Tuesday, December 12, 2006

An Excerpt from My Papers - Part 2

2. What effect has the practice of ministry had on your understanding of humanity and the need for divine grace? (¶330.4. a) (2) for deacon; or ¶335 (7) a) (2) for elder).

Over the past three years, I have noticed a trend in people’s responses to me when they find out that I am a pastor. They inevitably have one of three reactions: they either look for a way to exit the conversation as soon as possible, they try to make sure I understand how good they are and how they are so active in their home church, or they want to make sure I understand why they are not active in church or faith. This says something to me about humanity – we are constantly looking for some king of assurance that we are okay. Or else, we will avoid those things that might tell us otherwise.

Another example of this is the story of a young mother who came to my office in my first year as an associate pastor. She had been suffering from extreme depression which required medication. While under treatment for this depression, she became pregnant. The medication she was taking for her depression was hazardous for the baby so she stopped taking the medicine. While off the medicine she fell into deep, deep depression. She could not function. She could not be a mother to her children. She could not be a spouse to her husband. This woman went to the doctor seeking help at which point she was asked to choose between her unborn child and the ability to function and be a mother and a spouse. She chose the latter. Which brought her to my office.

A year after choosing to abort the child, she was still wrestling with guilt. She was afraid that God was angry with her that he hated her for her choice. That somehow she had made God not love her anymore. She came to my office desperate for some assurance that God might still love her.

My heart broke for this young woman. To have to make a difficult choice and then to have to wrestle with whether or not her decision might have somehow stopped God from loving her.
I wonder if much of humanity is not in this same situation – we are afraid we have somehow angered God and prevented him from loving us. We are seeking some assurance that we are okay.

Which leads to our need for divine grace. I believe there is nothing we can do to stop God’s love for us; if there were that would make us somehow stronger than God. I believe God freely offers divine grace to humanity to give us the assurance that we are loved, not by virtue of what we did or did not do, but by virtue of God’s infinite capacity for love and mercy. To be sure, I imagine God is not pleased by much that we as humans think and do, yet in spite of our sin and brokenness, divine grace is offered freely, without cost to us.

My practice of ministry over the past several years has helped me to this understanding. As I study the Scriptures and experience God in corporate worship, service and Bible study I think I see that God had great desires and plans for humanity – the biggest of which is right relationship with the God who made us, our fellow humans, and the created world. Yet I see how we turned away from God’s plans and tried to follow our own plans. The story of the fall is my story as it is every human's story. We abused the gift of freedom of choice to choose wrongly.

Thus our need for divine grace. We need our hearts, our very core to be renewed in that image in which and for which we were originally created! We cannot do this ourselves – only the God who made us can set us back into the right relationships for which we were created. This grace rescues us from our waywardness and reorients us to face in the right direction.

This grace enables us to be in right relationship with our Creator. It then allows us to be in right relationship with our neighbor. Finally, it changes our hearts in such away that we then see the need and the purpose to be in right relationship with the creation.

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