A Special Season in the Desert –A Journey Into Deeper Ecumenism (2)

peterpMy Saturday evening story of Christian unity, that I wrote about yesterday, was connected with two ministries I partnered with for several days: CRM and the City of the Lord. The City of the Lord has centers in Tempe (Phoenix), Los Angeles, San Diego and Monterey Bay. My new friend Peter Poppleton leads the City of the Lord community in Tempe. (Photo of Peter at the right.) Their weekly events are characterized by charismatic praise & worship; i.e. by growth in and exercise of the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit. The word “charism,”as most of you will know, means “gift.” The word “charismatic” signifies the use of a gift or gifts. The services at the City of the Lord often see the conversion of hearts, inner healing, physical healing, and words of prophecy, among other gifts that the Holy Spirit imparts within the community. The traditional seven marks (gifts) of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, knowledge, fortitude, understanding, piety, counsel and fear of the Lord) are actively sought and developed in this community through prayer and instruction. Likewise, other supernatural gifts (charisms) of the Holy Spirit such as prophecy, tongues, healing, and interpretation of tongues are sought and experienced as the Holy Spirit wills. There is no pressure on anyone to “perform” gifts or to demonstrate them. There is complete and joyful freedom to use them within clear and understood guidelines that result in obvious decorum.

IMG_4313While the designation “charismatic” does not formally fit my own ecclesial background, or present form of ministry, I have moved within the power of many of these gifts for over three decades. This movement in my personal life began during the revival of 1970 at Wheaton College. Sadly, some of the excesses of the charismatic movement that I saw in some Protestantism had a negative effect upon me for some years. I knew the gifts were real but I doubted many strange claims. I saw the excess but quite often I missed the blessings I now see so clearly.

robIn Phoenix I saw none of the excesses and all the blessings. Most of what I saw on Saturday and Sunday (January 17-18) was plainly the work of the Holy Spirit. The reason I know this is because what was done was powerfully centered in Jesus, centered in clear gospel proclamation and promoted the common good. It was done with proper care and deep regard for Scripture in every way. There was no confusion or “flesh” in the meetings that I attended. Further, the leaders were men and women of great soundness in mind and spirit. Their desire to see John 17:21 openly experienced was evident thus they do not create division over the gifts or their particular expressions of them.

I noted that I am not a “charismatic” by label but everything about this Catholic renewal movement resonates with me powerfully. I do not embrace these labels easily but I do not run from them when I see God working among his people as I saw at City of the Lord. If these expressions are “charismatic” then please apply the label if you’d like. But I see nothing in the label that explains my life except that I embrace the presence of all the gifts of the Spirit enumerated in the Bible thus I believe in grace gifts in the fullness of the Spirit, thus charisma. (I never could understand how anyone could read the Bible and then believe that these gifts were withdrawn from the church based upon rather strange arguments that are rooted in theory and scant few facts!)

Some years ago God began to “speak” to me in ways that I could not describe heard by reading the Bible (alone) and studying the text alone. These promptings or leadings (words forming in my mind consciously or otherwise) were always tested by the Scripture. I began to write some of them down to see if I thought God was saying something to me after prayer and deeper reflection. In the late 1990s I began to pay special attention to dreams after more study on this particular subject. Then God revealed my own future in ministry to me one evening just before I was to preach at Tenth Presbyterian Church in images-1Philadelphia. (I told no soul until more than a decade later since I wanted to receive what I believed was from God and then see how he worked out what I believed that I saw and heard that memorable evening on the platform of that great church!) This Spirit-led impression (I do not know what else to call it) has been called a vision by some. I do not know precisely what it was. I do know that what I saw flashed before my mind and shocked me. Now more than seventeen years later everything I saw in a matter of seconds that night has come true. I later had several dreams (in my sleep) that filled in some missing parts of my awakening experience at Tenth.

What is the point I am making here? I believe God still speaks in various ways to his people. Many of us do not listen, perhaps out of fear. Others hear but do not handle the message discreetly. But God is not mute. Nor is he limited to my reading and studying the text of the Bible only. (Nothing he says contradicts the doctrine and teaching of the Scriptures.) The Bible is the Supreme Court but this does not limit the means and contexts in which God speaks and leads those who listen and follow. This truth was powerfully reinforced in me in the desert during my days in Tempe.

Posted in ACT 3, American Evangelicalism, Missional-Ecumenism, My Christian Unity Story, Personal, Renewal, Roman Catholicism, Spirituality, The Church, The Future, Unity of the Church | 2 Comments/Likes

A Special Season in the Desert – A Journey into Deeper Ecumenism (1)

The mission of ACT3 takes me to many cities and communities, to meet with leaders in private as well as large and small groups of earnest Christians from many churches. Some of my most enjoyable work is building relationships with some of the most interesting and mission-focused leaders that I’ve ever had the pleasure of sharing my life-journey with as partners. Such was the case again because of a visit to the Phoenix area, January 16-21. Over the next few days I plan to share this mission with friends by means of these blogs. I ask you to share in the joy of what Christ is doing and to pray for me as I seek to be faithful to God’s John 17 call upon my life.

On Saturday, January 17, I spoke at a Phoenix-area John 17 Movement meeting hosted by Catholic Renewal Ministries of the Diocese of Phoenix. Catholic Renewal Ministries (CRM) is a ministry organization that provides a variety of services to parishes and prayer groups across the Phoenix diocese, including: seminars, retreats, conferences, healing masses, praise nights and other devotional resources. CRM can best be described as an association of clergy, religious and lay individuals seeking to live in growing awareness and fullness of the gifts, grace and power of the Holy Spirit, and seeking opportunities to use their God-given gifts in the service of others.

CRM comes under the headship of the diocese through a liaison appointed by the Bishop of Phoenix. The current liaison is Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares. imagesBishop Nevares is the CRM Liaison for both the English and Spanish speaking organizations of CRM. CRM is affiliated on the national and international levels with the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services organization (ICCRS).

ICCRS maintains an office in the Vatican that is led by another friend, Matteo Calisi. I’ve not personally met Matteo yet but we have begun to correspond with one another since I returned home from Phoenix. Matteo Calisi Unknown(photo at left) is a man deeply committed to the ecumenical vision of Saint Pope John XXIII. As a man of faith in the power and gifts of the Spirit he prays and seeks the unity of Christians around the world. Matteo lives and works in the Vatican and directly serves Pope Francis and the global Catholic charismatic movement. ICCRS has a national office and regional representatives within the United States via Chariscenter USA, with a National Service Center (NSC) in support of various diocesan CRM organizations across the USA. This Spirit-drenched ministry unites Catholic and non-Catholics in some uniquely powerful ways. Take the time to learn more. Then pray if you are so led.

During the weekend of January 17-18. I was asked to share my unity story at City of the Lord. City of the Lordmenuimage1 is a Catholic, charismatic, lay community whose members are called to a covenant relationship with God and each other. Covenant communities such as City of the Lord are recognized by the Catholic Church as a work of the Holy Spirit and a legitimate expression of renewal. They were welcomed and encouraged by Saint Pope John Paul II and the Pontifical Council for the Laity. The City of the Lord initially came into being in response to a great outpouring of grace that occurred in the Catholic Church in the 1960’s. Many deeply earnest and devout Catholics experienced a renewal in the Holy Spirit. They testified to a new awareness of the reality and presence of Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, and to a release of the power and gifts of the Holy Spirit. This movement has grown and the Catholic Church has officially encouraged it, even more so in recent years and especially through the influence of Pope Francis.

Peter Poppleton:Joe TosiniMy visit to the gathering at the City of the Lord (chartered in 1977) was to share my story of John 17:21 unity at a Saturday evening gathering. The service was led by another new friend Peter Poppleton. Peter (on my left in this photo with Joe Tosini on the right)  is a gracious Spirit-filled Catholic leader who serves as president of the City of the Lord. I spoke freely and joyfully to about 150 people that evening and was received with great joy and love. After I spoke to the gathering, of what is called a John 17 Movement, Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares shared. He greatly ministered to my spirit.

After this  service concluded I then had a lovely time over pizza with Bishop Nevares, Peter Poppleton and his wife, Joseph Tosini (my host), Douglas A. Remy, an evangelical Protestant business leader in the Pinnacle Forum in Phoenix, and Gary Kinnaman, another evangelical leader, along with his wife. (I think I did not leave anyone out but if I did please forgive me all of you who are my new friends!) I was particularly intrigued to learn about the Pinnacle Forum, a mission that aims at transforming business leaders in order to transform culture. The vision of Pinnacle Forum greatly encourages me in my own work of missional-ecumenism.

A strong impression has been forming in me in recent months and this impression was deeply enriched by my time in Phoenix. I believe that the unity I pray for will increase powerfully through godly business leaders, both young and old. Without the encumbrances of church institutionalism such men and women wield an amazing influence for change. (I am not putting down clergy. After all, I am an ordained minister of Word and Sacrament myself.) What I am observing is that leaders in the world of business understand the  opportunity for unity in amazing ways and they have the skills to bring about deep change. I am reminded that one of America’s greatest renewals came through businessmen, in the nineteenth century, just prior to the Civil War.

If you are a pastor or priest I encourage you to get to know business leaders and learn how to shepherd their hearts for unity in Christ’s mission. These men and women get this vision very quickly and are clearly poised to make a real difference.

Tomorrow: Part 2


Posted in ACT 3, Business, Discipleship, Evangelism, Love, Missional-Ecumenism, Personal, Renewal, Roman Catholicism, The Church, The Future, Unity of the Church | 3 Comments/Likes

Rev. Ian Simkins on Christian Unity and Why It Maters (2)

Yesterday I published the first of two video interviews ACT3 did with Rev. Ian Simkins about Christian unity and why it matters. This is a wonderful testimony to the power of God in unity and to what this important vision means for the whole church. Ian speaks as a thoughtful Christian minister and as a board member for ACT3 Network.

Posted in ACT 3, Missional-Ecumenism, My Christian Unity Story, The Church, The Future, Unity of the Church | 7 Comments/Likes

Rev. Ian Simkins on Christian Unity and Why It Matters (1)

ACT3 Network is a mission committed to “empowering leaders and churches for unity in Christ’s mission.” It is led by a board made up of thirteen people. We are Catholic and Protestant, male and female, minister and non-minister, younger and older. One of our fine young board members is Rev. Ian Simkins, pastor of the non-denominational Poplar Creek Church in Bartlett, Illinois. Our videographer sat down with Ian a few months ago and asked him to talk about unity and his vision of the church as one. You will see and hear this vision of John 17:21 here. This is the first of two videos that he gave to us. I think you will find it deeply encouraging and hopeful. The second video will appear tomorrow.

Posted in ACT 3, Missional-Ecumenism, My Christian Unity Story, The Church, The Future, Unity of the Church | Leave a comment

The Lausanne Catholic-Evangelical Conversation 2014 (2)

During the days of September 11-13, 2014, twenty-six people from Catholic and evangelical churches gathered to build relationships for the sake of Christ’s mission. Yesterday I shared the first portion of our report. Today I share the second part of our document.


Relationships for the Sake of the Mission

The 2014 Lausanne Catholic-Evangelical Conversation

Part Two

Nate Bacon suggested the Emmaus Road dialogue as a model of evangelization.  In the context of sharing their pain, disappointment, and devastation the two disciples invited Jesus into their conversation, as did the disciples who Jesus sent out two by two, appearing to the townspeople they encounter as homeless people.  In touching the wounds of humanity, we touch the wounds of Christ.  We say to the poor, “we need you.”  We need the poor; we do evangelization because we need to, in order to encounter Christ.

130829 Father Barron-060 2Fr. Barron had previously suggested another way of viewing the church: “the prolongation of the Incarnation through space and time.”   Many were intrigued by this notion, but Suzanne McDonald explained how, to Reformed ears, it sounds almost idolatrous.  The Incarnation is a phenomenon that cannot be repeated; a more congenial description of the Church, for her, would be “unity in distinction.”

If the goal of our collaboration is to unite in prayer and service, the analogy to the gospels in the early Church works well.  But perhaps our goal is, as Wolfhart Pannenberg describes the church, to tarry through the world under the shadow of darkness and sin, but in the end it will be one.  The “full, visible unity” that we work toward is eschatological.  Before the eschaton, perhaps the “one” consists in collaboration.

That image suggested to Fr. Leo Walsh the model Michael Kinnamon has used: ecumenism moves through stages, from conflict, to coexistence, to cooperation, to communion.  If the eschatological goal is full visible unity, perhaps we can establish an intermediate goal of “fuller” visible unity.

The Spirit seems to be saying that co-existence is not sufficient.  So our charge is to ask, “How do we enter into cooperation and collaboration while acknowledging our differences?”  We have made progress; imperfect but real communion does exist.  Nevertheless, we must not use “eschatological unity” as an excuse for not working toward more and more visible unity.

How do we move toward visible unity?

  • Fr. Don Rooney: “Prayer and charity is the process of ecumenism.  Our work is not to fix the problem, but to leave the door open for the Spirit.  Only the Spirit can solve this problem.  Our job is to get holy together.”
  • David Hickman: “When love has an agenda, it ceases to have power and purpose. Ecumenism needs to have an agenda-less love.”
  • Brett Salkeld: “We’re not here to convert one another.  We’re all here to be converted closer to Christ.  Doctrine will emerge only through the lived experience of Christians.  In that way, service does lead to doctrine.”
  • Jeff Gokee:  “Our common mission, our missional-ecumenism, is to show a generation that came out of a culture of divorce that unity is still possible.”
  • John Armstrong:  “If the term ‘The Body of Christ’ raises problems, because of our divisions, is ‘The Family of God’ a useful way of naming who we are?”
  • Dan Olsen: “’Family’ is a Biblical word.  Christians are in a ‘marriage’ [between Christ and his Church]. We are part of a family that cannot be broken.  Churches are married to each other.  And although churches are separated, they are not divorced.”
  • Fr. Tom Baima:  “Division is the obstacle that prevents evangelization.  We do not have unity in mission, but unity for mission.”
  • Chad Haines: “It’s right for us to feel the ache of division.”
  • Fr. Tom Baima: “The Spirit has made us aware that we are past the first two steps [conflict and co-existence].  Now, we need to incubate how to address the third [cooperation].”
  • Fr. Leo Walsh: “We need to ‘raise the sails’ and let the Spirit take us where the Spirit will.”

As a Lausanne Conversation, how might we “raise the sails”?  Several ideas were proposed—spending more time in prayer and reading scripture together; as we get closer to Christ, we get closer to each other.  In a practical sense, a slightly expanded program of two full days might allow for that, as well as including something service-oriented, such as “field trips.” There is a great need to include more women’s voices in the conversation, perhaps by establishing satellite locations.  It is clear that the present cohort have developed a respect and affection for one another, and want to continue their relationship.  We might move toward greater cooperation in future conversations by organizing the members according to their various competencies—theologians, those in ministry (especially to young adults), ecumenists.

Seasoned ecumenical leader and author Michael Kinnamon’s “series of five steps” can help us imagine where we are today. His “framework,” which became a template for our discussion on the second day of conversation, provides a model for envisioning our current work and our future in ecumenical relationships. Kinnamon proposes the following stages:

  • Competition. A church or faith community sees itself as self-sufficient and in a state of rivalry with other churches and communities.
  • Co-existence. A church, while showing little readiness for positive relations, acknowledges that Christ may be known and followed in other churches and agrees to live alongside others but with little interest in dialogues or structured relationships.
  • Cooperation. A church or faith community recognizes others with sufficient warmth to undertake certain tasks or forms of witness together, to engage with them in real, if limited, partnership.
  • Commitment. The mutual recognition between the churches or faith communities transcends simple cooperation, to such a degree that they affirm the existence of lasting bonds greater than expedient collaboration.
  • Communion. Churches reach a stage where they no longer see themselves as separate entities. Earlier divisions having been reconciled, they now try to act as one in mission and to share “sacred things.” Christians generally speak of communion (the frequently used Greek term is koinonia) only in terms of other churches, not interfaith partners.

Without discussing each of these steps in detail, we generally agreed that Catholics and evangelical Protestants range widely across a spectrum in regards to this framework. Yet we, as Catholics and Evangelicals together, believe that we are now on the doorstep of Ecumenism 2.0 which we see as taking the form of stage three and four in Kinnamon’s model, with growing mutual interest in what this new form of ecumenism could look like in the years ahead. We are realists. We acknowledge the obstacle of some deeply developed doctrinal differences among us, but we also believe that “our unity in diversity” draws us to keep seeking one another in faith, hope, and love.

Participants summed up the entire conversation in words such as these:

  • Humility—we witnessed one another being detached from our own ideas for the sake of unity.
  • Self-effacement:  “Take everything responsibly, nothing seriously.”
  • Appreciating the Eucharist  and acknowledging the presence of Christ in each person.
  • The call to be transformed together by being together.
  • The whole world is like the disciples in the upper room, waiting to find what they would do next.
Posted in ACT 3, Evangelism, Friendship, Missional-Ecumenism, Personal, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, The Church, The Future, Unity of the Church | 4 Comments/Likes

The Lausanne Catholic-Evangelical Conversation 2014 (1)

Lausanne-2014-GatheringLast fall the second annual Lausanne Catholic-Evangelical Conversation took place at Mundelein Seminary in Illinois. Twenty-six people, half of whom were from the Catholic Church and half of whom were from evangelical Protestant communities, joined together for a two-plus day dialogue. The opening evening included a public event that was recorded and can be seen on the ACT3 Network site. The 2013 event is also posted as a video on the same website.

Except for this one public meeting on the opening night the dialogue was intentionally informal and private. One of the greatest takeaways was our friendships and open conversation. We do not seek to solve direct problems (per se) or to write a major ecumenical paper. Our goal was to build trust and ask questions in a conversation of genuine love. We believe this is not the only way to address our present disunity but it is a major way, if not the best and first way. If love unites us in Christ then we must seek to experience this love together. This event allowed this to happen.

Following this gathering we wrote an account of our dialogue. This is not a “formal” ecumenical document approved by any church or agency. It is, I believe, an interesting account of what happened over the course of a few days.

Today I publish the first part of this Lausanne Report 2014. Over the next two days I will publish the entire document and make more comments.

Relationships for the Sake of the Mission

The 2014 Lausanne Catholic-Evangelical Conversation

University of St. Mary of the Lake, Mundelein, Illinois

September 11-13, 2014

The dialogue following Dr. Norberto Saracco’s “Pope Francis and the Unity of the Church in Mission” and Fr. Robert Barron’s “Pope Francis and the Evangelicals” suggested an opening opportunity for dialogue.  How can we move from what Fr. Barron called “Ecumenism 1.0,” the openness and mutual esteem that makes the Lausanne Catholic-Evangelical Conversation possible, to “Ecumenism 2.0,” an open and frank discussion of what we hold in common, and where we differ?

Both ecclesial communities (Catholic and Protestant) share a love for Sacred Scripture, prayer, and service. The various churches bring particular strengths to the Christian mission.  The ecclesial communities that we call “evangelical” have a charism for declaring the joyful good news.  The Catholic Church has a charism for catechesis, formation, and liturgy.  Likewise, each has a hunger for what the other does well—Evangelicals for formation and liturgy; Catholics for presenting the kerygma as joyful good news.

To move forward in ecumenical dialogue, we need to acknowledge and embrace our harsh and sometimes painful shared history.  And such dialogue requires us to know the other persons, know their conversion story so as to enter their inner life, their relationship with God.  As Fr. Don Rooney remarked, “It’s all about relationship. .  . . And that person to whom we are relating is Jesus.”

Many instances of ecumenical dialogue in action emerged during informal conversations. A particular example was an exchange at the end of the first day during which Fr. Tom Baima and Dr. Chad Raith, along with others, began probing each other’s understanding of Eucharist. What emerged was the unexpected and breathtakingly frank acknowledgement that Catholics feel a lack in the full experience of Eucharist due to broken fellowship with Protestant brothers and sisters, and that Catholics indeed recognize some aspects of Eucharist present in Protestant communities.  Some being able to take the Eucharist when others cannot manifests the still-broken fellowship between members of the Catholic Church and their separated fellow Christians. The “sting” that Catholics feel when they take Communion while their brothers and sisters from other communities cannot reflects not a desire that Protestants become Catholics, but pain over the divisions which both communities have allowed to continue. David Hickman remarked afterward, “The grace in which Fr. Baima interacted with Dr. Raith was the height of ecumenism.”

To move toward “Ecumenism 2.0” while keeping faithful to our deeply held doctrinal convictions, Fr. Baima suggested that we look at the experience of the early Christian community, which intentionally did not form a diatessaron, but lived within the difference among the four Gospels. Like them, we can sit with our difference—even for years—and so seek a way to become what in Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis calls “a church of missionary disciples.”

How can such a church proceed?  It was suggested that we revisit Unitatis Redintegratio, which states: “Cooperation among Christians vividly expresses the relationship which in fact already unites them, and it sets in clearer relief the features of Christ the Servant” (http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decree_19641121_unitatis-redintegratio_en.html).  Or, as David Hickman put it, “Collaboration is the new Reformation in the church.”



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Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?

Philosophers have debated this question for millennia: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” Christians have an answer, indeed the only answer that I believe satisfies both the mind and the heart.

the-love-of-god-tara-ellisIn the distant past there was only God. The ineffable and eternal God, existing in the triune fellowship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He was/is a God of eternal love. God is a triune fellowship of selfless, perfect, other-centered love. Further, there is no conscious life outside of God, the Father-Son-Spirit. God alone constitutes the complete whole of reality.

This is what we confess in the Creed and this really is central to Christian faith: “I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.”

But in God there was never anything lacking. The picture is perfect. It is one of a ceaseless peace and joy flowing in love within the circle of the three persons in the divine trinity. God did not, simply put, create everything that is because he lacked anything or needed you or me. He created us out of a desire to love others. This is especially true with regard to beings “made in his image.”

We should not say that God “needed” to create us. This would wrongly imply that God lacked something essential to his being. We can say, reverently and wisely, that he “wanted” (desired) to create us in order to share the love that God had within his own being. One has suggested, rightly I believe, that God’s desire for us actually places a higher value on his love of us than if he somehow needed us.

Can we say that God’s creation of us was inevitable? I think the answer, reverently understood, must be yes. Why? Because “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). Because God is love, and God is creator, then his loving creation was genuinely inevitable because of who he is and how he loves.

The nature of love is to focus on someone outside of myself. God loved perfectly without there being a creation but his desire was to share his trinitarian love so he created a massive universe and placed various objects of his love within that universe. So far as the Scripture reveals God to us God made us, human persons, because of who he is as God. He made us because of his love!

Posted in Biblical Theology, God's Character, Love, Philosophy | 9 Comments/Likes

Suzanne McDonald: A Reformed Theologian On Christian Unity

Dr. Suzanne McDonald is associate professor of historical and systematic theology at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. Suzanne is a “new” friend and shared powerfully in our Lausanne Catholic-Evangelical Conversation last fall. Suzanne is a native of Great Britain and completed her Ph.D. at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. She has a keen mind but a very warm and engaging spirit.

On the Western Seminary website Suzaane describes her life and teaching with these very moving words:

“I’m passionate about teaching theology because of the powerful ways that the Holy Spirit has used studying theology to deepen my relationship with the Triune God and transform my life in Christ. I pray that this will be true for every student, too, so that by doing theology together, we may grow in knowledge and love of the Lord, our ability to share that with others, and our desire to reflect more fully in our lives what we learn of God’s promises and purposes for us and all of creation.”


Posted in ACT 3, Missional Church, Missional-Ecumenism, My Christian Unity Story, The Church, The Future, Unity of the Church | 9 Comments/Likes

Faith Energized By Love

UnknownAs I have been reading and writing on love for more than thirteen months now I am awestruck by so much that is transforming my own  life.

Here is but one example. A Pauline text that has deeply moved me can be read in Galatians 5:1-6:

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you.  Once again I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obliged to obey the entire law.  You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.  For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love (NRSV). 

The story of Abraham and Sarah is used here as a historical metaphor about two distinctly different ways to perceive our relationship with God, or what the Bible calls “two covenants.” The first covenant led to bondage (the covenant was not bad but this was its purpose) and the second covenant led to “liberty” (Gal. 4:21-26; cf. 5:1 above).

We very often relate to God with an emphasis upon ourselves, our works and our human efforts. We imagine that there is something in us that we can offer to God and he will approve and accept this offering and bless us. Or we can learn to relate to God on the basis of the better covenant which places the emphasis entirely on his almighty power of love to achieve what we cannot do. Our salvation is firmed rooted in the second since we are morally bankrupt and unable to live without God and his love.

Salvation under the second approach is clearly all of grace. It is rooted entirely in divine love. God achieved it and we receive it. This approach invites us to come humbly to God with his promise that on the basis of faith we can learn that our daily life is powered by divine love alone (cf. Gal. 5 above).

A literal translation of Galatians 5:6 says that we are in Christ through “faith energized by love.” Simply put the power of God’s love is the only energy/principle that can change us. And only his love can create in us a new motive to live a righteous and godly life. We come to know him, and who he is (“God is love”), and then in knowing him we have a living, faithful and intelligent trust in Christ alone. When he moves within us we will, like Sarah of old, laugh when we realize that what was previously impossible, because of our unbelief, is now made eternally possible through faith energized by love.

Posted in Biblical Theology, Faith, Freedom, God's Character, Love, Personal, Spirituality | 6 Comments/Likes

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – Praying for What Deeply Matters to Christ

Over the past few weeks I have posted some short video clips of interviews that ACT3 Network conducted in the fall of 2014. These video posts are on this blog site for you to enjoy and also to share with others. They foster the ACT3 Network vision of “empowering leaders and churches for unity in Christ’s mission.” In these videos you will see Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christians, lay and ministerial, speak to the theme of unity and explain why it truly matters. In every way these interviews, and these faithful Christians, speak to the truth that I embrace with all my heart. If you love unity and pray for John 17:21 to become a greater reality among Christians in the world today then I think you will be edified and encouraged by these videos.

PCU invite 2015On Saturday, January 24, ACT3 Network and the Focolare (a Catholic global lay movement) are co-sponsoring  the Chicago area Week of Prayer for Christian Unity service in Carol Stream, Illinois. The service begins at 7:00 p.m. and will be at Lutheran Church of the Master in Carol Stream, IL. Information is available on the flyer that I have posted here at the right.

In preparation for that special prayer service I asked my videographer to prepare a montage of clips from our growing video interview library to show the congregation that night. I asked that this presentation be less than three minutes long. We clipped short parts of the larger body of our recorded work to prepare this single video. In some ways this is the “cream off the top” in very short context. I have placed this new video on our home page so that many more people will see it.

If you believe unity is really important share this video. I think it is worth a thousand words in its own way. And if you live in the Chicago area join us on January 24. If you live in another city find out if there is a unity prayer service in your region. You can start by asking your area diocese or some ecumenical group that might be responsible for such an event. There are many held during his special week all over the world.

Posted in ACT 3, Current Affairs, Missional-Ecumenism, My Christian Unity Story, The Church, Unity of the Church | 7 Comments/Likes