Grace be with you – by Marvin Penner
On September 20 I attended the 1 million march for Children. I don’t often go for this kind of thing, but my son and I were curious to see what was happening. I found that marching with such a large crowd was inspiring. I have only ever participated in one other public political demonstration because I think there are better ways to engage with culture and it always worries me that I might confuse a commitment to a current ideology with my commitment to Jesus.
A few days later I read a blog post where Carey Nieuwhof wrote, “More than a few churches have grown by becoming anti-woke rather than pro-grace.” This statement has been spawning a lot of thought and reflection. Are we known by what we are against or by what we are for? Do we even know what we are for or has everything become so politicized that we only know how to be on the defensive?
I’d like to offer a simple suggestion to help answer these kinds of questions on a day-to-day basis. You might have noticed that I sometimes close my emails with the phrase, Grace be with you. I have taken up this habit from the greeting that the Apostle Paul often began his letters with: “Grace and peace be upon you”. “Be upon you” is not something that you or I generate. It’s like when the sun shines on us. We enjoy the warm presence of the sun but have no control over it. It comes from outside of ourselves. However, we can choose to stand in the sun or in the shade. If I apply this to normal living, I can gauge my actions and words by whether they cause me to stand in the presence of God’s grace and peace. Does my participation in the 1 million march for children fill me with anger and the temptation to see some people as outside of the reach of God’s grace or am I filled with love and a de-escalation of my disdain for those with ideas I disagree with? Do I stand in the light and love of the Son or am I drawn to the shade of fear and discord?
As Paul writes in 1 Cor. 13: 11-14, “Dear brothers and sisters, I close my letter with these last words: Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet each other with a sacred kiss. All of God’s people here send you their greetings. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
District Diary’s Feb. 2023
By Marvin Penner
Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
After reading these verses recently I have not been able to get these words out of my mind, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” It's easy to think, what a beautiful passage of Scripture. No problem! I’ve got it, “become all things”. It’s easy to think this way when the categories are taken from the ancient world. But what if this was written to us, today in Alberta in 2023 and the categories were the things that divide people in our world? It might read something like this,
Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself to be below everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Liberals I became like a Liberal, to win the Liberals. To the Conservatives I became like a Conservative, to win some. To those who were eager to get the mRNA shots I became like one who trusts the mainstream narrative so as to win some, and to those who refused the mandates I became like one who listens to alternatives, so as to share the good news. To the drug addicted I became like the homeless so that by all possible means I might save some. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessing.
Now that sounds difficult enough to suspect I’ve stretched the paraphrasing beyond all reasonable limits. So, I ask you, if 1 Cor. listed the most divisive possible categories for the 1st century church, what would you sub into the passage to represent the most divisive categories in Alberta today? After wrestling with my own conscience, I have come to this – rather than asking; how can I win the argument? I should be asking; how can I present the gospel in such a way that the people I am with will be able to hear it, no matter who they are?
“Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives.” (Galatians 5:25 – MSG)
One of the odd things about discipleship, is that we live in a physical world, but discipleship involves spiritual realities. If I’m honest, I know that much of what I have called spiritual growth could be done just as easily if the Holy Spirit were not present. I remember the day when some of this physical, spiritual divide really started to come together for me. Unexpectedly, it was the act of going for a walk that helped me bring the physical and spiritual aspects of discipleship together in a way that has changed the way I experienced my own walk with God and the way I seek to help others in their discipleship journey.
I came across an interesting path. The path was centered around the shape of a cross. If I followed the path. It would lead me to the center of the cross. It was not possible to make a wrong turn and get lost. Even though the next steps were always clear as I walked, I could never tell if I was getting closer or farther from the center.
Sometimes the path would take me very near the center and then it would turn, and I would be walking at the outer edge again. This physical walk is meant to provide a participatory demonstration of what it’s like to walk with the Spirit. To walk this path, you have no choice but to trust the path. It will lead you to the center of the cross. But even when everything in you says, leave the path and take a different route, if you trust the path, you will never get lost.
As I followed that path back out from the center, I began to understand what I had not before. In the process of trying to live the life of the spirit, I was always trying to force the issue. If I did not feel spiritual, I would pretend or invent spiritual stuff. If it seemed I was not close to God as I was before, I was filled with guilt and even shame. As I left the path that day, I understood what it means to believe better than I had. Trust the path. Trust the spirit. Trust the promises of God.
Follow the spirit and the path will be true. I will never know when the way the spirit takes me will lead me closer or farther. But if I remain in faith, it will lead me to Jesus. In God’s way and in God’s time. I will not be lost. Trust, believe, walk in faith. You can imagine that this understanding transformed how I seek to disciple others.
If I can help another fellow disciple in finding the path, and then walking with them until they trust the path, I can trust the life of the spirit to take it from there. Sometimes it seems the other person is moving away from Jesus and sometimes it seems they are closer than they really are. I no longer try to force others to be where I think they should be. They will not be lost. Trust, believe, walk in faith.
“Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts but work out its implications in every detail of our lives.” (Galatians 5:25 – MSG)
EFCC Alberta Parkland District Superintendent
EFCC Blog November 10 – By Marvin Penner
For the blog topic, “What Leadership Looks like in a congregational church”
Leading into Unity
I can remember the moment as clearly today as if I was still standing there. I had just left a board meeting that had not gone well. Being new to this pastoral role, I was about to call my dad and mentor (I am a pastor’s kid). As I walked home to get on the phone, I suddenly stopped dead in my tracks with a sobering realization! If I handled this the way my father would have I would end up with a church in conflict. There was another way that would more likely lead to harmony. My world shifted as I realized I was not going to ask him for advice this time.
The internal struggle of a pastor in a congregational church setting is often between what he thinks is the right decision and what the congregation or lay leaders think. That simple sounding three letter word, “lay”, is where I realized my problem resided. By thinking of myself as being different from, and therefore above the “lay” people, I could justify my pride in thinking I know what God wants of the church and the board members or congregation do not.
Leadership in a congregational church is predicated on the conviction of the priesthood of all believers (1Pe 2:5). This conviction is illustrated when “…the apostles and elders together with the whole church…” (Acts 15:22) indicated that, “…it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” (Acts 15:28) what the decision should be. This account reveals two principles of community decision making that have been my guide ever since that day on my walk home from the meeting.
1) It seemed good to the Holy Spirit – The point of the discussion was not to win the argument but to determine the direction of the Holy Spirit. God’s will seems to have gradually become evident to all as all spoke and were heard.
2) It seemed good to all of us – In Acts distinctions are made between different roles in the church (apostles, elders, the whole church), but when the decision is written down these distinctions are absent (Acts 15:24-29). I take this to mean that everyone’s input was given equal weight.
It would be easy to consider this a matter of leadership style or personality except for the fact that it is impossible to reflect the image of God if there is no unity in the church. Jesus said “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them, and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.” (John 17:22-23). What is more important, that I get my way in some decision that will be forgotten a few years from now or that the congregation I lead demonstrates the unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit? I know how I answer this question. I aim to lead in such a way that the unity of the church takes precedent over my agenda.