Thursday, August 31, 2006

Conexus Sign-Ups Are Here

The new Conexus directory of groups is now available online.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Obstructions and "Unobstructions"

Smack dab in the middle of Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians is a curious little diatribe, the contents of which contain so many implications of and applications to how we do church, it's like a giant, razor-sharp diamond under a spotlight shooting off brilliant refracting beams. Seriously, there's an eternity's worth of insight in just eleven short verses.
Here's the passage:
Working together with him, then, we appeal to you, not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says, "In a favorable time I listened to ou, and in a day of salvation I have helped you." Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. We put no obstacle in anyone's way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise.

We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.
We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted by your own affections.

-- 2 Corinthians 6:1-12

Holy cow, that rings my bell like Quasimoto on crack. N.T. Wright once said, "The amazing thing about Paul isn't just that he said and did all these incredible things, but that he said and did all these incredible things without coffee." I read that passage and think Paul was actually freshly buzzed off his fifth cup of Fourbucks.

I don't want to either diminish or complicate what is in that blockquoted Scripture passage with my rumination and explication. I do encourage you to read it and re-read it, to chew on it and wrestle with it. To see, first, what it means. Then when you reckon you've got that pinned, ask how it might apply to your life and to the life of The Church. Not the little-"c" church, BCC, but the big-"C" Church universal. What does it say about ministry and the approach to ministry? About the quality of life? About the tensions involved, the perceptions from within and without? About motivations? About inspirations?

I will offer two starting points I think significant. The first is the antitheses presented in verses 4-5 and then 6-7, and then compounded into dualities in verses 8-10. There is an eschatological* tension involved there of the "already" and the "not yet," and also a contrast between how the world sees what's going on and what the truth is.
The second starting point is actually the last verse cited. "You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections" (v.12). What a soul-piercing truth that is. For every one of us. And there are applications in that one verse not just for our personal "affections" but for how we do church. (Hint: What obstructions on sinners are we creating in how we do church? Are they necessary? Shouldn't the only obstruction to someone's reconciliation with God be their own affection for their own sin and the scandal of the cross of Christ? How do we communicate that?)

Okay, so I rambled. Ignore my stuff and just read the passage. If anything, our church could stand a greater biblical literacy. And 2 Corinthians 6:1-12 presents a great exercise in working our developing exegetical muscles. ;-)

* Look it up. ;-)

Where There Are Many Words . . .

There is a little Free Will Baptist church on Highway 96 very near my house, and every week I can imagine the turmoil or the glee that affects whoever it is directing how the church sign must read.

Last week their sign read:

This week the sign reads:
J.C., MD

My question for you is, Which sign do you think is better? And why?

Odds and Ends

Dirk Plantinga is out this week. He'll be missed.

Frequent commenter C. Evan Leonard started a blog -- Is Anything Sacred?

I've received more than a few encouraging and edifying e-mails in the last couple of days, probably as a result of my whining about ugly messages last week. For whatever reason, I want to say thanks to everyone who shared kind words and bits of praise. It really means a lot to me.

Don't forget about Vision Night tonight! It's gonna be gooooood. 6:30 at the Hope Park campus.

A couple of highlights from the greater God-blogosphere:

The Boar's Head Tavern is an ongoing online conversation masquerading as a group blog. As the name suggests, it's basically like a bunch of folks from different walks of life (all Christians, but different "sorts" of Christians) having conversations in a pub. I was invited to be a "fellow" of the Tavern a while back, and while I don't post there near as much as I do at my other blogs, I still try to "listen in" on the conversations and I'm a big fan of the Tavern.
This week, a BHT fellow by the name of Jeff posted some interesting excerpts from a recent church fallout in Florida. I'm not trying to say anything specific about BCC related to his reflections, but I do think it at least indicates what happened at BCC and the ensuing perspectives about it are actually not specific to BCC.

You may notice a book called The Jesus Creed in my Recommendations list in the sidebar. It is by one of my favorite scholars, Scot McKnight. That book is a fantastic read on making the Great Commandment our modern discipleship creed. McKnight, not too long ago, started a great blog called, interestingly enough, Jesus Creed, and his posts range from movie reviews to pastoral reflections to cultural critiques to hardcore academic excurses on all matters theological. This week he talked a bit about the megachurch culture and seeker-friendly churches, and as a keen theological mind, and somebody who attended Willow Creek Community Church, Professor McKnight is uniquely equipped and qualified to talk about such things with integrity and insight.

Peace. (And see you tonight?)

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Why Community?

We explain and express the need for authentic community in church in myriad ways. Nearly all of the answers we come up with to answer "Why community?" are valid and true. But nearly all of them, like so many of our purposes these days, are slightly off the mark.
The point of community should not be to feel connected or to experience connectedness, nor should it be to cooperate in making the church "work." Those (and more) are valid reasons for and results of real community, but they still do not get at the primary reason for believers doing discipleship in community.

I think the absolute best work on church may be a little book on Christian fellowship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer called Life Together. In that book, Bonhoeffer writes:
God has willed that we should seek and find His living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God's Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ. The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother's is sure.
And that also clarifies the goal of all Christian community: they meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation.

See, the Gospel is so much bigger, and fuller, than just "getting saved." It is an ongoing need and comfort for Christians at every stage of the journey. I need the good news every day, for as long as I am living I will need faith in Jesus. The goal of Christian community, then, as a proclaimer and bearer of the Gospel, is to proclaim it to each other and bear it to each other, as well as to seekers.

Christian community is really a "me third" project. When we come together to worship and fellowship, we are reflecting in image and actualizing in practice the beauty of the Gospel -- that Jesus Christ has come to reconcile sinners to God and to each other. Community, at its most authentic, actualizes the Great Commandment(s). You remember the Commandment, right? "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself." So when we gather to worship together and to follow Jesus in discipleship together, we are creating a Great Commandment community, which is really the best sort of community a church can hope for.

Love for God, love for others. Reconciliation with God, reconciliation with others. That is the aim of Christian community, and it must be the primary focus, else community becomes about function (pragmatism) or feelings (self idolatry). We do not participate in and foster community to get something out of it or even to "do our part" for the church, but we do get something out of it and the church is built by our contribution as a result when we participate in and foster community to see God glorified and the message of salvation reflected in our fellowship.

Elsewhere in Life Together, Bonhoeffer writes:
We are torn out of our own existence and set down in the midst of the holy history of God on earth. There God dealt with us, and there He still deals with us, our needs and our sins, in judgment and grace. It is not that God is the spectator and sharer of our present life, howsoever important that is; but rather that we are the reverent listeners and participants in God's action in the sacred story, the history of the Christ on earth. And only in so far as we are there, is God with us today also.

As a writer, I love, love, love the idea of Story as it relates to the work God is doing in the world. (I've explored this idea in an "old" Thinklings post titled The Call to Discipleship: An Invitation to the Story.) When we think of our Christian life and all that it entails as God's Story, we get a better sense of where we are headed and what our motivations are to be. If our sense of the Christian life is limited to our story, we have automatically missed the mark of a Great Commandment, "me third" Christian life.

It is God's story, and we are characters in it. We find our place, accept our roles, and make our mark on the world, not for our sake or for our glory, but for the Gospel's sake and for God's glory. I like the whole "be free to dream" thing, but it does seem to gloss over that it is God's dream we are set free to realize, not necessarily ours. We don't need more evangelical entrepreneurs in the church, pioneers of the new church culture hoping to craft communities around their innovations and Big Ideas. We need more disciples willing to crucify their flesh and get into the bigger, grander, more radical, more "dreamy" Story of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And that is the why of community. Because it glorifies God and because it unites Jesus with sinners, of whom this "mature" Christian is the worst.


Friday, August 25, 2006

Falling Forward Friday

Well, it's the end of another week. My mother-in-law is coming to town today, so cue the ominous music and zoom in on stay-at-home Jared frantically trying to spit-polish the homestead.

Before I begin radio silence for the weekend, I thought I'd leave you with some tasty linkage, just in case you're looking for good church-related stuff to read when online.

There are always fantastic, truth-telling, readable posts at GospelDrivenLife and Gratitude & Hoopla.
(In his most recent post at the latter, blogger Bob quotes scholar D.A. Carson: "Where there is no passion for the Word of God, other passions take over." Ouch. And amen!)

If you haven't been reading Dirk Plantinga's blog, BCC Begins to Heal, you really should.

Now to highlight a couple of links that have been in the Resource section of my sidebar menu for a while . . .

The first is 9 Marks Ministries, which is the online resource center for pastor Mark Dever's "9 Marks of a Healthy Church" program. I don't agree with everything Dever and his cohorts emphasize -- not that my agreement or disagreement matters, just adding that as a disclaimer -- but there's some really, really good articles on the 9 Marks page. You'll find stuff on how a church can better connect insiders and outsiders, how preaching can be effective and biblical without watering down the gospel, how a baptistic church can have an effective elder-led government, and all sorts of other issues and topics pertinent to BCC's interest. There is even a handy topical menu on the right hand side of the articles page.

The second link is the blog of Mark Driscoll, who is the founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington. Driscoll is a young, dynamic, and engaging teacher who really tells it like it is. He has a reputation not just for stirring things up, but also for growing Mars Hill Church from a handful to thousands in a part of the nation that is one of the most hostile to Christianity. (If you've read Donald Miller's book Blue Like Jazz you might have already heard a bit about Driscoll, as he's the guy Miller refers to as his friend Mark, "the cussing pastor.")
I am told Driscoll's "cussing" has been overstated ;-), but I do know he is one of the rare few preachers who reach seekers and believers alike with quality teaching, sound theology, and a straightforward, even blunt style. If you want the real deal -- and I think we do -- Mark Driscoll is the dude. I'd even go so far as to say it'd be cool if the guy we get to lead BCC into the future was a "Mark Driscoll type."

If you want a good place to start, check out Driscoll's Reflections on Preaching, which grew out of an interview with Preaching Today magazine. There's a lot of great nuts-and-bolts type stuff there about how this guy, who has yuppies and punk rockers, hipsters and hippies attending his services each week, goes about preparing and delivering a message.

Finally, if you just want to wade through some hardcore theology for a bit, one of the most complete indexes of online theological articles can be found at There are topical menus and search boxes, and you can find articles and essays from authors as old as the early church fathers and as recent as John Piper or John MacArthur. Calvin's on there. Luther's on there. The Puritans are on there. Spurgeon's on there. A bunch of modern scholars and preachers are on there. Heck, even I have an essay on election in Romans linked in there somewhere. ;-)
Anyways, for you theology nerds -- enjoy.

So radio silence begins now and goes through Monday. I hope you have a great weekend. Maybe I'll see you at Hope Park!


Thursday, August 24, 2006

Q&A's and FAQ's

You've got questions; I've got semi-coherent babbling. ;-)
Seriously, though, the questions I'm attempting to answer below fall into one of two categories: either they've been asked of me enough that I thought bringing a response to them to the main page was merited, or, even if asked only once, they were thoughtful and important enough to merit a response shared with everybody.

Disclaimer: If you haven't noticed by now, this is one little guy with one little blog. I'm not on church staff, and I don't speak for the elders or the staff, and I don't mean to speak for them. What I offer here are my personal opinions and appraisals, not an official reflection of anything I know will be done or that I am even expecting to be done. The Church universal is infinitely bigger than BCC, and BCC is much bigger than little ol' me. I don't join any church so that I might see it made after my image, and I see my entrance into a local body of believers more in terms of my own submission to the Church and to community than in terms of my personal preferences being fed back to me.
So there's that.

Why don't you talk about the independent forensic audit? Why don't you mention the Fosters' salaries? Why haven't you mentioned the severance package? Why aren't you talking about the Crazy Campaign?

The answer to all of these questions is basically the same. I know that money is a very touchy issue, and it's just not something I care to focus on. I fully realize that people who have invested their hard-earned dollars in the church want some accountability regarding the results of that investment. I don't mean to dismiss that at all.
But for the purposes of this site, money is not my concern. I trust that the results of the audit will be shared publicly when they are finally received and analyzed. While the appearance of financial misdeeds concerned me, as it would anybody, I considered those concerns minor compared to the larger issues involved in the reasons for this conflict.
In addition, I'm not concerned about pastoral pay, because, honestly, I think ministers should be paid very well. Provided a minister is a true servant leader who is fulfilling his duties honorably and sufficiently, I'm not a fan of the "let's make 'em suffer for Jesus" philosophy of ministerial compensation. Maybe it's because I have several pastor friends who eat, sleep, and breathe their congregations and can barely make ends meet.

How do we move BCC forward and help her be better at training the "beginners" in what it means to have a real walk with Jesus? How do we educate , and teach how to be a good servant?

Ah, now there's a real meat-and-potatoes question integral to the forward movement of our church. (I want to personally thank the lady who emailed this question for her patience, because I have taken too long to get around to answering it.)

My answer is simple and complex at the same time. It is essentially my answer to the "why?" of nearly every problem with the American church. That answer is that we have a pulpit problem. We do not lack for dynamic, talented, and even biblically informed teachers. We just aren't equipping folks, at the weekend service entry point, to go beyond themselves and into the life of discipleship.

More than once a few folks have bandied about the phrase "What you win them with is what you win them to." This is a very good truth, and it predates our situation by a good stretch. The fall-out of the "seeker church" movement began several years ago, as younger generations of Christians and more mature Christians of older generations together began to realize there was more to doing church than business models, entertainment, and pragmatic ecclesiology.

The real question is: How do you measure success? Is it just numbers? Is it dollars? Is it profile and influence?
If it's any of those things, how a church does church will be at least a little different than if the measure of success is "bringing people to Christ and growing them into fully-developed followers." Churches, by the biblical standard, should be doing both.
I think most folks "in the know" realize BCC has been a revolving door church for quite some time. We exist to put on a fantastic weekend service which can serve as an entry point for those seeking spirituality. The problem is, that's all we got. And that is a problem. Because if all we're giving is a weekend service for water-testers and the only need we're awakening in them is for that service, we're not only not growing disciples, we're starting people off on a discipleship to something other than Jesus.

We have to, somehow -- and I can elaborate on how I think it could be done better in a later post -- create in our weekend service a call not just to "successful Christian living," but a to entrance into the kingdom community. The need for growth that centers on following Jesus as a church has to be part of the invitational approach of the weekend service. What you win them with, you win them to. So if a service is as deep as your Gospel goes, you're going to get folks who only go as deep as a service. But if a service goes as deep as Jesus Christ and His church as the vehicle for discipleship, then you're going to get folks who are won to the life of the church.

This doesn't mean a return to old-fashioned, boring sermons. This doesn't mean suddenly we aren't relevant to people's "everyday lives." Look, no one has to make the Bible relevant. The Bible's already relevant. There is such a thing as energetic, inspiring, touching, dynamic, and interesting speaking that makes the main thing the main thing. It's not like alliterative, fill-in-the-blanks topical preaching suddenly grabbed a monopoly on effective homiletics.

This is a holistic approach. From the worship to the general presentation to the preaching. What are we really trying to do? It has less to do with style and everything in the world to do with presenting a biblical Gospel in our services. Is the music designed to entertain or only to create a fun, lively environment? Or is it meant to draw people into contact with the living God through worship? There's nothing wrong with entertaining or having fun or being "contemporary." I personally prefer those things to the alternatives of boredom and stale traditionalism. But, hey, as far as entertainment goes, I can find a lot better on TV or at the cineplex. And the average seeker will too. Superficial mediums and superficial messages create superficial disciples. I hope we all agree we don't want that.

So, from the weekend stage, there has to be an over time developed invitation to and an in-biblical-context stressing of the need for all the things the average BCCer has expressed no interest in -- the sacraments, community, use of spiritual gifts, spiritual growth and the ongoing work of discipleship training, etc. What specific ways this will be carried out is not for me to say or speculate over. But I have heard this need is realized by our current leadership.

So the answer to the question is simple and complex. It's as simple as being solved at the same point of entry we've been working on perfecting for years, but it's as complex as all the hard work and forethought that will go into making a spiritually growing church realized.

How do we get the "lines of communication" to stay open at BCC so that people feel there is an outlet in/out of the church to discuss where we are going/should go/ etc in our growth, faith, teachings, etc?

That's a really good question, too.
First of all, I think some of this communication deficit would be solved simply by the existence of community. Our church does not currently experience community on a by-the-numbers significant level; therefore, we tend to feel disconnected or unheard. Everybody seemed fine with how things were going in the church office and on the elder board until a tough decision had to be made. Suddenly everyone wanted to know everything everybody was saying, doing, and thinking. It's understandable.

It's also a bit unreasonable. We are a large church with a busy staff. It would be impossible for every individual who had a concern to get their concern addressed directly by someone on staff or in leadership. There's only so many minutes in a day, and if you've ever worked on the staff of a large church, you know the demands can consume your available time like Cookie Monster does Chips Ahoy.

So in general, this feeling of disconnection and getting lost in the system is an extension of the sort of discipleship culture BCC is creating. When you exist for a one-hour gathering, you're going to have lots of folks who are interested in the life of the church feeling lost the other 6 days and 23 hours of the week. But if we can make some serious efforts at cultivating first a need for community -- and, folks, that's just not done by making some Conexus groups and hoping people sign up; it's something that has to be taught consistently and urged as part of the Gospel proclamation from the stage -- then we will have people experiencing developing community and thereby feeling "connected" to the life of the church.

The other angle of this question, of course, is just that "How do I know I'm being heard?" thing. I've sent emails to the church office that have gone unreturned. I know I'm not the only one. I don't have a handle on exactly why this happens except to speculate on two things: a) given the size of our congregation, we actually have a relatively small staff, so it's inevitable not every contact will be addressed in a timely fashion, and b) in terms of the previous leadership structure, the need for real direction in how to shepherd the needs of the congregation was just problematic to say the least. Part of the reason for this conflict stems from disengaged leadership when it was needed most and over-controlling leadership when it was needed least.

There are some simple ways to rectify this disconnect. Suggestion boxes have been suggested. There can be more attention paid to the general info email link on the church website. We used to make it a point in the service to direct folks to the perforated card, on which they could list prayer requests or other notes and then place in the blue buckets.
What we need to correct this problem is two things: some designated system in place to receive, acknowledge, and reply to inquiries, and perhaps more importantly, congregational inquirers who will be patient with the developing system and not expectant of being catered to. Because, let's face it, for every person who wants to voice their interest in a consistent midweek service, there's two or three who think we should repaint the bathrooms or serve free trade coffee in the atrium or have the pastors shaking hands at the exits. Or whatever. Not every request is reasonable, or even if its reasonable doable, so to some extent, while communication should be improved, the leadership's need to respond to every congregational whim cannot be one of the aims of better communication.

Did you create this site to get a job? Do you want to be the lead pastor?

The answer to both is no. A bajillion times no. I created this site for the reason(s) I've already given multiple times. Instead of just asking me the same question again, why not just call me a liar. I'd respect you more.
And I have absolutely zero -- no, less than zero -- interest in being a lead pastor anywhere, at any time. It's not even in my mind. Even the suggestion is ludicrous, not just because it's nowhere in my interest or ambition but also because, have you seen the qualifications required in the pastor search ad? The sort of dude they're looking for and the sort of dude I am don't even live in the same solar system.
No, BCC is going to hire somebody who's actually good, you can count on that. ;-)

Why must you try and convert every person to your way of thinking?

Well, last I checked, I hadn't yet kidnapped anyone and forced them to read the blog.
If you mean, Why must you explain your points and defend your claims and actually stand for your convictions?, my answer is "because I want to."
I know that doesn't satisfy, but then, there's no satisfying this commenter anyway.

Isn't the notion of the seeker church wrong anyway? Isn't true that it is God who seeks the lost, not the other way around?

This is a hardcore theological question, and from the perspective of my personal theology, and as far as they go, my answer to the first is "Sort of" and to the second is "Yes."
I hate to bring up the Calvinism thing again, but I do believe the Bible teaches that God has chosen us, and in fact, it is impossible for man to choose God prior to God's choosing man. (You don't have to believe that, btw, and I have lots of friends and family who don't, so it's not a make-or-break deal for me liking you or anything. ;-) But I can only answer from my perspective, not anybody else's.) But see, that's all in the economy of God's sovereignty over human salvation. On our playing field, imperfect humans issue a Gospel call and fellow imperfect humans respond or don't. So, yeah, technically speaking, it is God who does the seeking. But, yeah again, practically speaking, there are people who are looking for God.

I like what the great preacher Charles Spurgeon once said when asked why he invited people to get saved if he believed everyone who was predestined would get saved anyway. Spurgeon said that if he knew that elect people had yellow stripes down their backs, he'd go up and down the streets, lifting shirts and preaching to whoever had a yellow stripe. But they don't, so he doesn't.
Similarly, it is God's business who's elect and who's not. Not mine or yours. Our job, as the Church, is to call the world to repentance and to proclaim the wonder and beauty and excitement and adventure and burden-lifting and, best of all, freedom-from-sin offer of the life of citizenship in Jesus' eternal kingdom. To the extent that a local church can act as a prophet of this kingdom to people expressing interest in filling that God-shaped hole, I'm a fan of the "seeker church" as it was originally pioneered (not necessarily as it has become).

What do you think of The Gathering thing?

I don't.


I hope that answers most of your frequently asked questions. Please keep asking them in comments or via email (jaredcwilson AT yahoo DOT com). I will do my best to keep making my fellow BCCers feel "heard."



"You're sick." "You're whacked." "You have a secret agenda." "You are ungracious." "You're a know-it-all." "You're a liar."

Those are just a few of the things that have been said to me on- and offline since beginning this site. Most of these things don't elicit more than an eyeroll, and a few of them actually make me laugh. (The allegations against my mental health were a nice touch. ;-)

But by far the insult that has most hurt was from the commenter who said he originally liked this site for the church updates but that it became too much about "theological preaching," even to the point that he found it "nauseous."

Look, I know I'm a wordy guy. I am fully aware that I am a "writerly sort." I don't sound exactly this way when I talk (because, naturally, there's less forethought in speech than there is in the written word), but I do sound a bit like it. This is the real me. I'm not posturing. I know I can come across as arrogant or condescending or like a know-it-all, even when I don't mean to. I totally get that.

But what I feel is very important to stress to you, the readers of this site, is that the more general stuff on Spirituality that I talk about here is not just me navel-gazing. It's not some sort of theological self-gratification. I wish I could tell you all the junk I've been through in my life, and am going through right now, but if I can't speak generally without getting insulted, I'm sure not going to be vulnerable like that. What I do want you to know, however, is that the stuff of this site are not just Big Ideas to me. I've, as they say, "workshopped" this stuff.

Sin, grace, repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, redemption. My heart and soul have bled those things. My writing style may smack of detachment or emotional divestment, but if I could snip off a bit of my heart and let you see it, you would see all of these things as outpourings of my life. I have anguished over them. I have been offended and comforted by grace. I have wrestled to the point of physical pain with my sin and the sin of others. Like I said, if I could show you the truth as you'd need to, you wouldn't question my investment in the stuff of discipleship any more.

So you can keep calling me a liar, you can keep accusing me of not getting it, you can keep believing this blog is just about me being wordy and trying to impress. But you don't know me. So don't ever tell me I don't believe it or haven't lived it. I am clinging to the hem of Jesus' robe in such a way right now, that if you truly understood, you wouldn't change places with me for all the money in the world.


Thriving on Conflict

Since I have employed comment moderation, there is a person who continues to attempt commenting, even though I have yet to publish the remarks. This apparently has not dissuaded him or her from saying whatever he or she wants to me and about me. You don't see these comments on the site, but every now and then I open the moderation file and see the accusations and insults.
At some point, even though the subject of the comments is me, this thing stopped being about me.

I know I've ruffled feathers. I know the point at which I stop suffering fools gladly comes more quickly for me than it does others. So I get that I've irked some people. Nevertheless, I still am baffled by how anyone can read this site and think it is ugly and graceless and insulting. Not because I'm a perfect person who writes nothing controversial, but because I really do believe I've done a reasonably decent job at creating the opposite. And enough other folks have confirmed that impression to the point that I believe them, rather than the angry ones.

Some people just thrive on conflict. They may begin with a justified anger, but eventually it is distorted all out of proportion in their hearts, to where being unsettled is not just an emotional reaction to something done or said, but an actual quality of their spirit. They are upset, and then your failure to justify their disposition for them makes them more upset, and then you enter this bizarre dialogical position where even things meant as blessings feel like hot coals on their heads.

You can't please everybody. And some people do not want to be pleased; they want to be engaged, sparred with, retorted to, received as a combatant. These people can be toxic. They bait you, and you engage them. Then they make you regret taking the bait. So you dismiss them, and then they insult you for not engaging them. There is nothing more pleasing to them than your displeasing them.

I'll be frank: We can do without these people in the process. Give us the hurt, the confused, the genuinely angry, and the torn. Take from us those who can't stand peace. There can be no rebuilding or reconciliation as long as involved parties don't want it.

Do you know why I end some posts with "Peace"? It's not just a lame sign-off, and it's not something I do thoughtlessly. It is a reminder to myself and to others that the difficult work, the hard words, the frayed nerves and the frazzled emotions must contribute, at the end of the day, to a peaceful Body. If your work and words do not have peace in mind as their eventual result, it is time to reevaluate your work and words.

The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever. -- Isaiah 32:17

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

What's the Point?

Rather, who's the point?

I don't believe in this day and age the Church can stress enough that the "point" of Christianity is Jesus himself. The point of Scripture, the point of prayer, the point of faith -- all Jesus.

We -- and by "we," I do mean American evangelicalism, not necessarily specific churches, much less just BCC -- have not done a great job at making Jesus the point of the enterprise of faith. We take the Gospel notion of "faith alone," a belief many Reformers died contending for, and make it about us. We turn perseverance into personal empowerment and sanctification into self-improvement. We've made religion a bad word by turning Law into legalism and grace into license. We made Jesus our buddy, our co-pilot, our sidekick. We don't have sin -- we have "issues." We say we have bad habits rather than admit we have sinful hearts. We look to Scripture in general as a toolbox of pick-me-up quotable quotes and to the Gospels specifically as a chronicle of warm-fuzzy behavioral aspirations.

But if the point of any of it is not Jesus, it will not, cannot, and does not work.

Let's look at a few highlights from the Gospels, how 'bout?

Last week, someone critiqued my understanding of the story of the woman caught in adultery. (Doing so is fine, of course. I make no claims to be the end-all, be-all of biblical interpretation. I'm just a dude trying to do my best to make heads or tails of stuff that convicts and challenges me daily.) My understanding of that story is that "don't be a hypocrite" is not the main point. It is an application and implication of what Jesus said, but I don't see it as the point. If you want to know what I think the point of that story is, it is this: Jesus forgives adultery.

Here is my guiding principle for reading the Gospels: The point is Jesus. Every saying, every story -- Jesus. If the main point you're getting out of the story doesn't center squarely on Jesus, I respectfully suggest your aim is off.

Some examples:
Lots of people look at the story of Jesus throwing the moneychangers out of the temple and think this is about how it's wrong to sell stuff at church (or some variation of such). As I've pointed out in an earlier post, that cannot be the main point, as at that time, foreign Jews needed to exchange currency to be able to make the required sacrifices in the temple, and they probably needed to buy the objects of sacrifice, since very few packed animals for travel. So the point of that story is not "commerce and temple don't mix," because up until that point, commerce and temple had to mix for the temple system to work. No, the point of that story is that Jesus replaces the temple system.

Similarly, people look at the Beatitudes and see a list of behaviors to aspire to. That's all well and good, but Jesus didn't come to show you how to be a better person. He came because you can't be. The point of the Beatitudes is that that list is what the kingdom of Jesus looks like. Those are the promises of Jesus to those who will enter his kingdom.

The point of the parable of the lost son is not some generic "God allows u-turns" sentimentalism; the point is that Jesus brings reconciliation to sinners.

The point should and must be Jesus. In all we say and do. We can have the best quality presentation, the most dynamic speaker, the greatest list of helpful tips for successful living (in convenient alliterative format), the most incredible music, the nicest greeters, and the most enthusiastic congregation -- but if the point is anything other than Jesus, we've all missed the point. Jesus cannot be periperhal. He cannot be merely included. He has to be at the forefront of our message and ministry. It's not everything and Jesus; it's Jesus, and everything else will be added unto us.
Look, provided you are far enough south, you can be charting a measly 2 degrees off due north and still end up a thousand miles from your destination.

The one writer/scholar who has revolutionized my exploration into personal Jesus-ness more than anyone is N.T. Wright. One of my favorite quotes of his is this:
But since orthodox Christianity has always held firm to the basic belief that it is by looking at Jesus himself that we discover who God is, it seems to me indisputable that we should expect always to be continuing in the quest for Jesus precisely as part of, indeed perhaps as the sharp edge of, our exploration into God himself.

BCC is about helping people find God, is it not? If so, then, we have to commit ourselves, personally and collectively, to "continuing in the quest for Jesus as the sharp edge of our exploration into God himself."

Whatever his perceived deficiencies, I for one think Bill West has already done a fantastic job of making the point of his messages Jesus.

It's Jesus + nothing, folks. It really is.


(I am still working on a post responding to some questions asked. I promise I will get that up soon. I just have lacked a significant chunk of time to give it the attention it deserves. Look for it probably tomorrow (Thursday). Thanks for your patience!)

Monday, August 21, 2006

What's Happening

Wassup, party people? I hope you had a good weekend. I know I did. And now that I've settled down from the emotions involved in taking my oldest to her first day of school ever this morning, I s'pose I can take some time to touch base.

I hope you're still heading to the weekend services. I don't know about you, but I think Bill West is rocking hard on the What We Need To Hear front. His previous two messages were on-point, heart-of-the-matter, and, most importantly, Gospel-driven stuff. I for one have appreciated his words.

Please pray for the staff over the next couple of days. They are on a much needed retreat together until Wednesday, praying and sharing and preparing to return to BCC ready for our Vision: Reloaded. ;-)

With that in mind, keep your eyes and ears open for some important events in the near future. For examples:

BCC Vision Night
Interested in hearing about the search for a new lead pastor? Interested in the elder board nomination process and the congregation's involvement in it? Interested in the future of BCC at all? Don't miss this very important mid-week service, Wednesday, August 30, at 6:30pm. I am told childcare will be provided.

Small groups are coming, small groups are coming!
Watch for the release of the Conexus directories, or check the Conexus page on the Hope Park website. Registration for the Fall semester of small groups will be open soon, and the semester officially starts September 17.
I attended a leader orientation this past weekend, and I know I'm not the only one excited about the renewed potential for community in our post-conflict church.

The Conexus Rally is coming the weekend of September 9-10. During all four services, small group leaders will be available in the atrium to answer questions about their groups/classes. You can get more information and even sign up before and between services.

This blog has really opened up a lot of opportunities for me in getting to know more people "behind the scenes" and hearing more about all the great plans our leaders hope to implement for our church. BCC is blessed to have staff, volunteers, and other leaders who are committed to our vision and values, and who are really looking forward to the renewal going on in our church community. Will you join me in believing BCC's best days are ahead?

I've got more to post on in the coming days, including responses to some reader e-mails. So stay tuned!


Thursday, August 17, 2006

Gone Fishin'

There's some things I've got lined up to post on here, but I think right now I ought to take an early weekend. Life's just getting pretty hectic around here, what with our first one starting school, company coming into town soon, an agent who will have been waiting for a manuscript for what will be a year next month, etc etc. Life's what happens when you're busy blogging, eh?

So unless some church related announcement needs sharing, radio silence starts now and goes through the weekend.

See you at church this weekend. Let's come with open hearts ready to seek the Lord.
And I'll catch back up with you here, at the latest, Monday afternoon.


Finding Real Hope

"Finding real hope" is part of our commitment at BCC. We commit to this because we know real people have real hurts. We commit to this because we believe that the only hope anyone has is Jesus, and He's who we want to be about.

In Romans 5:3-4, Paul writes, We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

Note the interesting order in this process. Paul doesn't begin with "hope that things will get better." No, the end of the process is hope. That's counterintuitive to some extent, and I think it's because undoubtedly a thread of hope binds this process together. The difference between someone who buckles under the weight of trouble and someone who embraces it and works through it is trust that God has a plan in, through, and at the end of the muck.

But I wonder if hoping to hope in this instance is like asking God to give us a stronger faith. That prayer itself is an act of faith, even if small. "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief." That sort of thing.

So while a hope for hope drives the search for Real Hope, Paul indicates here that hope is the result of the process. You get to hope for you pain and hurt by going through it with perseverance. Persevering through the pain and hurt produces character. And with that refined character finally comes hope.

It's not an easy path, to be sure. But if we want to find real hope and help others find real hope, it is a necessary and God-honoring one.

Psalm 119:116 reads, O LORD, sustain me according to your promise, and I will live; do not let my hopes be dashed.

There's a blueprint for the finding real hope process. Trust in God to sustain us through the trouble, relying on "His promise" of healing and blessing and peace, and real life awaits. Our job as Christians trying to be Christians is to be hope givers and hope assisters and hope searchers -- not hope dashers.

Vision Meeting

Commenter Mike Goodson informs us that on August 30 the church will hold a Vision Meeting during which they "will discuss the Crazy Campaign, search for a lead pastor, elder nomination process and plans for the midweek service."

I don't see it on the Hope Park calendar yet, but stay tuned for more details.

And thanks, Mike, for the head's up.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Gospel Intervention

I think the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery is a great snapshot of the good news.
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"

"No one, sir," she said.
"Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."

(John 8:3-11)

The first thing a careful reading will reveal is that Jesus never rebukes the questioners in this particular instance. He knows their wrong motivation (to trap him with the question), but their proposed reasoning for the judgment of the woman is sound -- Mosaic law allowed the stoning of adulterers. So legally speaking, the keepers of the Law were well within rights to execute the woman. (One sticky overlap at this time might have been Roman law, though, which may have disallowed Jews the authorization of capital punishment. But for this particular scenario, that historical interjection is neither here nor there.)

What the Pharisees didn't foresee was that the Teacher they were trying to trap was the Giver of the Mosaic law Himself.

Who knows what Jesus was writing in the sand? Commentators speculate. I think one good guess is that he was writing down all those questioners' secret sins. But the passage doesn't say, so maybe I shouldn't either.

What you have on one side of this woman is the Law doing its job and on the other side of her is the Lord demonstrating his authority over it. The point of this story is not that the woman's sin was nothing, or that her sin didn't deserve condemnation, still less is it that she hadn't done anything wrong. Notice that in that last verse Jesus acknowledges she has sinned and tells her to cut it out.
The point of this story isn't even that the Pharisees were hypocrites. (That point is evident in plenty of other stories, though.) No, the point of the story goes like this:

1. Because of God's good law, our sin requires condemnation.
2. Because only one Man is above the law, all of us deserve this condemnation. ("For all have sinned . . .")
3. The difference between the condemnation of the Law and the freedom of the Spirit is Jesus. ("Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.")

To sum up: The Law is good because it is honest about us being bad. The news is good because it sets us free from what our being bad deserves.

So I don't see a lesson about hypocrisy or "casting stones" or anything like that at the forefront of this much-quoted story: I see the Gospel unplugged. I see sin deserving death and Jesus giving rescue. What a great image of our own salvation this story is!

What Works

Steps, tips, and strategies, depending on their content, can be valid applications of biblical teaching. But any approach to Christian living that rests on our own positive attitudes, good behavior, or optimistic self-motivation is bound to fail. Faith in anything but Jesus, even if our own "Jesusified" thoughts and feelings, is not saving faith.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5)

Now, we can always manage the appearance of something on our own. We can look spiritual or successful; just like Christians who aren't abiding in Jesus can look like they have it all together, churches who do not abide in Jesus can grow in status and numbers.

But the real fruit of real growth, real Spirit-planted and Spirit-nurtured growth, comes from full-on, dead ahead, the world be damned and my sin be killed all-out faith in Jesus. In Jesus' life, in Jesus' work. Not in our steps to purpose or power but in Jesus' steps to the cross and Jesus' steps out of the tomb.

A Christian and a church that lives and leads with "Jesus + nothing" will bear real fruit.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


"Christianity is the total plan for the human machine. We have all departed from that total plan in different ways, and each of us wants to make out that his own modification of the original plan is the plan itself. You will find this again and again about anything that is really Christian: every one is attracted by bits of it and wants to pick out those bits and leave the rest. That is why we do not get much further: and that is why people who are fighting for quite opposite things can both say they are fighting for Christianity."

-- C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Interesting that, in this passage at least, Lewis is urging a "full" Christianity in a book about "mere" Christianity. What is a great paradox, I guess, is that by distilling the Christian religion to the essence of the Gospel, you end up filling it with as many disciples as possible. Everybody who's been doing the church thing long enough knows more "laws" equals fewer followers.

I recall at a BCC Vision Night a few years ago, either right before we moved onto the new campus or right after, Dr. Foster presented an awesome forecast of what the church could do and be on that sparkling sylvan landscape. While I don't think a church is where it's located, I love where we are -- it's basically literally a community set on a hill. And the vision given that night was of a church that shone like a beacon to the community at large, a place that was open nearly every day and offered service in practical ways to lots and lots of people.

At that time, I was thinking of course of what Willow Creek had become, with its vast array of resources and opportunities. They have a place set aside on campus so that by appointment, single moms and other underprivileged folks could bring their cars to be repaired for free. What a great and innovative way for today's church to do true religion!

I have to admit that the dream given that night sparked my own imagination. I love that we host A.A. and other recovery groups on our campus, being the only place nearby to offer such services to many folks. But I'd love to someday see community service classes or a cut-rate but quality education grade school. Maybe an actual park where families can come to picnic and play. Maybe we could host seminary extension classes. Maybe we could house a Goodwill-type store. Do we have a food pantry?

One of the things BCC gets so very right is community service. From counseling to the homeless mission to Habitat for Humanity to Toys for Tots to Angel Tree to our excellent Caregivers Ministry Team, we have lots and lots of folks who love and are gifted to serve. Wouldn't a full, campus-driven expansion of that ministry be awesome? Wouldn't it be incredible if our campus balanced programming with practical ministry so well that the place exploded with undeniable appeal to the down and downtrodden of our community?

By narrowing our purpose to "Gospel + nothing" we open up Hope Park to the very people who need hope the most. Not necessarily those who hope the service is good this week, but certainly to those hoping there's reason to live the other six days of the week.
There's so much that can divide us about how church can and should be done; let's seek unity in "Jesus Christ, hope for sinners."

Comments Note

I may turn it back off, but for the time being, I have enabled comments moderation. This means that when you post a comment, it will not appear on the site until it's been approved. My policy is still the same: disagree all you want; there just may be a delay before your disagreement appears on the site.

You can still comment anonymously.

I don't want the comments here to fill the rant-and-rave void left by the TalkBCC Forum's closure.

To everyone who wants to comment: Ask yourself if what you want to say will be helpful. Do you want to respond, or do you want to retort? Do you want to be heard, or do you just want to be able to talk?
Those are important questions for good and edifying dialogue.


Cross-less Preaching and the Gospel

A little rushed this morning. My going-into-kindergarten daughter has some sort of "entrance exam" at school this morning, so in getting her and myself ready, I lack the time to compose something original in this space. (Maybe this afternoon.)

But here's something good to chew on from one of my favorite blogs, GospelDrivenLife:
A friend of mine attended a worship service not too long ago and made this simple comment: The message was given and there was a strong invitation to receive Christ but there had been no discussion of Jesus death on the cross for sin. That is frightening at best . . . .

When I think of all the battles there are to fight, the top of the stack is this: to make sure the Gospel is explained clearly and understandably in any evangelistic context. I do not think it is a minor issue. I think it is quite common for things to be vague. If even my few visits to other churches is a skewed selection or the messages I have heard on tape are not an accurate sampling, I know this -- there is very little clear Gospel explanation in what I have heard. I have heard a truncated, therapeuticized Gospel -- I have heard protracted pushes for people to invite Jesus into their hearts -- but I have not heard thoughtful explanations of the Gospel . . .

The fruit is simple: hundreds of "decisions" and few "disciples" --a whole generation thinks this is normal because this practice has become so common. I am not talking about making saving faith difficult or requiring people to memorize Romans to be invited to faith -- but . . . I must be a faithful shepherd of souls and make sure they understand the Gospel as much as possible. And that is where the call of God lies -- for pastors and evangelists to be examples of careful preaching and the care of souls.

Tom Schreiner, in a recent issue of the Southern Baptist Theological Journal, notes the same:
Our ignorance of biblical theology surfaces constantly. I can think of two occasions in the last ten years or so (one in a large stadium by a speaker whose name I cannot recall) where a large crowd was gathered and people were invited to come forward to receive Christ as Savior. The sermon in the stadium was intended to be an evangelistic sermon, but I can honestly say that the gospel was not proclaimed at all. Nothing was said about Christ crucifi ed and risen, or why he was crucifi ed
and risen. Nothing was said about why faith saves instead of works. Thousands came forward, and were no doubt duly recorded as saved. But I scratched my head as to what was really happening, and prayed that at least some were truly being converted.

. . . [T]he Gospel is content. We believe the truth not a Jesus of our own making.


Monday, August 14, 2006

The Gospel of Community

For too many of us churchgoing folk today, Christian faith is just part of our thinking. It may or may not inform what we do. It is a tool perhaps for "successful living," but just one of a few tools we can live to achieve "victory" in life. It is certainly preached this way in too many churches.
But for the first-century Jews and the Christian community birthed out of early Judaism, there is no distinction between who you are and what you do. What you do is who you are; who you are is what you do.

We can see this breakdown in how we look at Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. Many Christians today have adopted the typical view of the non-Christian of the Sermon. That is, that the Sermon on the Mount is a great series of ethical platitudes that may help us live at peace with our neighbor or maybe even achieve a higher state of being (whatever that means). But to reduce the Sermon to just a set of instructions, godly instructions or not, is actually to divorce them from the kingdom context in which they are given. The purpose of the Sermon is not so much to inspire change in behavior as it is to spark change in heart. The call of Jesus into the kingdom life is about character, not behavior. The former will naturally flow into the latter, to be sure.

So the Sermon on the Mount is a great descriptive of what life in the kingdom of God looks like, what the life of those inside the kingdom looks like. They are not necessarily behavioral goals to which we ought to aspire, although there is certainly nothing really wrong with trying to live out the Sermon's "commandments." Rather, they are character traits with which we are to exemplify for the cause of the kingdom and for the glory of God. We cannot do what the Sermon says to do until we can be what the Sermon says to be.

Being what the Sermon says to be is the real test of one's assimilation into the life of Christ. Not that being Christlike doesn't take a conscious effort, but the less conscious that effort is, the more Christlike we become. In his book The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard talks about believing in the work that Jesus has done for us and is doing in us and automatically acting as if it were so.

A lot of this "automatic" action comes from previous meditation on Scripture, communication with God, and exercising the spiritual disciplines, all conscious efforts of their own and each beginning with plenty of conscious (and self-conscious) efforts. But the goal is to move our conscious efforts away from self-consciousness and into God-consciousness. As an illustration, let's re-phrase an illustrative q&a:
Question to Christian: Why do you follow Jesus?
Typical Christian Answer: Because I want to get to heaven (or have a good life, or because He died for me or some other sense of gratitude).

The typical answer is not an incorrect one, as far as it goes. There's nothing really wrong with that answer, except that it does not really get to the heart of the matter. There's nothing wrong with this attitude of gratitude, but it does not really capture the fundamental specialness of the God-life.
Here is perhaps a better reply:
Question to Christian: Why do you follow Jesus?
Christian Answer: To glorify God, and because I am a part of God's people.

The foci in the latter example are a) God, and b) the community. Again, there's nothing wrong with concern for our own personal kingdom life, particularly as it concerns a life of gratitude for what Jesus has done for us personally. But kingdom life requires kingdom concern. Community life requires community concern. The Christian life is to be lived outward focused, bringing glory to God and sharing in the burden and calling of God's community.

This is a Great Commandments Gospel. You know the Great Commandments, right? "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself." Because the good news of the Gospel of Jesus is that we are reconciled to God and reconciled to each other, our Christian life ought to not focus on "personal victory" per se, but on God's glory and the life of God's community (the church).

See, the worldview of the first-century believer was not just a perspective, a way of looking at the world. His worldview was who he was. He didn't just believe philosophically in the Creator God, the LORD and Lord of Israel, the God of Abraham and Isaac, and so therefore think God would redeem his nation and people and interrupt history as He had done so often before and set things to right. He believed in that God with all his being -- with his heart, soul, mind, and strength -- and so therefore expected with certainty and lived automatically like God would redeem his people and interrupt history and set things to right.

Does your view of church reflect this? Is it merely a place to get fed and inspired; or is it a place to cooperate in the feeding of the sheep, a place to contribute to the living witness we are called to be, individually and corporately, to God's interruption of history in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ?

(A version of this piece originally appeared at Thinklings in October 2004.)

The Call to Community

"When God calls us to himself, he calls us to his church, to a purpose bigger than ourselves. This may sound shocking to some, but biblically, living for God means living for his church. There is a glory in the presence of Jesus Christ, seen when believers come together, that will necessarily be missing in an individual pursuit of God. When the gospel is turned from a community-centered faith to an individual-centered faith ('Jesus would have died for me if I had been the only one!'), we eclipse much of its power and meaning."

-- from Authentic Faith by Gary Thomas

Last Elders Meeting

The final "cottage meeting" with the elders will be tomorrow night (Tuesday). If you haven't yet gone, sign up and go.

Looking Back (with Some Message Reflection)

I hope you had a great weekend. My family spent most of it indoors due to the yucky weather, but we played with the girls and watched lots of football.

Sunday morning I attended the BCC Bloggers Summit. This consisted of meeting Dirk Plantinga for coffee at Fourbucks. It was really cool meeting him, and we talked about anything and everything. Not just church stuff, but mostly church stuff. ;-) We had a great time.

I think one of the fruits of this conflict I'm already noticing is that people are actually meeting more of their church neighbors. There is a real sense of "going through this" together. So maybe you are losing a good weekend speaker for a time, but maybe you'll be gaining some friends for life.

Bill West spoke on "Finding God When Life is Confusing" this weekend. I thought he did an excellent job of not just tying the concepts into our corporate struggle, but our individual struggles, as well. It spoke to me, anyway.
I thought I would look back at the main points of his message for a bit and apply them even more specifically to church matters. (You can see the completed message outline here.)

When life is confusing, you can run from it, ignore it, or choose to step into it. Think about what the literal body of Christ did when He was here. He had ample opportunity to run from the inevitable conclusion of his life and ministry. He could have ignored his calling. But Christ chose to enter the trouble of this world, to grow up in a troubled time, to leave a quiet, "respectable" vocation to begin proclaiming God's kingdom, and to give up his very life. Are the believers who make up the Body of Christ now present on earth prepared to do the same?

Stepping into the confusion means:

Acknowledging my own struggle -- Is this not the first principle of the Gospel? Admit your own sin? Confess that all have sinned and fallen short of God's glory, including you and me.
Honor and respect the struggle of others -- There's lots of Commandments application here, in the second table in particular. Honor your parents. Don't covet. You know, "love your neighbor"-type stuff. Bear each others' burdens-type stuff.
Focus my attention -- "But my eyes are fixed on you, O Sovereign LORD; in you I take refuge..." (Psalm 141:8).

What God may be up to:

God may be challenging your perspective -- Will our church be so shortsighted backways and front that we think the Church began on the back of a napkin and that it can't carry on without one particular speaker?

God may want to move you into action -- I'm already hearing that this ordeal has prompted many folks to get more involved in the church, to give of their gifts and talents. Church really isn't a spectator sport.

God may want to demonstrate that He is God -- Or, more directly, He may want to remind those who act like they've forgotten, that He is God. Everybody wants a Savior; nobody wants a Lord.

God may want to remind you that He will take care of you regardless -- Do you know that God loves His Church? That He doesn't give a rip about buildings or budgets, but that in the same way He loves individuals, He cherishes the Son's Bride those individuals constitute. Whatever we go through -- and it will get tougher than this thing -- we are assured He will present us purified on the wedding day.

God may want to show you His glory in a way you will never forget -- The "trouble" of the Gospel is that you gotta go through the cross to get to the resurrection. I don't know why it has to work that way, but it does. Whatever our church is going through, whatever we are all going through personally, we must accept that it is somehow contributing to God's glory, and we must trust that God is taking us through it to bring us out stronger, more faithful, and more at peace. Enduring a trial glorifies God; coming out of that trial having endured it brings glory to God.

I believe Bellevue Community Church can be a community of great faith that brings glory to God. Do you believe that?

Friday, August 11, 2006

Just Popping In

Hey, there. Breaking the weekend radio silence for a sec to let you know I happen to know the church is still accepting volunteers to lead small groups for the Conexus fall semester. If you have an idea for a group and would like to lead it, let them know ASAP, as the directories will be printed/posted very soon. The semester starts September 17. You can inquire by emailing Colleen Gibson at cgibson AT hopepark DOT com.

If your desire is for the growth and forward movement of BCC, step up to the plate.

Peace out. ;-)

Looking Ahead

This weekend Pastor Bill West will be speaking on Following God When Life is Confusing. Very timely.

Last weekend's service was one of the most worshipful times I've ever experienced, but probably the most touching portion for me was not any of the songs, but Lionel's reading from Psalm 139, one of my favorites. The theme of that psalm is that there's nowhere you can go where God isn't.

God is present even in our confusion. It's hard to always follow God in such times, but God is always following us.

If you are confused or lost, please know that there's no such thing as too far gone. God isn't contained in one man, one building, one church. Taking any of those parts out of the equation doesn't take God out of it. There's no justification for despair or hopelessness right now; they might be understandable, but they are not justified. Heck, in God's business, even dead ain't dead.

I look forward to seeing you this weekend. Let's come ready to worship, to hear from God. Let's come looking forward to looking forward.


The Gospel of . . . (Wait For It) . . . Patience!

I promised to talk hard at the beginning of the week, and I think I've done a so-so job of doing that without ruffling too many feathers. This might be the feather-ruffling-est post yet, because it is based on the assumption that BCC is full of, if not predominated by, "weaker brothers." That is a biblical phrase for new, or "baby," Christians.

I realize from the outset just talking about this will irritate some, because it presupposes that some congregants are more mature (in their faith) than others, and further, it will suppose that the less mature should defer to the more mature in most matters of church work.

To be very clear, to everyone: Churches like BCC pretty much exist to bring in as many unchurched and weaker faithed people as possible. I'm guessing that at a weekend service, "new" Christians and seekers outnumber "old" Christians 7 to 3. Maybe the percentage is higher, I don't know.
And to be clearer: Nobody wants to run off the people our church is designed to bring the gospel to. The phrase "Real hope for real people in the real world," while not original to BCC, is still our motto.

But those who consider themselves stronger brothers need to bear with their weaker brethren. Many have testified to Dr. Foster's instrumentality in bringing them to Christ. For those fresh in this church thing, it is not hard to see how the knowledge of their salvation can be tied up in love for Dr. Foster, even if just out of gratitude and appreciation. For many at BCC, Dr. Foster is the only preacher they've ever known, and they cannot foresee a church or perhaps even a Christian life without Dr. Foster leading the way. Those further along in their faith can honor this understanding by being patient with it. We've all had heroes. We all still do. Do you take it lightly when your hero falls?

Patience is very key here. Weaker brothers cannot be treated as lesser brothers. Their concerns and confusion must be honored and sympathetically shared. There is no place for condescension. If BCC is truly about helping seekers become disciples of Jesus, we must be patient with the perplexed, hurt, and even angry in this process.

On the flipside, if you are a relatively new Christian or consider yourself a seeker, please be patient with the process itself. It is difficult to do so, I know, but try to understand that those further along in their faith may not be acting out of a religion that has grown stale, but out of a faith that has matured and gained wisdom. This may sting: Wisdom, unlike knowledge, is only gained through experience, so it should go without saying that the longer a Christian has walked with Jesus, the more wisdom he or she will have.

It is impatience that demanded the elders end their alleged silence the day after the weekend announcement and before the first cottage meeting was held. It was impatience that demanded, in the middle of one of those meetings, that a personal question be answered before the elders had finished presenting all the information. It is impatience that demands the currently unknowledgeable and confused must suddenly "grow up" and "see the truth."
We can all get through this ordeal a lot better for it if we would just have a little patience with each other.

Because there are issues of wisdom, patience, and (yikes!) sumbission here that just make accepting what has gone down so, so difficult.

Churches like ours, oddly enough, are made up a bit like the earliest church. In those days there weren't many around who weren't new Christians. The whole Christian thing was new to everybody. Some of them may have had pieces of the Jewish scriptures memorized, but nobody had a Bible. The Gospels hadn't been written, and while the apostles' letters were copied and passed around, there weren't printing presses to make personal copies for everyone. The recognized authorities in the early church were those who had walked with Jesus longest, and obviously the handful of those men could not be everywhere. And yet without all the information at the ready (there was no to log onto ;-), the early church maintained a growing community and by in large submitted to the stronger brothers' wisdom.

As in all churches, however, problems did arise. Take a look at something that happened in Corinth. (This is Paul writing.)
I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas"; still another, "I follow Christ."

Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? . . . For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord."

-- 1 Corinthians 1:10-13,17,31

The intervening verses I excised (14-16, 18-30) speak to wisdom, and how the true wisdom of discipleship can seem like foolishness to those "wise" in worldly ways. I have seen this dynamic occurring in our situation, when the elders who acted prayerfully and with the desire for spiritual restoration are criticized for not acting at every turn like sharp businessmen.

Notice what the quarrels appeared to be about in this Corinthian division. If you are an early church new Christian, it is likely your salvation was preached by one of the Big Guns. Paul names Cephas (Peter), Apollos, and himself. (Also Christ.) So you have a host of new Christians fighting over prominence, like rival high school students wearing their Apollos and Cephas lettermen jackets. "My discipleship is better than your discipleship." "My apostle can beat up your apostle."

The dissention progressed because, according to Paul, believers were more caught up in loyalty to a human discipler than they were to the One they were to be discipled to. Has this not happened (in some cases) at BCC? Are some not missing the real, critical issues facing our church right now out of loyalty to David Foster? Are some not missing the real, critical issues of their own discipleship because their faith is caught up with affection for him?
That the dismissal of Dave has people "confused" and feeling lost certainly speaks to that possibility.

I know about that confused and lost feeling, because I've been there. I have been so attached to a minister that overhearing two hours of criticism against him put me into shock. I don't mean "angry surprise." I mean going numb, hyperventilating, fainting, and falling to the floor shock. So, yeah, I get the whole attachment to a pastor thing.

But people who loved me were patient with me. That pastor himself was patient with me. My discipleship makeup is definitely one of apprenticeship; as mature as I may consider myself, I've always seen myself as a Timothy to someone's Paul. To paraphrase a quote close to home, "It is not in my DNA to be in charge." ;-) So whatever my temptations in giving loyalty to a mentor all out of proportion, I have learned (and am still learning) that it is because of God that I am in Christ Jesus (1 Cor. 1:30), not any man, even if he be the greatest man I know. If I boast, I want to boast in the Lord.

One of the fruits of the Spirit is patience. If you consider yourself a stronger brother (or sister), ask yourself how you're doing. You should be better at it than folks who haven't been believers as long as you. You shouldn't use their impatience as an excuse for yours.
So much of our anger and arguments could be assuaged if we just put patience into practice. When we are patient with each other, with ourselves, with God and what He's doing, we are really demonstrating the Gospel (2 Peter 3:15).

2 Peter 3 is actually a great chapter all about patience. Here's a verse you might have heard that again ties patience (this time God's) to the Gospel:
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should reach repentance. (v.9)

If God is patient with us on this journey, we ought to reflect that and be patient with each other. We are able to do so by acknowledging that God's promises are true, that he will be faithful to complete the good work he's begun in the brothers and sisters who are really testing our patience right now. ;-)

Don't you love that verse, by the way? God keeps his promises. Everyone who will be saved will make it, no exceptions. Nobody slips through God's cracks. Everybody he wants, he gets. Even if it takes the end of your days and to the ends of the earth; God is patient with you, knowing your repentance is inevitable. Everybody God wants will be saved.

So how do you know if God wants you? Well, do you want him?

Peace (and patience!)

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Scandal of Grace

Imagine you are one of the early church's first members. You are sitting in a home with a few other believers, sharing a meal. You pray together. You sing a few Psalms. Someone recites a bit he's heard of Jesus' biography. Then someone gets up to read a letter to you from some guy named Paul.

Paul is a guy who used to go by the name Saul. It's possible he is responsible for the murder of someone you know, perhaps even your parents or one of your children. Now you have to sit and listen to someone read not just words from this guy, but instructions from this guy. Since his conversion from Christ-hating enforcer of the Law to card-carrying Jesus freak, he's not just one of your fellow Christians. He's an authority over all Christians recognized by nearly everyone.

It is possible this arrangement would not have sit well with you.

Imagine you're attached to Peter, a guy who has his problems, but who has been with Jesus from the beginning. And this newcomer Paul actually exerts authority over Peter! He seems to wield power over apostles who were actual disciples!

What in the world can explain the rise of Paul's recognized authority in the primitive church? The first explanation that comes to my mind is the authority over all authorities himself -- Jesus. If you were an early church member tempted to dismiss or disregard the teaching of a guy who used to push the killing of the ones you love, maybe you thought of something you heard Jesus said from the cross. In that excruciating place where Jewish officials like Paul had taken him, Jesus hung there dying and wished forgiveness even on the unrepentant revelers carrying out his execution.

The difference between Saul the persecutor and Paul the apostle was Jesus. The very road Paul was taking to kill Christians became his road to becoming one, because Jesus put up a roadblock and intervened. Revenge became repentance.
The difference between an early church member despising Paul's leadership and embracing it was Jesus. The same Pauline letter that might have irked became an encouragement.

Isn't that completely illogical? What weirdos this following Jesus thing makes us. C.S. Lewis was once asked what the main difference between Christianity and all other religions was, and he answered, "Oh, that's easy -- grace."
Grace isn't just amazing; it's ridiculous. It's revolutionary to our thoughts and feelings. It humbles the powerful and empowers the humble.
Jesus didn't die so you could learn how to be a better person. He died because you can't be. (That's grace offending your sensibilities right now.)

The grace of Jesus is a foolishness that, when believed, brings power to save (1 Cor. 1:18).

Grace is that bizarre missing ingredient that mucks up all human foibles, flaws, and fears. Grace is the thing that turns lives upside down. It is a sweet, beautiful irritant.
Grace is scandalous. It makes murderers into apostles, it makes victims into forgivers. It takes "never the twain shall meet" and makes "reunited and it feels so good." ;-)

Have you been scandalized by grace lately? Has Jesus shocked you through someone's granting grace to you?
When was the last time you offended someone's expectations by extending grace to them?

This is what I see as the big idea of Bellevue Community Church. Not that we entertain the masses better, not that we provide a fun and relaxing atmosphere for folks tired of the stodgy church down the street, and not even that we are friendly or "relevant" or easy to understand. No, the scandalous beauty of our church is that we believe in bringing grace to the hopeless, to the hurting, to the shamed, to the discarded, to the confused, to the powerless. If we aren't about Jesus, the savior of sinners, we aren't about the Gospel. And if we aren't about the Gospel, then all the sentiment and sap in the world isn't going to make us about grace.

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners -— of whom I am the worst.
-- 1 Timothy 1:15


Ben is closing the TalkBCC Forum. It's unfortunate, since as soon as he returned from vacation, the place got a whole lot more civil. But I completely understand. I didn't anticipate the response to this site either.

Also, the elder board has posted a new FAQ's page at the BCC website.

Dirk Plantinga has some good words about the FAQ's and the future of BCC in this post.

Finally, here's a piece on BCC from MondayMorningInsights.

Proverbs 16:9, Anyone?

A commenter asks, "If Calvin was right about preordination, was all this stuff part of the plan from the beginning?"

I don't think this would be all that great a time to launch into an explication and defense of the historical Reformed view of God's sovereignty. But I will say that I do hope all this stuff (and more!) was part of the plan from the beginning, because the idea that me or you or anyone else is in control seriously freaks me out!

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
-- Romans 8:28 (That's from the famous "predestination chapters" in Romans, btw.)

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

What Form of Church Governance is Biblical?

All of the above?

Well, I didn't think I could get out of the question that easily, and since people keep either asking about the biblical basis for elder rule or basing their arguments on a default premise of affirming or denying the validity of elder rule, I guess I should go ahead and say some things about it.

For instance, a commenter says, "If you can find me a biblical authority for elders overseeing a pastor . . ."

All due respect, it would actually be more difficult to find the reverse. Seeing as how New Testament references to "a pastor" are practically zero.
See, y'all made me go and get my Strong's out. (Actually, I just used Bible Gateway.)

Sorting this stuff out is actually fairly complex, and I think the existence of a variety of church governance styles today bears that out. Everybody claims their form is what the Bible really teaches.

Sorting the stuff out gets difficult, because of the variety of biblical terms and the apparent fluidity of duties between specific offices. For instance, the NT talks about overseers, bishops, elders, teachers, apostles, and, yes, sometimes pastors. Just doing a term search gives an idea of the priority of terms, but it may not really tell us which authoritative function is really authoritative. Searching the NIV, the word "elder(s)" appears 65 times. The word "pastor" once. That should tell you that the office of elder is preeminent, at least terminologically speaking. But mucking up the works is the fact that "elder" and "pastor" and "overseer" are all three fairly synonymous. Ditto "apostle" and "bishop." This gets into some real exegetical, historical, and literary work, because the author-recipient dynamic matters and always always always context matters.

In Ephesians 4, Paul seems to differentiate between the offices of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. This does not rule out overlap in these offices (for example, a teacher may also be an evangelist or prophet), but it at least seems to distinguish between them as functions within a local body. Notice that "pastor" and "teacher" are distinguished, although they do occupy the same clause, which again speaks to the close connection of the offices and possible overlap of the functions in one office holder.

Here's a verse which may or may not be illuminating to you, and I'll use it as a case study of sorts. It is from 1 Corinthians 12, which is within the context of a discussion of spiritual gifts.
And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. (v.28)

This is the only place I know of which appears to imply an order of authority. Paul enumerates the offices -- first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then . . . But the enumeration may not be an order of authority, but just a style of speech. When I write a post I may outline my points like "First, let me say..." But saying that first does not mean that that bit of information is the most important. There's also the context of the passage, which includes a deemphasis on measuring specific gifts as more important than others (see the verses immediately preceding the one quoted).

Do you see how complicated this stuff can get? Whole books are written on church governance, and there are still as many forms of church polity as there are churches. Or so it seems.

Let me explore some terms as I see them. This is my personal understanding of what the terms mean, how they overlap, and who's in charge of who. You are welcome to disagree, and I'm sure some of you will. The important thing is that we all try to derive our opinions on these matters not from our own logic or sensibilities, but from seriously trying to understand, using Scripture, how these roles functioned in the early church.

Apostles -- I'm of the opinion that the office of apostleship is over. I am not a cessationist in the matters of gifts (in other words, while I'm nowhere close to being a charismatic, I do believe charismatic gifts like tongues, etc. are still in existence). But I affirm an historical understanding of apostleship as going to the first church starters who knew Jesus personally. (This includes Paul.) Some church traditions today continue the office of apostleship with the use of bishops. But for members of independent, non-denominational, or autonomous congregations, apostles and bishops don't enter the picture.

Elders -- This a group of men charged as "pastors" of a congregation. "Pastor," by the way, means shepherd, and the NT epistles tend to conflate eldership and pastoral office. From my perspective, I see no biblical text that places one pastor over the group of pastors (elder).

Overseer -- Now it gets tricky, eh? In my opinion, an overseer is an elder, but in general it is one charged with leadership in the church.

Deacon -- Nobody's talking about deacons, and in our church I don't think we even have the office, but biblically speaking, deacons are men and women charged with serving the church. Today, deacons may take offerings, visit the hospitalized or mourning, assist widows and orphans, and generally oversee the service work of a congregation. In many of today's Baptist churches, where elders are nonexistent, deacon boards tend to wield power traditionally belonging to elders.

Pastor -- A shepherd. The "CEO"-type pastor model is a relatively modern invention. I don't really see any reference to anything like this in the New Testament. (If you do, please mention it.) That does not mean I consider a lead pastor or senior pastor or executive pastor position unbiblical. In fact, I don't. It does mean, however, that if we're going to split biblical hairs, we ought to be forthright about the practical nonexistence of the modern "senior pastor" role in the Bible.

So how did it work back then? Good question. To the best of my understanding, local congregations were led by groups called elders. Congregations also had designated teachers, and most times the designated teacher was also an elder. The only individualized authorities over local congregations appear to be apostles or bishops, and since we either do not believe in the continuation of that office or do not worship in a church that includes those offices, the one-man buck-stopper doesn't really enter the picture.
Neither, apparently, is the congregation's rule very clear. In terms of functional leadership, congregational vote is never mentioned. How elders are appointed is unclear to me, as well. They may have arisen out of the local bodies by congregational consensus, or they may have been appointed by apostles/bishops. We ought to remember that some things we read about the early church are descriptive, but not necessarily prescriptive.

When it comes to matters of congregational rule and leadership, it appears to me that the authority is held by elders. Where one authority becomes the upfront leader or "vision caster" or lead teacher, it is not to a point of superior ruling authority over the elder board. A teaching pastor or a lead pastor may be the singular face of church leadership, he may be a chairman or president even of an elder board, but he is, politically speaking, an equal of the elders. In modern use, I suppose the Church of Christ congregations probably appear the most biblical.

I'm not absolutist about this. As I said earlier, I don't see the NT making church polity a huge priority. Certainly if it was of abundant importance, one would think we'd get detailed instructions. I for one grant liberty in this area, and I've both worked in and worshipped in churches governed by elders, churches governed by deacons, and churches governed by a single pastor with a board of "advisors." In fact, the pastor I consider my mentor is of the "first among equals" view, seeing churches as necessarily being led by a pastor, with elders supporting but subservient. I disagree with him, but I would absolutely in a heartbeat stuff what I consider a non-essential matter to serve under him in that church. The sort of leader a lead pastor is makes a world of difference in my mind.

I think the most important things to keep in mind in BCC's case are these:
1) Dr. Foster moved the church to elder rule because he himself considered it more biblical. I agree with him, and I think it was a wise decision.
2) The wisdom of elder rule is that it prevents the church becoming centered around one man. This would be true even if the one man was perfect. Elder rule preserves the Body of Christ as numerous but unified in Christ, not a church leader.
3) Elder rule provides a check against the potential abuse of power by a singular authority.
4) Whatever form of government a given church has established and employs, congregants joining the church ought to submit to it. In other words, if elder rule bugs you to pieces, you probably oughtn't join an elder-governed church. If the CEO pastor model bugs you to bits, you probably shouldn't join a church like that. If the congregation voting on everything from prospective pastors to the color of wallpaper in the women's lavatory bugs you to pieces, you probably shouldn't join a congregationally-governed church.

In my personal opinion, BCC has a good thing going in that we maintain general governance biblically with eldership but also maintain a relevant balance with a lead pastor and/or teaching pastor(s). I guess my personal ideal would be for BCC to maintain its elder rule, perhaps with a lead pastor as "chairman of the board" (not with absolute power), and with at least two pastoral voices serving as teaching pastors (one of which may also be the lead pastor). This would ensure elder rule without having one person monopolize the public teaching or the discipleship culture of our church.

Finally, if you're going to have a strong opinion on this matter -- and it's okey dokey by me if you do -- at least put some Bible in it.


The Holy Wild in Suburbia

In Jesus’ day, when someone wanted to start a movement, he headed into the wilderness. That’s where God was met and where God would speak. Historically, for the children of Israel, that’s where all of God’s movements began. In Jesus’ day, not coincidentally, the wilderness made a good place to start a movement because it was furthest from the officials most likely to squelch the movements.

Jesus went into the wilderness, to the river Jordan, where his cousin was baptizing people, reenacting the Exodus, that original great wilderness moment in the history of God’s people. Then Jesus went to the desert to wrestle with the devil. The children of Israel, freed from the bondage of slavery, followed Moses across the dried sea and into the desert to wander for years (before crossing the Jordan into the promised land).

The Essenes began their particular movement in the wilderness, and they stayed there. (We didn’t find their scrolls until the 20th century.)
Most of the self-styled messianic movements begun before, during, and after Jesus’ day began in the wilderness, and ended there too, typically violently, those self-styled messiahs brought into the city and hung on crosses.

God was in the wilderness. God was God of the wilderness. So if your movement was of God, that’s where you tended to stay.
But not Jesus.

He spent his fair share in the wilderness, to be sure, but when he began calling his community together, he did it in the village and by the seashore. He taught in the synagogues, exercised authority in the Temple. He duked it out with the religious elite (who lived in the cities) and talked with Roman soldiers and went where the heathens were. The God of the wilderness didn’t wait for these folks to seek him in the holy wild; he brought the holy wild into the towns and countrysides.
And when it came time for Jesus’ movement to be “put down,” there wasn’t a violent confrontation in the desert or in the mountains. They found him in a city garden. And they didn’t have to bring him; he himself went of his own accord.

There is an underlying chatter these days about how God cannot be truly heard from and experienced except in the wild. Christianity Today a year or so ago ran an article about how suburban living was not conducive to godly living. Balderdash.
As if the white collar husband and father who faithfully puts in his full day of work at the office without complaining, thankful for the blessing of work and provision for his family, who comes home and loves his wife and children and cares for and raises them in the love and instruction of the Lord is any less of a disciple than the same sort of man who lives with his family on a ranch in Montana. As if the little black grandmother in the ghetto who’s been talking with Jesus since before we were born, who loves her wayward children and grandchildren to tears, who has maintained trust in her God through sickness, poverty, betrayal, family sins, and the criminal threat in her neighborhood is any less of a disciple than the old lady in rural West Virginia who hasn’t misssed church in 20 years.

There is an overlooked beauty to the incarnation, and it is that God went where he wasn’t expected (into the flesh of a man). And God incarnate went where he wasn’t expected either — into the living rooms and dining rooms, the backstreets and alleys, into the public square and the marketplace.

Today, where you are — sitting in your air conditioned computer room at home or “locked” in a cubicle at work or surrounded by cold computer terminals in a musty school library — if you are a lover of Jesus, the God of the wilderess is right there with you. You don’t have to climb a mountain or cross the desert or wade a rushing stream to experience God. Sometimes it can help!, but it’s not necessary and you are no more cut off from God in the suburbs than you would be in the Rockies. It may be harder to hear him or to feel his presence, but he is still there and still speaking.

Jesus left the wilderness and entered the city in part so that people like us could follow him. So that people like us could experience and enjoy the God of the wilderness in our homes and workplaces. And so what is stopping us from reflecting the glory and living the call of the saving God of the wandering children of Israel in our nice neighborhoods and sterile offices? Live incarnationally — be Jesus where you are and to the people you encounter. That’s what Jesus did, after all. He was the Exodus God in the crowded land of the cubicle.

If you think God can’t meet you where you are, you don’t know the God of the wilderess. He is wild, and even the wide wild of the wilderness cannot contain him.

(Originally posted at Thinklings in July 2005.)