Saturday, January 24, 2009

A Word of Encouragement to those being sued

The following is a gracious open letter to all churches that have had their property confiscated by the Episcopal Church from The Rev. Philip Ashey. Ashey+ was raised at St. James Newport Beach, another church that has recently lost a court battle. He is now the Chief Operating Officer of the American Anglican Council.

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross…" (Hebrews 12:1-3 NIV)

In the past two weeks, the courts of California and New York have not been kind to those who have left TEC with their churches which were built and paid for by the generous, sacrificial giving, sweat, tears and prayers of generations of Christ followers - all of whom would be scandalized by the heresy-racked leadership of TEC now asserting by fiat a trust interest in their churches.

Without going into the merits of the cases, I’d like to share a word of encouragement to those who are facing difficult choices right now: whether to fight on in the courts or to walk away and build again.

I write as a "son" of one of those congregations that lost in court, St. James Newport Beach. The morning the California Supreme Court released their decision, I was reading from Hebrews 12:1-3. As I have reflected on that text, three words of encouragement come to mind:

1. We are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses: I remember Nell, Bill, Grace, Anne, Helen, Frank, Harlan, Don and so many "saints" and witnesses at St. James who helped lead me to Christ and who have gone on to be with the Lord. They surround us and stand with us in Christ. When we think of the church, we need to remember again that it is not the building but the people. Whatever happens to the buildings of St. James or any other church, the legacy of its witness and ministry will continue. Hebrews reminds us that there is a dimension of Kingdom life and ministry that is always more than meets the eye. Nothing that any court says or does can ever diminish that or take it away.

2. We have a race to run: Our fundamental mission is the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) - to make disciples who will make disciples, churches that plant churches, and to turn irreligious people into those who will live their lives as Jesus would. We need to do whatever we can to build a robust, growing, missional Anglican Church in North America - churches who are daily bringing unchurched people into a personal encounter with Jesus Christ and the abundant, Kingdom life he alone offers. We need to grasp the hands of fellow Anglicans all over the world - the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans - who are equally committed to the Great Commission in Word and deed.

3. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus: In court and out, we need to live our lives as Jesus would, speaking life and hope as he did - even as he lived in the ever-looming shadow of the cross. The joy set before him far outweighed the pain of the cross. May we never forget the incomparable gift of life and joy we have in Jesus Christ, and the priceless gift we have to offer others who do not yet know him. Its value far outweighs the value of any buildings we may have to surrender, or the cost of any legal battles we may have to fight.

Yes, it hurts. But thank God we serve a Savior who has already marked out the course set before us. Even though we do not yet fully see the way ahead, He does! He stands with us, he has gone before us, and he brings a great cloud of saints around us to cheer us along the way.

With love in Christ, and standing with you,
Rev. J Philip Ashey, Chaplain and Chief Operating Officer

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