Posts tagged ‘Grace’

Flowers, Same-Sex Marriage, and Responding with Grace

screen-shot-2017-02-22-at-6-43-59-am

Barronelle Stutzman enjoyed catching up with her friend, Rob Ingersoll.  He would stop by regularly to order custom bouquets from the mom-and-pop flower shop she operated, Arlene’s Flowers, and the two would talk about what was going on in their respective lives.  Everything was coming up, excuse the pun, roses, until one day when Rob stopped by Arlene’s Flowers to ask Barronelle to provide custom flower arrangements for his upcoming wedding to his partner, Curt.  According to a deposition by Ms. Stutzman, she responded by putting her hands on Mr. Ingersoll and saying, “Because of my relationship with Jesus Christ, I can’t do that.”  Understandably, he walked away feeling deeply hurt and rejected.  After that, it didn’t take long for a legal firestorm to explode.

The two men sued Arlene’s Flowers for $7.91, the price it cost to drive to another florist.  Then, on February 16, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that Ms. Stutzman was in violation of state law, claiming that Ms. Stutzman’s actions constituted “socially harmful conduct” and that the “government views acts of discrimination,” which is how they regarded Ms. Stutzman’s refusal of service, “as independent social evils.”

In a situation like this, it can be difficult for a Christian to figure out how to respond.  Indeed, there has been a fair amount of debate among Christians over whether or not it is biblically-appropriate to provide certain services, as Barronelle Stutzman refused to do, for a same-sex wedding.

Regardless of what an individual Christian may or may not be willing to accommodate in a situation like this, Ms. Stutzman’s overall response to this controversy has been charitable and exemplary.  Shortly after the controversy erupted, she penned an opinion piece for The Seattle Times.  She opened:

Rob Ingersoll will always be my friend. Recent events have complicated – but not changed – that fact for me.

Ms. Stutzman began with a statement of love for Mr. Ingersoll.  Even if he sues her, she will not disown him.  She will always be a friend to him, even after she felt she had to have a conversation with him that was, in her words, “one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life.”

She continued by explaining her desire to balance her moral convictions with her Christian love:

I knew he was in a relationship with a man and he knew I was a Christian. But that never clouded the friendship for either of us or threatened our shared creativity – until he asked me to design something special to celebrate his upcoming wedding.

If all he’d asked for were prearranged flowers, I’d gladly have provided them. If the celebration were for his partner’s birthday, I’d have been delighted to pour my best into the challenge. But as a Christian, weddings have a particular significance…

I’ve never questioned Rob’s and Curt Freed’s right to live out their beliefs. And I wouldn’t have done anything to keep them from getting married, or even getting flowers. Even setting aside my warm feelings for them, I wouldn’t have deliberately taken actions that would mean the end of being able to do the work I love or risk my family’s home and savings.

I just couldn’t see a way clear in my heart to honor God with the talents He has given me by going against the word He has given us.

Whatever decision another Christian would have made if faced with a situation like this, it is difficult to disparage Ms. Stutzman’s desire to be both faithful to her moral convictions and loving toward her friend.

In the news, much has been made about what this story and the Washington Supreme Court’s ruling mean for religious freedom.  The questions this controversy raises about religious freedom are indeed monumental.  And the court’s ruling a couple of weeks ago is certainly open to vigorous questioning.  But in the midst of all the thorny Constitutional and legal quandaries, let’s not miss the simple story of a woman trying to live out her faith in Jesus in front of others and for the sake of others.  For this is how each of us are called to live – loving even those with whom we deeply disagree us and seeking to winsomely hold forth to the world the use of God’s gifts – like the gift of marriage – according to God’s intentions.

Whatever ultimately comes of this case, this call will not change.

February 27, 2017 at 5:59 am Leave a comment

Abortion, Absolution, and Pope Francis

francis

In a letter dated Sunday, November 20, Pope Francis announced that any woman who has had an abortion can now be forgiven for that sin by a priest.  This move toward priestly absolution for abortion began a full year ago when the pope announced a “Year of Mercy.”  Before this special year, only ecclesiastical higher ups could absolve someone of an abortion unless a particular region gave special disposition to its local priests to absolve this sin, which the Catholic Church in the United States had already done.  The pope’s announcement of a Year of Mercy gave this right to priests worldwide.  And now the pope has extended this right into perpetuity.  In his missive, the pope explained:

We have celebrated an intense Jubilee Year in which we have received the grace of mercy in abundance. Like a gusting but wholesome wind, the Lord’s goodness and mercy have swept through the entire world. Because each of us has experienced at length this loving gaze of God, we cannot remain unaffected, for it changes our lives…

Lest any obstacle arise between the request for reconciliation and God’s forgiveness, I henceforth grant to all priests, in virtue of their ministry, the faculty to absolve those who have committed the sin of procured abortion. The provision I had made in this regard, limited to the duration of the Extraordinary Holy Year, is hereby extended, notwithstanding anything to the contrary.

When the pope first announced his Year of Mercy, The New York Times ran an editorial by Jill Filipovic titled, “The Pope’s Unforgiving Message of Forgiveness on Abortion.”  In her piece, Ms. Filipovic decries the idea that those who had obtained an abortion should need forgiveness.  She writes:

Instead of treating women as adults who make their own decisions, the pope condescends to “all the women who have resorted to abortion,” saying he is “well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision.” The threat of excommunication, at the very least, makes the church’s views on women’s rights clear. Offering forgiveness is a softer version of the same judgment: that the millions of women around the world who have abortions every year are sinners. Inviting women to feel shame and guilt for their abortions isn’t a mercy; it’s cruelty.

At issue for Ms. Filipovic is the fact that abortion would be classified as a sin at all.  For her, forgiveness for an abortion is neither needed nor desirable.  What is needed is a wholehearted endorsement and promotion of abortion itself.

The biblical position on abortion and forgiveness undermines both the Roman Catholic Church’s strange view of absolution, especially before this recent papal pronouncement, along with the secularist’s cynicism toward the sinfulness of abortion.  The secular view of abortion and forgiveness is inadequate precisely because the emotions of “shame and guilt,” contrary to Ms. Filipovic’s assertion, should be the affective outcome of any sin, including abortion.  Our sin should make us feel bad – at least if we take what God commands seriously.  Only God’s gospel can remedy our shame and guilt as it releases our sins to Christ on the cross.  Abortion cannot be excused and explained away.  It can only be forgiven.

Likewise, the Roman Catholic Church’s view on abortion and forgiveness also will not do.  The now former restriction on priestly absolution for abortion seems to have been largely meant as a threatening deterrent against particularly grievous sins, as is explained in the Baltimore Catechism:

The absolution from some sins is reserved to the pope or bishop to deter or prevent, by this special restriction, persons from committing them, either on account of the greatness of the sin itself or on account of its evil consequences.

This restriction overlooks the fact that, theologically speaking, every sin is an affront against all divine law, therefore making any sin damnable.  It also overlooks the fact that to make forgiveness difficult to obtain via a barrage of ecclesiastical red tape takes what is meant to be a gift from God and perverts it into a work of man.  This makes the forgiveness spoken of here antithetical to the gospel rather than the center of the gospel, for the gospel is never about what we do, but about what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.

So where does this leave us?  It leaves us here:  if you are a woman who has had an abortion, there is hope beyond shame, release beyond burden, and wholeness beyond brokenness.  Not because there shouldn’t be any shame, any burden, or any brokenness.  And not because you can somehow claw your way out shame, burden, and brokenness by a work, even if that work is a work of self-debasing sorrow before a bishop or a priest. No, there is hope and release and wholeness because of Jesus.  After all, He suffered death to conquer death, which means, even if a life has been lost to abortion, that life can be recovered too.  And your life can be made new.

That’s the promise abortion needs.

November 28, 2016 at 5:15 am 1 comment

The Price of Mercy

King DavidIf I was David, I would have been tempted to say, “The devil made me do it.”

When “Satan rises up against Israel and incites David to take a census of Israel” (1 Chronicles 21:1), David can’t resist the opportunity to figure out just how big and powerful his empire really is.  David, it seems, has become more prone to glorifying his nation than he is to glorifying his God.  But the Lord is not pleased.  So “He punishes Israel” (1 Chronicles 21:7).

David may be easily conned by folly, but, in this instance, he is also a man of quick repentance:  “I have sinned greatly by doing this.  Now, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant.  I have done a very foolish thing” (1 Chronicles 21:8).  God answers by giving David three options for punishment.  Israel can (1) endure three years of famine; (2) endure three months of attacks from surrounding enemies; or (3) suffer three days of attacks by the Lord Himself against Israel.  David chooses option three, citing this reasoning: “Let me fall into the hands of the LORD, for His mercy is very great; but do not let me fall into human hands” (1 Chronicles 21:13).

God gets to work.  In a flash, 70,000 people die.  David’s census numbers must be amended.  God then sends His angel to destroy Jerusalem, but “as the angel was doing so, the LORD saw it and relented concerning the disaster and said to the angel who was destroying the people, ‘Enough! Withdraw your hand’” (1 Chronicles 21:15).  It is at this point that it becomes clear that what David has said about God is true of God:  His mercy really is very great.  Three days would have been more than enough time for God to destroy everything.  But instead, God preserves most things.

David, however, is not convinced that God’s tour of destruction has ended.  So he cries out to God, “Was it not I who ordered the fighting men to be counted? I, the shepherd, have sinned and done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? LORD my God, let Your hand fall on me and my family, but do not let this plague remain on Your people” (1 Chronicles 21:17).  To a God who David has just called “merciful,” David offers his blood.  David may say God is merciful, but he doesn’t really seem to trust in His mercy.

But God does have mercy – even for David.  Indeed, God, mercifully, does not ask for David’s blood.  But He does ask for an altar and a sacrifice: “Then the angel of the LORD ordered Gad to tell David to go up and build an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite” (1 Chronicles 21:18).  So David goes to Araunah who offers both his land and all the materials needed as a gift to David so he can make his offering.  But David refuses Araunah’s gift: “No, I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the LORD what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing” (1 Chronicles 21:24).  David deems it unacceptable to offer to God a sacrifice that costs him nothing.

But why?

Abraham didn’t seem to have any problem offering God a sacrifice that cost him nothing when, in place of his son Isaac, he offered a ram caught in the thicket – a ram that God Himself provided.  And the very sacrifice to end all sacrifices – the sacrifice of God’s Son – cost humanity nothing even as it cost God everything.  The best sacrifices, it seems, are the ones that come as gifts.

God acts mercifully toward David when He tells him to go the field of a man who will offer everything David needs to make a sacrifice, but David can’t quite bring himself to receive the gift.  He’d rather pay.  David may call God merciful, but again, he doesn’t really seem ready to rejoice in His mercy.

It is true that sacrifices can be costly for those who offer them.  Indeed, sometimes, sacrifices should be costly for those who offer them.  Such sacrifices can stretch us and help us grow in our faith.  But sacrifices can also come as free gifts.  And it’s not wise to despise a gift.

How often do we, like David, confess God to be merciful as a matter of doctrinal truth, but then refuse the very mercy that God tries to give?  We’d rather pay.

God received David’s sacrifice, even though David did not receive Araunah’s gift: “The LORD answered David with fire from heaven on the altar of burnt offering” (1 Chronicles 21:26).  But I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if rather than saying to Araunah, “Let me pay!” David simply said, “Thank you.”  I can’t help but wonder if God would have been pleased with David’s sacrifice just the same.

The apostle Paul writes, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1).  A holy and pleasing sacrifice does not require a payment from us.  Rather, a holy and pleasing sacrifice can simply flow from the mercy of God.

So the next time God is merciful to you (which should be in no time at all), remember to receive His mercy.  You don’t need to pay.  You can just say, “Thank you.”

May 9, 2016 at 5:15 am 1 comment

True Confessions

Confesson 1I love to read all sorts of things. Theological tomes. Biographies.  Histories.  The Bible.  I love to read op-ed pieces in newspapers and long form journalism – an art form I am concerned is all too quickly disappearing – in newsmagazines.

I love to read. But I don’t always like what I read about.

Case in point. This past week, I was scrolling through my newsfeed when up popped a story about a pastor who had to resign from his church because of serious ongoing turpitude. I wish I could say I’m surprised. But I’m not. I’m not surprised because I’ve seen far too many of these kinds of stories for them to shock me.  I’m not surprised because I know the human heart can be a dark place, leading people to do dark things. I’m not surprised because I know my heart can be a dark place, leading me to do dark things.  I’m not surprised.  But I am heartbroken. I am heartbroken when I think about the pain, regret, and fear this brother in Christ must be experiencing. I am heartbroken by how his story is being talked about on social media.  An Internet mob has predictably descended on Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and comment walls to attack and destroy this man in a sickening display of schadenfreude. This man is in my prayers and, if I can be so bold, he should be in yours.

It is out of my heartbreak that I want to sound a warning not only to my brother pastors, but also to all Christians: Satan hates you and is out to destroy you. This is why Revelation 9:11 calls Satan “the Destroyer.” Satan wants to destroy you along with all the people you love and all the people who love you. Indeed, the sin of this pastor has not only compromised his security and livelihood, it has also deeply wounded his congregation – exposing them to ridicule in the hot spotlight of a nationally trending news story – as well as, I’m sure, emotionally devastating his family.

A few years back, in The Asbury Journal, David Werner asked an important question: “How is your doing?” He asked this question in the spirit of John Wesley, who took great care always to connect “how one was doing internally (in one’s soul) … to what one did, or how one lived out the Christian life externally (in one’s actions).”[1] In other words, Wesley wanted Christians to seriously consider how well their actions comported with their words and worldview.

So, let me ask you: How is your doing? Are there any “doings” that you are hiding? Is there a sin that remains secret? Now is the time to confess it, repent of it, and receive forgiveness for it. Now is the time to share it with a pastor, a counselor, or a trusted friend in Christ so you can be held appropriately accountable for it and, ultimately, be absolved of it.

The apostle Peter exhorts us to two important “doings” when he writes, “Be self-controlled and alert” (1 Peter 5:8). Both parts of Peter’s admonition are critical. If you cannot control yourself, your ability to help and lead others will be inevitably compromised and, in some instances, discredited and destroyed. And if you are not continually vigilant, watching out for Satan’s tricks and traps, he will use your slumber toward righteousness to take you down before you even know what hit you. Being self-controlled and alert is key.

But even more important than Peter’s admonition is Peter’s invitation in the verse prior: “Cast all your anxiety on God because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Sin tells a sinister, but enticing, lie. It promises you that if you fall to it, it will release you from your anxiety. “Imbibing too much alcohol can help you lighten up and have fun,” whispers sin. “Misusing God’s gift of sex can give you a much needed thrill in a hard knocks world,” says sin. But, in the end, sin never helps your anxiety. Instead, it only adds to your anxiety pain, hurt, brokenness, and guilt.

Peter reminds us that only God can take our anxiety because only God has taken care of our anxiety by taking care of our sin on the cross of His Son, Jesus Christ. So lay your anxiety – and your sin – on Him. In the words of the old hymn:

I lay my sins on Jesus,
The spotless Lamb of God;
He bears them all, and frees us
From the accursed load.
I bring my guilt to Jesus,
To wash my crimson stains
White in His blood most precious,
Till not a spot remains.

There is a chance that this man who has had to resign from his church will not serve again as a pastor.  But even if his vocation as a pastor has passed, his vocations as a husband and as a father still stand.  My prayer is that, out of his pain, this man serves in these callings from God repentantly, patiently, and lovingly and that he finds his comfort in what God has called him:  His forgiven child.

My prayer is that you find your comfort there too.

_______________________________

[1] David Werner, “John Wesley’s Question: ‘How is Your Doing?’” The Asbury Journal 65, no. 2 (2010): 68.

May 25, 2015 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Pursuit of Perfection

Credit: nsunews.nova.edu

Credit: nsunews.nova.edu

Somehow, I knew just by the title of the article that “Confessions of a Mormon housewife” was not going be particularly titillating reading. And sure enough, I was right. This Mormon housewife’s confession was that when she became sick, and when ladies from her ward came to visit her, she “started to become insecure with [her] appearance and the state of [her] home.”[1]  Jill Strassburg, the housewife in question, explains:

When they would come visit me, they were completely “put together,” and I began to think that they were perfect.

So I stopped answering my door. I didn’t want them to see me sick or see that the house wasn’t cleaned up. The thoughts I was having made me feel like I was, somehow, less of a woman.

I was beginning to realize that I was living in a culture of attaining perfection. And I started to wonder, why do so many Mormon women strive for perfection?

On the one hand, when I read Jill’s confession of worry over the cleanliness of her home, I think of Johann von Staupitz’s admonition to Martin Luther. Exasperated by Luther’s overwhelming guilty conscience and never-ending confessions, Staupitz eventually quips:

Look here, brother Martin. If you’re going to confess so much, why don’t you go do something worth confessing? Kill your mother or father! Commit adultery! Quit coming in here with such peccadillos![2]

Worry, although definitely a sin according to Jesus in Matthew 6:25, is also a societally safe sin. No one has ever been jailed or shunned for worry.

On the other hand, the nature of her sin aside, Jill’s question haunts me: “I started to wonder, why do so many Mormon women strive for perfection?”

This is a profound question. But Jill’s answer leaves me puzzled. She writes: “While I’m not a historian, scholar or official representative for the LDS church, I think this obsession with perfection is rooted in the church’s historical values and traditions.” She goes on to talk about how Mormon women “followed traditional roles of womanhood” and how the church still promotes “traditional values.” But traditional gender roles and values are not the same thing as perfection. A person can be traditional without aspiring to or feeling pressured to be perfect.

I can’t help but think that the true culprit of the Mormon quest for perfection is theological. Indeed, foundational to Mormonism’s doctrine of salvation is a striving for perfection. Consider this from the Book of Mormon:

Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in Him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is His grace sufficient for you, that by His grace ye may be perfect in Christ.[3]

According to the Book of Mormon, God has grace for a person unto salvation, but only after he has denied all ungodliness and loved God with everything in him. In other words, God has grace for you, but only if you’re perfect – or at least pretty close to it.

How do you know when you’ve denied enough ungodliness and loved God to such an extent that God’s grace will be sufficient for you? Herein lies Mormonism’s existential crisis that results in its relentless pursuit of perfection. Mormons cannot know whether or not they will be good enough to merit God’s grace. They can only wish and hope.

Jill finally admits:

We all know that perfection is unattainable, but we should still strive to be the best we can be every day. If we could actually be perfect, there would be nothing to work toward. There wouldn’t be anything left to gain from this life that we live.

Jill knows she can’t be perfect. But in her mind, that doesn’t mean she shouldn’t try.

Holy Scripture paints quite a different picture from the Book of Mormon of what it means to pursue perfection: “When perfection comes, the imperfect disappears” (1 Corinthians 13:10). Paul says perfection is not something to be pursued, but a promise that will pursue us and come to us on the Last Day. Indeed, more than that, perfection is a person who will pursue us and come to us on the Last Day when Jesus comes for us on the Last Day. This is why, finally, I’m not really interested in attaining some depersonalized virtue of perfection. I’m much more interested in Jesus. In my mind, being forgiven by a perfect Savior is much better – and a lot less stressful – than trying to be a perfect person.

I pray Jill comes to the same realization.

_________________________________

[1] Jill Strasburg, “Confessions of a Mormon housewife,” CNN (10.2.2014).

[2] Gerald R. McDermott, The Great Theologians: A Brief Guide (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2010), 83.

[3] Moroni 10:32.

October 13, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Mark Driscoll’s Fruit Punch

Credit: Mars Hill Church

Credit: Mars Hill Church

Jesus once explained how the world could recognize His disciples: “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:20). “Fruit,” of course, is what the apostle Paul describes as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Thus, if others want to know whether or not a person follows Jesus, they need only to look at how he acts.

Of course, there is a little more to it than just this. Because even people who follow Jesus do not always bear the kind of fruit Paul enumerates. Indeed, even Paul himself admits, “What I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:19). Paul’s spiritual fruit is more like a fruit punch – a mix of good fruit and bad fruit, righteous fruit and sinful fruit.

This past week has been a tough one for Mars Hill Church of Seattle. Last Sunday, its pastor, Mark Driscoll, announced to the congregation that he will be taking at least six weeks away from the pulpit, explaining:

Storm clouds seem to be whirling around me more than ever in recent months and I have given much thought and sought much counsel as to why that is and what to do about it …

Some have challenged various aspects of my personality and leadership style, and while some of these challenges seem unfair, I have no problem admitting I am deserving of some of these criticisms based on my own past actions that I am sorry for …

I have requested a break for processing, healing, and growth for a minimum of six weeks while the leadership assigned by our bylaws conduct a thorough examination of accusations against me.[1]

Usually, when a pastor steps away from his pulpit because of some controversy or scandal, it makes no news. But Mars Hill Church is one of America’s most famous congregations. Thus, the controversy surrounding Driscoll has been very public – front page of The New York Times public, in fact. Two days before Driscoll announced his leave of absence, the Times published an exposé:

Mark Driscoll has long been an evangelical bad boy, a gifted orator and charismatic leader who built one of the nation’s most influential megachurches despite, or perhaps fueled by, a foul mouth, a sharp temper and frank talk about sex …

But now Mr. Driscoll’s empire appears to be imploding. He has been accused of creating a culture of fear at the church, of plagiarizing, of inappropriately using church funds and of consolidating power to such a degree that it has become difficult for anyone to challenge or even question him. A flood of former Mars Hill staff members and congregants have come forward, primarily on the Internet but also at a protest in front of the church, to share stories of what they describe as bullying or “spiritual abuse,” and 21 former pastors have filed a formal complaint in which they call for Mr. Driscoll’s removal as the church’s leader.

Mr. Driscoll is rapidly becoming a pariah in the world that once cheered him.[2]

When The New York Times says your empire is “imploding” and calls you a “pariah,” that’s not good. But this is what Mark Driscoll is now facing.

As I’ve been reading people’s comments on Driscoll’s absence from Mars Hill’s pulpit, it’s been fascinating to read both the comments of his fervent supporters as well as those of his vociferous detractors. On Mark Driscoll’s Facebook page, people came out with glowing messages of support and prayer:

BEST BIBLE TEACHER EVER! Love you pastor Mark, thanks for teaching me how to man up and love Jesus and my family! Your sermons helped me through one of the most difficult moments in my life. I thank God for your faithfulness in teaching his word and I can’t wait to see you come back and do more amazing things!

And this:

Pastor Mark, I got baptized a few years back with Mars Hill on Easter and my now husband got baptized this past Easter. What makes it even more amazing is that after he got baptized he turned and baptized his 9 year old son … You have changed us and my marriage is truly saved by the grace of God but we wouldn’t have gotten here if it wasn’t for your teachings.[3]

On a blog critical of Mark Driscoll, readers can be treated to comments like this:

Driscoll needs to step down for good, not for 6 weeks. The man is dangerous. He has fired high ranking members of his staff on the spot, and created a culture of spiritual abuse disguised as “church discipline.” He is mean, he has publicly insulted “effeminate worship leaders” and implied Ted Haggard’s homosexuality
was the result of “wives who let themselves go,” to name but a few of many highlights.

And this:

[Mark] has repeatedly found himself embroiled in accusations of abuse, stealing others intellectual property, fleecing his church to pay for his best seller status, fleecing his church with his fake global fund … He has lived more as a son of the devil than the son of GOD.[4]

There doesn’t seem to be a lot of middle ground when it comes to opinions about Mark Driscoll. Even his apology has gotten mixed reviews. Some people believe Driscoll has sincerely repented of his sin and is the best man to lead Mars Hill Church while others doubt Mark’s sincerity. One person commented, “I listened to Mark’s ‘apology’ and I didn’t see any repentance.”[5]

So what are we to make of all this?

In a sentence, I would say: Mark Driscoll has made fruit punch. Like the apostle Paul, Mark has born both good fruit and bad fruit, righteous fruit and sinful fruit. And whether or not you applaud or denounce him has to do with what fruit of his you are looking at. To only applaud his good fruit while ignoring his bad is to make an idol out of him. Only Jesus bears only good fruit. But to only denounce his bad fruit while overlooking his good is to stand in self-righteous condemnation of him. We must never forget that it’s not only Mark Driscoll who makes fruit punch. We do too.

So from one fruit-punch-making pastor to another I say, “Mark, I’m praying for you. And, I’m praying that the team of overseers who are reviewing the charges against you make a decision that is best for you, for Mars Hill, and for the glory of God’s Kingdom.” Then, for all Christians who make fruit punch – and we all do – I am also praying. I am praying that we would continue to be “transformed into [the Lord’s] likeness with ever-increasing glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18) until our fruit punch becomes the Spirit’s pure fruit in heaven.

_______________________________________

[1] Mark Driscoll, “An Update From Pastor Mark,” marshill.com (8.24.2014).

[2] Michael Paulson, “A Brash Style That Filled Pews, Until Followers Had Their Fill,” The New York Times (8.22.2014).

[3] facebook.com/pastormark

[4] Warren Throckmorton, “Announcement: Mark Driscoll Will Take At Least Six Weeks Off,” patheos.com (8.24.2014).

[5] Celeste Gracey, “Forgiving My Pastor, Mark Driscoll,” Christianity Today (August 2014).

September 1, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Waiting To Be Adopted

15-year-old Davion Only with his caseworker Credit:  Tampa Bay Times

15-year-old Davion Only with his caseworker
Credit: Tampa Bay Times

It’s heartwarming and heartbreaking all at the same time.  15-year-old Davion Only attended St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church in St. Petersburg, Florida on a recent Sunday with a request:  “Somebody, anybody, please adopt me.”  Lane DeGregory of the Tampa Bay Times sets the scene of this boy’s dark past:

Davion Navar Henry Only loves all of his names. He has memorized the meaning of each one: beloved, brown, ruler of the home, the one and only.

But he has never had a home or felt beloved.  His name is the last thing his parents gave him.

He was born while his mom was in jail.  He can’t count all of the places he has lived.

In June, Davion sat at a library computer, unfolded his birth certificate and, for the first time, searched for his mother’s name.  Up came her mug shot: 6-foot-1, 270 pounds – tall, big and dark, like him.  Petty theft, cocaine.

Next he saw the obituary: La-Dwina Ilene “Big Dust” McCloud, 55, of Clearwater, died June 5, 2013.  Just a few weeks before.[1]

It’s hard to imagine how this young man’s childhood could have been more heart-rending.

By Davion’s own admission, he has had rage problems in the past.  His caseworker once took him to a picnic hosted by an organization devoted to helping foster kids find permanent homes, but he lashed out – throwing chairs and pushing people away.  But the death of his mother changed him:

When he learned his birth mother was dead, everything changed.  He had to let go of the hope that she would come get him.  Abandon his anger.  Now he didn’t have anyone else to blame.

“He decided he wanted to control his behavior and show everyone who he could be,” [his caseworker] said.

So someone would want him.

The only thing more heartbreaking than the story of Davion’s past is that state of Davion’s present, encapsulated in this one line:  “So someone would want him.”

There’s a reason the Bible often uses adoption as a descriptor for the Gospel.  Paul writes, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-6).  Elsewhere in his writings, Paul makes it clear that God’s adoption of us as His children is in no way based on our desirability.  Quite the contrary.  Paul minces no words explaining just how undesirable we are:  “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12).  Our adoption as God’s children is not based on our desirability, but on His grace.

The Gospel, then, is this:  We do not have to wait for someone to want us.  For we know that someone does want us – so much, in fact, that He’s willing to die for us.

Lane DeGregory’s article ends with this postscript:  “At publication time, two couples had asked about Davion, but no one had come forward to adopt him.”  Praise be to God that when we are slow to adopt, our Lord is not.  He signed the papers for us 2,000 years ago.


[1] Lane DeGregory, “An orphan goes to church and asks someone, anyone to adopt him,” The Tampa Bay Times (10.15.2013).

October 21, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

They Need Someone To Tell Them – How About You?

This past weekend, we finished our series at Concordia titled “Heaven.”  For the final Sunday of this series, Pastor Tucker and I answered some of the most common questions people have about heaven, hell, and eternity.  One of the questions I tackled was, “What about people who have never heard about Jesus?  What happens to them?”  This question is not a new one.  Indeed, questions about how God can consign certain people in certain circumstances to hell or judge them in His wrath are as old as Scripture itself.  Already in Paul’s day, people were asking, “Why does God still blame us” (Romans 9:19)?  Some people cannot fathom a God who will call to account every sin in every situation.  Surely there are instances, these people clamor, where God will just let sin slide.  Surely God will not blame us for our sins – at least not all of them.

As I explained this past Sunday, the truth of God’s judgment is this:  God will hold someone accountable for every sin in every situation – either you or Jesus.  Those are the only two options.  There are no others.  Thus, one cannot be saved apart from Jesus even if one has never heard of Jesus.  For apart from Christ, you will be held accountable for your own sin in hell.

This being said, we also learn that God does not want to hold us accountable for our own sin in hell.  He does not want us to perish (cf. 2 Peter 3:9).  This is why the task of evangelism is of inestimable importance.  For it is through people preaching the Word to other people that God normally reaches out with His love in Christ.  As the apostle Paul says, “‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the One they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the One of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them” (Romans 10:13-14)?  People need someone to tell them about Jesus so they have the opportunity to believe in Jesus!  This is where you come in.

The other day, I stumbled across an article by the president and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources, Thom Rainer, titled, “Seven Common Comments Non-Christians Make about Christians.”[1]  The last of the seven comments jumped off my computer screen at me:  “I really would like to visit a church, but I’m not particularly comfortable going by myself. What is weird is that I am 32-years old, and I’ve never had a Christian invite me to church in my entire life.”  Here is a comment from a person who wants to learn more about Jesus – who wants to hear from His Word.  All he needs is an invitation to a place where that Word is preached…maybe your invitation.

Thom Rainer concludes:

Non-Christians want to interact with Christians…It’s time to stop believing the lies we have been told.  Jesus said it clearly: “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few.  Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest” (Luke10:2).

Satan is the author of excuses.  There is no reason to wait to reach those who don’t know Jesus Christ.  We must go now.  The harvest is waiting.  And the Lord of the harvest has prepared the way.

I couldn’t agree more.


[1] Thom Rainer, “Seven Common Comments Non-Christians Make about Christians,” www.thomrainer.com (9.15.2012).

October 8, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – Repeating the Past

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  So said the Spanish philosopher George Santayana in his 1905 opus magnum The Life of Reason.  If only Santayana was right.  If only it was only those who had somehow forgotten the past who, ignorant of the lessons of yesteryear, repeated them in these years.  Unfortunately, even those who do remember the past, as debase as it might be, often repeat it.  The son who knows his father is an alcoholic drinks excessively himself and develops the same addiction.  The daughter who is bitter and vindictive remembers well the grudges her mother held against others.  The father who hits his wife passes his legacy down to a son who raises his hand to his girlfriend in a fit of rage.  We have no problem remembering past calamities.  But in spite of our well-defined memories, we all too often repeat them.

What reason can be given concerning those who remember the past and nevertheless consign themselves to repeat it?  In our text from this weekend, the apostle Peter reminds us that we are all heirs to “the empty way of life handed to us by our forefathers” (1 Peter 1:18).  The Greek word for “empty” is instructive.  It is the word mataios which denotes the appearance of a thing as distinct from its essence.  That is, mataios allows for a thing to look enticing in its appearance while leading to sin, despair, and death in its essence.  One cannot help but think of how Satan tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden: “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (Genesis 3:6).  Satan tempted history’s first couple with the appearance of wisdom.  But what Satan was leading Adam and Eve to, as appealing as its appearance may have seemed, was, in its essence, sin, despair, and death.

What Satan did with Adam and Eve he continues to do with us.  He tempts us with a thing that has an appealing appearance, but, in its essence, leads us to sin, despair, and death.  Satan tempts us with the appearance of joy through drunkenness.  But that ephemeral joy quickly melts into the essence of regret as we suffer through a hangover.  Satan tempts us with the appearance of pleasure through sex outside of marriage.  But that illusory pleasure quickly melts into essence of pain as a marriage is destroyed.  The temptations of Satan look full and marvelous, but, in reality, they are empty and tragic.  They are mataios.

Thus, it is no surprise that we fall for temptations from our past.  For though we may remember their appealing appearances, we all too often minimize or even forget their essential brokenness.

What remedy is there against Satan’s enticements toward all things mataios?  Peter answers, “Set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:13).  Again, the Greek for the word “given” is instructive.  It is the word phero which refers to something that is not only “given,” but “brought.”  That is, God desires not only to give us His grace, He has actually made provision for it to be brought to us through His Son Jesus Christ.  Indeed, this is what we celebrate at Christmas:  How God was not content to leave His grace supinely suspended in heaven and so deigned to bring His grace to earth in the person and work of Jesus.  Our ancestors, beginning with Adam and Eve, may have handed down to us the impoverished ways of mataios, but our God brings down to us His amazing grace in Christ.  So instead of trying to remember the pain of past mataios so that you can learn from it, instead, rejoice in the peace of God’s present grace.  Because, in the light of God’s eternal grace, mataios loses its appealing appearance.  For we now have God’s grace and its incomparable essence of forgiveness.  And that’s good news.

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!

December 13, 2010 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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