The Gospel verses The Law

This past week I had the opportunity to attend the North Carolina Preaching Festival.  It was a blessing as a preacher to attend excellent worship and hear top notch preachers and then learn at their feet as they shared insights and best practices.  Although I have read several of her books this was the first time I had the chance to listen to Nadia Bolz-Weber, an outside of the box Lutheran preacher and pastor from Colorado.  She is startling in her

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Nadia Bolz-Weber

approach to God and yet gritty and real.  However, I struggled with one of her concepts she shared with us.  After asking a question I realized we were approaching things from our different theological heritages:  her Lutheran background and my Wesleyan background.

She talked about the difference between preaching Law and preaching Gospel.  She talked about the difference between our ideal self and our actual self and that the Law helps us measure that gap.  But that the Gospel helps us bridge that gap.  She said we have to be convicted by the Law in order to appreciate the Gospel.  But she warned that whenever we teach or preach about doing anything differently in our lives we left Gospel and reverted back to Law.

I know that we don’t want to hear another word about how we are not good enough or that we fall short and are very imperfect.  And that if we only do this or do that we will meet God’s standards and redeem our broken selves.  We don’t need anyone else to point out imperfections- we are quite talented at doing that ourselves.

Thank goodness we worship a God that loves us so very much that truly our brokenness is not a barrier to receiving God’s love.  And yes, our faith alone is what saves us – not anything that we do.  But my Wesleyan background resonates in my heart that when I love God with all of my heart and I trust in the truth that God loves me with all of God’s heart – that is not all there is.  This love moves me to love others.

Jesus said to love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind and then love your neighbor as yourself.  (Mark 12:30-31)  If we are so self absorbed in our personal relationship with Jesus, some of us might fail to practice the second aspect of loving our neighbor.  Part of doing our faith in community is supporting one another, encouraging one another, and pushing one another to faithfully live as a Jesus follower.  Sometimes that means the preacher must encourage or challenge the flock to love God or love neighbor.  That action doesn’t earn extra Jesus love for us.  It does help us to deepen our discipleship.  It does help us be a fuller witness for why being a Christian makes a difference in our lives as others observe us.

I am thankful the Gospel freed us from the Law.  But that doesn’t mean Jesus calls us to a place of belief only.  We are to follow.  Not only where Jesus went but what Jesus did. That is true today.  We are to follow where Jesus goes and what Jesus does.  I’m pretty sure that is going to require more of me than saying, “I believe”.

Grace and Peace,

Lory Beth

Much Will Be Required

This past week I had the opportunity to volunteer for my first Poverty Simulation here in Forsyth County.    I was at one of the schools in the county and it was students that were participating.

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Processing the experience – justifying “stealing” to make ends meet.

I have done several of these simulations and am always fascinated to watch the participants wrestle with the experience.

What is a poverty simulation you may be wondering?  It’s an experience created to role play what it is like to live a month in the shoes of a person living in poverty.  The participants are given an economic scenario and life circumstances (age, children, health issues, job or no job, income and monthly expenses).  Volunteers help run the businesses and services that they will interact with to practice taking care of themselves and their families.  There is a bank, pawn shop, quick cash, school, employer, police officer, thief, utilities, landlord, social services, faith based crisis center, and this time I ran the Super Center grocery store.

After the simulation is over the group processes what they experienced.  This is usually interesting to hear  how they wrestled with the choices they had to make.  When you only have means for transportation to one place and you need to pay your rent, buy groceries, and go to work- what do you choose to do?  Watching the students look at their money and figure out they have enough money to buy their week’s worth of groceries but no money to buy clothes or anything else was interesting.  Especially considering how much attention our youth pay to what they wear and what the latest trends are.  The bottom line is, it’s not easy.

For many of us that do not have to figure out how we are going to get to work today, or decide whether we will buy our groceries or fill our prescriptions this week, this gives a small insight into the differences between wrestling with problems of poverty vs wrestling with other life issues.  We all wrestle with problems and issues – but poverty issues are of a different nature.

I have been surprised at how much poverty is in Forsyth County.  It is an interesting place where there are highly resourced persons and then a few miles away, people living below the poverty level.  In 2011 a family of three with a household income below $18,530 defined living below the poverty level.  71% of the households in the city of Winston Salem live below the poverty line.  The percentage of children living in poverty in Forsyth County according to the 2013 US Census is 30.4% or 25,757 children. The current number of children in WS/FC schools receiving free or reduced lunch is approximately 27,000.

I don’t have any answers to solve the problem of poverty in this county or any other.  But I do recognize the need for communities to work together on lifting one another up.  As I learn more and more about the issue of poverty and figure out ways I can personally help others and how our church can help our community, I am hopeful that we will get this figured out.  We have smart minds, passionate people, resources above and beyond what we need, and the call to Love our Neighbors driving our faith.

Jesus says “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” (Luke 12:48 NRSV)  I believe if we take that seriously, there can be abundant blessing for everyone.  And if you or your group would like to participate in a poverty simulation, Crisis Control here in Winston Salem can assist your organization.  It is humbling and eye opening to have a small empathetic insight into a day in the life.  And next time you simply get in your car to drive to the grocery store or to get your hair cut, say a prayer of thanksgiving for the blessing you are experiencing.

Grace and Peace,

Lory Beth

 

[All statistics come from the Crisis Control website based on Census statistics:  https://www.co.forsyth.nc.us/housing/documents/winstonsalemmeopreport.pdf ]

The Virtue of Flexibility

I find myself on the west coast this week with the opportunity to compare West Coast beaches to our East Coast beaches of North and South Carolina.  Still partial to the southern East 8f8aceCoast shorelines.  As I was looking around the beach one of the things I missed seeing were the multitude of sea oats that sprinkle our North Carolina beaches.  In fact comparing the whole geography of these vast open and very brown spaces of the west make me long for the tall and colorful lush trees of North Carolina.   And this made me think of our leaders today both political and religious.

As the political clammer continues swirling around us d11806496-standarduring this Primary Season of an election year I am reminded of a teaching by Henri Nouwen (late author and priest/pastor of
great spiritual wisdom and deep appreciation for community).  He compares the resilience of trees and reeds.  Trees with their deep root system look so much stronger compared to a field of little reeds or a shoreline of skinny sea oats.  Until a storm comes along and drenches the ground.  The tree easily gets uprooted but the reed pops back up after blowing furiously in the wind.

Nouwen says “Flexibility is a great virtue.  When we cling to our own positions and are not willing to let our hearts be moved back and forth a little by the ideas or actions of others, we may easily be broken.  Being like wild reeds does not mean being wishy-washy.  it means moving a little with the winds of the time while remaining solidly anchored in the ground.”

How wise is this analogy when we think about those who best survive history.  It is those that figure out how to ebb and flow with the times while not completely losing themselves to every whim that blows their way.  Yet, because of aversion to change or maybe it’s an aversion to different ideas, too many of our leaders and even our friends cling to a rigidity of ideology and routine so that over time they run the risk of being the old, tall tree that topples over during the big storm that powers through.

“A humorless, intense, opinionated rigidity about current issues might cause them to break our spirits and make us bitter people.  Let’s be flexible while being deeply rooted.”  I love the idea of being able to be deeply rooted while being flexible to blow in the wind of our times.  Jesus himself found a way to do just that.  While those around him sought the rigidity of the religious and political laws, he flexed those laws in order to heal hurting people on the Sabbath, or touch those suffering from unclean leprosy and socially eat with those that would have typically tarnished his reputation for the sake of the more important law of loving your neighbor.

For those who feel like flexibility is an unacceptable compromise, consider the actual strength of the reed.  And may more of our political and religious leaders seek the virtues of the flexible reed.

Grace and Peace,

Lory Beth

 

Quote come from Henri Nouwen’s Bread for the Journey daily devotional.