18 Mar A Pastoral Letter In Response To Marriage Redefinition

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

We have reached a moment of change in the PC(USA) which some celebrate and others mourn. The redefinition of marriage has been approved by a majority of the presbyteries. Beginning in June, the Directory for Worship will now permit the marriage of two people of the same gender. This change is both profound and expected.

By approving this change we are disregarding the clear teaching of Scripture, the wisdom of those who have lived and died for the faith before us, and the continuing consensus of the contemporary church around the world. To do this is both disobedient and unwise. We know this particular change was intended by its proponents to extend the grace and the good news of Jesus Christ, and to further the witness of his Kingdom. We believe it accomplishes neither. Our objection to the passage of this redefinition is no way anti-gay. Our concern is that the church is capitulating to the culture and, in doing so, is misrepresenting Scripture.

We reaffirm that the language of this amendment does not require participation in services of marriage with which we disagree. It remains up to each Session and Teaching Elder to determine what is and is not faithful for themselves and for their congregation.

We continue to face great challenges to our witness as a denomination and, more importantly, to our personal faithfulness. It is not enough for us to simply be for or against something. We who believe this change in the definition of marriage does not extend the grace and good news of Jesus Christ, nor further the witness of the Kingdom must now ask: What would, and how can we accomplish this?

Many of our neighbors do not know the Savior. Will we find a way to build relationships with them and introduce them to Jesus without reinterpreting biblical teaching? We believe, by God’s grace, we can. But we must be committed to listening carefully and without judgment to their questions and their needs, and to responding with sincerity and with humility as those who have experienced the forgiveness and persistent grace of Jesus.

Our culture is marked by increasing hopelessness and isolation, yet we who follow Jesus are being nurtured daily in the community of the Trinity. Can we find a way to extend this community without compromising its foundational teachings? We believe, by Gods’ grace, we can. But we must be willing to go to the darkest and loneliest places with the compassion, conviction, and hope of the gospel we profess.

Joining in God’s mission in this culture and leading others in this time of profound change is difficult. Yet God has called and equipped us for his mission. Accepting that call—growing in Christ’s likeness, living by God’s Word, and joining in God’s mission in the world—cannot be done alone. You are not alone. We have created The Fellowship Community to offer encouragement and accountability; spurring one another on to the type of love and good works that will fulfill our mutual calling.

Find more resources and encouragement at through our website, and join us at First Presbyterian Church San Diego August 18-20 and in our regional conversations for a first-hand experience of Community.

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Listening to God

05 Mar Do You Hear What I Hear?

Dr. Marilyn Borst is Associate Director for Partnership Development with The Outreach Foundation and a member of North Avenue Presbyterian Church in Atlanta. She serves on the Presiding Board of The Fellowship Community.

I spend quite a bit of time on airplanes and I have noticed that an increasing number of travelers don serious headsets upon settling into their seats. These so called “noise canceller’s” filter out unwanted sounds (crying babies, engine drone, safety instructions) and allow in music of the listener’s choosing. I wish I had a “spiritual” version of those headsets…

During this season of Lent, I have been reflecting on how to be a better listener to Christ’s calling and have found his seemingly prosaic analogy unexpectedly inspiring: My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:27-28)

I remember that long before caller ID was an option you actually had to answer the phone to find out who wanted to speak with you. Those who wished to tempt us with new aluminum siding for our homes, would follow our “hello” with their own name or business: “Good morning, this is ­­­­­­______.” But for a small circle of our family and friends, the sound of their voice was enough to identify them: a privilege afforded to our spouse, a child, a BFF. And Christ reminds us of our need to listen well to the One who knows us best.

Isn’t it interesting that the “following” is not predicated by details of where, or why, or how to follow? Sheep do not have the analytic skills to assess whether the shepherd’s summons might be risky, inconvenient, or costly. They just follow when they hear that voice. No doubt, their experience has taught them to trust that voice.

Whether we have followed Christ our whole life or have just recently yielded to his authority, we have much to learn from those sheep. His call to follow may lead us through uncomfortable challenges, risky Kingdom service, or encounters with people whose company is less than pleasant. His call may force us to re-prioritize our finances, our use of time, and the people whose company we keep. It might even involve extreme sacrifice as the Church in places like Iraq, Syria, and Pakistan reminds us much too frequently, these days. Be it those wooly sheep, or the Bride of Christ in difficult places, or our own much more mundane response of discipleship, listening to the Shepherd both establishes identity (we are His) and guarantees our destiny (we are His, forever).

How comforting is that?!?

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photo credit:  John Ragai

19 Feb Truth in the Ashes

By: Paul Detterman, National Director
for The Fellowship Community

It happened last night. A few hundred people came out in the middle of a cluttered week when the local collegiate basketball team was playing (competing gods in this town!) to be reminded that we were going to die and that we could choose to truly live.

It was Ash Wednesday. The size of the congregation was remarkable, especially when the thermometer was flirting with single digits. Far more amazing to me was that I (at age 57) was among a minority of “older” people in the room.

Young couples were there, young families with their children, single people, business people directly from work. And then came a flood of elementary children from the evening music ministry, many complete with light shoes, lovingly shepherded by their young adult mentors. We were there to receive a mark of our mortality—a reminder that, before God’s breath, we were dust, and we would end up there again. But we also came to be reminded of the greater truth of Christ’s death and Resurrection—God’s astonishing grip on his beloved children.

What drew so many younger people? Honesty. Authenticity. Truth. (This is quiet time for “church growth” experts.) There was no rockin’ praise band—simple, elegant music for oboe, flute, ‘cello, and voices in various combinations punctuated the liturgy. There was no sliver-tongued orator, projected larger than life, and holding us spell-bound. Our Minister of Formation simply, directly, and with self-effacing honesty, laid out the problem—we’re lost. And he gave the solution—we need to make a U-turn. It’s hard to admit that we need God’s transforming grace—harder than it is for some men to stop and ask for directions(!), and yet Grace persists: “God will transform your world if you will allow God to transform you.

That’s what we needed to hear. An authentic witness to the power of the Cross—nothing more, nothing less. Followers of Jesus know the Truth. The world needs the Truth. Younger adult generations are magnetically attracted to authenticity—in relationships, in teaching, in our life together. So should we all be.

We were invited to observe a holy Lent, to invest ourselves in the ancient disciplines followers of Jesus have known for centuries: Word, prayer, sacrificial acts of kindness. And then came the eager procession—coming forward to receive the outward sign of our inescapable inner reality. Truth in the ashes.

Simple gospel truth, made visible in the ashes, brought us together last night. It is what we all needed to hear. With that Truth comes a persistent challenge to make the U-turns we need to make, to live as those who have been redeemed, to show by the words and actions of our lives every day, even more than by our smudgy foreheads on one chilly February night, evidence of God’s claim on us, and of God’s transformation at work in us, as we attempt to love and serve a world that seems allergic to making U-turns.

The ash smudge vanished in the morning shower, but the challenge remains. Truth is our commission as followers of Jesus—simple and yet profound, authentic, and desperately needed. How will you show God’s redeeming in your life today?

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We are called and equipped by God to be followers of Jesus... Each day we have to choose to embrace this new way, or say, “no way—I’m living just for me.”

10 Feb New Way? or No Way!

By Paul Detterman -

There is a true story in my family about a sibling a generation before me who, when caught misbehaving, would often say, “Well, I’m not as bad as the rest of the kids!” Any armchair psychologist can recognize denial when they hear it! The point, of course, was not what everyone else was or wasn’t doing, but that she was fudging one of the family rules or somehow not living up to her potential and the expectations of the loving family that was nurturing her. I understand her line of defense never really worked for her—not should something like it work for any of us!

Although we probably use different words, many times our reaction to living the life of a disciple can be similar to the cop out used by my relative. If we have been around Scripture at all, we know there are expectations for the way we who are followers of Jesus are to live—not to earn God’s love or our salvation, but because of God’s love. Most of the time we know when we are fudging one of the “family” rules—not living up to our potential and the expectations of the loving God who is nurturing us.

It’s easy to lay blame for our shortcomings: if my church would just offer the right Bible studies, if my pastor would just ‘feed me’, or if my schedule just allowed me more time….” But, at some deep level, we know these too are just cop outs. The choice of whether or not we will follow Jesus in a life of missional discipleship is ours alone to make and ours alone to act on.

Oh dear—there’s that pesky word again, missional. “If someone would just explain ‘missional’ living, then maybe…”

OK. Missional living simply means intentionally following God and participating in his mission—living for God and living for others. Jesus’ last words to his closest followers commissioned them (and us) to go into our world and show people the difference following Jesus can make by the choices we make, the way we deal with suffering and discouragement, the way we respond to people and situations around us, how we use our time, money, sexuality, influence; the way we live.

For each of us, this requires intentional change in our priorities, our focus, our “loves,” —a change we can embrace as a “new way” or a change we can dismiss with an emphatic, “No way!”

Our “heart” is not our friend—at least not at first. Our unattended heart will always lead us to think first about what is best, long term, for us. Our “will” is not our friend either—at least not at first. The part of us we know as “will” is inclined, by default, to help us maintain familiar ways and habits, as anyone who has tried to diet or kick an addiction knows(!) Jesus’ commission means we need to make a decision that will begin to let the gospel change our heart and refocus our will. It is a decision we have to make repeatedly. C. S. Lewis believed it was a decision we need to make in every conversation and every situation of every day.

What it comes down to is this. We are called and equipped by God to be followers of Jesus living in this specific time and place, living the day that lies before us as a winsome witness to the power of Life over death, Light over darkness, Beauty over ugliness, Freedom over oppression, Truth over lies, Compassion over selfishness and greed. Each day we have to choose to embrace this new way, or say, “no way—I’m living just for me.

There is a tradition in some monastic communities that in each monk’s room there are two hooks: one has his street clothes, representing life on the world’s terms, and one has the clothes of his order, representing the new way of life to which he was called and for which Jesus redeemed him. Every morning, each monk has to decide for himself which garments he will wear. There will always be “the rest of the kids” who can make us look better than we are. The question is, are we choosing, even for just this day, to live a new way—as followers of Jesus?

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