Upholding the Common Good

Heather Nicola Staff, Political Adviser on Refugee and Migration Policy, UK. Webinar highlight, Leadership Focus International. Theme – Overcoming Pandemic, Call to Responsible Living. Not all questions are wrong. Nevertheless, many are pursuing irrational thinking which paralyzes them from making rational  decisions. Heather Staff is responding to a question about how to engage in a positive public action that takes care of the common good for all into consideration? Need to watch and listen carefully. 

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May All the Other Garbage Go

Reformation Day Reflection, May all the Other Garbage Go. As long as something is being added, whatever that may be, to which we give even partial redemptive attributes, we have not grasped the heart, meaning and continuing urgency of the Reformation. Instead of “always reforming” we are continually deforming. Whenever and wherever we live in the attitude of helping Jesus to save us we are reducing the Gospel of Jesus to a caricature. 

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Luther’s Protest is Not Over

Over the recent years we could hear numerous Christian leaders, organizations and committees calling for the restoration of unity within a divided Christian community. “Luther’s protest is over” – they argue. What they mean is that there exist no more justifiable reasons for the separation between the Protestant world and the Roman Catholic Church since, as they love to claim, “now we all believe that we are all saved by grace and Christ alone”. 

Those calls to unity beg a question: are the currently known calls to theological reconciliation doing justice to the integrity of the Gospel of Christ?

Just over 500 years ago, on October 31, 1517  Martin Luther, a German monk nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church in Germany. This event, that was initially designed to invoke an intellectual conversation,  set in motion the unstoppable wave of Protestant Reformation in Europe, and led to a major breakup between the churches identified with the Reformation and the Roman Catholic Church.

In the heart of the big divorce were the differences between how the two sides understood the centrality and role of grace and faith in the lives of believers. On the one hand the Roman Catholic Church claimed that she was the God given means of deciding the conditions under which the grace of Christ was to be administered in the lives of believers. The Reformers, on the other hand, understood that if the grace of Christ was to be grace, it had to be the undiluted gift of God with no human strings attached, administered to all believers unconditionally.  

The Reformers understood the workings of the grace in us as God’s declaration of righteousness. In Christ, and because of Christ, we were declared righteous on the basis of Christ’s merits alone. The Roman Catholic Church understood the workings of the grace as a means of making us righteous, and the Church was given the authority to decide how would that grace be operational in the lives of believers. Apparently what appears to be minute differences in understanding that keep us apart are actually much more than differences in semantics. It is true that most Christians believe that we are saved by grace, but what we mean by the statement would often differ radically. 

Often we could hear that what led to the Reformation breakdown was nothing more than an unfortunate or ‘tragic misunderstanding’. But, has anything really changed for better over the centuries in the ways we understand the Gospel of Christ to justify such a bold claim? Have we all really come to a clearer understanding of the meaning, centrality and all-sufficiency of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection in our salvation? Have we finally stopped turning our denominations and churches into the ‘dens of robbers’ by selling in them our own brands of saving supplements? Have we all, after many debates, commissions and joint declarations finally come to our transfiguration moment similar to the one when Jesus’ disciples “saw no one else but Jesus”? Matthew 17:8.

I am not convinced that we have. And I am saying “we” because all kinds of self-saving placebos are on the market across the entire spectrum of Christendom today. The examples vary from the outrageous and extreme self-molestations of the Filipino Catholics during the days of Easter, to the superstitious veneration of deceased human intercessors and co-redeemers, still very much alive even in the most liberal circles of the Roman Catholic Church.

By the same token, have we Protestants moved forward “ever reforming” when many of us are relying on our subjective forms of mysticism (for example, listen to the most of the contemporary praise and worship music and you will discover that we praise our emotions more often than Jesus the Redeemer)? 

Are we really pursuing the spirit of Reformation when we rely on the subjective prophetic and charismatic gifts for the assurance of our standing with God rather than on the firm promise that “whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved?” Romans 10:13. 

Are we truly reformed and “keep on reforming” when many of us have lost any appreciation for the uniqueness of Jesus as “the only name given to men to be saved”? Acts 4:11. Unfortunately in many protestant and evangelical circles the real meaning of salvation by grace has been reduced to a meaningless cliche. 

In other words, wherever a Christian culture exists that encourages its followers to believe and act as if their salvation, or sense of God’s approval depended on our works (whether they are the works of the Law or our own rules); or on our subjective inner feelings, notions or imagination; or if we are a part of a Christian community that has produced questionable exclusive beliefs – through it all we are demonstrating that we are not sure if trusting in Jesus alone is enough to keep us in the saving embrace of God. Thus the grace of Christ, as the supreme and all-sufficient agent of our salvation is compromised, diluted, even lost. 

As long as something is being added, whatever that may be, to which we give even partial redemptive attributes, we have not grasped the heart, meaning and continuing urgency of the Reformation. Instead of “always reforming” we are continually deforming. Whenever and wherever we live in the attitude of helping Jesus to save us we are reducing the Gospel of Jesus to a caricature. 

Let me share an illustration. Recently I’ve watched a video series covering the origins, life, beliefs and practices of the Amish people in the US. I even visited an Amish community in the state of Michigan a number of years ago. What impressed me then, and what has impressed me as I watched the series, was the work ethics, profound sense of belonging to a community in which people leave for each other and serve each other sacrificially. In the days of Reformation those people, better known as Anabaptists at the time, in the mountains of Switzerland decided that they would serve the Lord unconditionally. However, over the centuries those beautiful people, desiring to be the true faithful, got stuck in time and the legalism of their own making. The freshness and claims of the Gospel were replaced with their own customs and laws that had to do much with how and what they wear, and how strictly they keep separated from their non-Amish neighbors, and how thoroughly they would shun their own family members who abandoned their faith. Despite the best intentions they have added heavy loads of their own rules and regulations to their diminishing faith in Jesus, and in the process Jesus and the saving faith that brings assurance and the joy of salvation were lost.

The heart and legacy of the ongoing reformation, kindled by the Reformers of the sixteenth century is in this: no religious system is given the authority to hijack or manipulate the Gospel of Christ,  or to expect believers to give their unquestionable allegiance to a religious system in the name of unity. Instead, the legacy of Reformation is calling us to go back to Christ again and again, and nudges us to genuinely seek to understand the heart of the Gospel and the mind of Christ. No religious system, organization or structure can ever claim the ownership of the truth of the Gospel and the gift of grace. This is the true legacy of the Reformation.

Today many are praying for unity and quoting the prayer of Jesus “that all may be one”. Unfortunately, they are forgetting that the only legitimate unity shared between the followers of Jesus is the one with Jesus firmly occupying the throne, and deciding the rules of the game. “That all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in me and I am in You”’ prayed Jesus. John 17:21.

Jesus never prayed for unity for its own sake or at all costs. Unity that does not have Jesus-plus-nothing in the center is a hijacked unity.  Cosmetic unifications are not based on the truth but on compromises that always sacrifice the Gospel. There where Jesus Christ is not on the throne, some other, false christ will be enthroned. This is why the warning of Paul the Apostle sounds so urgent and so uncompromising: “Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned”. Galatians 2:8.

The 16th century Reformers understood that the heart of the Gospel was the gift of Jesus Christ without human strings attached. This was the landmark which they did not dare compromise or subject to improvisation. Neither should we.

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 Loving Your Neighbor and Living Responsibly

Loving Your Neighbor and Living Responsibly. Camilla Bocaniala, Program Director of Polylogos Association, Romania.  Leadership Focus International webinar highlight of the theme: Overcoming Pandemic – Call to Responsible Living. Camilla Bocaniala said: “We as followers of Jesus have the responsibility and opportunity to be the salt and the light in the world. For me the vaccines and protective measures are more about protecting the other, and in this way loving the other.”

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A Covid Recovery Story

Rev. Frank Herb Stallknecht, retired United Methodist Minister from Houston, TX tells his Covid recovery story. “The nurse told me: ‘Mr. Stallknecht you are a lucky man. I knew I was a blessed and lucky man, but at the same time I knew I’ve taken a vaccine’.”


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How Did We Get Here?

We are living in surreal times. Too many are laboring hard to spread lethal disinformation and false narratives. In his opening reflection Liviu Bocaniala asks a question: How Did we Get Here?

Liviu Bocaniala, Artist and President of Polylogos Association, Romania.  Leadership Focus International webinar highlight of the theme: Overcoming Pandemic – Call to Responsible Living. 

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Balance Between Liberty and Responsibility

“Our liberties have limits when they stamp on the rights of others. What really the anti-vaxxing Christian seeks is the liberty to risk the lives of others. Christianity in this case mean – I want to do what I want to do” saysJyl Hall, Candidate for City At—Large in Kettering and adjunct professor at United Theological Seminary, Ohio.

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Bridging the Gap Between Life and Death

Chaplain Arnold A. Porter

Pastor and Clinical Chaplain Arnold A. Porter, Florida says: “Bible says, ‘My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge’. With Covid you do not leave the hospital the same way you came in. I decided not to debate if the Covid is real or not. I live Covid every day. I take deaths home every day. I sleep with them every night.” Pastor Arnold A. Porter, a Clinical Chaplain who works for one of Florida’s largest hospital groups, explains what it looks like to minister to the severely sick and dying from Covid-19. A highlight of the webinar Overcoming Pandemic – Call to Responsible Living” presented by Leadership Focus International, October 2021.

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Webinar, Overcoming The Conspiracy Virus

We are all witnessing costly consequences of the conspiracy wars around us. Many people who fall for conspiracies, misinformation, half-truths, false narratives and lies about Covid-19 and vaccination have fallen victims to the endless supplies of spin artists, many of them wearing the clothes of spiritual concern. I am sure you too have friends who are confused because they are swayed by the zealotry of false teachers, pseudo-scientists and religious leaders, who are at this time preaching twisted theologies about supposed spiritual reasons behind their rejection of the urgency to comply with the measures intended to protect lives at this time.

This is why I would like to invite you to our next Focus Conversation on Zoom (it will be available on YouTube and Facebook also), with the title – Overcoming The Conspiracy Virus, this Thursday, Sept 30, 2021, 8.00pm CET / 1.00pm CDT. We need to have this conversation at this time.

A group of international panelists, politicians, social and community activists, mentors in leadership, medical doctors and chaplains will respond to questions: What does it look like to fight for the lives of the infected people in the overcrowded hospital wards? How to overcome political seduction in the struggle against pandemics? What are the teachings and example of Jesus telling us about the relationship between our freedom and social accountability? How to pursue legitimate questions and conversation about Covid-19, wearing masks, and vaccines in the climate of aggressive refusal to engage in public action for a common good? Do vaccines save lives? Why have so many Christians become the enemies of truth, facts and science? How do we move forward? What are we, the followers of Jesus, to be in the midst of the current crisis.

Join us and listen to our panelists: Heather N. Staff, UK; Liviu Bocaniala, Romania; Camilla Bocaniala, Norway; Arnold Porter, US; Jyl Hall, US; Tihomir Odorcic, Slovenia; Zdravko Plantak, US. Moderator: Tihomir Kukolja.

Spread the word. Invite your friends. And pray that our team may speak with discernment very much needed at this time.


Update, September 30, 2021: Overcoming Pandemic – Call to Responsible Living, a new webinar conversation by Leadership Focus International. An international team of panelists from Romania, Norway, Slovenia, UK and the US, include artists, social activists, leadership development leaders, a political candidate and a political adviser, medical doctor, chaplain and a theologian. An honest, truthful and insightful conversation worth every minute of watching and recommending to your friends, family members, and your church community. The original title of this webinar was – Overcoming the Conspiracy Virus.

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 Are we Following the Same God? 

In my new, weekly video reflection I am asking a question – Are we following the same God? 

I love to reflect on the lives of men and women like Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr, Mahatma Gandhi, Desmond Tutu, William Wilberforce, Maximilian Kolbe, Desmond Doss and many more of the kind. They have shared the plight of the poor, stood for justice, fought against slavery, proclaimed peace and reconciliation, unmasked oppressive regimes, saved lives. Not all died a violent death, but they all gave themselves up in an honorable, dedicated and consuming service to their fellow men and women. They were the true martyrs who walked in the shoes of Jesus of Nazareth. Wherever and whenever this world became a better and happier place, this happened only thanks to the heroes who radiated the image of the loving God in their lives. Listen to hear more, and recommend to your friends. 4.08 min.

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