"You have to work hard to offend Christians. By nature, Christians are the most forgiving, understanding, and thoughtful group of people I've ever dealt with. They never assume the worst. They appreciate the importance of having different perspectives. They're slow to anger, quick to forgive, and almost never make rash judgments or act in anything less than a spirit of total love . . . No, wait--I'm thinking of Labrador retrievers!" David Learn, 1998

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Grace under Siege 39: Deadwood

     They call us "deadwood." 
     That's what one of several elders who have "come out from among them" (brave men, caught between conscience and duty, willing to risk their reputations for truth) confided to us. The leadership calls those of us who believe in the Bible, the whole Bible and nothing but the Bible as the foundation for all truth "deadwood"--and their goal is to clean us out.
     They have been very successful so far. Many of our choicest people, including some of our best leaders, have left.They can no longer have a say when the revised Bylaws and Statement of Faith come up for a vote in February.
     At the same time new members are being welcomed at a rapid rate. They may not be committed to a Biblical foundation including the need for individual repentance and salvation but to a foundation of "flourishing" and blessing our community. They are told they don't have to believe the current Bylaws or Statement of Faith to belong to this church.
     It is only a matter of weeks until things come to a head and the ballot box may be stuffed with votes from unqualified members who will out-vote the legitimate ones.    
     Three men of God--Faithful, Bear, and one I will call Straight Shooter--are organizing a committee of Supporters of the (current) Statement of Faith. There are well over 100 supporters so far, representing 15% of the membership. These include 18 current and former elders--four of them former chairmen of the Executive Board of Elders--8 current and former pastors and missionaries, 19 current and former deacons and deaconnesses and two former directors of women's ministries.
     We know on good authority that other members of the elder board are torn. They want to speak the truth but feel loyal to Lou, don't want to "stab him in the back." 
     We also know from two of the elders' wives that their husbands know what is going on, know it is wrong, but won't speak up because they don't want to jeopardize their jobs.
     The camels are trying to push us out of the tent. Our tent!
     No, HIS tent.
     I want to say, "Lou, go find your own tent."
     Instead let us, the deadwood, cry out to the One Whose tent this is and say, "Sovereign God, restore Your church to the original foundation You laid 98 years ago!"

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Grace under Siege 38: Qualifications for elders

    "If any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be above reproach. . . temperate. . . respectable. . . not. . . pugnacious but gentle, peaceable. . ." (I Timothy 3:1-7).
     "(A)ppoint elders. . .above reproach . . . not quick-tempered. . . not pugnacious. .  but. . . self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict. For there are many . . . deceivers. . . They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him. . ." (Titus 1:5-16)                                            
     "Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you. . . [not] as lording it over those alloted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory." (I Peter 5:1-4)
     If, at the next annual business meeting, we members of Grace Brethren Church are asked to affirm that these men are qualified to continue as elders, before God, how can we?                

Grace under Siege 37: Putting on lipstick

     I have to admit: after we first brought these abuses to the attention of the elders, assuming many of them did not know what was being done to us in their names, there were improvements. They started going out of their way to be more courteous. Hatchet Man/Saul made a point of coming up to the two of us and asking how we were in what seemed a sincerely friendly manner. Some offered to make home visits--two at a time, of course. Music Man persisted in trying to let him return to our home (with a reinforcement.) We declined.
     But they still refused to let anyone bring up issues or viewpoints or even ways to seek common ground in order to resolve our conflicts. Any attempts along those lines were cut short, as usual, with demands to be quiet and "repent."
    On November 17, they invited everyone in the church to one of the regular meetings of the Executive Board of Elders. This was a little odd because the Byaws already give us the right to sit in on any of their meetings except, of course, the secret ones. But many of us--80 to 100--showed up expectantly. We represented a good mix of loyal Lou followers and those concerned about Lou's teaching and motives.
     We sat respectfully through presentations of laudable things our leaders have been doing for the community, like adopting orphans and becoming point persons at the request of other churches to plant 50 ethnic churches in Long Beach. (We who are an almost all-anglo church, by the way! What arrogance! But that's another matter.)
     At some point in the agenda, one elder gave a report on "communication with the ownership," defining "ownership" as "God first, then members, then attenders." For a full 45 minutes, The Nine soberly discussed with each other ways of improving communication with the owners, suggesting and rejecting "comment cards," "townhall meetings," "polls," and "quarterly/annual assessments."
     It was bizarre. We "owners" quietly watched them discussing how to improve their communication with us. Not one executive elder ever turned to us and asked our opinion. I could have told them in one word how to improve communication with us: Listen! The issue is not how they can communicate better with us. They communicate with us just fine! The issue is how we can communicate with them!  At last they tabled the matter, instructing the elder to do further study on possible options.
     Afterwards, privately, one layman dismissed the whole meeting disgustedly as a "show," another said it was "hypocritical." Jerry called it a waste of time. I thought it was just window-dressing, putting on lipstick. All we can figure is that the elders wanted to give us the impression they really care, to convince us of how open and responsive they are, how earnestly they want to reach out to us. Of course, the fact that they immediately went into another "executive (closed) session" gave us quite the opposite message! 
     I personally think if they gave more attention to being open and responsive to their primary Owner, they wouldn't have to come up with gimmicks to please us. Once they listen to and obey Him, we'll be satisfied to leave them alone!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Grace under Siege 36: "We humbly serve you with hearts full of compassion."

     A couple we know recently wrote to the elders objecting to the verbally rough treatment experienced at their hands by many of us. The elders wrote back soothingly, "Do you really believe the rumors that the pastors and elders are without passion, grace, and gentleness?  We humbly serve you and the members with hearts full of compassion.  Why would you believe the accuser of the brethren?"     
     Since at least one of the elders has defined their job description as "defending Lou," since it really seems to be all about him, let me respond to Lou directly. Lou, some of us can verify that you know passion, at least the passion of anger, but let me suggest what real grace, gentleness and compassion look like.
     -When a woman allegedly reported to you that WOW's words at a luncheon had offended her, you would have gently reminded her that according to Matthew 18, she needed to talk to WOW first and seek reconciliation with her.
     --When WOW handed out a booklet (at that same luncheon) which you don't agree with but which agrees with the Grace Statement of Faith, you would have examined your own heart and either come into alignment with the Statement of Faith--or resigned.
     --When WOW filed a complaint because two elders accosted her with these accusations (that she had offended somebody and handed out a booklet "the leadership didn't agree with") and because they threatened to remove her from ministry, you would have examined the matter and allowed her to speak to each accusation. You would have listened to her--politely. 
     Then, because the accusations were false, you would have removed the two elders from leadership and apologized to WOW. You would have apologized to her publicly, in the presence of all the women who had heard the accusations you assigned someone to read aloud against her.
       --When my husband and I, as Prayer Coordinators, realizing there were differences of opinion circulating, invited church members to a time of Prayer and Praise for Grace in our home, you would have thanked God that people were praying for the church, rather than assigning an elder to insist we tell him why we were praying, what we were praying for and the names of those we had invited. When the elder called again, on his own this time, telling us not to invite people to pray again without his permission, you would have dressed him down for harassing us. 
     We could go on down the list, giving examples of people so wounded, made so uncomfortable, by the harshness of this leadership they no longer attend our church.
     Anyway, that's what "humble," "service," and "hearts full of compassion" look like, Lou. And you might reconsider who is believing "the accuser of the brethren" in this case.    

New Year's Eve invitation

Dear Friends,
     Many of you have been praying for us over the years. We are dedicating New Year's Eve (all of it) to praying for you! If you have prayer requests, feel free to share them with us. Or you are welcome to come to our home and pray with us in person.
     Jerry and Jessica 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Grace under Siege 35: Feels more like malice

     Someone close to us wrote us, with good reason, "I don't think the church could be behind the spam thing.  If you send out too many at a time, Yahoo [her provider] automatically marks it as spam.  It happens to us sometimes when sending out things to the band parents.  Just break up your list into smaller groups and it should be fine."
     We haven't had that problem with Verizon. We have been able to send out batches of up to 50 or so for years, on all kinds of subjects. We send some things just to our extended family, some things just to prayer partners, some just to missionaries or to friends overseas. Every night we send group Words of Hope to people going through tough times. We have correspondents interested in anything to do with Hiroshima, Fukushima, nuclear radiation, and the yacht Phoenix, in which my family of origin protested nuclear weapons years ago. There are people interested in C.S. Lewis. Others in abortion. Each group of emails has gone out faithfully without a problem.
     The fact that at this specific point in time Verizon is shutting down even "batches" of ONE (deleting both our correspondent's address and our own each time) on any subject having to do with this website seems highly suspicious. The forbidden term is "HisScribbler.blogspot.com." That now constitutes spam.
    I'll give you an example of how abusive this is from an email we received one week ago:
"Dear Mrs. Jessica Renshaw:
     "I am a student attending California Academy of Mathematics and Science located in Carson, California. I am currently working on this history competition known as National History Day in which I need to create a history project that revolves around the theme: Revolution, Reaction, and Reform. For this year's project, I chose to do a documentary on the Atomic Bomb. . . because. . . that affects my ethnicity as a Japanese. In the years 1945 and 2011, Japan has been affected by the major disaster of nuclear energy or weapon. . .
     "While researching for this, I have discovered an American woman named Barbara Reynolds [my mother] who is significantly known for her effort in the anti-nuclear movement. Her stories of helping people in Hiroshima in the 1960s inspired me in every way. . . Your mother [was] a great person who tries to do a cause for the sake of the people. Since you were one of the Reynolds' family members to visit Hiroshima in Post-WWII, I would like to have a video interview (or perhaps skype interview) with you to hear more about her story of what she saw and you personally saw in Hiroshima. If the interview is possible, please reply back to my email. . . . Your cooperation to this project will be helpful."
    You will notice this letter has nothing whatever to do with Grace Brethren Church. This was from a young man I didn't even know initiating contact with me of his own accord with a legitimate request about something in which I have expertise. Yet when I tried to refer him to this blog, with its 100+ posts on Fukushima after March 11 and multiple posts on my mother and on the ceremony this past June when a monument was unveiled to her in Hiroshima's Peace Park--my response to him was blocked as "spam."
      In our opinion, this doesn't seem like a System Administrator's concern for the protection of our correspondents. This is something much more personal, something just plain mean.
     Incidently, we have gotten a couple of comments on these posts by people who want to defend the leadership of the church. I did consider allowing them (before I prayed about it). But in light of the fact these people have every other avenue open to them to share their opinions I do not think one modest outlet, one personal blog under continual assault, is too much to reserve for facts exposing these bullies.

Grace under Siege 34: The Silencers

     On December 17, as usual, we emailed my latest post--in this case, "The email to end all emails"--to well over 100 of you who had asked to receive the posts that way, had responded positively to receiving them--or at least had not asked to be taken off that list, despite our urging you to let us know if you didn't want to continue receiving them.
     Every single email was returned to us as "spam." I know most of you do not consider these posts spam because when we had stopped forwarding them to you, you wrote asking us please to keep doing it. So we did. For weeks no one objected.
     Then, suddenly, someone decided for all of you that you're wrong, you really don't want these emails.
     We can't believe this is coincidence. The same people who tried to silence us by phone, by denunciations from the pulpit, in Life Groups, in Adult Bible Fellowship classes, by emails to the entire church, by hacking into our computer to steal our passwords, causing harassment with my cursor, keeping me from getting to my own blog, diverting others who tried to get to it, are now attempting to prevent our sending these posts to you by having them declared "spam."
     They are trying to silence us and they want to decide for you what you want to know and what you don't. They think you can't handle the whole truth and make up your own minds.
     But there's more. Not only did this someone or board of someones decide for you that you do not want to hear from us about what's happening at the church. They decided you do not want to hear from us about anything--and deleted all your addresses from our computer. That meant we couldn't even ask you whether your cold was better or where you were spending Christmas.
     And when we restored your addresses to our mailing list, the mere mention of the website still triggers the same response from System Administrator: every item is rejected as "spam" and every address is deleted again.