to Ms. Aymer, a major flaw that infects the writers of the "Letter" is their contextual parochialism.  They are allowing themselves to be subject to their historical, cultural, and geographical settings, which means they think only within the "northern, US-based, European-American ideals of the 19th century and early 20th century." This, then, causes them to view their concerns and solutions without due attentivenessand considerations for the views of people in the rest of the world, or in other ages and times, especially in the church.  The result, says Ms. Aymer, is "...a call back (or forward) to modernist values of separation upon disagreement and radical individualism, and pre-modernist/fundamentalist elevations of all aspects of religion, regardless of changing cultural norms (e.g. slaves obey your masters)."  (With language like this, no wonder most of the world considers our intra-church squabbles irrelevant!  We are at the least quite unintelligible.)

 Okay, so much for that.  What is interesting to me is that Ms. Aymer herself employs the same neglect of the views and norms of the rest of the world and ages that she accuses the writers of the "Letter."   Most of the church of the past and the present views the Bible as a revelatory book that is inspired by the Holy Spirit, and thus warranting obedience and reverance.  She sees this as a outdated idea that should be rejected, but she makes this judgement as a North American 21st century post-modern liberal who is part of a very, very miniscule theologically esoteric "club" in a declining and culturally "out-of-touch" American protestant denomination.  She trumps the teachings and views of most Christians of all time and places with her own opinions without providing due justification for doing so.

 She mirrors in her own actions the following accusation she makes against the "Letter" writers.  Ms. Aymer declares, "What is clear is that their ecclesiology parallels exactly the cultural norms of 21st-century neo-imperialism, neo-colonialism and neo-liberal globalism which purport to bring the Western ideal to the rest of the world without first determining whether that ideal is in fact ideal for (italics hers) the rest of the world or asking what the rest of the world might consider to be ideal."  Does she herself follow the rest of the world's views on women's leadership, gay rights, and religious freedom?  Does she dare ask the rest of the world what is considered "ideal," especially regarding her own "post-modern liberationist" views?  (It seems to me that I hear echos of a Marxist voice in her critique, so that is why I use the term "liberationist.")  Of course not.  As Christians are more aware than most, the world in its myriad of cultures is still wrong about some important things.  Christians of all times and ages have had to contend with a disconnect between obedience to the eternal Word of God and the constantly shifting demands of culture. 

 Then there is Ms. Aymer's sacred allegiance to the PCUSA as somehow being an entity that embodies all the aspects of the church universal. She audaciously writes, "Instead, with God's help, I will remain in the Presbyterian Church, USA, and with my denomination I will follow the Christ whose followers dwindled from 5000 to zero over the course of three years, yet who calls us still to follow; who has been demonstrated a capable healer of the deathly ill and has revealed himself to be the resurrection and the life."  (Of course, whether or not the PCUSA is following Christ is pretty much the question at hand, isn't it?)

 What is she talking about here?  When did Christ's followers dwindle "from 5000 to zero over the course of three years," and why is this named as her "denomination."  I think she is talking about Jesus followers before the Crucifixion, but his followers did not go down to zero ever, and there was a big event called the Resurrection, which enabled the followers of Jesus to explode in numbers throughout the world for over two thousand years!  Maybe she missed this because this universal witness of the Church may be more at odds with her views than they are with those she is dismissing with her entertaining sophistry. 


 Anyway, this is my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Hope For The Irrelevant

I am perhaps the most irrelevant pastor in a very irrelevant denomination adding more irrelevant comments to the latest emerging "water-cooler" conversation in the ole' PCUSA.  (For those of you who have innocently stumbled upon my blog because your search engine has gone berserk, PCUSA is the acronym for a once great protestant denomination called the Presbyterian Church USA.)  I haven't been pastoring (or "pestering," as the case may be) a church for awhile, and I sprang for early retired status for no other reason than to meet my monthly mortgage.  Most of my preaching and church involvements in the last couple of years have been in non-PCUSA churches, every PCUSA church I've applied to since leaving my last church has decided not to call me (except for one bizarre "twilight zone" case which is grist for another posting), and lately my primary venue for sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been to young people and drug addicts (sometimes one in the same).  So, my credentials for irrelevancy are quite formidable and beyond question.

Yet, my irrelevance does not dissuade me from being very intrigued and encouraged by the Letter to the PCUSA penned by the "scandalous" all male gathering in "blissful" Scottsdale, Arizona.  (Actually, I would think meeting in Scottsdale would be looked upon favorably by the very relevant Robert Kopp of the Kopp Disclosure, as the location has a Harley-Davidson ring to it --- at least it does to me.)  The criticism this letter is now receiving is disappointing, although the responses of some groups and persons reveal the ingrained habit they have nurtured in their hearts and minds for being points of contention rather than points of construction. 

Yes the early signers are all males, and yes they are mostly well known names, and yes most of them are from big churches.  (Would this letter be receiving the same notice if it were formulated by thirty or so male and female small church pastors meeting at the I-70 Inn in Colby, Kansas?  I don't think so!) While these are things one can complain about with a good deal of self-righteousness, such complaining only bolsters one's own ego, and does nothing to bridge the conversation with the fruitful exchange of ideas and understandings.  As I learned long ago in my marriage, I can press the point when I'm right (a fairly rare occurrence) when arguing with my wife, but winning the argument can make for a less than joyful relationship.  Sometimes holding on to a sacred point of correctness can mean missing the opportunity for improving a relationship with love and understanding.

Anyway, about ten years ago when I was more relevant as a PCUSA missionary in Croatia, I had several occasions to work with pastors and congregants from several of the largest and most influential churches in the PCUSA.  I don't remember the exact crisis our denomination was facing in 2001 (pre-9/11), but as usual there was something (in all likelihood connected to extolling homosexual conduct and ordination) that was forcing congregations to re-evaluate their place in our constantly contending denomination.  It was then I said to several of these pastors that regardless of what controversies the PCUSA faces, nothing will ever really change for the better until most of the bigger churches form an alliance with one another and take the lead in forging a biblically faithful and missionally focused future that the PCUSA official leadership cannot stop with its organisational machinery.  This alliance must be clear in its goals, ardently orthodox, passionately missional, trans-denominational in vision, and must be committed to being an umbrella of protection for the smaller churches and less prominent ministers who would follow their lead while being more vulnerable to the heavy handed actions of the liberal presbyteries and the ever vigilant PCUSA bureaucrats.

Of all the congregants in the PCUSA, there are only about 900,000 truly active members (these are my guesstimates based on my research when I was an almost relevant pastor).  Of these 900,000 members, over 700,000 are in evangelical and orthodox churches, which virtually makes the PCUSA in its substance and active expressions an evangelical/conservative denomination.  However, so little of this reality is ever noted or acknowledged in many of the upper structures of the PCUSA, especially at the General Assembly level. 

Therefore, the ideas and sentiments in the Letter to the PCUSA are very hopeful to me.  It's a beginning, and I pray that these pastors and others will have the wisdom and resolve to not shrink from the task before them.  The journey has begun, and many will follow if those taking the first steps keep their feet from turning into clay.  As Mark Brewer of Bel Air Church once told me (yes, I used to talk with Mark Brewer, although I doubt that Mark even remembers me now), "You can't lead if no one is following."  A corollary to this is true also, "Don't stop leading when so many are following." 

The criticisms being slung (yes, "slung" is the past tense of "sling") at this group of faithful (albeit prestigious) pioneers is mostly out of blindness, ignorance, or just plain demonic spite!  In the churches represented on this list of signees are some of most truly diverse, gender affirming (orthodox biblical Christianity truly affirms what it means to be male and female while the liberal humanistic understandings obliterate any true and distinctive affirmation of gender), culturally engaged, missionally innovative, globally involved, socially active, multi-ethnic, youth reaching, and theologically-inclusive (yes, it is possible to be clearly orthodox, evangelical, and Reformed in theology while being open and accepting of other truly catholic theological positions) ministries not only in the PCUSA, but in the whole world-wide church!  After all, when Presbyterian churches have their engines biblically tuned, they are the Corvettes of the ecclesiastical world (or the Ferrari's for those of you with a European bent).  As the leaders in this journey, all these realities will emerge and be clear distinctives of this ecclesiastical reform. 

My prayer is that they just have the guts to keep on going despite the obstacles and the criticisms.  After all, the devil does not want a bunch of effective, relevant, God-bearing, heart transforming, society changing, Gospel proclaiming, Christ loving, outcast accepting, Word upheld, Spirit empowered, joyful worshipping Presbyterians to be let loose on this world of deceit and despair.  So, with all the dunamis and exousia my one little irrelevant voice can muster, let's get going! 

I'm not worth a hoot in effecting these kinds of movements, and no one is going to complain about the unfair advantage my support lends to the Letter to the PCUSA, but I can follow and encourage those who do have the relevance needed to get these things done.  After all, in the end it is all about how relevant and effective we are according to the final Arbiter of all relevance and effectiveness, Jesus Christ.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Sharing Messiah's Work

During worship yesterday it was announced that my good friend, John Dieter, had suddenly and unexpectedly passed away the night before.  John was an extraordinary person who had overcome much in his life through his walk with Christ.  For those interested in knowing more about his life and work, this is detailed in the book, The Gift Of Encouragement.  There are also many video clips posted on YouTube of him speaking at various conferences .

While most of us are satisfied volunteering in the church or even helping in special outreach events, John was compelled by his faith to be a help and comfort for thousands of persecuted Jews throughout the world.  His work has been recognized and honored by the governments of Israel and the United States.  This work has taken him into very precarious situations in many countries, and he has met with many heads of states in order to promote his mission to assist Jews in their immigrating to Israel.

However, for me there will always be the cherished memories of how passionate John was in praying for and encouraging my family when my son, Seth, was paralyzed in a surgical accident.  His "righteous anger" at the surgeons for showing so little care for what they had inflicted upon a ten year old boy was clear and present.  Yet, at the same time, he was just as expressive regarding his desire for God to bring healing to Seth, and to use this "accident" in ways that will help Seth grow in Christ and bring glory to God.

I invite any who may read this little note to pray for John Dieter's family, especially his wife who lives in the Ukraine.  Pray also for the continuing work of assisting persecuted Jewish persons through out the world.

So long, John.  It seems far too early for you to leave us, but we know that even death will not keep you from sharing the Messiah's work.