Remembering 9/11 – Lost and Found

The fifteen year anniversary of 9/11 causes me to remember how I was a young pastor that struggled to find words to place this attack into any sort of narrative that made sense to me. I was in the third month of being the new pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in Niagara Falls, New York. On that day and the days afterwards, I found that Western New York felt both very far away and very near to New York City, Washington DC, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

I was driving north on the 190 towards Niagara Falls. I was about to go over the north bridge off of Grand Island when I heard on the radio that a plane had struck a building in NYC. I was just a few minutes away from my office at Grace. When I entered the church building, I immediately went towards the garage sale donation pile. I remembered that Carl had donated a television for the upcoming garage sale. I plugged the television into the wall. Lisa and I tried to get the antenna positioned to receive the signal from one of the news channels. Lisa returned tried to get some work down, what could we change by staring at the fuzz on the television. I went to my computer to see if I could find out more information. Every page was loading painfully slow. I knew we had slow internet, but every moment I pressed refresh on the browser I waited and waited for any news that this was just an accident. 9/11 was not an accident.

9_11-maps

 

Randy called and asked me to find a way to join the community in prayer. He wanted his kids to place their trust in God. He understood that trust would be easier to find if we were together. We quickly made calls and arranged for a prayer service. I don’t remember much about the prayer service. I do remember that none of us tried to fill the moments of prayer with cliches, people were honest in silence. Words cold not fill this moment unless there was trust. The trust we had in God did not require that answers would be found. Our trust required that we were not alone.

That same week I was scheduled to host the monthly gathering of local Lutheran pastors. The circuit meeting begins with a worship service. After the service, there is a Bible study and chance to share about our unique contexts. At the service I was expected to preach a sermon. This was the first circuit meeting I had either attended or hosted as a pastor. Remember, I was only three months into the ministry. I expected that pastors who host the circuit meeting would plan to use the sermon from the previous week or test out on the brothers the sermon that would preached on the upcoming Sunday. I knew that last week’s sermon seemed odd to use and I still did not have a bead on the upcoming sermon. Before I left the house, I looked one more time at the upcoming gospel lesson from Luke 15:1-10. Jesus shared with his followers the parable of the lost sheep and the lost coin. I did not think I could preach about the celebration after the sheep is found or the coin is discovered. I didn’t see anything in the text besides the celebration. I looked one more time and then I prayed for the Holy Spirit to bring wisdom to my heart and words to my lips. I left the house for the meeting at Grace.

lost_and_found_std_t_nv

When the circuit meeting worship service began the words of the liturgy carried us into God’s promises. We confessed our sins, and we received the promise that we are forgiven children of God through the mercy of our savior Jesus. I spoke the the words of Ezekiel 34:11 and following, “For thus says the Lord God: ‘Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out.”

I shared the words of St. Paul to Timothy, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinner, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 15).

It was time for the gospel reading from Luke. I spoke the words of the shepherd searching for the lost sheep, and the woman that searching for the coin. I knew we were not yet in a moment of celebration because the rescuers were still frantically searching the rubble where the planes brought destruction. I knew that there were people around the world feeling lost and disconnected from any narrative of hope. This disconnection did not just come from 9/11. Too many people are living disconnected from hope and are just ghost walking to the next day. How can we bring people back towards seeing tomorrow and the next day as moments kept safe by God?

It was in the words of God I found my story that day, and it remains my story whenever I am feeling disconnected. God is looking for you. I know that this sounds simple. Knowing that God desires to be with me takes away so much anxiousness. We are not alone. The first responders that walked into danger on 9/11 were not alone. The people descending staircases to nowhere where not alone. The people on the plane flying over Pennsylvania were not alone when it was time to act bravely to save lives on the ground. Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, taken upon himself the very loneliness of our suffering, so that we never have to stand alone against Satan and his evil minions.

God is searching. Now you may imagine your story is too small compared to the big stories that others are living. Even if you imagine your story too insignificant, remember the woman searching for the coin. I wonder what her friends thought when she called them all together to have a party after she found the one missing coin. To those friends the coin may have sounded silly. To that woman searching for the coin, the lost coin was worthy of a party. God wants to find you, and you are not insignificant to him. No one has a story too small to be include in the story of God. God is searching for you, and he want to hold a party for you.

Advertisements

My Report of 66th LCMS Convention

Here is a quick report of what happened at the 66th The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in Milwaukee.

The convention took place July 9-14, 2016. I attended this convention because I was elected last summer to be the Ann Arbor pastoral delegate. Every circuit of congregations sends one lay delegate and one pastoral delegate. There were about 1,125 voting delegates sitting in the often frigid conditions of the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee. The theme for the convention was “Upon this Rock: Repent, Confess, Rejoice.”

The primary business of the convention is the “opportunity for worship, nurture, inspiration, fellowship and the communication of vital information” (Bylaw 3.1.1). The worship services were filled with the most spectacular music from the organ, brass, and soloists. The theme focused on the rock solid confession of faith that Jesus Christ is our savior. As much as the world may change around us, we can remain confident that Jesus is our hope and salvation. The most important business at the convention for me was the opportunity for relationship renewal and building. The communication of vital information was found in printed reports, speeches from the stage, and some attractive videos that were shown to introduce new programs.

The second item of business is elections. The president was elected before the convention by electronic vote. So delegates arrived at the convention knowing that Rev. Matthew C. Harrison was reelected for his third term as president. We spent several hours at the convention electing people to various offices. There were not many surprises in the elections. Before the convention an anonymous group mailed to the voting delegates the “United List.” This produced and distributed list influenced the outcome of the elections. I think only a handful of the nearly 100 elections went against the list. I did not utilize the list and so therefore I found my votes in the elections were often on the wrong side of victory.

The third item of business at the convention is for the assembly to consider reports, overtures, and resolutions for action. Overtures were submitted to the convention by congregations, circuits, districts, and officers and committees of the synod. Floor committees met over Memorial Day weekend to craft these overtures into resolutions. The convention assembly debated and voted on the resolutions. Some of the controversial resolutions presented to the assembly concerned the dispute resolution process, the role of lay deacons functioning in support of the office of the public ministry, and the governance of the universities.

President Harrison had a majority of delegates supporting his positions in these controversial areas. He had a consistent 60% voting block, but he demonstrated at this convention a commitment to the unity of the church. He did not utilize his support among the voting delegates to pass anything by slim margins of majority. He sought consensus. For instance, the modifications to the dispute resolution he proposed had very little support from the district presidents. His proposal would have increased the power of the president to overrule decisions by the district presidents. When the opposition to this change became publicly evident, the resolution was revised so that both sides could find agreement. Providing a route towards ordination for those deacons that have been doing the duties of the pastor was approved by over 70% of the assembly. This route towards ordination was approved without considerable discussion because the leadership of the synod has spent a great deal of time over the last few years nurturing this idea.

Our synod voted with considerable unity on issues that appear to divide the rest of our country. We affirmed that marriage is between one man and one woman. We affirmed that God created the heavens and the earth. We affirmed that Lutheran universities, seminaries, and schools should be Lutheran. We affirmed that we should regularly read the Bible (yep we voted on that tough topic).

I can report that Jesus is at work in this world bringing His saving message of redemption, and graciously God is using our own church body to be a part of delivering this saving message. God also uses, throughout the world, tremendously brave people in our partner churches to share this good news.

You can learn a great deal about what happened at the convention by visiting LCMS.org/convention. If you are looking for a less varnished reporting of the events of the convention, then you could visit the online forum of the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau. The ALPB sent Rev. Dr. Paul Sauer to report the events of the convention. HIs comments and the musings of others that watched the convention can be found at alpb.org/forum.

When I came home, I received wonderful hugs from my kids and wife. It was good to see our church body at work, but I think it is even more powerful for me to witness the daily ways God is using the people of our congregation. Thank you for sharing the Word of God with your friends, family members, neighbors, and co-workers. When I witness Jesus being shared with the children of our community during Vacation Bible School, I rejoice God is at work.

Doing more than running in place

I have had people ask me what my congregation is doing to make sure we are not just running in place. I think this is a good question. I do like running on a treadmill in the winter, but it does get boring. As I stare at the wall in front of me I realize that I am not moving forward. Now we are in the season when I my running moves from the treadmill towards the outside. Running outside is more fun than the treadmill, but I have nearly gotten lost a few times in Island Lake State Recreation Area. I did not pay attention to where I was going. I was moving forward, but I am not sure I knew where I was headed. So I had to turn around and retrace my steps back to a spot that I recognized.

As a congregation, we are not doing ministry just inside the walls of our building. We are seeking ways to share the good news of Jesus with our community. When we move beyond the inside of our building, we might get a little lost. We will try new things. We will meet new people. Sometimes we will find that we have headed down a trail that ends up going nowhere. In ministry, if I ever find myself confused about what I am doing, I turn back towards a spot I recognize. I recognize the cross and the love of Jesus. When I turn back to the cross, then I find it easier to go back on the trail and explore where God takes us in His love.

We have moved towards a new model of governance at St. Paul Lutheran Church. We have a church council made up of five caring people that desire our ministry does more than feet-on-treadmillsjust run on a treadmill. If you are wondering what the council is accomplishing, then I ask you to look at what people in this congregation are accomplishing. The council does not do the ministry at St. Paul. The council works with the leadership at St. Paul Lutheran Church to equip and encourage us to connect people to Jesus, to each other, and to opportunities to serve their neighbors in need. We equip people with the resources they need to do what God has called them to do. We encourage people to use their gifts so that we connect people to Jesus.

Our congregation does not have a lot of hoops to jump through to get something started. If you have an idea for ministry that fits into our vision of connecting people to Jesus, then we want to make sure you have the resources you need. We encourage people to move forward and so we do not have a bunch of committees that meet forever without doing anything.

We support the model of ministry action teams. None of our ministry teams should be lonely efforts, because trying to be the superstar servant will result in burnout. The key to understanding the ministry action team model is found in the word “action.” Teams develop so that something might be accomplished. When a group of people have a shared vision and common values powerful forces are at work. At St. Paul Lutheran Church we believe that every person should understand that we are connecting people to Jesus. And every person should understand the reason for this common goal is that eternal life and salvation are found only in Jesus. Connecting people to Jesus will not be achieved without unity in this purpose. We work together because we believe that each person has a part to play in this good news sharing ministry.

We support teams because we are united in our purpose to share Jesus. We also support teams because ministry is best accomplished by working together. God’s Word is spread and the number of disciples are multiplied when we trust in each person being gifted by God for the work we have been called to do. No doubt, more can be accomplished together. The book of Ecclesiastes reminds us, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor” (Ecclesiastes 4:9). Any ministry action teams that form at St. Paul are expected to be more than one person. Working together expands the power of information, builds community, improves decision-making, and expands the possibilities for unexpected spiritual gifts to be utilized.

We have decentralized leadership through this move to ministry action teams that are equipped and encouraged by the church council. The council is no longer in the driver’s seat of what will get done at St. Paul. We all share in the common vision to connect people to Jesus. We all value the importance of connecting people to Jesus because we know in Jesus alone will we find eternal life and salvation. We recognize our interdependence and common goals when we work in teams. Each of us should feel a sense of ownership. No one in this congregation is just a volunteer recruited, we all can be involved in planning and implementing our vision.

Every person in this congregation can be involved in developing a ministry action team because we are not waiting for permission to share Jesus. We do not need permission to connect people to Jesus. No matter how great our council may be, no matter how engaging their personalities may be, we will not advance far in our vision of connecting people to Jesus if we rely only on them. I trust that God will be the instigator of teams developing at St. Paul. God will be the one that will sustain us in healthy and functional teams. We are not waiting for the council to do something. We are not going to keep running in place. We are all gifted children of God called to participate in the kingdom building work being done through the Word of God.

Truth Telling in Community

Telling the truth in a community involves a vulnerability that not everyone is comfortable exposing. I enjoy telling the truth when I have good news to share. When I have bad news, I am fearful of how the bad news will be received. I believe we will be a stronger community when we can share the wholeness of our lives. When I can trust you with both the good news and the bad news of my life, I know that we have a bond that will not be easily broken. Communities of people who love the truth, live faithfully, and respond gratefully are wonderfully safe places to grow and unfortunately remarkably rare. The church is called to be exactly such a community.

David wrote in Psalm 86, “Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name. I give thanks to you, O LORD my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever. For great is your steadfast love towards me.”

David prayed these words with gratitude to walk in God’s truth. In these words from the psalms, we are also invited to walk in God’s truth and revere His name with an undivided heart. You do not need to hide a part of your life from God. Trust God with your whole life and discover how He cares for all of you. God is not only interested in your piety and wholesome works. God is interested in your sins, struggles, shames, and sorrows.

PrintBecause we want to be good, or at least appear to be good enough, we will compare ourselves to others. When we compare ourselves to others, we will sometimes come up short. In those moments when we do not measure up, we are prone towards hypocrisy and deception so that we do not fall too far behind. In the close connections of a community it can be difficult to keep up appearances and cover our failures. If we struggle with truthfulness, we will then either deceive in order to look better or we will find ourselves feeling more and more like an outcast. If everyone else around us is living life easily, is there room for us and our failures? Truth stumbles and honesty caves in when we feel like we need to pretend to have everything sorted out. I think that the bundles of lies, secrets, and silences that are necessary to appear okay can be very exhausting.

I believe that if our community was dependent on our own righteousness and holiness we would become a bunch of liars and deceivers so that we could still justify belonging to the community. Jeremiah wrote that the human heart is “deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9). Our world is filled with deceit and lies in order to prop up our vanity. But our redeemed community of believers is called to be different. We can put away the lies and hypocrisy and speak the truth. Followers of Jesus are called to a
common life of grace and truth built on the promise that we are loved by God according to His grace and His truth.

Truth-filled communities are connected to Jesus because Jesus is “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). When we trust Jesus to be the framework for our life and relationships, we are in a better position to address our sins and failures. We can confidently face our need to repent because we truthfully respect the gap between our goodness and God’s righteousness. Paul told the Colossians, “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:9-10). We do not need to lie to hide the threadbareness of our own deeds. We can confidently tell the truth that we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God because we trust that we are clothed in the love of Jesus Christ.

When we confess our sins, we are being honest with God that we have sinned. We can be clear with God, because in Jesus, we have received the clear promise of God’s love. Not only can you be clear with God, you should be clear with one another in our community. Our community should be held together with something more substantial than a facade of goodness. Our community should be held together by truth and love.

This is article is a part of a series of articles written with inspiration from the book Living into Community, by Christine D. Pohl.

Baptism is for Infants and Adults

ainfant-baptismThis is written in response to Wes McAdams blog article in which he attempts to explain why it’s not biblical to Baptize an infant.

http://www.radicallychristian.com/why-its-not-biblical-to-baptize-an-infant

First, he says, “Infant baptism is usually NOT even ‘baptism’”

Wes McAdams makes his first point because he believes that the Greek word for baptism means immersion. This Greek word is used in Scripture to refer to “washing.” He is mistaken to require of all hearts to believe in their baptism that they must be immersed.

The Greek word can mean cleansing or washing as well as immersion. It is just bad use of a dictionary to say that in Greek the only definition for this word is “immersion.”

Second, he states, “An infant cannot believe.”

I’m not really sure what Wes McAdams would do with the passage in which Jesus says, “Let the little children come onto me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14) The word “little children” is a specific Greek word that is used to describe an infant. The infants are the focus of the passage. Jesus speaks to us the promise that faith is an act of trust even before it may be words upon our lips.

Baptism of an infant is an opportunity for us to witness that faith is not a work of our reason or strength but entirely a work of the Holy Spirit, at work in the gospel, turning our hearts to trust in God to be our salvation.

Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit for an adult and for an infant. Adults in their arrogance are taught a lesson when they confess that the Holy Spirit may provide faith to an infant. We all were once dead in our trespasses and we are saved purely through the work of Christ (Ephesians 2:1-4). We receive this work of Christ through faith. Our saving faith is a gift from God that comes through Word of God (Romans 10:17).

In Matthew 28:19 Jesus said, “Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” All nations is a phrase that has been understood to mean “everyone.” Jesus desires that His saving messages be shared to everyone, regardless of race, color, sex, age, class, or education. If we say that infants are not to be included in the command of Christ, then where will we stop?

In the Old Testament an infant boy entered into a covenantal relationship with God through circumcision when eight days old. In Colossians 2:11-12, Paul shows that baptism has replaced circumcision.

Wes builds on the idea that baptism only follows an oral confession of faith and he says that neither parents nor anyone else can make that confession for a child. I agree that a child is not saved through the confession of faith that a parent nor anyone else will make for that child. A child and an adult are all saved equally through the work of Christ. In baptism we receive this work of Christ by the command of Christ in the water and the word. The benefits of baptism are not provided in a mechanical way just by being near the water. The benefits of baptisms are delivered through the water and the Word and received through faith. Faith receives the gift of baptism. When we confess our faith before a baptism, we are putting to words the very same faith that the Holy Spirit is providing to us through the working of His Word. We are not offering our faith as effective for an infant, we are showing our unity with the same faith that this child is receiving in Christ.

Third, he states, “An infant has not inherited sin.”

At this point Wes McAdams has significantly diverged from the way sin is described in the Scriptures and by the church for centuries. Scripture teaches that we are sinners from the time of our conception. Psalm 51:5 confesses, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Also in Romans 5:12, St. Paul explains that death has come to all because one man sinned. In other words, we all experience the effect of sin; we all die. The fact that infants die is a sign that they are sinners. We sin because we are sinners. We all have this condition even as infants and little children. One way to describe sin is that we are unable to have true fear or faith in God. When we describe sin only as actions we make sin something we can overcome through our own efforts. When we properly describe sin as a broken relationship with God, that is something that can be overcome only through the reconciling love of Jesus. Also in Romans 3:23 (“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”) we find the truth that ALL have sinned and need the rescue of salvation that Jesus provides.

Now Wes uses Ezekiel 18:20 in an attempt to demonstrate that God does not hold the guilt of past generations upon future people. Okay, I am not judged on the sins of the past. Unfortunately, I am judged because I am a sinner.

Fourth, he notes, “An infant cannot repent.”

Repentance is the turning of a heart to trust in God. This repentance is the work of the Holy Spirit and is accomplished through the power of God’s Word. He turns repentance into an appeal to God, when in fact not one of us can make this appeal through our own human will. We are dead in our sins. We are blind in our sins. We are unable to turn to God through our own will. This failure of the human will is true for adults and for infants. The only ones that can be saved are those born again of water and the spirit (John 3:1-17).

Baptism is commanded by Christ and offers to all the benefits of the forgiveness of sins, rescues from sin and death, and grants eternal salvation.

Some other helpful places to read about baptism:

Martin Luther’s Small Catechism

http://wittenbergtrail.org/forum/topics/lutheran-responses-to

http://www.orlutheran.com/trinfbap.html

http://www.lcms.org/faqs/doctrine#baptism

Waiting as a witness

On Sunday at St. Paul Lutheran Church we will continue to see how we wait for Jesus. Last week we saw how John the Baptist was a voice crying in the wilderness. This Sunday we will again look at how we wait through the example of John. This time we will see how John waits as a witness. A witness points people to the truth. John waited as a witness by pointing people to Jesus. Are you prepared to point people to Jesus?

grunewald1515A famous painting by Matthias Grunewald shows John the Baptist pointing to Jesus. John was dead by the time of the crucifixion of Jesus, but he is included in this painting to show that John pointed people to the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He has in one hand the scriptures and in the other hand a finger extended towards the crucified Jesus. We are to see that the promise of God long hoped for has been revealed in Jesus.

The prophetic work of John was to point people to Jesus so that their eyes would be opened to the promise of salvation. Jesus Christ is our savior. He is the lamb of God who takes away our sin. In our witness we point people to Jesus. If we want to point people to their salvation and we are not pointing people to Jesus then we are seriously doing something wrong.

If someone were to ask you why you go to church, I hope that your answer would include the joy you have in hearing that Jesus is your savior.

The King is Coming

Before and After

Recently a member of our congregation was sharing with me how she was having a difficult time getting property insurance for a piece of property because the insurance company considered the home vacant. A vacant home is more likely to be vandalized. This December at St. Paul we celebrate the coming of Christ to be our Savior. We are not an abandoned people, defined by neglect. God has not forgotten us in our corruption and sin. He has come in the flesh and dwelled among us.

God saw that death and division were gaining an ever-firmer grip on humanity. Without the intervention of God in our world, the human race was in the process of destruction. We had been created in the image of God. God made us, and we were to be the reflection of the Word of God into this world. The ability of us to reflect the image of God in this world was seriously tarnished by sin. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, the work of God in this world was being undone. Our own reason or strength was not going to stop the unraveling of the work of God in this world. The marvel of God’s love is found in how He brings His Word into a world that is perishing.

Death is all around us, and it was for this purpose that the Word of God has come to work in the world. The Word of God entered our world because God saw that we could not advance ourselves towards life or strength. Jesus saw that the corruption of sin held us tight. He saw how the surpassing wickedness of our sin held us to death. The wonder of the heavenly Father’s creation was coming to nothing in death.

Our story, which was supposed to be the story of God’s love in the world, was corrupted by sin towards death. So the Word of God, moved by compassion for us, took on our flesh. The Word of God came into our corruption and death. He surrendered His body to our weakness and struggle. The Word of God came into our story so that He could write our story. We are not afraid of the unraveling of the world or the bondage to sin or death. Written in our story is the promise of our salvation in Christ Jesus.

In our sin we were unraveling the work of God, but the Word of God has come in the flesh to write again the story of God’s love. We are not drifting in a barren land that has become overtaken by darkness. God’s love has come in the flesh in Jesus Christ. In Christ Jesus we have the promise that the Word of God is at work in the world. We are not drifting in a world of neglect.

St. Athanasius wrote in the fourth century about the powerful glory of God coming to dwell in our flesh. One of the images he used to rejoice in the coming of the Word of God is the image of a king that comes to dwell in a city that had long been neglected through the carelessness of the inhabitants. The city had been so weakened by decay that robbers easily attacked it. The king comes to the city and saves it from destruction, having higher regard for his own honor than the people’s neglect. Imagine that when a king enters a city and dwells in one of its houses that the whole city is honored because of his dwelling in that single house.

The whole city is honored and its dignity is restored because of the dwelling of the king in their midst. The enemies and the robbers no longer are able molest the city. The people live with the joy of the honor of the king instead of the despair of their shame. We rejoice that the King of kings has come into our flesh. Jesus has come and dwelt among us. Jesus foiled the work of the devil and we are no longer unraveling in our despair.

This Christmas we celebrate the King of kings has come to dwell among us. Jesus came wholly for us, so that we could be holy for him. The dignity of heaven was poured into our poor and neglected world, and we have found the wonder of God’s plans again written upon our hearts.

Unity in the Cross and not the Ceremony

Amos was a prophet who spoke against the vanity of big ceremonies when the lives of the people are filled with injustice and unrighteousness. Amos 5:18-24 was the Old Testament read yesterday in my congregation. I preached on this lesson, and I found myself still circling around this text when I woke up today. I want to figure out how to bring unity to worship and life so that the promises of God are found in more than just the words of worship.

I think it is important to wrestle with the struggle between words and works. Many people struggle to bring unity to worship and life. I do not want to be content with big ceremonies that are matched with lives weak in justice and righteousness. So I think congregations will be stronger when we are united in more than just the externals ceremonies and rites.

Our true unity is found when we are assembled by the rescuing words of Jesus. My connection to God is not found in the beat of the song that I sing, the flowing of my robes, or the particular posture of my hands when I pray. The foundation for my unity with God is not found in my works. I am one with God because of the work of Christ. How does this unity with Christ through His work change the works of my own hands?

Congregations must find unity in the work of Christ. The work of Christ is the lens through which we are called to understand ourselves and also how we are called to see others. I am tired of seeing my enemies in fear and worry, I want to see all people as ones whom Christ loves and seeks to redeem. I think the only way I can change how I see people is to trust in the work of Christ to be the one who brings rescue.

I am not seeking a unity in just externals. I am not seeking a unity built on an empty promise of acceptance. I am seeking unity in the forgiveness of sins found in Christ Jesus. I want to be united in the truth that we are all sinners, and only through the working of the Spirit of God will we repent of our sin and trust in Jesus.

I am confident the culture of a congregation can be transformed when the unifying principle is no longer driven by fear or comfort. The culture of a congregation can be turned towards justice and righteousness when the cross cultures us to see how God is at work among the weak, broken, and struggling.

Justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a stream in our lives when we find ourselves united to the work of Christ on the cross.

May Christians Condemn Sin?

I have found that people are uncomfortable with being confronted in their sins. I should not be surprised, considering I don’t like to be confronted with how I am wrong. As much as I do not like to be confronted with my wrongs, I find that I greatly appreciate a friend that will stop me from sinning. I want to be stopped if my wrongs hurt others or myself. I know I need to be warned about how I may harm my relationship with God if I persist in disobedience against His word.

It is a part of the Christian message to warn people of the dangers of sin and disobedience against God’s law.

I think it is helpful to consider Jesus’ first recorded sermon in the gospel of Mark. After Jesus was baptized and experienced temptation in the wilderness, He went into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God. The good news that Jesus preached was, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Jesus told the people to repent and believe in the gospel. Repent means to turn around. The people were going the wrong direction with their actions and faith. Jesus called upon them to turn around from their sin and to trust in the good news of the kingdom of God. The idea that Jesus is love and so would never tell me that I am doing something wrong is ludicrous. Jesus loves me. Because He loves me, He tells me to turn away from sin and trust in Him.

There is a certain tension in the word repent and Jesus’ words from Matthew 7. Jesus said, “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1). How do we call a person to repentance and not bring judgment? One implication of these words from Jesus that others have mistakenly drawn is that Christians should not say anything negative about anyone or make declarations about rights or wrongs. I want you to continue in Matthew 7 and consider that Jesus has more to say about judgment than just those seven words. Jesus also says, “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). The caution of Jesus is not just about any sort of judgment but more specifically about the prideful judgment that comes without any personal self-examination.

Words of rebuke and admonishment do have a place in the Christian community. You and I need to be honest about what is sinful and harmful in the church and in our communities. The desire to see a person turn away from sin is the context for telling someone that he is sinning. In Christian community we seek with humbleness and gentleness to correct another person when his false teaching or living separates him from the body of Christ. St. Paul told the Colossians, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom” (Colossians 3:16). Jesus told His disciples that if your brother sins against you that you should go and tell him his fault (Matthew 18:15). Jesus also said, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (John 7:24).

When I call a person to repent of his sin, I also hear these words for myself. We all must repent, turn away from sin, and trust in the good news of the kingdom. St. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1). Our unrepentant sins can wrestle us away from living in unity. When someone is caught in sin, we should not ignore the sin or celebrate the sin. Nor do we have any need to rejoice in quarreling. We grieve that a break in our fellowship has happened, and we seek restoration in our community.

Rebuke, admonishment, and correction are a part of living in Christian community. I desire that you correct me when I sin and that you announce to me the forgiveness of Christ. So also we urge our erring brothers and sisters in Christ back into the forgiving arms of Christ.

As wounds are opened and hurt is known, we need to share that all sins are forgiven in Christ. By grace we are saved and, this is a gift from God.

Link

Peacemaking

Staying on top of conflict so that community is restored and strengthened is difficult. I appreciate the counsel of Peacemaker Ministries. In their description of the slippery slope of conflict describe what triggers most conflict. When I have unmet desires, differing expectations, or minor differences I can evolve into a play for control that drops off into either an escape response or an attack response.

While I would love if all my responses would stay geared towards peacemaking, I respect the reality that I do not always succeed.

Escape responses come from a desire to avoid unpleasant people or situations instead of trying to resolve differences.

Attack responses are evidence of a desire to hold on to power and control instead of preserving a relationship.

Power is the currency in both escape responses and attack responses.

How do my responses to unmet desires or confused expectations change when I do not look at the issue in terms of power and instead seek the view of grace?

The grace of God is the truth that God has made peace with us and between us through Jesus Christ. A peacemaking response builds on the strength of love, mercy, forgiveness, and wisdom.

The love of God in Christ Jesus transforms the relationship I have with God, and I am thankful that the compassion of Jesus Christ transforms the way I view my relationships with others.