If the Ship is Sinking…
By Paul Anderson
My dad was a pastor in the Lutheran Church for forty-eight years. I’m going on thirty years as a pastor. My roots go deep and far back. I have observed with much grief some distressing signals that make me wonder if the Lutheran ship (ELCA) may be sinking. What are some of the signs?
It has lost its direction. Without the compass of the Scriptures, the ship is sailing into strange waters, like universalism, for instance (the teaching that all will be saved). “Inclusive” is the opposite of “exclusive,” and saying that Jesus is the only way sounds too exclusive to some. The Gospel is the message of salvation through Jesus Christ by His death on the cross, but that word has been blurred. “Grace” has come to mean doing as you please because God is loving and forgiving and certainly wouldn’t judge anyone. “Theological diversity” means that anything goes-and it is going fast. The theology of the cross strangely does not focus, as it did for Luther, on the shedding of Christ’s blood. It rather sentimentalizes sorrow and makes pain an end in itself. “Spirituality” is whatever turns you on in this “religious community,” which isn’t a community at all because there’s little that people have in common. “The Gospel” is any good news that blows our way. This ship is adrift, tossed by contrary theological waves, and it has no anchor.
When the message becomes relative, methods tend to become absolute, like liturgical accuracy, for example. Technique replaces passion, which is held suspect. It is easier to talk about Romans 7 than Romans 8 on board this boat (the inner conflict rather than conquest through the Spirit), because one needs to avoid any hints at a theology of glory. One of the mandates on the ship is “Thou shalt not commit obedience” (for fear of works righteousness). Justice and peace are in; anything close to glory is out. “Liberating the oppressed” is the new gospel for some crew members. The message has moved from a Christ-centered message to a Creator-centered (not Father) and Spirit-centered message, not in the New Testament sense of Spirit but in the sense of the Great Spirit, undefined and unoffensive. Fearing the subject of sanctification, passengers are limited to a meager diet of baby food.
While the ship is going down, the captain is reminding people to “walk wet” (i.e., remember their baptism), which isn’t hard on a sinking ship. The new hymn is “My hope is built on nothing less than baptism.” It is our eternal security, which keeps many passengers on board from thinking that the ship is going down. Baptism is separated from a life of faith because of the fear of human response, thereby reducing faith to fatalism and baptism to a mystery rite. When out of proportion, baptism, a vital New Testament doctrine, becomes as grotesque as a circus mirror.
It has sprung a leak. One can without embarrassment speak about saving the whales but not about saving the lost. The lost aren’t lost, so don’t try to save them (which may be the reason that more missionaries are coming home than are being sent out). Other cultures are said to have as much going for them as the Christian culture. Imperialism has no place on this ship. What are we-pirates?
This theological tolerance is matched by moral permissiveness. We have redefined homosexuality and waffled in regard to protecting the unborn.
Though the ship seems to be in serious trouble, the captain and deck hands don’t appear alarmed. At least, they are not doing anything to keep the ship from sinking. If anything, they are accelerating it. This is nothing new; the ship has been leaking for forty years, impacting all on board, especially Lutheran colleges and seminaries, most of which have also lost their direction. If the ship were a business, it would have filed Chapter Eleven long ago, but it is a non-profit organization, which defines its existence more all the time.
So what will happen in the future? Loyalty to the captain and his officers (those in leadership who serve the same agenda) will continue to diminish. The gap between them and many on board will widen. Vital movements on the ship, those reflecting the fresh breeze of the Spirit, will consider the captain’s activity increasingly irrelevant. This feeling will alienate the staff toward those who are suspected of disloyalty, and they will be further marginalized, including some evangelicals and charismatics, who use ten-letter words like experience and commitment and whose values are different from many crew members. As things get worse, some officers see danger ahead and become even more controlling, more nervous. Meanwhile, others think the ship is incapable of going under.
If you think that the ship isn’t sinking-pray for those at the helm to change and do what you can to keep the ship afloat. If you fear that the ship is sinking—don’t pray for it not to sink; it is probably too late. Pray for a good lifeboat. And see that everyone dear to you is wearing a life-jacket. Don’t get swallowed up by a religious system with a political agenda rather than a salvation message. And don’t vote to be aligned with another sinking ship.
(The S.S. Missouri has also sprung a serious leak, but for the opposite reason. Many of its passengers are in theological straightjackets.)
What should you do to maintain your sanity in the face of potential disaster?
Mind your own business. Don’t tangle with the officers; mutiny is a poor solution. Don’t write resolutions on how to keep the ship afloat; it’s too late for that. Be like Noah who just did what he was told as an option to getting wet. Build something strong enough to handle the biggest storm. Focus on your primary mission. Care for the people who are under your charge instead of trying to change those who aren’t.
Fight if you must, but only if God tells you to. Crusades and causes are not equal with the kingdom, so don’t major in fighting, especially if you’re the pastor, unless you have plenty of grace to do it. Otherwise, you will turn your whole congregation into fighters. Many of the prophets were fighters, and they needed mega-grace for their difficult task. Draw on the same grace and continually ask, “Is my cause Christ’s cause?” And for God’s sake, don’t be distracted from your primary task, which is usually positive, not negative in nature.
Let go of your expectation to change the system. It only makes your heart sick, like a deferred hope. People in a bad marriage may hope for years that things will change. Maybe they won’t. One option: lower your expectations and be the best mate you can. Changing yourself may be more important than changing your partner. God can always do new things in you. Redirecting your expectations may convert you from a whiner to a winner. And God doesn’t waste anything. He uses everything for His own purpose, even struggles in a religious system.
Pray like you are part of the problem. Otherwise, you have no solution. Daniel identified with the problem, and God used him as a voice. Avoid the self-righteousness of Elijah, who wrongfully assumed, “It’s just you and me, God.” Prayer is for people who are grievously sad about the ship’s condition-but not bitter. Bitter people don’t pray; they just complain, and all that does is demoralize those who are going down. If your “thing” is to complain about the ELCA, I have one bit of advice for you-change your outlook. The strongest action people can take toward those who have disenfranchised them is to bless them. And the clearest action moving into an unknown future as we wait for the vision to unfold is to pray. Desperation, as one pastor says, is God’s hammer. Divine opportunity stands behind human impossibility.
Be bold, not passive. Review your own values. Know where you stand and why, so you don’t feel condemned when you go against the prevailing current. Hold up the standard of truth, the unfailing Word of God. Building the ark was a difficult task, one misunderstood by all who watched it happen. Expect criticism, but don’t let it diminish your confidence. Pay the price to do whatever God tells you to do. Realize that your very presence is a judgment on those who disagree, as it was with Noah.
Stay positive. Live in hope; there is plenty to be positive about. Chicago does not equal Church. Christ is building His Church, against which the gates of hell will not prevail. You can have significance. As has been said before, the ark was built by amateurs-the Titanic by professionals. It is easy to get side-tracked and to neglect your vision. The ship was sinking when Jesus came on the scene. He addressed a sick religious system, but only incidentally to His primary vision. He came to die, not to bash the Pharisees. They were terminally ill and would soon leave the picture completely. Jesus didn’t back down in confrontation, but neither did He waste His time with them. He didn’t even appear to them after He rose in order to prove His point. When His plans intersected their program, Jesus spoke the truth into their lies. But they weren’t on center-stage-He was. He knew what He was called to do, and He accomplished it. May we do the same-in the spirit of Christ! It is a great day to be alive. Carry on, Mates!
Give Me the Desires of My Heart!
By Mary Ann Herzan
In the movie, Life Is Beautiful, a wise and gentle Jewish uncle is teaching his nephew the art of serving with dignity and tells him by way of example, “God serves man, but God is not man’s servant.” When David tells us in Psalm 37, “Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart” (v. 4), it may be easy to mistake God’s act of serving us for Him being “our servant.” Many have done so. Some will say that if our ways please the Lord, it is “safe” for Him to give us the desires of our heart for then we will not grasp them or make idols of them. Recently, in my quiet times of morning prayer, I have felt the Lord showing me a deeper meaning of David’s words.
You and I were created in the image of God and whether we realize it or not, our deepest desire is for Him. When Adam first saw Eve he cried out, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh….” Many Biblical scholars have interpreted this as, “Wow!” Adam grasped immediately that here was someone he could relate to, fellowship with, and be known by. Deep within our hearts is a “Wow!” waiting to come out when we recognize that the One for whom we were created is the One who fulfills all our yearnings-not by what He does, but He Himself. For we have been made of the “same stuff” as He.
In my prayer times I began to sense that the Lord was “unwrapping” desires of my heart that had been there all along, but were unaware to me. Many years ago I remember crying out, “Lord, I didn’t know You were the One my heart wanted to love.” Just so, I am finding that my heart wants holiness; my heart wants Him to be glorified; my heart wants the narrow way that leads to life. As the Lord peels away the wrapping of desires I think I want, I see there is something else that has been there all along.
When I checked out Strong’s Concordance I found that the Hebrew word for “give” in this psalm is used with great latitude. Some of the meanings are to “bring forth,” “restore,” and cause to “shoot forth (up).” In Psalm 73, Asaph may have thought the desires of his heart were for the things he envied in “the wicked,” but time in the sanctuary allowed the true desire of his heart to “come forth”-to “shoot up.” He then says in verse 25, “and there is nothing upon earth that I desire besides Thee.” In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul tells us of his desire to have the “thorn in his side” removed, but he, too, discovers something deeper as he goes before the Lord and then is able to say, “I am content with weaknesses.”
I have observed, both in myself and others, two ways that we allow the Lord to “unwrap” the deeper desires of our hearts. In one we struggle with the sense that we must put our own desires on the altar and die to self. It is usually a time of wrestling. In the other we “see the King in His beauty” and recognize without a fight that He is what we want. The less valuable item loses its draw when something far more valuable is found (Matthew 13:44).
This is why our times of quiet prayer are so priceless-and powerful. They make the difference between wrestling our way along with the Lord or walking with noble contentment and grace. One way tells the world that the Christian is always having to “give up” something. The other tells the world that we have Him who is “more precious than silver, more costly than gold, and more beautiful than diamonds.” Surely we know which of these honors and glorifies Him as He deserves.
How many times have you looked back on your life and been grateful that you did not receive what you thought you wanted? So, beloved of the Lord, let us come to our quiet meeting place with the Lord asking Him to “unwrap” the desires of our heart and give us what we didn’t even realize we wanted. I promise you that, like Asaph, you will say there is nothing else that you want (Psalm 73). Like David, you will say there is only one thing you desire (Psalm 27). Like Paul, you will count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus your Lord (Philippians 3:8).
Yes, Lord, give us the desire of our hearts! Give us Yourself!
Mary Ann Herzan has ministered at retreats, conferences, and Bible Studies for over 20 years. She currently serves in David’s Heart, a self-supporting ministry of East Immanuel Lutheran Church, St. Paul, MN, which has been established to encourage the Body of Christ in wholehearted devotion to the Lord.
Restoring the True Stronghold – Is God Your Mighty Fortress?
By Dr. Joe Johnson
“I love you, O Lord, my strength, The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, My God, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call to the Lord, who is worthy of praise and I am saved from my enemies” (Psalm 18: 1-3). “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27: 1).
The Psalmist’s picture of God is the place we go not just for salvation, but for encouragement, energy, and the right perspective on life. We need such a stronghold, someone who will protect us and keep us safe, someone stronger than our fears or emotional pain.
God is our stronghold. He is stronger than anything that would harm us. He promises to be the one who will protect us. God invites us to look to Him when we are afraid or when we experience emotional pain. He has created us as dependent beings. This is not necessarily a result of sin, nor does it mean that we are wimps. God created us to rule over the earth through His power and authority, to be dependent on Him to keep us strong. We were created to cooperate with God in a world that is much too big for us.
Adam and Eve came into a big, powerful world. They were told to have dominion and subdue it. They were not expected to fulfill their mandate on their own power or insight. They were to follow God’s word and operate in His power. Because of sin we have lost our authority to rule. We are outgunned in this fallen, sinful world and therefore we are too weak to be independent against the enemy. We look for ways to get some control in a hurtful world. We turn to something to hold us strong during times of weakness or defenselessness. A stronghold is something to which we commit ourselves during painful times. Strongholds are a mindset-habits of thinking or beliefs that give rise to emotions that produce actions. When we continue to run to a stronghold, we make it part of our identity. A stronghold helps us get by for awhile but it ends up holding us captive and then becomes our identity. We say, “I am just an angry person,” or “I’m a worry wart. That is just who I am.”
This is especially true for us as children. Think of a time as a child when you were afraid or hurting, or a time when you were so angry you did not want to talk to anyone. How did you deal with the fear, hurt, or anger? How did you get through the night? As children we usually do not know how to run to God. We do the best we can in order to survive. We find comfort, safety, and protection in whatever way we know how. Strongholds are ways of thinking, feeling, and acting in order to survive. Some strongholds include emotional detachment (which leads to depression), fantasy (checking out mentally when someone is talking to avoid being bored or being scolded) food, drugs, alcohol, addictions, lust, fear, bitterness, self-hate, passivity, eating disorders, compulsive behaviors, perfectionism, fear of rejection, lying, anger and rage. Whatever works to keep pain at a distance may become a stronghold if we go to it habitually.
Strongholds would not be necessary if we did not have pain or wounding. We adapt to these woundings in repeated patterns of behavior, which become strongholds. Vows become strongholds. “I will never be like my father,” “I will never trust anyone,” “I have to make life on my own, (we believe the lie that no one, including God, will be there for us) or “I will depend only on myself,” are all examples of vows we may say to ourselves. We make vows to avoid more pain, to protect ourselves from more hurt or disappointment. When we continue a certain pattern of behavior and commit ourselves to that behavior, that way of acting and thinking and feeling holds us strong. It becomes a fortress to protect us, and eventually to enslave us.
The Christian life is a battle against the powers of sin, the flesh, the world, sickness and the devil. Strongholds have spiritual power connected to them and need God’s power to break them. Demonic spirits can attach themselves to strongholds. God wants to deliver us from everything that holds us captive. “For though we live in the world we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:3-5).
Strongholds do not give up without a fight. How then do we war?
Identify the stronghold
The fight begins by first identifying our strongholds. We ask the Holy Spirit to show us what our strongholds are by asking these questions: What lies am I tempted to believe? As a child, where did I run to find protection from fear or hurt, to get me through the night? Do I struggle with believing and receiving the Lord’s love? Fill in the blank. If I ______, I’ll be OK (I’ll be safe). If I hide, I’ll be OK. If I get everyone’s approval, I’ll be OK. If I am not me, I’ll be safe. If I don’t think about the pain or remember it, I’ll be okay. If I fix others and keep others happy, I’ll be OK. If I do more and try harder … If I stuff my feelings … If I am not a child … If I perform….
I confess my sin of trusting _____________ instead of God to save me from fear and hurt. Lord, show me the lies.
We confess the lies we have believed instead of trusting in God to be our stronghold. The Lord showed my wife, Judy, the lies she was believing: “I cannot live up to people’s expectations, but I can hide so they do not notice me. If they do not see me, I’ll be okay.” This lie became a stronghold of hiding. It began to control her so she could not come out of hiding even when she wanted to. After healing prayer, she found it easier to believe God loved her and would take care of her.
The Lord revealed to me the personal stronghold of self-pity based on the lies: “I’ll be OK if I please you. No one, including God, will take care of me unless I please him or her first.” “I have to take care of others to feel I have value.” “People will abandon me like my father did when he died when I was seven.” We ask forgiveness for believing the lies-the sin of trusting in whatever our stronghold is to keep us safe instead of trusting in the Father. Judy prayed, “I confess that I have been hiding instead of following you, Jesus. I have been ashamed of what you created in me. Forgive me, Jesus. I grieve over the wrong I have done. This lie has hurt me and I hate it. Please forgive me, Jesus.”
There may be wounding that goes with the lies. We believe the lies because of wounding. In order to believe that the Father is trustworthy, I may have to have the Holy Spirit show me that I was a child that needed to be loved. Jesus’ presence in the pain brings healing love and enables us to believe the truth that we have a Father who loves us and is trustworthy.
In the name of Jesus I renounce these strongholds. I renounce the vows I have made. I renounce the lies I chose to believe. I renounce the lie that this is who I am. I renounce the false stronghold and identity. I renounce the lie I have to depend on me.
Affirmation of the truth
I choose to act on the truth. I choose to trust you, Father, that you will never abandon me. I affirm that your love for me is unconditional and unchanging. I declare that you, Jesus, are my true Stronghold. You are my shepherd, my strength, and my rock. I believe that you will get me through the night no matter what I fear or how much I hurt.
In the name of Jesus I speak to all spiritual powers connected to the stronghold of ___________(name one specifically). I speak to all spiritual powers that have clung to this stronghold. In the strong name of Jesus I command this spirit to leave. In the name of Jesus I break the power of the stronghold and lies. I speak to the mountains of self-doubt, fear of other people, and break your power over my mind and emotions.
Filling of the Holy Spirit
Jesus, fill with the Holy Spirit those areas which have been filled with lies and strongholds and where demons may have had influence.
Dr. Joe Johnson is Senior Minister at Grace Church, AALC, in show Low, AZ. The vision of Grace is to be a safe place to discover and fulfill our destiny n Jesus Christ. Joe has also served on the Lutheran Renewal board since 1989.
Association of Renewal Churches (ARC)
The Time is Now!
Lutheran Renewal has been used through the years as a tool of God to build an informal network of renewal pastors. We have equipped many in Spirit-filled ministry and encouraged them to be witnesses in their denominations. Many pastors and churches are now battle-weary. Renewal-minded pastors often have little in common with their denomination, and they receive little encouragement from their leaders. Many leaders have discerned that now is the time to strengthen our relationships with like-minded pastors and congregations. Many, like the apostle Paul, have “fighting without and fear within” (2 Corinthians 7:5). Others, serving in healthy congregations, are aggressive in their desire to see renewal in the Church, and they wish to align themselves with those who have the same agenda. It is our conviction that a coalition, a strong network of pastors and churches, can serve God’s kingdom in a mighty way and bring hope and courage to all who join with us.
What is the association?
It is a loose association of like-minded congregations and pastors who wish to stand together relationally. The coalition is not a new denomination. It is a network of pastors/congregations who have Biblical convictions concerning the vital role of the Holy Spirit in our lives and ministries and who desire to receive and give support to pastors and congregations, so that they can become what God intends. The purpose of our relationship is not to resist something but to foster Spirit-driven ministries giving witness to the grace of God in Christ.
Who would join the association?
Pastors who believe in the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit and who want to stand strongly with the same convictions. We would like to hear from pastors regarding this proposal. Would you be interested? What would you desire or expect from such a coalition?