10 things I've learned since leaving full time ministry

For some time now I have desired to post a follow up to my post 2 years ago announcing my departure from vocational ministry. Life rarely affords me the time to write these days, and even as I bang out this post I know that I have to be awake in four and half hours to get into the plant to work, to put it plainly I do not even have the time to write now. I want to give a quick top ten things I’ve learned re-entering the work force after 6 years of full time ministry. These are in no particular order, and these are only my own personal reflections. I am NOT saying this is indicative of all ministers or all people in the work force, these are just observations from my own life.

1.        I had much more free time as a pastor. Sure I was in the office a lot, and I had to call on people and do funerals and go to hospitals and so on, but I also read 70+ books a year, blogged almost every day, attempted to write a novel, went mountain biking and so on. Now working 55-60 hrs a week I have time to play with kids, spend a little time with my wife, and occasionally sleep for more than a 6 hour stretch. The “me” time has vanished.
2.       Pastor credentials DO mean something in the ‘secular’ workforce.  This one surprised me, but people of all stripes like talking about the faith. Being an engineer who was a pastor creates an interesting space with people. I run the risk of over analyzing this, but it seems to me that people like the idea of having a pastor figure to hash things out with who is not tied to (read paid by) the church. In any case I’m in a unique situation. There are countless pastors who left the workforce (they are a blessing to their congregations because of it) but the former pastor now in the work force is a bit of an anomaly.
3.       Being a pastor gradually caused me to lose touch with reality.  This was a tough pill for me to swallow, but it is true. I’ve looked back on most of my conversations with colleagues in ministry about what the world really needs from the church and I sort of cringe when I think of them. I was far more out of touch than I can comfortably admit. All the notions we had of how to cater to the world seem woefully inadequate now.
4.       Pastors are not paid as poorly as you think. Working at Chrysler I am making much more than I did as a pastor, much more. However Chrysler is pays uniquely well. Before I took my current position I worked 1.5 years at an average engineering wage but never had any more money than I did as a pastor even though my salary was almost double. Let’s face it, as a pastor I had, house, utilities, insurance, along with a group of 150 or more wonderful congregants who would go out of their way to do anything for me.
5.       People aren’t as impressed as pastors think by the church doing nice things. We do a lot of back patting in the church every time we go to a school and tutor, or go to a parade and hand out water. I think we are right to do these things, but few people are actually sitting back saying ‘wow there is something different about these people.’ I think individual acts of sacrifice by Christians carry far more weight than corporate acts of charity from the church. In other words if a Christian man takes the crap job on the line so someone else can have it easier for a day that goes a lot further than hanging out with our Christian buds do-gooding together.
6.       Vocation matters. This piggy backs the last point, but the general work force is more open to the individual Christian glorifying their God in the midst of their work than they are by the individual Christian facilitating church outreaches. Outreach gives the church a good name, no doubt, but individual sacrifice on behalf of another in the midst of one’s vocation give Christ a good name because there is no ‘selling point’ for an organization.
7.       Work is fulfilling. I think we forget this. In vocational ministry I believed that no other work could be as fulfilling as the full time proclamation of the Gospel. I lost touch with how fulfilling getting up at 4:15am to go to a factory to build something with other people could be. Making stuff is fun and it matters. Everyday around 1000 cars will roll off our line, some will take little kids to baseball practice, others will take someone to their senior prom, many will drive to their parents’ funerals, people will die in some of them, and teenagers will lose their virginity in them. The world is so interconnected and all the pieces matter. Lives will be lived in them. If someone can get the right perspective on their work, no matter what their job is, they will find it fulfilling.
8.       It hurts sometimes to not preach. Sometimes it’s just hard to hear a text being taken a direction I wouldn’t have taken it. I sit under good preaching, but having been a pastor is a real impediment to simply receiving the word.
9.       Pastors tend to enjoy a martyr role. I’d downplay it, but I secretly enjoyed when people believed I made some grand sacrifice to be a minister. When people would act like I was doing something so difficult I tended to believe them. I was addicted to praise. I’ve since found that everyday people are sacrificing their time to feed their families, to care for their sick ones, to look after their co-workers, etc.  Sacrifices of a pastor really do not supersede that of the rest of the world, or even that of the unbelieving world.
10.   Pastors are necessary. Though the above points may lead you to believe I am downplaying the pastor’s role let me assure you I am not. I think the pastor should have free time, should be fairly compensated, should be able even to isolate from the world. It is necessary that the pastor is in some ways comfortable and not overworked so that they can have clarity and rest to deal with the difficult situations they face. People, I, need someone to remind me of the forgiveness of sin I have in Christ, I need someone to announce my absolution for my sin, I need someone to feed me the body and blood of our Lord and deliver to me the holy Word of God. I am thankful for pastors, and I am grateful that many have taken that role and continue in it.

These are just my thoughts after nearly 2 years away from vocational ministry. I am thankful that God pulled me into the ministry, and I am thankful that a lifetime of vocational ministry was NOT in his plans for me. Do I miss the ministry? Not really. I enjoyed it immensely, but count it a great blessing to be back in the work force.

I wonder if anyone else has thoughts on this.


Imperatives, Indicatives, Assurance, and Baptism

Early on in local church ministry I was convinced that the primary topic that needed dealt with locally in the church was not that of empowering believers to share the gospel, nor was it in bringing sinners to repentance, but it was instead to give believers assurance of the salvation that they had in Christ. As time has passed this conviction has grown. Often times assurance of salvation is taught as one important thing among many important things, but rarely is it taught as the one thing most important. Many other topics have taken precedence in the church leaving assurance often neglected. The common refrain is that believers know the Gospel but need to be taught to live empowered lives, or need to become more proficient in evangelism, or need deeper prayer lives, or what not. Assurance is too often assumed. In some more fundamentally liberal or conservative circles the idea of assurance is almost shunned. For instance listen to your typical fundamental conservative’s take on Matthew 7 and you will no doubt hear a call to question your salvation when you hear the words of Jesus “depart from me I never knew you.” Look no further than David Platt’s blockbuster “Radical” series for an example. Your fundamental liberal (this is not an oxymoron) does the same thing when taking Jesus’ words “I was naked and you did not clothe me, I was sick and you did not visit me…” These verses in both contexts are used against believers to bring them to question their own authenticity.

The question we must ask ourselves with regards to the New Testament is what parts, if any, are meant to bring us to question our faith? The lens we read scripture with will always drive our interpretations of the text. Without acknowledging that we read scripture through different lenses we will never be able to come down to any common understanding of any individual text, or even the whole scripture itself.

Let’s start with a basic multiple choice question:
With regards to salvation the New Testament….
a.       Teaches us how to be included in the saving work of Jesus Christ and how to get others included in His work.
b.      Announces the already completed saving work of Christ for those who believe.
c.       Both a, and b.

The first response of most readers here would be ‘c. both a, and b’. Upon deeper examination you will find that most believers lean far more heavily on either ‘a’ or ‘b’. However I think the validity of ‘a’ should be brought into question altogether.

The notion that the New Testament is teaching us how to be included in the salvation of Christ should be brought into question. In evangelical circles Romans seems to be the go to book of the bible for instruction regarding ‘how to be saved’. Most of us have seen, or even used the ‘Romans Road’ for instruction on ‘getting saved’. Rarely have we questioned whether or not that is what Paul was writing about when he penned his letter to the Romans. Was the unbeliever even on his radar when he wrote to the early churches? Were his letters evangelical in the sense that we typically think of evangelicalism? The first clue to answering this question is the audience Paul addressed in Romans and all his letters. Note that he always writes to believers. The fact that his audience is believers should at least cause us to hitch just a little bit at the idea that these passages are meant to be read as a ‘how to’ with regard to salvation. He is writing to the already redeemed.

So when we read a text like Romans 10:9-10 which teaches that “if we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead we will be saved” is it fair to take this text as teaching how we are to go about being saved? Or ought we teach it to ‘already believers’ as a positive assurance that their confessing and believing evidences their salvation in Christ? Remember the audience here is not the lost who need to be saved instead it is the saved who are struggling in first century Rome to live in light of their confession. To the broken believer who believes that Jesus was raised from the dead and confesses that even in the midst of their doubts and the midst of a world which denies their confession this text of Romans 10:9-10 should be a source of great assurance. However if we take Romans as a ‘how to’ book these verses at worst get relegated to a once in a lifetime event of believing and confessing to get saved, and at best give us assurance based on ‘our’ believing, and ‘our’ confessing. In other words we take our assurance from something we have done as opposed to finding our assurance in what Christ has already done for us. While I know I run the risk of losing many on this point, it is not trivial. The natural question is “Jay, why cannot it not be both instructional and assuring?” Remember the audience is believers leaving it unlikely that this is an instructional text for the lost. Moreover these verses are entirely indicative, there is no command to ‘confess’ or to ‘believe’. Quite simply it states ‘if you confess’, present tense, you will be saved. This is an announcement of fact in the present tense for believers. It is about assurance, not about apprehending salvation. If we are to believe that we were ‘saved’ and ‘regenerated’ at a specific point in time, and that point in time was when we confessed and believed then this verse should read “If you confessed” past tense and “if you believed” past tense “you will be saved.” That is not how the verse reads though.

Again this is not hair splitting. If we are to view confession and mental ascension (belief) as the means by which we are saved then we ultimately lay claim to our own salvation. When someone asks “how were you saved?” in this paradigm you would be right in answering “I was saved when I confessed and believed.” What is wrong with this? Everything! If you read these texts this way your assurance of salvation is tied to your own doing, your own work as it were in believing and confessing. The reason this is a problem is that it causes us to look inward for our salvation, we’ve tied it to our ability to believe and the validity of our confession. A proper conception of salvation is this; “I am saved because the Lord Jesus Christ lived died and rose for me.” That conception of salvation looks outward to the work of Christ for assurance, a finished work in real history, and not our inward confession of that work. If we are not precise here we will attribute salvation to our work of confession. Instead if we see this as being written to believer who knows “I was saved by the Lord Jesus Christ living dying and raising for me” Romans 10:9-10 become a great comfort. Why? Because their confession is what Jesus has done, and their belief also is what he has done. Yes they confess and believe, and can have assurance in light of their confession and belief, but the assurance does not come from their decision to confess and believe but instead comes from the cross and empty tomb.

Some would agree that these texts are intended for assurance and that they are indicative of our salvation, but they diverge and say that those indicatives still point back to the imperative to believe and confess. Again the problem is that the text does not say ‘if you have believed, and if you have confessed’.  If the verse pointed to a past tense occurrence then that reading would be fine, but it doesn’t.

Romans 10:9-10 is one simple example of where we have confused imperatives and indicatives and taken verses that have the singular intent to give assurance and turned them into instructions. There are countless others as well.

This is not to say that the question ‘when did I get saved’ or even ‘how did I get saved’ is an invalid question. The question is fair. However to answer that question we must find an imperative that deals with the unsaved becoming saved, not an address (like the epistles) to those who already believe and are being given assurance of faith.

The audience of the New Testament is believers, every single book in it was written by believers to believers. You could possibly claim an exception with Hebrews as that might be written to Jews who do not yet believe, but other than that the New Testament is the Church’s book, not the world’s.
So where can we go to deal with the question “how do I get saved?” You have examples in Acts of unbelievers coming to faith. While acts was written to Theophilus, a believer, it does chronicle unbelievers coming to faith in its narrative. What do we find there when unbelievers ask ‘what must we do’? “Repent and be baptized and you will receive the Holy Spirit.” While I think we should exercise some caution establishing doctrine from Acts given that it is narrative and not doctrinal in nature we do at least get some clues into how the doctrine from the epistles played out in real time. The imperative for salvation was not ‘confess and believe’ it was ‘repent and be baptized’. This isn’t isolated to Acts 2:38 either. Even Paul recalling his own conversion points to his sin being washed away at baptism.

So then if baptism is imperative for being redeemed by Christ’s work we should at least expect that the epistles being written to believers should reference baptism as such. If we look at Romans 10:9-10 we see confession and belief in the present tense indicating an assumed action of believers, but how is baptism referenced?  If you check Romans 6 starting at verse 3 we read:
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. – For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.”

Notice here how Paul was not pointing to a present tense action like he was in Romans 10:9-10, instead he was pointing back to something that has already occurred.  “Baptized, buried, raised, united, crucified, and died” are all pointing to something that has already happened for these believers. Of course this meshes perfectly with Acts 2:38 and other narrative examples from Acts about unbelievers becoming believers.

When read the Epistles we only find a few past tense things being referenced to, one being the work of Christ in his life death and resurrection, another being baptism, and the others all involve examples of God’s actions among his people in the past. We do not find a multitude of examples calling us to reflect inwardly upon something we have done.

Got to cut this short for now. Hopefully I will find time to continue this at a later date.


Called Out of Ministry

Now that the news has had time to circulate around Delta, and I no longer run the risk of anyone from the parish finding this out on the internet I am free to share this with all of you. As of the end of June I will be leaving pastoral ministry and will again be an engineer.

There is no greater honor than to serve the local church as a pastor. Really. I cannot think of anything more fulfilling than to pronounce the life, death, and resurrection of Christ for the forgiveness of sin to those who are called His. The local church which I have served has been wonderful to my family and I. They have treated my wife, my children, and me with great respect. They have honored the office of Pastor, have supported us with their prayers, their giving, and their continual love for us. As corny as it sounds, the pastor to parish and parish to pastor relationship we have enjoyed was truly a match made in heaven. You'd be hard pressed to get me to believe that there is a more humble, loving, and joyful group of believers than the group which gathers each Lord's day at The United Methodist Church of Delta. These have been the greatest four years of my life thus far. Obviously no congregation is perfect, and Delta UMC is no exception, but I have never once walked into another church and wished that Delta UMC would be more like them.

Aside from the parish itself, I'd say the work of a pastor is an incredibly blessed work. To administer word and sacrament is as joyful a burden as any that someone could be placed under. The sense of carrying the presence of Christ into hospitals, committee meetings, the pulpit, the community, and elsewhere is a sense every believer can enjoy, but is especially poignant when you carry that presence as an official of the church. The work of binding people in marriage, regenerating people in baptism, laying people to rest in funeral services, and so on are works that no human deserves the privilege of carrying out. I am thankful to have been called to carry out those works despite my own unworthiness.

Why then would I leave such a blessed work? Allow me to start by listing some things that were not reasons I left. People may think it was financial, it was not. As a pastor in the UMC I had health coverage, a parsonage, no utility bills, no cell phone bills, no worries about fixing the roof on the house or replacing a furnace. Everything was provided. Financially my family was well cared for and we lacked nothing. Some may think it was the stress of the job. I have not found pastoring to be any more stressful than other lines of work. Yes there are a lot of hats to wear, and it is occasionally overwhelming, but the parish I serve has never once caused me to put the church before my family, nor have they ever treated me in such a way that left me feeling less than human. Some might think I'd leave to get out of the limelight and the pressure of living in a fishbowl. Again, the church respected our privacy and personal space, plus if you know me you know that I don't mind being the center of attention anyway. None of the standard reasons for leaving the ministry seem to apply to me.

So why have we made this decision? Mainly because of the itinerancy system in the UMC. One of the most difficult realities that your local UMC pastor has to deal with is the fact that any given June they can be called to move within the conference. As my family has grown from 3 members to 5 in the time we have been in Delta the pressure of itinerancy has grown. The reality that every friendship my 6 year old makes is ultimately temporary, and every family which we connect with will ultimately end up separated from us is a reality that is too much for us to stomach. I don't think the itinerancy is a bad system per se, but it is not the right system for my family. Beyond that the pressure of obtaining a seminary education while balancing the life of family and church is pressure that cannot be understated. Truth be told becoming a Methodist minister while raising a young a family is a daunting proposition. Many ministers have pulled it off swimmingly, I could not.

So what of your 'call'? In Methodist clergy circles there is a lot of talk around this ethereal notion of 'call'. We constantly review our sense of calling and cling to this sense as a driving motivation to continue through the process. The idea that 'we could not be fulfilled doing anything else' is to be at the heart of vocation. To be frank, I love ministry and have enjoyed it immensely, but I have never had the sense that I could not be fulfilled or living faithfully doing anything else. I am perfectly content to serve Christ as an engineer, and am very excited to do so again. In fact the idea of being laity in the church excites me.

What is next for my family and I? Let me break down how this all happened and in the process I will explain what is next. About a month ago Kristin and I were discussing our future as a family and in this discussion, as always, the itinerancy finds its way to the forefront. We came to the conclusion that we would be open for anything, ministry or not, and would be willing to go wherever God would lead… even if he led us out of ministry. After that conversation and much seeking of God I began to think about what it would be like to be an engineer again. I considered contacting Edco (my former place of employment) just to see what was going on there, but not seeking work. I figured putting my name back on their radar wouldn't hurt. Truth be told if God were to lead us out of ministry it would seem that it would have to happen quickly as the window of opportunity to return to engineering work gets smaller with each passing year. The following morning after this conversation, before I made any effort to contact Edco, I received a message from them asking if I'd ever be interested in coming back to work for them. It had been a number of years since I had any contact with them. This was apparently out of the blue. I decided I would contact them back and meet with the general manager and plant manager to discuss the opportunity. I went in and explained to them what role I would want. Essentially I wanted to oversee Edco's engineering. It was clear when I told them this that it was exactly what they were looking for. I gave them a salary I desired assuming there would be some debate, instead they instantly agreed with what I proposed. (I wonder how much more I could have asked for!) We worked out the details and a couple days later I accepted the position. There are also other circumstantial things that fell into place. Our home in Toledo which we have been renting has come available for us to live in which solves any potential housing issues.  So as of June 2nd I will be the senior design engineer at Edco, and will continue to preach in Delta until the end of June.

I believe in the UMC (though we don't always see eye to eye), I believe in the systems in place. However I believe that in light of those systems, and in light of the opportunity which arose immediately after considering these things that we are following the will of Christ in this transition.

Please keep our family lifted in prayer, and keep the people of Delta UMC in your prayers as we move through this. This is not an easy thing for any of us, but it seems that everyone understands it. Pray for your pastor, and when you might be frustrated with your Pastor consider the underlying realities which they live with. It is a great life, but not all roses by any stretch of the imagination.

Peace for now, and God bless you.


The 30th day of thankfulness

Earthworms vs. Butterflies. Custodians and “To Kill a Mocking Bird”. Exploding dinosaurs, microscopes, telescopes, minivans in my living room. The standard convention for giving thanks was broken this month, and I broke it for good reasons, reasons I hope to share on this my 30th day of thanks.

While not my ‘30th day thanks’, I am thankful for all of you who read the posts. Opinions regarding the posts were varied, some positive, some negative, but in the end I am humbled that people found them worth having an opinion about. In the Facebook world of banal nonsense, generating an opinion about things other than sports or politics proves to be a difficult task.

Today I am thankful that absurd things are often the truth.

We live in a spoken world. A magical world as it were, I hoped to convey that in my posts. A world where dandelions get called weeds even though they are the most useful of plants. (Thanks Ray Bradbury for pointing that out to me.)  A world where strange transformations happen all the time, a world where just about everything is miraculous. My hope for you who followed along these 29 days is that your tolerance for the absurd has increased, even if only by a maggot’s hair. In truth the moment you deny the absurd, the moment you try to package everything neatly, whether by science, or systematic theology, you lose sight of the world as it really is. Science and systematic theology both are helpful, but they are limited in that they refuse to account for the absurd. Science declares the absurd doesn’t exist, and theologians do their best, I know not why, to cover up the absurdity of our theology.

Today I am thankful that bread can be body, and wine can be blood. Today I am thankful that water can wash away sin, and human lips can forgive sin. Today I am thankful that vibrations from somewhere inside the one human’s neck can carry the words of God to a drum inside some other humans skull, and somehow those vibrations create faith. I’m thankful that Word became flesh, God ‘became’ man. I’m thankful for an instrument of torture, a cross that we look to as a sign of hope. I’m thankful for resurrection. I’m thankful that there is one mediator between God and man, I’m thankful that mediator is the Word made flesh which at one point dwelt among us.

Sometimes I think the apologists who feel the need to explain this all just need to go away. Stop telling me that Peter was telling me to turn this all into logic when he said “to be ready to give a reason for the hope in me”. My hope doesn’t lie in my ability to mentally ascend to proper theory. My hope lies in the absurd reality that Jesus’ life death and resurrection was for me for the forgiveness of sin and everlasting life. The world was created in six days, I don’t care about a fossil record, I don’t really care much about Ken Ham or Kent Hovind’s goofy theories either. The best explanation is magic. The supper is really the body and blood of Christ, I don’t need some transubstantiation or consubstantiation, some over under or through to explain it, I have long since come to realize that the absurd is often true, and that is enough for me. If he said it, it is. I mean He said light and light was… right? Absurd? Sure, but true.

So today I am thankful for the word made flesh, for the absurd reality which is not merely a reality but a person, the Lord Jesus Christ, who lived, died, and rose for you. I am thankful for Him, and you should be too.



The archive of posts:

Nov 1 - thankful for the sacrificial uranium nuclei that help power my world.

Nov 2 - you ever wonder how many people have died in the process of discovering what plants were poisonous, medicinal, or safe? Today I'm thankful for those people, you should be too.

Nov 3 - I wonder how many deaths I would have died already if I didn't feel or fear pain. Today I am thankful for pain, you should be too.

Nov 4 - I burn ancient forests for a warm shower. I drive with the power of exploding dinosaurs. Today I'm thankful for all the organisms that put the 'fossil' in fossil fuels. You should be too.

Nov 5 - Edible, good for wine and tea, the first flower a child picks for his mother's bouquet, wish granting, and baby-head-pop-offing. Her great virtue is her willingness to indiscriminately set any green lawn ablaze in her golden glory. Yet her willingness to spread her beauty is the reason she is so persecuted. To hell with the poor soul who Satan inspired to call her a weed. Persecute away Mr. Tru-Green and Mrs. Chem-lawn my children will unleash more of this golden glory with each wish they blow, and you will never stop them! Today I am thankful for dandelions, and you should be too.

Nov6 - You know who gets more credit than they should? Butterflies. Disguised like the heroic earth worm, that butterfly-in-worm-clothing is only going to tear your plants to shreds, spin a cacoon, then bam! Show his real colors and fly off to South America. Meanwhile, Mr. Earthworm eats your dirt and makes soil to feed your garden. The same garden that pesky false-worm is busy eating. What does our noble Mr. Earthworm get in return? Impailed by a hook? Cut in two by your shovel? Drowned and bloated in your church parking lot? Smashed by your children? Yet you gaze endless at the evil Monarch's beauty entranced by his lies. You all should feel ashamed. Oh Monarch, fly back to South America, you're no longer welcome here. Today I am thankful for the earthworm, and you should be too.

Nov 7 - Burp a baby in a crowded room and when that monsterous gasteral release echos off the walls everyone will smile and celebrate. And celebrate they should! Yet burp yourself and they'll call you a pig. Why? Because they want you to suffer gas pains? They prefer your gas to come out the other end? Historically a belch was a compliment to the chef, and a true joy to the one who dined. But alas, some imbecile decided to label the belch disgusting and relegate all fomal dining into a painful experience. This should not be. Call me gross, I don't care, today I am thankful for the belch, and you should be too.

Nov 8 - Remember that greasy guy from grade school? He walked through locked doors. Lurking in the background, recognizable, but you'd never dare speak to him. Your vomit was cleaned, scrawlings on the bathroom stall deleted, and against all odds the locker room remained almost sanitary and you knew this greasy enigma was behind it all. Camouflaged in mechanic clothes he quietly blended in with the school's institutional hues. He refused to interfere with your learning, yet his humble efforts to stay out of the way projected a creepy and undeserved image of a recluse. Yes, I tell you every school has at least one Boo Radley, and for them, today I give thanks. I am thankful for school custodians, and you should be too.

Nov 9 - If I were 85 years old at the time when houses were first being retrofitted with indoor commodes I would have been repulsed. "You're going to do what?... INSIDE the house? This is a moral outrage!" Walking by a recently used washroom retrofitted with a commode and smelling the aftermath, I promise "I told you so" would find itself chiseled clearly across my face. 
People are generally disgusted by outhouses, feeling cursed to have to use one. But who thinks of the absurdness of an 'in-house'? (Keep your toothbrush in a drawer, and put the lid down before you flush, really.) 
Sometimes we bring things inside that should just be left 'out'. Today I am thankful for that great relic of the not so distant past, the outhouse, and you should be too.

Nov 10 - Long ago in a not so distant garden a group of tomatoes were bragging about their versatility, two peppers were vying for a place on pizza and the aloof carrot was dreaming of dessert. Tired of being relegated to a healthy snack, carrot shaved himself, and slid into some orange jello thinking he'd blend in. Aha! He was a welcome guest in the orange jello. "Jello is almost a dessert" carrot thought. However carrot remembered that even celery (you know, the ants on a log guy) once was included in jello. So carrot shaved up again, and went where no vegetable dared to go. Cake. He found himself swimming in spice cake batter and the world has never since been the same. You, bold carrot who has broken all vegetable convention, today is your day. No longer relegated to salad, beef roast and stew, you are now a dessert. Today I am thankful for carrot cake, and you should be too.

Nov 11 - Military technology amazes me, and it is staggering to think of how this technology 
has come to affect our everyday lives and raised our standard of living. Military technology society never dreamed of 50 years ago is common place now among civilians. Of those staggering advancements one stands out above the rest, the crowned jewel of military innovation... cargo pants. No more sitting on wallets, or having keys dig into your thighs. Our veterans we're rocking the cargos in foreign lands long before the rest of us knew it was cool. So today I am thankful for cargo pants, but more than that I am thankful for the veterans who made them cool, and you should be too.

Nov 12 - 44% pig skin + 28% bovine hides + 27% bones + 1% other = 100% awesome. Without this worthy mix, there are no more Gummy Snacks, Marshmallows, Jello, or even some ice creams, yogurts, chip dips along with many other glorious snacks. Beyond snack eaters, the pharmaceutical industry, photography developers, and even the cosmetic industry should all share in this November 12th day of thanks. For once we can take pride, like our ancestors, in letting no part of animal go to waste. Today I give thanks for gelatin, and you should too.

Nov13 - Cheese, Yogurt, wine, beer, even leavened bread, all the by-products of contamination. I'm thankful today for yeast and bacteria and you should be too.

Nov 14 - What if we could find a worm that would be willing to eat harmful bacteria? What if this worm was successfully used to treat infectious wounds? What if she also would be willing to spin up a chrysalis to keep those butterfly lovers who need a picture of transformation happy? This would be the ultimate species, no? What if it came out of its chrysalis and actually stuck around for awhile instead of flying off to South America? Yes this would be an organism worthy of our thanksgiving. So today I am thankful for the housefly in worm's clothing, a.k.a, the maggot, and you should be too.

Nov 15 - My best memories are uncaptured. They are faster, higher, louder, stormier, happier, prettier, uglier, tastier, stronger hotter and colder, yes the uncaptured memories are far more interesting than reality ever was. Reminisce with the right person and a memory will improve and grow, they won't correct you, unless they too are improving the memory. A good friend will add a couple Tacos tothe already inflated taco memory, or subtract 5 degrees from a cold winter memory, or even add a few bodies to the huge party memory, certainly they will not resist your additions either. But alas, some poor soul always gets carried away with a camera, only wanting to capture a memory, unwittingly they put it in cage. My mind sees ten tacos but the picture only shows six... burn the picture. Sure, caged memories don't die, but they don't live either. Today I am thankful for uncaged memories, and you should be too.

Nov 16 - if our uncaged memories have a freedom which caged memories do not (see yesterday) then today I am thankful for the hard drives which go on permanent strike to set those memories free, and of course you should be too.

Nov 17 - Thankfulness for maggots and houseflies was not echoed... by anyone so today I take a different tack. Today I am thankful for the weavers of nets, architects who work in fine silk as strong as steel. Great trappers of the aforementioned house fly. They stand ever vigilant in their task of trapping and destroying bugs in your home. In return you smash them. Today I am thankful for spiders, and you should be too. (Especially if you are not thankful for houseflies)

Nov 18 - To deny magic is to deny reality. We live in a spoken world, a fantasy as it were. A place where the green worms someday get to be butterflies and the brown ones have been cursed to eat dirt and reproduce by themselves. A place were black and white squirrels spray noxious fumes postmortem to remind the world of their existence. This place where frogs that pretended to be fish as children grow up only to stick there tongues out at blood sucking fairies that some call mosquitos. Even last night magical winds blew that sent children under ground while those same winds summoned heroes into giant red trucks, flashing cars, and mobile hospitals. It is a denial of reality to say there is no magic, and an outright blasphemy to call magic evil. Today I am thankful for magic, and you should be too.

Nov 19 - Stomp in a puddle deep enough wet your socks. Run barefoot to your mailbox in the dead of winter just to feel your body dance a jig in auto-pilot. Count how many snowballs you make after your hands have gone numb. Get grass stains while doing something other than mowing. The greatest mistake we ever made was to grow up. Why do you encourage your kids to make the same mistake? Mother, don't scold the muddy child because he caused you extra work, teach them how to clean it and then give them permission to get dirty again. Father, one barefoot lap around the house in the snow isn't going to kill them, scratch that, they might die of laughter when they run inside. Why must we forbid the very things that make life worth living? Today I am thankful for childhood, and the adults who still live it and encourage it, and you should be too.

Nov 20 - There's an enigmatic cluster of people in our society who travel in droves to quaint run down shacks. Wearing their creaky old bodies, each holstering a can of pledge and a waning cask of elbow grease, they conjure diamonds from history's rubbish. These pirates have scoured your garage to rob you of unseen treasure. Give thanks. The past has tangible and not mere sentimental value because of their thieving. We can only pray this order of buccaneers remains 100 years from now, lest our possessions turn to dust and never find value again. Today I am thankful for antiquarians and you should be too.

(An antiquarian is an antique collector.)

Nov 21 - We talk a lot about first responders, but rarely about the last responder. We celebrate our life saving heroes but not our death saving heroes. When our first responders zip up the bag who will you call? Who will bring dignitiy to death? Final memories are hard memories, who is the hero who will step in to make those memories right? The last image burns into our retinas forever, who will create that last image. Who brings out the dead when the heroes of hospice can do no more? Another hero, that's who. Yet you look at him and shudder, you wonder about his back room where he weaves his spell, and you even question his sanity. You wonder about his childhood, and why he ever dreamed of such a profession. Today I am thankful for funeral directors, and you should be too.

Nov 22 - Few are the people who see conversation as an art and not a mere transmission of ideas. Conversations should often go beyond the practical, beyond the sharing of stories and advice, beyond jokes, they should touch things we never expected to touch. You know when you've been in one, its just different. Today I am thankful for the rare conversationalist, talk to one (I did tonight), and you'll be thankful too.

Nov 23 - With the Hubble telescope beaming back gorgeous pictures of space we have become obsessed with the enormity of this universe's beauty. It is mind blowing to consider how small we really are. Yet if we put a particle of dust on a microscope and continue to zoom in we will see gorgeous beauty there as well. Through and through we live in beauty, we are made of beauty, we breath beauty, we spit beauty. You just cannot get away from it. Even ugly viewed close enough is beautiful. Today I am thankful for telescopes and microscopes which reveal this beauty, and you should be too.

Nov 24 - Speak a dream and it vaporizes. The images were so vivid, confusing and real, you soaked in the thick dream residue enjoying that strange high. Then you speak it and the crystalline dream, becomes liquid, and in a moment it's a vapor that you frantically try to bottle in your mind. I'm convinced that if a dream were never spoken you'd be able to keep it forever. In any case today I am thankful for those moments when dream residue is thick and heavy, you should be too.

Nov 25 - Ears for hearing, eyes for seeing, tongue for tasting, nose for smelling, skin for touching. What if we had more sensing organs? A mole rat is oblivious to light. Talk to a mole rat. Explain light to him. Lack of sensing organs make you oblivious to almost everything in the world. How many more colors are there that you can't see? How much music does this world create that you cannot hear? How many flavors are there that you cannot taste? You barely sense the tip of the iceberg of reality. Today I am thankful that our world is richer than we will ever perceive it to be, and hopeful for what additional sense resurrection life might bring, you should be too.

Nov 26 - Beauty is largely subjective. If an item or a person is not beautiful to you, it is because of your decision. Culture helped, but the decision still lies at your feet. Today I am thankful for beauty, and eyes that are occasionally willing to see it, and you should be too.

Yeah remember those earthworms? Beautiful. Really.

Nov 27 - Yesterday I was high school, the day before that I was elementary, but jr. high was 1000 years ago. Just a week ago I got married and it's been like 60 years since my last cold. Good memories stay close while the lame ones drop into the distant past. Today I am thankful that our minds don't process time like our watches and calendars do, and you should be too.

Nov 28 - Children have real conversations with imaginary friends. Adults have imaginary conversations with real friends. Alone in your car you run mock conversations. Don't lie, you do. You get all the words right, your friend responds exactly as you plan. If it is a fight you win, if it is friendly banter the conversations moves right where you want it to. Go ahead, challenge your ideas and theories alone in a mock conversation with real friends. This is a good healthy exercise. However, today I am thankful that real conversations never go as predicted, and you should be too.

Nov 29 (late I know) - I'm putting two recliners side by side in my living room facing the front window, a love seat behind them, and one more love seat behind the first one, minivan floor plan. Then we are going to sit there for fourteen hours in an attempt to duplicate the excitement of a family trip to the beach, because let's face it long car rides were fun growing up, right? Absurd? Yes, long trips were fun because the journey had a destination. Today I am thankful that this terrestrial ball ride has a destination, and you should be too. (Unless you are the the type who fakes mini-van rides in your living room.)


That's a work! Nuh uh... yuh huh... nuh uh...

“What is the limitation of God’s action through people?” This question is anything but trivial, and it is precisely the dividing line between sacramental Christianity (not sacramentarianism mind you), and Evangelicalism. Let’s be clear that the way we answer this question touches nerves that we didn’t realize we even had, and actually exposes divisions in places where we once thought we were united.  So what is the limitation of God’s action through people? I can hear you saying “well God has no limits, and God can do whatever God wants to do!”

I might say Amen to that, but the truth is that you don’t really believe that, and you need to stop pretending that you do.

For instance, can God forgive you by having me say to you ‘your sins are forgiven’?  Or must God have me tack on the words “because of what Christ has done”?  Or must God have me tack on “In the name of Christ”. Or does God just do it, and any words I say are mere commentary on what he has done. You see there are limits that you have in place.  Can God have me cook bread, ferment wine, speak words of institution over them, feed them to you, and forgive you by those actions of mine? Can He? The question is, can God work that way?  Can God have me run to the church tap, fill a pitcher, put it in a font, sprinkle it on a baby in accordance with word, and wash away that child’s original sin?  Can God do that?  Of course the evangelical reader will astutely point out that I am creating a false dichotomy, or a strawman, and they would say “sure God ‘could’ do that, but that isn’t what God does in accordance with His word.” In other words that is not the way that he has revealed himself to be working.

The question we then ask the evangelical, especially in light of verses in scripture which seem to insinuate forgiveness in the supper, washing away of sin in baptism, confession and absolution, and so on is this; “What is it that makes the typical evangelical balk at a non-symbolic view of word and sacrament”? This is an important question, and one that I ask often.

The evangelical response inevitably sounds something like this; “We are not saved by works, therefore eating the supper, being baptized, being absolved, etc… can only signify what Christ has done. Baptism cannot actually wash away sin, because it is work, communion cannot actually impart forgiveness, because it is a work, absolution cannot actually absolve, because it is a work.  To say these things are more than symbolic is to violate the overarching theme of the New Testament which is salvation by faith in Christ, not of works.” Add on the fact that it sounds too Roman Catholic, and all arguments for sacramental Christianity are usually DOA before the normal evangelical will even entertain them.

After debating this ad nauseum with a friend of mine I’ve come to a very simple conclusion. These two systems have different ideas regarding what scripture refers to as a work. When I hear someone say baptism is a work, I just scratch my head.  “How is someone putting me in water and saying words over me a work?”  My opponent would scratch his head and say “How is someone putting you in water and saying words over you not a work?”  Then we just kind of stare at each other like the other person is an idiot.

If you step back the difference is pretty obvious. The sacramental guy is saying a work is anything we do ourselves, and the evangelical is saying a work is anything done by any human effort other than Christ’s. So the literal sacrament view finds it absurd to think baptism is a work because it is done to you, not by you.  The supper is not a work because it is given to you, not done by you, absolution is not a work because it is pronounced to you, not by you… and so on.  In the evangelical framework all of those things are works because they are done under human volition and they believe it involves the creation of a mediator between God and man, which is strictly denounced by Paul. Which again begs the question “What is the limitation of God’s action through people?” or “Is it possible to say a person doing these things is really God doing them?”

I contend that if we are going to frame a debate between Christians regarding the sacraments the place we need to start is with a working definition of what the scriptures mean when they say we are not saved by works.  Debating any other point will inevitably amount to us speaking directly past one another. The other thing we must be aware of, is that belief in real presence, baptismal regeneration, and absolution does not imply Roman Catholicism. I hate to even have to bring that up, but it seems like the assumption of most evangelicals is that there is no third alternative between them and Rome.  There are though, some of Anglicanism, Lutheranism, even slivers of Methodism and I am sure some others hold to a literal view regarding the sacraments and their accompanying scriptures.

Without beginning to make the arguments as to why the literal sacramental definition of works is right, and the typical evangelical view is wrong, I want to use the rest of this post to explain some of the downstream differences we see in our churches which are resultant of our differing view of works.

One staple of evangelical Christianity is personal bible study. There is this idea that the private study of God’s word is, if not a mandate on a Christian, at the very least it is one of the healthiest things a Christian can do. For the evangelical one of the signs of a healthy church is bibles in laps of the parishioners following along as the minister preaches. The healthy evangelicals are being Berean and “fact checking” the sermon for lack of a better word.  The preacher then is merely supplementing, or guiding their own personal study. Ultimately under what I will call the ‘Berean mandate’ (as understood by evangelicals) it is up to the individual to determine truth.  Of course they would say ‘No we are discerning truth’, but take an honest look and you will see that regardless of what any minister would say, personal interpretation of the text is always trump in evangelicalism.

Of course the flip side is the more sacramental church. Nobody has their bible out, or very few do, and they and their minister are perfectly fine with that. Instead they are listening for the words about themselves to be spoken to them. (Faith cometh by hearing).  Instead of shuffling through to find the ministers passing reference to Philemon chapter 2 they are waiting to hear the Law and Gospel spoken directly to them ‘sacramentally’ through the minister. Of course the evangelical doesn’t hear any of it, because they were being busy Bereans looking for the second chapter of Philemon.

Oddly enough the evangelical looks at the sacramental folk as sheep just lapping up whatever the minister feels like saying, and the sacramental folk are looking back at the evangelical wondering why they are working so hard at apprehending a sermon.

For the sacramental people church attendance is super important, and a lot of times they don’t even know why, but they think, and rightly so, that showing up and hearing the words of God’s forgiveness, remembering their baptism, and receiving the supper somehow makes them right with God.  The evangelicals find that to be absurd. Of course the evangelicals are comfortable missing church as long as they maintain bible study and fellowship in a small group, or some sort of personal devotional practice. Both sides look at each other and say, ‘that sounds like works salvation to me!’

In the evangelical church you might hear a 58 part sermon on Ephesians, because the most important thing is understanding. (58 weeks in Ephesians was not meant to be absurd, seriously you’ll find stuff like that.) The sacramental church might spend 3 or 4 weeks in it depending on the lectionary, because they are less concerned with your knowledge and more concerned with pronouncing (thereby applying) Christ’s life, death, and resurrection to you, and condemning your flesh (literally condemning it, not a symbolic guilt trip) with the Law.

In evangelicalism growth happens primarily by study and service. In sacramental Christianity growth happens primarily by tending to the means of grace.

Of course we could go on and on here. Simply remember that the line of demarcation is in what constitutes a work. For evangelicals a work is anything done by anyone, for the sacramental folk it is anything done by your own volition. Which is why we sacramental folk watch the evangelicals and actually think they teach works salvation, and they look at us and say the same.

Hopefully that was an honest assessment, and before anyone yells at me, I KNOW that I made some sweeping generalizations there, and I apologize if I cast anyone into a role they really do not fill.  This is a springboard though which we can start from.

I need to stop for now, but I will continue this in multiple parts.


Dementia, Manufacturing, and the Not so Missing Link

There are two disturbing trends in America right now that need some serious attention. The first is the increase in dementia type illnesses occurring among people who are still in the prime of their life, and the second is export of manufacturing jobs overseas. While I think it is nearly impossible to stop the exporting of manufacturing jobs in our current economic reality, I do believe it is possible to curb dementia with relative ease. It is no coincidence that there is an inverse relationship between domestic manufacturing and dementia. The correlation is staggering. The answer to solving the dementia pandemic is to increase people’s exposure to common manufacturing chemicals. Healthcare professionals are keeping this secret. Again, realize that as time has gone on, less and less Americans are having the opportunity to be exposed to various cutting fluids, paint fumes, and metallic dust, and we are just now beginning to see the price that under exposure to these chemicals is really playing on our public.  Of course we have heard the bogus arguments from the other side. Many people want to tell us that it is actually dementia that is causing the loss of manufacturing jobs, and that to reverse the trend of job exporting we must first begin to cure dementia. While I understand the logic, I do find it rather careless to blame memory impaired people for the state of manufacturing in the US. Frankly I am appalled at that proposition.  Now fortunately for all 13 of you who read my blog I have a surefire way to reduce your risk of developing dementia in your golden years. A group renowned people and I, have been scavenging through the rust-belt and purchasing up all the unused manufacturing fluids and gases that we can get our hands on.  Now this is a secret the government doesn’t want you know, because they have their greedy hands in our health care, and dementia is big business for them. Anyway, we have procured literally thousands of pounds worth of chemicals, and have created a scientific method for simulating healthy levels of factory exposure to these chemicals. You owe it to your family and to yourself to contact us, and make sure you get the exposure you need. Call 800-555-6565 for your free sample, don’t forget that number… or else… you’ll forget that number.

Ludicrous? Of course it is, yet you and I buy into, and even make arguments like this all the time. Entire movements are based on ideas similar to the one above. Anytime you read a story that begins with ‘studies have linked…’ you should put yourself on guard because more often than not a whole load of horse manure is about to spew forth on your page. (Organic horse manure, so maybe it is justified.) Of course this is not to discredit all stories that statistically link things together, but proceed with caution. The point is simply that in most cases correlation simply does not imply causation, especially in the incredibly complex world that we live in.

What causes obesity? Some say fast food, some say lack of exercise, some say its stress… I think it probably has something to do with sushi. More people in America are eating sushi than ever before, and more people are fat than ever before… coincidence? I think not. Seriously though, how many times will the FDA or the ‘organic’ or ‘vegitarian’ soldiers march through our streets telling us something is unhealthy, only to march down the street two years later saying the exact opposite before we will realize that maybe they just don’t know? That their arguments of causation from correlation are frankly wrong?  Can someone tell me what the current thinking is on potatoes, or whether high fiber diets actually reduce cholesterol or not?

Now if we project this tendency we have to grant causation to things correlated into the realm of the church we will see how prone to this thinking we are. Look at the worship wars for instance. Contemporary churches have typically seen more growth than traditional offerings, especially through the nineties and the early part of this century, therefore to grow the church we must become more culturally relevant. Seems like a good argument right? Or how about this, the sharpest period of decline ever in the American church corresponded in conjunction with the burgeoning movement of contemporary music into traditional churches.  Uh… two stories correlating different things, yet giving the exact opposite messages… both with stats to back them up.  Both sides can argue all they want, and people will line up and spend big money to go to conferences based entirely off of these ideas, without ever knowing that they are being sold placebo.  I can tell you the secret to church growth, and this is free for everyone who has read this far.  What you need to have happen at your church in order for it to grow is this: You need to see to it that number of people entering your ranks exceeds the number of people dying and or leaving the church. If you can do that I will guarantee your church will grow. I promise.

So what’s the point? Everyone is hopeful for a miracle and even willing to see a miracle in things that are obviously not miraculous. People stuff gel capsules with roots in them down their throat in hopes to stave off cancer. People use the latest strategies to present the gospel. People switch out to the latest leadership models to grow their church. People hope rigid spiritual disciplines with solve tepid discipleship, and on and on the list goes. And most of the justification behind all of these fads and trends is someone well-meaning soul who has determined causation based on correlation.


Mechanics, Engineers, and the Atonement... Finding the Right Place to Fight

The process you use to develop your theories, opinions, or truth statements are as important if not more important than the final conclusions that you draw. While this might seem obvious at first glance, the importance of this idea, especially as we approach issues of faith cannot be understated. For the most part we all process the same or at least similar ‘facts’, yet our process determines what weight we give to various ‘facts’ we are presented with. In most cases when a debate comes up on issues of theology (or really anything with even a modicum of subjectivity) we spend all of our time debating our conclusions based on the facts presented without ever engaging the validity of our processes used to arrive at our conclusions.

Let’s take a common debate between automotive engineers and mechanics.

No engineer is designing an automobile with the intention of making it difficult to work on, really, there is no conspiracy here. We really do want your car to be repairable, it’s just that in our thought process ‘reparability’ is only a minor factor. Yet, the mechanic is convinced that it is an absolute truth that ease and cost of repair should be a primary design consideration. In truth it is nearly impossible to say who is right or wrong on that alone. However if we decide to debate the thought process itself behind the design we can make headway in seeing whether one side’s process of thinking is superior to the other.

It comes down to values, and yet no cogent debate can occur about anything unless both parties have at least one shared value. As an engineer my core value is efficiency and cost reduction. Ultimately we find that the mechanic actually has this in common with the engineer. He wants the repair to be efficient and low cost. At the very least there is a starting point from which to debate and something fruitful can proceed. Before finding that shared value, mechanics are merely gear heads who don’t understand the finer points of machine design, and conversely engineers are just asses who have no consideration for the next guy who is going to work on their car after their design inevitably begins to fail. I am not a mechanic, and can only argue the engineering side. I would simply say just save the money I have gained you in efficiency and number of trips to Autozone, and use that extra money to shell out $500 to get your spark plugs changed. But, you might respond, it is ridiculous to spend that much for something that simple. To which I would say no more ridiculous than spending that at the pump, or changing them yourselves 3 times as often.  To which the mechanic might say, but being able to do something yourself is a value in and of itself.  Ah… and now we have found the difference, the point of debate as it were. I think overall money savings is more important, the mechanic places higher value on self-sufficiency. Now we have the ground work for a really interesting philosophical debate that we might have never found if we never started with our shared value of cost and efficiency.

The jump to theology is not hard to make here. Let’s take Calvinist, Wesleyan, and Lutheran doctrine with regard to the atonement. Calvinism would limit the atonement to the elect by grace alone, Wesleyans would make it available to all via decision which was enabled by prevenient grace, and Lutherans would say the atonement is already applied to everyone and is ascertained by faith. How do we get to a meaningful place from which to debate these things? We find that Calvinism is primarily concerned with the Glory of God, Wesleyans are concerned with Holiness, Lutherans are concerned with unwavering good news to all. These core values are very different and have an immense effect on our view of the nature and scope of the atonement.  Of course Wesleyans and Lutherans are still concerned with the Glory of God, and Lutherans and Calvinists are still concerned with Holiness, and Wesleyans and Calvinists are still concerned with Good News, BUT which of these things should have primacy?  That is where the debate must occur. Unfortunately the debates among these groups tends be around what is the role of good works, or what is predestination, or how can one know they are saved, or can salvation be lost… or a myriad of other topics. Yet with each group operating from a different platform regarding what is ‘most important’ each of those debates simply end with everyone thinking the other person doesn’t get it.  The only fruitful debate is a debate around what should be primary, from there other things can be debated, but until agreement on the primary occurs discussion around the secondary topics is largely pointless.

Is God’s glory the primary concern, is Holiness the primary concern, is Good News to all the primary concern. Again, we all agree that these things are interrelated, but that is where the debate must begin.

Should cars be easy to fix by anyone mechanically inclined? Or should cars rarely need fixed?  Of course the answer to both questions is ‘yes’, but debate must occur at the primary level of what is most important.
Next time you debate anything with anyone, I encourage both parties to attempt to trace their line of thinking all the way back to your point of divergence. If you don’t start there, then whether you know it or not, you are just debating past each other. However if you get to your point of divergence, you might at least come to understand, and *gasp*, even respect that the conclusions of your friend make sense in light of their fundamental differences.  You might even find that from the point of divergence onward you both are using the exact same process to draw your conclusions. Of course this is not to minimize our differences, these things are immensely important, but at the very least we should debate the differences in at the point of divergence not at the logical downstream conclusions.

Make sense?


Good News is Unconditional Too

 “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” –John 20:23

I have found that the vast majority of commentary that I’ve read on this text goes to great lengths to explain away the plain reading of the text. While none of the commentators would be so brazen as to say they have a complaint with the text itself, the undertone of each of them is indeed a complaint. The common thread of these commentaries sounded something like this; “we know that only God can forgive, therefore this text means that the disciples were charged with proclaiming the good news about how someone may be forgiven.”  Yet that is not what the text says at all. The text clearly says ‘if you forgive… they are forgiven… if you withhold… it is withheld.’

For reasons unknown to me we have a real problem with the idea that someone can forgive sin on behalf of God. The vast agreement of commentary surrounding this passage proves our discomfort with that idea. We claim to also have a problem with the other side of the equation as well. We ask, “who are we to withhold forgiveness from anyone?” However, in practice we can see that we don’t have a problem with the second side of the equation at all.

How many times have we heard a preacher boldly claim that ‘there is none righteous no not one’ or that ‘all have fallen short of the glory of God?’ We hear these things, and we collectively say ‘amen’ as we should. God has indeed said that we have all fallen short, and when the preacher declares that to us we should hear it as God speaking because it is true. We have no problem with the preacher condemning us from the word of God. This is not some fundamentalist only thing, progressives too have their own way of doing this. ‘We have failed to bring justice’ ‘we have failed to be open-minded’ ‘we have failed to serve the marginalized’ and so on.  Again this is all to say the same thing, ‘we have all fallen short’. We are used to this sort of preaching, and we readily accept it.

The problem that we have is when a Christian says the words ‘you are forgiven’. We get all bent out of shape and say ‘only God forgives! No one can forgive sin in heaven other than God!’ We are fine with the preacher saying all are condemned, but as soon as someone says ‘ALL are justified freely by his grace’ we respond saying ‘whoa back up, there is no way that ALL are justified. You can’t just tell someone they are justified until they have examined themselves to see if they are in the faith.’ 

Can you see our blatant inconsistency here?

When I look at you and tell you that in baptism you were buried with Christ and risen with Christ, or say the words ‘baptism saves you’, or say ‘you are forgiven’ people will line up to insert various caveats as to why or why not that may be true for you. Yet all I have said are the words of scripture themselves, it is someone else who is adding or taking away from it.

Why is it that we have not embraced the idea that we can pronounce actual and effectual heavenly forgiveness with our human mouths from God’s word, yet we are comfortable with speaking actual condemnation from the scriptures?  Why is it that we wrongly insert ‘if’ somewhere in the message of forgiveness but rightly leave out ‘if’ in the message of condemnation from the law?
These are questions worth consideration.