Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Come visit some Sunday

Here's a response to a blogger who has his doubts about St. John's in Atlanta. See his post at


I would like to invite you to come visit St. John's, my home church. It's only a 4 hour drive from Ashville to Atlanta. You can see for yourself what is going on.

For me, it's a beautiful congregation, wonderful fellowship with lively and sincere worship. Pastor Brad is a truly gifted minister. He's excellent in preaching (which is always Bible-based), working with children and youth and providing attentive pastoral care. This is a place where God is transforming lives, drawing us into grace, wholeness, and discipleship.

It's growth, by the way, has been predominantly among families with young children. We certainly welcome gay folk, but the vast majority of our membership is straight. We're not looking for a place where "we can just go on sinning and it's all ok." No, we do not justify sin. Rather, in hope, we look to Christ to justify us sinners, to bring us into right relation with God and each other.

To be clear, it's about Christ justifying sinners, not justifying our sin or justifying ourselves. A gay person could live his entire life completely celibate, but that would add nothing his salvation. You and I can spend our whole lives living up to Biblical standards, but it adds nothing to the righteousness we find in Christ. Worse yet in trying to make ourselves righteous, we only become self-righteous which means we do not really have any faith at all. We are all sinners, whatever our sins may be, but the best we can do is trust Christ's righteousness and allow the Holy Spirit make us whole.

Well, I could go on preaching at you. But really I just want to let you know that we welcome you. You can be a conservative among us and you won't be the only one. You can be whoever you are and grow in Christ with us.

Don't believe me? Put us to the test, come visit some Sunday.

Peace, James

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Proposal to Delay the Gospel until 2009

My unworthy response to “The Resolution to Wait for 2009 Social Statement” put forward by the Lutheran Churches of the Common Confession. See text at

If this [resolution] could be amended to suspend Pr. Schmeling's removal from roster until after the 2009 Churchwide Assembly, you may get broad cooperation. It would remove urgency created by Schmeling's case.

The final "whereas" should also be re-written. The Synod's counsel prosecuting Pr. Schmeling could have presented "evidence supporting the current guidelines" had they deemed it useful to their case.

Counsel for Pr. Schmeling presented evidence and expert theological testimony against the current guidelines. So the prosecution had opportunity to call counter witnesses. Why would they choose not to?

Without such modification, this proposed memorial smacks of personal attack against Pr. Schmeling and the congregation of St. John's Lutheran Church. This is not about abstract principle, godly or otherwise. It is about real persons and real congregations who are seeking to live out the gospel.

To say that these people should be swept aside because this addressing conflict is "divisive and distracting" is an affront to the gospel.

Did not our Lord instruct us to leave our offering at the altar until we first go reconcile ourselves with our brother? You hypocrites who want to brush your brother aside so you can go play church!

Do you not understand that with brushing aside Pastor Brad you are driving out thousands of baptized believers and placing stumbling blocks before millions? How many souls are you willing to deprive of the gospel so that you can feel secure in your legalistic reading of scripture?

I speak only as a layperson with no authority in the church. What do I know of the gospel?

Tell me you experts in the confessions and scripture. What shall I say to my Lord when he says, “I was hungry, but you sent me away, saying, ‘The bible clearly says homosexuals will not inherit the kingdom’”?

This “continuing conflict” is no less than a first-order question of the gospel.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

The importance of youth ministry

Sing it! [All that's green PDF]

Taizé restored my faith and Christian identity. I grew up a spirit filled youth, but lost my faith in early adulthood. The anti-intellectual stance of my church background was at odds with my growing intellectual awareness. Honest questions were construed as doubts, doubts as rejecting faith, rejecting of faith as sin. In the end I had to choose between faith and honesty, even sanity.

This was a choice that no sincere youth should have to make. And ministers within my denomination were not competent to help me see other alternatives.

So I became a reluctant atheist. I wanted to believe, but I could not. I experienced this loss of faith as bereavement and lasting grief. It took me about a decade to work through this crisis.

The close of this decade came as my wife and I decided to start a twice-monthly Taizé prayer service at our "do-it-yourself" Unitarian Universalist congregation. Music had always remained a way for me to connect with some vestiges of faith. There was enough that we ventured into exploring Taizé music and prayer. The experience of leading these services for three years had stripped away years of confusion and pain. I began to reconnect with the simplicity of the gospel. I came as a child and found rest sitting in God's presence with Christ.

It was not about resolving academic debates, eliminating doubts, finding new twists on doctrine, cleaning up my own life, or any such contortion or effort on my part.

Rather the answer is simply in the presence of God. Christ makes an opening in our hearts and the Spirit enables us to trust.

After a few years of leading this little Taizé group, my prayer life became more contemplative. I used to watch single votive candles as they melted night after night. Through their ebbing away they were becoming entirely transformed into light. There emerged within me new songs, new little contemplative songs.

In time I began sharing these songs with my Taizé group. "All that's green" reflected my awakening and was one of the first I shared.

All that's green will sing for you, alleluia!
And my heart will echo true, alleluia!

Alleluia, alleluia!
Alleluia, alleluia!

I continue to write and share these songs as the Spirit. My latest venture is to share them in my blog, My hope is that these songs will be a welcomed--and free--resource to small groups, churches and individuals.

Blessings to all youth ministers who are learning how to share the presence of Christ with young people who really are intelligent and spiritually sensitive.

This post was a response to
Please visit this blog by Youth Pastor Brian for views on progressive youth ministry.