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IF THE LORD WILLS, WE WILL DO THIS OR THAT…

In the 4th chapter of the epistle of James, disciples of the Lord Jesus are warned against making future plans without humbly regarding the brevity and frailty of our lives and the limits of our wisdom and knowledge.  Simply put, though we do not and cannot know all that our future holds, in Christ, we do know who holds our future, and in Him, we can put our trust.  James, therefore, urges us when making future plans to trust God fully, desiring above all His glory and purpose and so to prayerfully say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that” (Jas 4:15).

Helen and I have been living this biblical principle through all the years of our life together, and we attest that the Lord is always faithful to make His will known to those who prayerfully seek Him, clearly directing us for His glory and our good.  We are now again trusting God to lead us according to His will, as we prayerfully prepare to move to the Twin Cities in Minnesota.  “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this”.

Twice before we have lived in Minnesota – when I attended Seminary from 1977-1980, and when I served as Conference Minister of the CCCC from 2003-2011.  Now our oldest son Carl lives there, as does our youngest son Jonathan with his wife Jackie, and their two sons Archer and Theo.  Being near children and grandchildren would be a blessing to us and also to them.

My local oncologist has reminded me that the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota offers the best care available anywhere for fighting Multiple Myeloma.  Because I have thus far not responded to chemotherapy as expected, such expertise could be very helpful to me.  I would also have access to the care available at the highly-rated VA Medical Center in Minneapolis.

Helen and I have therefore listed our home for sale.  We are making preparations to move with James 4:15 in mind, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this.”  For this to happen we must have a buyer soon, and I must be physically well enough to make the move.  Because Stem Cell Transplant (SCT) is still the treatment goal for me, and because it is recommended as soon as I become medically eligible, this could very well alter our plans, as I would then not be well enough to move and I would be required to remain wherever I am for at least a year.

Would you please pray with us about this matter, asking God to accomplish for us His perfect will and in His perfect time?  Helen and I love you all in the Lord, and we thank you from the depths of our hearts for your sincere love for us and for your prayers and support.  We so love the fact that in Jesus Christ we are forever family.  We often thank God for Church of the Apostles, praying for the leaders and for every person who is part of this wonderful family.  Our loving God has us all in His grip, and we know He will never let us go.

In our every decision and in every way, may Jesus Christ be praised!

In Christ’s great love,
Pastor Steve Gammon
Bishop Emeritus

 

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Taking a Stand for Truth

 

One thing that characterized the earliest Church was its unwavering stance on moral issues. These issues always drew a sharp line in the sand between the saved and the unsaved, between the Christian and the Pagan, between the Church and the rest of the Roman world. 

The Church’s Catechesis was imbued with detailed lists of moral expectations. These are rooted in deep reflection on Holy Scripture. Things unique to even Greco-Roman moral depravity were specifically named: pedophilia, exposure of infants (usually girls) to the elements, and abortion. A reading of the earliest Christian baptismal catechisms are eye-opening. (See Didache 1.1–6.4; See also the Epistle of Barnabas 18–21) These expectations served as a test, a line of demarcation testing the hearts and minds of Christians. This required the Church to apply Church discipline, at times rigorously. And this is precisely what gives the Church its teeth—its prophetic role in the world.

Adaptation and the Loss of Christian Witness

What is adaptation? Well, it is very much what it sounds like. In the realm of preaching the Gospel, adaptation is the adaptation of the message to the wants, desires, or preferences of the audience. Mainline Protestantism has been doing this for well over a century here in the US. 

The problem with adaptation is that when a church or religious group does this, they lose their identity. Like we noted above of the early Church’s moral stand, this was what made her conspicuous and even at times controversial in the world. It is not an easy position. But without an identity founded on the bedrock of God’s truth, the Holy Scriptures, Christian identity died.  

Besides this, the world does not respect it. Deep down, those who are not Christians may not always like what the Church stands for, but they have to respect its stand for it. When the Church reformats Christianity to look like what it originally stood against, it is hard to respect it.

Serving God by Serving the World

The Church’s posture is “whosoever will.” We will not chase, coerce, nor should we ever hurt or shame those who live outside the Church or God’s moral standards. We are all the same; both redeemed and unredeemed are ultimately sinners in need of grace.  

Nevertheless, those who reject the Gospel and God’s moral standards do so to their own peril. For eternal life is for those as Paul says, “who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life;” (Rom. 2:7) The job of the Church is to lovingly and non-judgmentally share the hope of God’s love and bring healing to those outside of the Church. We share God’s love and grace to broken people just like ourselves. The beautiful people outside the Church are not our opponents or enemies; they are our ministry and calling—those we are called to love and serve with humility and grace. 

 

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A Low, Dishonest Age

This morning, September 1, 2019, marks exactly the eightieth anniversary since the start of World War II. On this date in 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland starting one of the most apocalyptic losses of human life in history. The death toll is estimated between 70 and 85 million souls that perished in the conflict—one driven by greed, ideology, and above all, human sin.

Polish soldiers surrender to Hitler's Germany

Our Naive Hopes Denied

Our cliche hopes that WWII would be “the war to end all wars” have been denied. It is, of course, naive for us to think that the event would. As the writer of Ecclesiastes observes, one generation comes, and another goes—rare is the generation that learns from the previous. (Ecc. 1:4)

But we are naive for a far more fundamental reason—human nature. Whatever you believe about the Bible and the world in general, what cannot be denied is the persistent tendency of humankind toward evil. We often bracket ourselves out of this while noticing everyone else’s evil. We marvel at the atrocities of the Third Reich, 20th-century Communism, and 21st-century terrorism, all the while failing to sense the abiding impulse in ourselves. Whether you call this human nature, total depravity, or just original sin, it all points to the fact that mankind, is not so good after all. 

Waging War on Ourselves

Theologian Langdon Gilkey found himself trapped in China when the Japanese invaded. He was forced with many ex-pats to weather the war years there in the Shantung Compound. As a young intellectual and educator, he entered the compound with a rather positive view of human nature. By the end of the war, he was convinced of the Bible’s assessment of mankind as deeply sinful and in need of redemption. Gilkey contends that the hardest part of those years was not they’re Japanese captors, but in fact, the selfish things committed by themselves all as co-prisoners.German Wehrmacht on the move in Poland

The historian Paul N. Hehn coined the phrase “A Low, Dishonest Decade” for the title of his book exploring the economic undercurrents beneath the start of WWII. This war undoubtedly showcased human depravity like no other event in history. But it was not the source of it. Something far deeper is operative and it lives in the human heart.

If a biblical author like the Apostle John had sat down to write a book on the causes of the Second World War, I think he would have named it “A Low, Dishonest Age.” Not to take anything away from Hehn’s compelling book. But an apostolic writer like John would be taking a far more panoramic picture of humankind. For a biblical writer, the issue would not be, why did this or that even happen?  The question would fall far more on the lines of, why do these events happen at all, and why, no matter how horrible, do they keep on happening again, and again, and again?

Hitler and High Command review army in parade in Warsaw after conquest of Poland.The word “age” in the New Testament (ionos) means more than a time-period but refers more to a generation. Nor is this like the “X Generation” or “Millenials,” but an expansive epoch of history. For the New Testament writers, we do live in a low and dishonest age, and they did too. It is an age of crime, evil, injustice, and villainy. The Hitlers, Nazis and all other scourges of the world are not the cause of evil, but a symptom of what simmers int the heart of all humanity. Moreover, it is a doomed age. The apostles Paul says this:

1Cor. 2:6   “Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away.”

As Christians, we look for the Age to come. The Gospel promises a day when all the books will be opened, and every idle word spoken by every person will be judged. (Matt. 12:36)

A God of Judgement?

Maybe you find this offensive—the whole God of judgment thing. If so it is simply that you have not fully considered the consequences of a God who does not judge evil. God’s love and judgment are inseparable. You may not like to think of God as a judge, but are you really ok with a world where there is no reckoning? Are you ok with Hitler and his regime never truly answering for the deaths of 70–85 million souls? Are his systematic murder of over six million Jews and countless other souls sufficiently retributed in his cowardly suicide at the last minute? Does that satisfy you? Jews being detained by Nazis in Poland 1939

Does the loss of nearly 85 million people become a mere purposeless hiccup in a cold mechanical universe where man is a mere accident with no higher destiny beyond this life?

The Gospel promises an age to come where there will be a King and a Kingdom. It will not be a low and dishonest age, but an age of justice. It will be a kingdom without end; justice will reign, and God will wipe away every tear. The apostle John paints a beautiful picture of the world he has for those who love him.

Rev. 21:4  “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

It will be a world set right, with no Nazis, no war, no grief, and no loss. There will be a war to end all wars, but that is yet to come. Until then we pray for mercy and grace.

 

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Why Do I Need the Church?

Let’s face it. We live in a culture where going to “church” has come to be seen as archaic or outmoded. As I talk to people around New England, ironically I find very few who question God’s existence. In fact “spirituality” is on the rise.  

Nobody wants to think of themselves as religious anymore.

When people hear that I am a minister, I often get something like, “Oh I am not very religious, but I do consider myself spiritual.” “Spiritual” is the new virtue and “religious” the new vice. Nobody wants to think of themselves as religious anymore. 

So what is wrong with Church today? I think the bottom line is that people do not see how it is relevant to their current life and pursuits. 

Why is that? I think there are two reasons: one is the Church’s fault and the other is everyone else’s fault. 

The first reason is that the Church has greatly contributed to the loss of its voice in the culture. It has been judgmental, unsupportive, while also not holding the line for truth. It has prided itself on doing things the old way and has at times not been teachable on how to engage a culture that is changing faster than ever before. 

On the other hand, many people have largely written off the church and some of the old ways too quickly. We have fallen prey to thinking “new and improved” is always better. But looking around, I am not convinced. We have more data, technology, and luxuries than ever before. We also have more divorce, broken families, crime, rape, child abduction, child porn, human trafficking, and organized crime than ever before. Is this what we want as a culture? The disintegration of the family and the local community is more severe than ever. 

A Counterculture

The Church of the first few centuries challenged the world with a new community that stood against the debased time of Greco-Roman culture. What do I mean by community? I do not mean merely living near each other. Today we are lucky if we know the first name of our neighbor across the street. What I mean by community is people who know each other, care about each other, and share a mutual vision of supporting and caring for one another. 

A Private Existence

In all our many social and business circles today, most of us live an emotionally private existence, left to struggle alone in the silence of our beds at night. The calling of the Church is to be a real community to “one another.” The New Testament abounds with such language of “one another.” It is a language of mutual love and support. James 5:16 says: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” 

The Church is the community of repentance; if you are Jesus’ disciple, you are admitting your moral need of his work on the Cross.

Most of us don’t naturally think like this today. As much as we like to talk about being “authentic” and “real,” we don’t naturally confess our faults to each other and ask other people to pray for us and our struggles. Most of the time we are trying to guard ourselves acting like we have it all together so people accept us.  

Church As a Community of Repentance

So why go to Church? It is certainly not because the church is without fault. The reason to be a part of a supportive faith community is that truth be told, none of us are without fault. Many people’s reason for not going to church is the alleged “hypocrisy” of everyone there. But that is not truly being honest. Embracing the Gospel of Jesus and joining his church is by definition an admission of guilt, need, and repentance. The Church is the community of repentance; if you are Jesus’ disciple, you are admitting your moral need of his work on the Cross.

Holiness to the Lord

Holiness seems as outmoded as the Church. But it is holiness to which the Church and the entire Gospel of God labors. In our lectionary readings for Pentecost 10 | Proper 15, our Epistle reading was Hebrews 12:1-14. Here it says that God “disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.” (12:10). This is the purpose of the Gospel, and likewise the purpose of the Church. The writer says only a few lines after in 12:14: “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” That is why we both need the Gospel and God’s church. Without it, we will not be formed to share in God’s holiness. But it is only of value to one who has realized that there is nothing more valuable one can pursue than God himself. He is the great treasure of all treasures; the one thing no man can lose if he clings to him.

A Place for Those for Who fall Short of the Mark

Every person falls short of the mark. That is what “sin” actually means—to miss the mark. Picking out each other’s faults is like shooting fish in a barrel. It just isn’t fair or sportsmanlike. At Church of the Apostles, we are a very imperfect group of people with very imperfect leaders who are trying to practice the “one another’s” that Jesus taught.  We fall short a lot, but as we practice, we get better and learn to be more like Jesus. More importantly, we help each other face each coming day and life challenges together knowing that we have a spiritual family who is pulling for us. And that is a very reassuring thought.