A LETTER ABOUT LOVE AND RECONCILIATION

Some churches I know are deeply divided over the issue of gay people of faith being included in the life of the church and particularly with regard to gay marriage.

I want to suggest a way to some peaceful, loving reconciliation in this matter. Church folks need to learn how to listen with love to the stories of people on both sides of this topic. Some of my straight friends get defensive for the same reason they don’t like Jehovah Witness folks coming to their door. The former are afraid they won’t be able to answer and will be pushed into a corner or made to look ignorant of their own faith. That’s why all this works better in small group gatherings.

This topic needs a voice.

I propose a Reconciliation Team within the churches that can bring different sides together. This team needs to be diverse to allow for diverse opinions. We need never to be afraid to hear brothers and sisters who differ from us on Scripture, Theology, or Life Choices.

It’s like the Jerusalem Council that met regarding the Gentiles. (See Acts 15) The earliest Christians differed on Bible matters, commandments, and loving flexibility as regards the Gentiles who wanted to become Christians. The Council compromised and decided that new converts did not need to keep the Mosaic Law of Circumcision. And this was a significant decision because it was the stipulation for the Covenant people with their God. (See Genesis 17) And many people did not believe that law could be nullified. But it was. See, changes do come.

Christian Ethicist David Gushee has written a book called, CHANGING OUR MINDS in which he suggests several ideas for churches confronted by this matter of gay inclusion and marriage.

One of his suggestions is that we STOP JUDGING PEOPLE. (See Romans 14 and the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7) Judgment does not come from love. It comes from not seeing the log in one’s own eye. It’s looking down on another. It would be like telling people in the northeast they are sinning because they eat Lobster and Pork. Oh, no. Let’s not go down that road.

The other suggestion he makes is for a church to go through a deliberate time of dialogue and discernment where we have the conversation about homosexuality and the will of God. Such conversation will impact many areas of faithful life.

Paul writes to the Ephesians that we should speak the truth in love. Speaking and listening to what we understand as God’s truth and doing so in ‘regard for the other’ is what that means.

Some churches have made conscientious decisions about homosexuality according to their best prayerful understanding of God’s will. Whichever conclusion they come to is not without consequences. And the leadership of the church needs to reach out to people who by their own conscience have a different belief. But I sincerely believe that no decision by any leadership can be made without lots of input and conversation. And resources are readily available.

Right now Christ’s body is torn asunder and needs a loving spirit and intention to bring healing. The church is for everyone. Maybe I should say the Kingdom of God has come for everyone. No one is disposable.

BREATH

My mom died in 2014. She could not get a good breath of air. She had COPD. But for the skill and kindness of Hospice she would have agonizingly suffocated. People who have suffered from the effects of COVID 19 on their lungs know all too well the gift of breath.

Breath was give to Adam and Eve. Breath came to the dry bones in the valley and they came alive (Ezekiel 37). Breath is a gift from God (Isaiah 42). Breath is sacred. And in the case of George Floyd, that gift was taken away by an act of evil.

I consider how many times the breath of black people has been taken away throughout our nation’s history. Time and time again their lives have been cut short by drowning, lynching, and a myriad of other ways. Their freedom to breathe has been extinguished by white people.

African Americans and other people of color want to breathe again. They want the same access to life that the rest of us have.

The riots in our streets are the choking cries of people who can’t breathe, people who have been suffocating under the giant knee of racism for so many years. Some people might say, ‘But look at the progress made by and for the African Americans over the years.’ Malcolm X once responded that if you plunge a knife nine inches into someone’s back and pull it out six inches you couldn’t call that progress.

We are all longing for a fresh breath of God given air. That’s what God wants for us. Let us hope and pray that in some better way we can all surface after this deluge of racism, murder, and street violence to once again breathe. Together.

There are some great words from a group called All Sons and Daughters. Let them be our anthem just for today.

Great Are You Lord

All Sons & Daughters

You give life, You are love
You bring light to the darkness
You give hope, You restore
Every heart that is broken
Great are You, Lord

It’s Your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise
We pour out our praise
It’s Your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise to You only

You give life, You are love
You bring light to the darkness
You give hope, You restore
Every heart that is broken
Great are You, Lord

 

 

 

A LAMENT FOR GOD’S CHILDREN

This weekend has been declared a time of national mourning culminating in a day of mourning on June 1st. In three months over 100,000 people have died of COVID-19 in our nation alone.

People of all faiths are encouraged to join in this time of national mourning as in prayer we seek consolation and healing from our God. Every one of these lives lost matters to God as do the lives of public and private heroes. As well we grieve for the millions out of work and those devastated by the economic consequences of this pandemic.

And so we mourn together.

Below I have included a prayer from the National African American Clergy Network

God of our weary years and silent tears, we lift up our hearts in praise to you. You alone are able to receive the hailstorm of our tears and the torrential rain of our grief over the sudden death of nearly 100,000 of your precious children of all ages, backgrounds and social strata, from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Whether or not we have directly experienced the pain of loss, an indescribable spirit of lamentation and sorrow has fallen upon our collective American family. The sheer thought of 100,000 humans, made in your divine image, enough to fill any city, suddenly gone, numbs our minds and overwhelms our hearts.

O God in heaven, hear our hearts cry out for the loss of those who will never be mere numbers to us. They are our beloved mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, husbands, wives, children, and extended family. They are beloved fellow Americans, suddenly wiped out by an Invisible enemy mightier than all the world’s armies. Merciful Lord, we ask you to bless all those now shouldering heavy financial burdens from so great a loss.

All this has happened, Lord God, but we have not forgotten your promise to be with us in trouble and deliver us. Forgive the sin of our nation for the disproportionate number of people of color among the fallen, victimized by health care inequities and the unbearable burden of systemic racial injustice.

In the days ahead, we ask you Lord, to wrap loving arms around those left only with fleeting memories of warm smiles, joy-filled laughter, spirit-lifting hugs, the matchless pleasure of special days celebrated, and contributions to a better world now ended. You, alone, O God, can turn our mourning into dancing and our grief into joy over the sweet remembrance of our beloved. May you now rest their souls. In your blessed name, Lord God, we pray. Amen.

(Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner is president of the Skinner Leadership Institute and co-convener of the National African American Clergy Network)

 

THE KILLING OF GEORGE FLOYD

As a follower of Christ I must say there is no place in the Kingdom of God life for the unjust killing of George Floyd by the police. And I for one think that Christians must raise their voices as one against such brutal violence on the part of law enforcement. We know all too well that too many black people have suffered violence and death at the hands of those who think they are carrying out justice.

There have always been rationales for the brutality most of us saw on T.V. But as Christians we know better, or should know better.

When the Bible speaks about justice it does so in the context of how the marginalized people were being treated by the authorities of the day. In this instance justice must be brought to bear for those in charge of such brutality against George Floyd. And this is not just on behalf of African Americans. This must be done on behalf of all people. When one someone suffers like this, God suffers and we all suffer.

Christians can’t just read the NEWS. We are part of this NEWS and we may no more turn a blind eye and deaf ear to such horrendous murder than Christians could during the brutality of the Nazi regime.

It’s time again, as it was during the civil rights struggles, to raise one voice, no matter our race, against such violence that surely is contrary to the will of God.

It is up to the followers of Jesus to discern and determine what goes against God’s will and fight against such demonic actions with all the weapons we have at our disposal. (I refer to Ephesians 6) May God help us so to do.

And may God have mercy on the Floyd family and grant peace to Mr. Floyd in God’s eternal peace.

Pastor George Gaffga

 

MOSQUITOS AND TICKS. WHAT’S GOD GOT TO DO WITH ALL OF THIS?

I can hear Job complaining to God right now; asking why coronavirus or any virus has to exist and destroy so much that is good in life. God’s response to Job might be that even viruses have good purpose. Ask a virologist. And as organisms, living things, they have a freedom to move hindered only by the ability of free human beings to destroy them. Having been the recipient of malaria through the bite of a mosquito, I understand this. It would appear that the human reach has not extended to the parts of the world where over 400,000 people die of malaria each year. I am somewhat certain that mosquitos have some beneficial purpose, food for bats for one thing. And if I were Job I certainly would ask God what the big plan for ticks was?

There is freedom in this creation. That’s what God intended. And this freedom is only bounded by God at work WITH his creation. God’s work involves a humanity first created to commune and work with God to care for all of creation. Think about Moses for a moment. He is said to have parted the sea but he was the human agent involved with God and with the natural element of wind. Moses was God’s partner. When we read the Bible we always read about humanity and God together: from Adam and Eve to Abraham to Jesus, humanity is freely working with God towards good, for the most part.

In these past painful weeks, with more to come throughout the world, we have witnessed the human community come together to fight; to limit a common enemy.

People on this earth are pursuing a good by all means possible, even at the risk of their own lives. Religious and non-religious folks have become a community to work out God’s good purposes. God doesn’t want this virus any more than you or I do. God is not punishing anyone or wanting anyone to suffer. Just consider what Jesus did to heal. It’s not as if God gave people demons and afflictions only to have his son work to get rid of them. Recall Jesus’ healing of the blind man. When Jesus was asked about who was to blame for the man’s blindness, Jesus responded that it was the fault of no one in particular but rather it was the will of God to get this man well and know that wellness was the will of the Father in heaven. What hurts and destroys is not God’s intention.

In Haiti there is a saying, ‘Bon Dye Pa Di Sa’ (God didn’t say that), in reference to why there is disease, earthquakes and such. No, God is at work to influence, to draw people together to fight, heal, and comfort. And yes, at certain levels people resist that influence because of their own egos. That is the risk of free will. God’s grace is making a difference as it has throughout history. The miracles of God will be found in the thousands of stories that will come out of this ‘evil’ experience.

Please realize that what I am writing is from a worldview that sees Christ as the best revelation of God’s will for his creation – that one day it will be brand new. For those who have died it IS a reality, even though it brings ache and agony to friends and family.

Right now through the medicine, intellect, faith, prayer, love, sacrifice and grief of millions of people on this planet, a difference is being made. There WILL be healing and good through God’s love and the efforts of humanity. That which intends evil can be changed into good by the grace and will of God working through his creation, particularly human agency.

May God grant special, willing and wise hearts of the government leaders and people of medicine to assist all humanity in the days ahead.

 

 

 

WE NEED A PHYSICIAN

The coronavirus has changed the way most of us think. Some didn’t pay attention when it was first announced. But most of us have now heeded the warnings and cautions and we have adjusted life accordingly. People seem to be more caring for one another. They are finding ways of making connections. Many are sacrificing their own safety to serve others.

So I got to thinking – when Jesus came into the world his message was ‘change your way of thinking because God has come into your midst to create new hope-filled life instead of the fear and enslavement you’ve been used to’. Jesus came to say that he was providing a way to God’s life. You might remember the exact wording: “Repent for the kingdom of God is here.”

Now we’ve got scientists and health providers, ‘messiahs’ if you will, telling us how to get better, stay well and enjoy life. I’m sure they soon will let us know they have figured out the way to the ‘kingdom’ of healing and wholeness. And most of us believe what they are saying is true and we are willing to follow.

As in the days of Jesus, some of our leaders turn a blind eye to these ‘messiahs’ and insist their way is best. This got me to thinking that when Jesus says he is the only way to God’s life, he wasn’t being exclusionary. He was stating a fact – that his life, death and resurrection were providing for the whole world a way of healing, hope and eternal life. He provided this for everyone.

I personally think everyone will receive, by God’s grace, the antidote to hopelessness. But a lot of folks just won’t appreciate or trust the giver of the gift and thus they will miss the very conscious new life that is being made available to them.

So when Jesus says, “Repent, for the kingdom is here”, he is telling us to change the way we think about love, hope, justice, forgiveness and even death. For God is healing this creation by his personal involvement. He’s changing hearts and minds. He’s on a rescue mission to show that there is a better way to live – with him.

The Sermon on the Mount is our health guide. There is a reason we call Jesus the Great Physician. He came to begin the process of healing, of reconciliation of heart and mind with God. And around the world there are emergency clinics – churches, synagogues, temples – where ‘paramedics’ are trained to care for the least.

Two-thousand years after Jesus we are still in need of the Great Physician. Maybe that’s why Jesus told his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane to ‘keep an eye out and pray so that you are not distracted from the One who is able to do for you more than you can even imagine’.

 

 

DARKNESS

Is it not possible that we as Christians are subject to the groaning of this world just as anyone else? While we may not fear evil, the ultimate loss of faith, we do need to walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

There is, in all of this, a type of abandonment. Some feel abandoned by God whose oft-repeated promises seem to insulate believers from earthly trials. But the God we have come know and trust in Christ subjected himself to the worst the world would offer, to the point of crucifixion. The true sign of the faith is trusting the crucified Christ – the pioneer of our faith and our own journeys. Pioneers lead the way through the worst to discover the best. Even those travellers in long ago America had their share of fear, anxiety, and doubt but they knew to keep their eyes on their leader. (See Hebrews 12:2)

Sometimes even the firmest of believers have to experience what the ancient writer called the ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ As we walk blindly through this, God extends his hand to guide us beyond the grave circumstances of earth’s bounds. It is only through this ‘dying’ that we truly encounter Christ. The disciples discovered that truth.

In 1939 amidst the Nazi rise to power, King George VI of England, gave a speech in which he quoted the poet Minnie Haskins, entitled “The Gate of the Year” (1908):

I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year, ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’

And he replied, ‘Go into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God – that shall be better than light and safer haven than a known way.’

GRACE AND PEACE UPON ALL

 

welcoming our gay brothers and sisters

Back in 48 A.D. the church was predominantly Jewish. Soon Samaritans entered and then the Gentile world responded to the Good News. And get this- the church rulers at the time went from 613 laws of Moses to just 4, an interesting 4 at that (see Acts 15). Gentile Christians were asked to abstain from food that had been sacrificed to idols, sexual immorality, the meat of strangled animals, and from consuming the blood of animals.

Why these four? It had something to do with accommodating the consciences of Jewish believers. It was like a negotiation in order that the two groups would be able to fellowship together. Sort of like today the Presbyterians saying they won’t baptize infants while hanging out with the Baptists.

Today those four laws that came from the Council (in Acts 15) are not required for Gentile Christians. In fact most of them are not even understandable to a lot of Christians. Jewish Christians these days do celebrate many of the traditions found in the Old Testament but not as legal requirements.

But what about the question of sexual immorality? What did that even mean? It meant rampant promiscuous sexual activity outside the context of marriage between a man and woman.

Now, a parable of sorts: God is the great Maestro conducting his orchestra in such a way as to accommodate people who have learned to play a different tune And God also accommodates people who play, in some people’s opinion, out of tune. See, the tune we play is not what gives us entrance into the orchestra. It’s our trust of the Maestro to get our music to the place of glory. The Maestro has been making such accommodations since the beginning of time.

This little parable is meant for us today. Jesus gives us two commandments that he says cover the whole law. They sum up everything God wants from us. One is to love God with our whole being and the second is to love our neighbor as ourselves, as Paul repeats in one of his letters.

So what about people who are of homosexual orientation and practice? Why are we laying a heavy burden on them which denies them God’s love and their intimate love for one another? I am not speaking of promiscuous sex, which is in reality outside the bounds of real love for all of us. I’m emphasizing friendship love and romantic love that comes from a commitment between two people.

In my humble opinion, we are not to prohibit homosexual Christians from embracing faith or being embraced by the church community. This is a legitimate accommodation the Maestro makes for the Kingdom Orchestra. If any person knows and lives God’s love they are our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Yes, there is a change in the tune since 48 A.D. And God is smiling upon all the new members of his orchestra. God’s ongoing love makes more than an accommodation. He creates something beautiful from all corners of his gorgeous and glorious creation.

CORAM DEO

 

Grace Matters Episode 9- Grace in a Stolen Miracle

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Most all of us have heard the saying, ‘There are no atheists in foxholes.’ I personally don’t believe there are atheists anywhere. God has implanted in every soul just enough light or awareness to know that somewhere, somehow God or even ‘a god’ exists. Paul writes in Romans 1:19-21: “But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is!” By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. So no one has a good excuse.

 

What happened was this: people knew God perfectly well, but when they didn’t treat him like God, and refused to worship him, they trivialized themselves into silliness and confusion so that there was neither sense nor direction left in their lives. The reality of God is present to everyone everywhere but people, though they know God, choose not to honor God. Some people even worship or honor themselves, which is sort of what Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden. And since the world we live in is one large foxhole you would be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t look for help outside of themselves.

 

From the Scriptures we learn there is something of God’s life in every part of creation. “Everything was created through him (the logos – universal divine reason); nothing—not one thing!—came into being without him.” John 1:3

 

In Acts 17 Paul is speaking to the philosophers in Athens. They wanted to believe in something and he explained to them that the ‘something’ was actually a ‘someone’. 22-23 “So Paul took his stand in the open space at the Areopagus and laid it out for them. “It is plain to see that you Athenians take your religion seriously. When I arrived here the other day, I was fascinated with all the shrines I came across. And then I found one inscribed, to the god nobody knows. I’m here to introduce you to this God so you can worship intelligently, know whom you’re dealing with.”

 

Somewhere there is a source of justice or people wouldn’t say, ‘it’s just not fair’. Some even ask how a ‘good God’ could allow evil? These are all questions pointing to a ‘higher power’.

 

1-2 “God’s glory is on tour in the skies,
God-craft on exhibit across the horizon.
Madame Day holds classes every morning,
Professor Night lectures each evening.” Psalm 19

 

“God has not left himself without some witness to his being, and his goodness.” Acts 14:17

 

Even astrologers searched the skies for the Messiah and thus found him before the religious leaders did. Expressions such as ‘knocking on wood’, ‘the man upstairs’, ‘oh my God’, ‘thank God’ or even ‘thank goodness’, are all tied to a sense of someone outside of ourselves.

 

And so I would like to suggest that the lady who touches Jesus’ garment in Luke 8 actually ‘steals’ a miracle provided to her by God’s grace. Perhaps ‘steal’ is a bit too strong; we might say that she clandestinely finds a way to God through her touch.

 

A friend of mine says that every person on earth has some point of contact with God in his or her life. For the woman in Luke 8 the hem of Jesus garment was that point of contact, getting just close enough to the ever-present grace of God. Here’s her story from vs. 43-45: “In the crowd that day there was a woman who for twelve years had been afflicted with hemorrhages. She had spent every penny she had on doctors but not one had been able to help her. She slipped in from behind and touched the edge of Jesus’ robe. At that very moment her hemorrhaging stopped. Jesus said, ‘Who touched me?’ When no one stepped forward, Peter said, ‘But Master, we’ve got crowds of people on our hands. Dozens have touched you.’”

 

God causes his sunshine and rain to fall upon the evil and good folk alike. Jesus referred to God’s care for everyone in the Sermon on the Mount. In William P. Young’s book, The Shack, Papa (God) says to the protagonist Mac, ‘God is particularly fond of you, you and everyone.’

 

For the woman in our story in Luke 8 the hem of Jesus’ garment was just enough. She made the effort to receive that which had been waiting for her, as orchestrated by God the Maestro. In Matthew 9:21 the words are recorded that she really wanted to touch this healer, this Messiah, and she wanted to do it discreetly, for her problem was probably a chronic menstrual bleeding which would have made her too unclean to touch Christ, the holy man. A point of contact. A miracle stolen. Or the grace of God just hanging there for the taking.

 

As a pastor there were many times I was asked to perform a marriage, a funeral or a baptism by people who were looking secretly for some good luck, a good start, some comfort, all being points of contact to touch the sky as it were. I suspect for many the motive was to get closer to God; and for many it was a matter of doing ‘the right thing’. But either way these were all points of contact. Sometimes a hospital visit for a non-believing patient, a telephone call, a prayer are points of contact. Who knows how the point of contact will bring life? Because life is what God is about and God is everywhere at every moment.

 

“Am I not a God near at hand”—God’s Decree—
“and not a God far off?
Can anyone hide out in a corner
where I can’t see him?”
God’s Decree.
“Am I not present everywhere,
whether seen or unseen?”
God’s Decree. Jeremiah 23:23-24

 

Now here’s the thing. Christians are the body of Christ, clothed with Christ at all levels of maturity but the grace belongs to our strong loving God. We may not even have faith enough but even that’s enough for it was the faithfulness of Jesus that impacted the lady. But now you have arrived at your destination: By faith in Christ you are in direct relationship with God. Your baptism in Christ was not just washing you up for a fresh start. It also involved dressing you in an adult faith wardrobe—Christ’s life, the fulfillment of God’s original promise.” Galatians 3: 25-27 

 

That’s what people touch, the unseen faithfulness of Christ at work in us. Sometimes we know it and sometimes not but God knows and loves so well.

 

And now, the rest of the story. This beautiful thief is ‘caught’. Not by the disciples. They are still learning the extent of the master’s grace. They are bewildered by Jesus’ question, ‘Who touched me?’ because everyone was jostling the disciples and Jesus, pressing in against the Messiah. But in the melee there was a secret desirous touch of an unclean woman. She wanted to remain anonymous but the miracle was so evident in her body and her life that she confesses to why she touched Jesus.

Now I think Jesus is thrilled that this ostracized woman would dare come close enough, risking her reputation, but her story is meant for every soul that thinks itself unworthy of God’s grace.

 

Sometimes I wonder if Christians might sense the pressing in of a neighbor or loved one or a social outcast who wouldn’t darken the doorway of a church. A word, a touch, a whispered prayer may just activate the power and grace that is all around us.

Grace Matters Episode 8- Where Does it Hurt?

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Recently I listened to a podcast from Renovare which is a great ministry/organization concerning Spiritual Formation. The podcast was a conversation with author Philip Yancey led by Nathan Foster.

 

Yancey has written a new book titled Fearfully and Wonderfully: ‘The marvel of bearing God’s image’. In the book he makes the analogy between pain in the human body and pain in the Body of Christ, the church community. HIs writing comes after working many years with Dr. Paul Brand, the late surgeon specializing in treating Leprosy in India. Leprosy is an infectious disease within the skin and peripheral nerves leading to a disastrous consequence for those, who because of this illness, cannot feel pain.

 

Pain is important because it’s real and it signals that something is wrong with the body. It can be physical or emotional and can include such discomforting feelings such as anger, sadness, depression and much more.

 

Pain causes us to pay attention to our bodies. And for the Body of Christ, as the analogy goes, pain is a sign that something is wrong and needs to be addressed.

 

These days there seem to be a lot of division and hurt in the church over such issues as exclusivity and inclusivity, liberal and conservative, sexuality and doctrine. Rules, standards, grace and love are in conflict and people on all sides are hurting. I know this personally.

 

So let me continue the analogy by saying the church needs to know the pain is real and then go to the Great Physician who can diagnose the pain and help each of us to care for those in pain.

 

Jesus told his disciples that the signal of a healthy community is loving one another. He prayed for us to be one even as he and the Father are one.

 

We are all in some fashion broken, sick, or lost but within the community, the Body, we can recognize and address those circumstances that underlie the pain. We need to stop being against each other and instead be with and for one another. Let’s listen to each other out of love. Let’s bee attentive to the pain we often hide beneath a veneer of doctrinal faithfulness, social activism and success just to name a few methods of denial.

 

Read the way the Apostle Paul puts it in 1Corinthians 12.

‘If one part of the body suffers then every part suffers with it.’

 

Maybe the questions isn’t ‘what do you believe?’ Maybe a better question is the one we often have asked our children, “Where does it hurt”.