Looking Back: God at Work in 2015


© DPA/AFP/File Daniel Reinhardt

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5)

“So shines a good deed in a weary world” (Willy Wonka, quoting Shakespeare)

The last week of the calendar year is a quiet one in the Presbyterian world. Pastors and lay leaders, after pouring their energy into Advent and Christmas, pause to rest for a week before the New Year begins. The phones at the Los Ranchos office are quiet.

At the beginning of December, then, I promised myself that I would use the week to take stock of 2015. I would reflect on the highs and lows of the year gone by and share those with you in this space.

I knew that would be a difficult task. When I thought back on 2015, the first thoughts in my head were not happy ones. Across the headlines, it has been a year of grief, pain and fear. I resolved, then, to share with you the points of hope that I have seen.

Imagine my dismay, then to discover that the New York Times’ editorial board had already done the very thing I had in mind. And of course, they did it more eloquently than I would have. You may not agree with everything they say, but it captures much of the spirit that I had hoped to evoke here.

But I do think I may still offer a few words of encouragement from a slightly different angle than that of the Times. Events within Christ’s body, whether on the national stage or within our Presbytery, attest to the continuing presence of the Light of the World in the midst of much evil.

Words such as “Daesh,” “Syria,” “refugees,” and—perhaps most emblematic of all—“Aylan Kurdi” provoked in equal measure our anger and compassion. Yet from this horror have arisen moments of hope.

Germany reacted quickly to the September deaths by opening its doors to as many as 800,000 refugees. The country that less than a century ago symbolized hostility to outsiders took such a dramatic step of hospitality that it invented a new word (willkommenskultur). On a smaller—but no less faithful—scale, the Presbyterian Church of the Covenant in Costa Mesa has issued its own welcome to the Syrian families in its midst.

Los Ranchos will continue to hear other calls to hospitality consistent with Scripture (see Lev. 19:34; Deut. 10:19; Rom. 12:13; Heb. 13:1). Immigrant congregations are an important and growing presence within the Presbytery. We speak eight or nine languages in worship on any given Sunday morning. Some of our congregations have taken creative steps toward replacing the “Mickey Mouse Ears” model of cross-cultural ministry (that is, barely connected to the larger congregation) with truly multicultural worship. We pray that the formal transfer of multiple congregations from Hanmi Presbytery will lead to a deepening spiritual relationship with time.

Crises in the United States gripped us as well. The murder of nine people at prayer in Charleston, South Carolina became more than headlines when we learned that one of the victims was an old friend of one of our pastors.

But here, too, moments of grace prevailed. The victims’ families bore clear witness to the Gospel by publicly voicing their forgiveness of their loved ones’ killer.

More recently, the president of Fuller Theological Seminary and the leadership of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship both affirmed their support for the #BlackLivesMatter movement (though IVCF was careful to “reject any call to attack or dehumanize police”). The affirmations of such high-profile evangelical organizations are a welcome step in bridging the formidable gap between evangelism and social justice. They set a valuable example for us.

Finally—and no more surprisingly—the Presbytery has faced stresses within its own congregations. For reasons you can imagine, I will not name those here. Antagonists have always existed within the Church, and they will until Christ returns. It is hard to confront them. It is hard to make decisions we know will upset them.

But I have seen Sessions step bravely into their responsibilities as congregational leaders. I have seen your fellow elders choose to be faithful to Scripture. I have seen them value the well-being of their congregations while their opponents threatened to leave or hinted at litigation. And I have seen them gather to pray, even in the midst of their own disagreements, “making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). Such moments have reminded me of the privilege of serving the Presbytery.

In many corners, I still only see shadows. I cannot yet articulate a redemptive word in response to “San Bernardino,” for instance, and some congregational and denominational struggles remain unresolved.

But I have seen enough of the hand of God in a grim year to believe once again the words of John Newton: “’Twas grace hath brought [us] safe thus far/And grace will lead [us] home.” I hope you have too.

Somewhere along the Way—


2 Responses to Looking Back: God at Work in 2015

  1. Dan says:

    I think you are mischaracterizing the BLM movement support when you wrote “More recently, the president of Fuller Theological Seminary and the leadership of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship both affirmed their support for the #BlackLivesMatter movement (…).

    The references you cited make clear that neither the Fuller President nor the IVCF leadership actually
    support the “#BlackLivesMatter movement” per se. Instead both were very circumspect in their descriptions of what they do support.

    The Fuller President said “I stand with the cry that Black Lives Matter.” He said nothing at all about supporting the movement per se, just the slogan. He didn’t even say anything about supporting the movement’s goals of reforming the criminal justice system in general or police behavior in particular. Instead he just referred vaguely to “daily experiences that tell them their lives do not count as much as white ones do.”

    IVCF did actually mention the BLM movement, but didn’t say they supported it. Instead, they said “we are co-belligerents with a movement with which we sometimes disagree”. IVCF makes a clear distinction between between being a movement supporter and a co-belligerent.

    Support for the BLM movement is of course a very contentious issue, and I hope when you say “such affirmations are a welcome step” that you aren’t trying to use this as yet another wedge issue to drive away the more conservative church members.

  2. Dan says:

    It is discouraging to see words used like “Antagonists” and “opponents”. It looks like an attempt to demonize those you might happen to disagree with. You seem to be painting with a broad brush, along the lines of “he who is not for me is against me”. You write “It is hard to confront them.” But the goal should be to engage in dialog with the hope of finding common ground, rather than to confront. You mention “hinted at litigation” as if it were inexcusable. It could be that those hinting at litigation are feeling wronged by threats of confiscation of property that they have a legitimate ownership interest in, on account of having paid for the property, without any nod to consideration for what they have paid. I would probably hint at litigation myself in such a situation. Hopefully you don’t consider me an antagonist or opponent because of that.

    It’s useful to remind ourselves of the Stated Clerk Position Description (revised Jan 2013).
    Under “Personal Characteristics”:

    • Functions pastorally with empathy, understanding, wisdom, self-awareness and
    mature confidence.
    • Demonstrates non-anxious leadership as evidenced by strong interpersonal skills—in an
    often intense environment.
    • Possesses strong conflict resolution skills and experience
    • Exhibits integrity, resilience, courage, spiritual wholeness, self-motivation, humor and
    • A team player who demonstrates a collaborative and flexible spirit.
    • Inspires a collegial relationship within the Presbytery staff, council, committee volunteers
    and member churches.

    Nothing about “confronting antagonists and opponents”.

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