Friday, December 22, 2006


Sorta. :-)

In 2003 some friends and I started a group blog called The Thinklings, which has, in the almost four years of its existence, hosted discussions and debates on all manner of subjects related to Christianity and the Church. We are really proud of the diverse community we've gladly cultivated over time, people from all over the world and from all kinds of religious backgrounds. Including irreligious and antireligious backgrounds.

Recently a few of my Thinkling brethren have been carrying on a lengthy dialogue with an Australian atheist named Ray. Ray is frequently friendly, occasionally insulting, and always relentless in his questions and criticisms. I haven't engaged in the conversation too much myself, mainly for lack of time. But I've been eavesdropping, and the fellow does not lack for penetrating, "hard" questions. I'm going to reprint below his latest comment, and I'd like the readers here -- the ones who follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior -- to look over them and contemplate how they might answer. Feel free to use the comments to tell us how you'd answer Ray. These are good, honest questions, and I think they're things lots of nonChristians think about and wonder about. It might behoove us to brainstorm some answers to them.
So let me get this right...

God implants woman to make her pregnant. Half human son is born. Son grows up to become a prophet and without sin. In fact worlds first sinless human and God loves him. God has secret plan to have son killed. Sometime in the future, He is picked up tortured and nailed to a cross all of which is Gods perfect plan. 3 or 4 days later, God breathes life back into cadaver and has him back on earth again. Later to be "beamed up" to heaven.

The questions:
1. Why does God have to have him tortured? why not kill him quickly?
2. Isn't this some form of child abuse?
3. How does punishing the single one sinless "good guy" become a lesson for
4. God gives us illness and misfortune all the time why not punish sin person by person?
5. If he can create 1x Sinless Jesus why not 5 billion sinless us? Jesus had free will right?
6. Jesus dying when he did was a tragic waste to the world. Wouldn't a Jesus that lived another 20 years been of whole lot more use to humanity?
7. God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son at this time, so that he could bring the same son back to life and live in the glory of heaven at Gods side so that man would feel guilty about sin, of which God designed into the human psych in the first place. It just doesn't make sense on any level. If there is one thing you could do for me over Christmas when you have a few mins is pull apart my thinking on this? could you?
Why not make us all like Jesus or angels or saints or anyone else considered
sinless? Why make a faulty product and then destroy the good working one in vengeance?

It makes no sense

I will try to post my response sometime before the new year.

Hope everyone has a great Christmas!


Monday, December 18, 2006

Time Out

I love Houston rain. I don't know how it's different than any other rain, but it just makes me feel like I'm home.
It's a heavy, long lasting rain, and it sounds incredible landing on wood and stone.

I got outside during the hard rain that fell today, smoked a nice cigar, and listened to this Mark Driscoll sermon about the prophecies Jesus fulfilled on my iPod. It's a good one; I recommend it. (Actually, Driscoll's whole "Vintage Jesus" series is quite good.)

Anyways . . . I'm enjoying vacation right now. Blogging will be sporadic.

I hope you have a great holiday. Spend it with people you love, and if you can't do that, love the people you're spending it with. :-)


Life is Not Long, But It's Hard: A Christmas Reflection

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
"A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more."

-- Matthew 2:16-18

My good friend and fellow BCC blogger Dirk Plantinga has a heartfelt post up this week on holiday suffering. It is an unavoidable reflection for those going through some very difficult stuff right now; and it ought to be a required reflection for those of us who call ourselves worshipers of Jesus. As we celebrate the gift of salvation in Jesus Christ this Christmas season, we ought to never forget it is the Incarnation we are celebrating. The Incarnation, in which God Himself deigned to take on the messy, fleshy, vulnerable, hard-going, troublesome, temptation-fraught, hurt-filled mantle of all it means to be human in a messed up world, is the cornerstone idea of what it means to have Jesus for us.

So while it does not often ease our troubles or grief, it certainly gives meaning to them. It has been this way since the first Christmas. Remember that Joseph had to take his wife and child away from Bethlehem to escape the murderous King Herod. So even 2000 years ago, while Mary and Joseph were celebrating their eldest son's birthday every year, there were many families remembering the day Herod's men came to kill their children. The day that marked the coming of salvation in the birth of Jesus was a day of agonizing memories for many.

This is the double edge of Christmas. While there is joy, there is grief. While there is family and friendship, there is loneliness. While there is fun, there is hurt.
This is the double edge of the Incarnation of Jesus. Jesus was born to die. The fullness of God became the frailty of man. And this was for us too.

Did Jesus grieve the loss of friends and family? Did Jesus suffer hurt and harm? Did Jesus ever feel abandoned or lonely? Did Jesus worry about his family? Did Jesus agonize over the future? Did Jesus die?
If you know your Bible, you know the answer to all of these questions is yes.

This is why we worship Jesus Christ with such fervency this time of year, and why we should do so every day of every year. Not because He is the exalted God so far removed from our lives and concerns, but because He immersed Himself in our lives and concerns, and because He still does. Does He know life is short and hard? He does. He knows not just in a God omniscient sort of way, but in a sweating blood, where-are-my-friends?, extremities pierced, back flayed, Father-forgive-them, suffocating on a cross, dead at the young age of 33 sort of way.

There is an ironic joy in having a Lord who knows what it's like to be me and you. And we find joy knowing the story does not end there.
In his new book Simply Christian, N.T. Wright writes:
From the very beginning, two thousand years ago, the followers of Jesus have always maintained that he took the tears of the world and made them his own, carrying them all the way to his cruel and unjust death to carry out God's rescue operation; and that he took the joy of the world and brought it to new birth as he rose from the dead and thereby launched God's new creation.

Jesus came to die, but he came to give life. Jesus died, but he lives. He is in the death-defying business.
The lonely will be comforted, the betrayed will be befriended, the grieving will be rejoicing, the hurting will be healed. The dead will live.
Maybe not today or tomorrow, but in the "fullness of time." Life is hard; thank God, then, that it is short, right? :-)

In Matthew 2:19-21 we read that after Joseph, Mary, and infant baby Jesus (thank you, Ricky Bobby) fled Herod's murderous henchmen in fulfillment of Jeremiah's prophecy, Herod himself succumbed to death. And an angel visited the family in Egypt and told them the news. The fullness of that time had come, so the family went home.

So many people need the peace that passes understanding right now. And most of them will not find it apart from our being Jesus to them.
Even so, come Lord Jesus.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Urgent Prayer Request

Please be in prayer for the family of Brian Drinkwine, who is BCC's associate minister to students. His father passed away last night of a heart attack.

I've only come to know Brian recently, through the Studio 215 ministry, but he's a great guy with a great, big heart for God and kids. Please pray for him and his family as they mourn this terrible loss. Thanks.

I've been traveling all day today, so I was out of the loop. Apologies for the delayed information. Received this update via email:
The visitation for Brian's dad continues today (Friday) until 9 PM at Hickory Chapel on Nolensville Rd. The funeral service will be tomorrow at Judson Baptist Church at 2 PM.

If you have a MySpace account, it might be nice to leave a prayer or word of condolences at Brian's page.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

What It Means to be a Christian

In the Studio 215 Bible studies on Monday nights we've been going through Paul's letter to the Ephesians. Last night we focused on chapter 2, and one thing that struck me in the passage (and the surrounding ones) was how Paul used the phrase "in Christ." He most certainly does not use "in Christ" as some vague, "spiritual" feel-goodism. He is talking about nothing less than the power of the Incarnation (in which Jesus became "in man") accessible to us in the great inheritance grace-granted by God to us; we are -- concretely, realistically, personally -- in the person of Jesus Christ. And Jesus Christ is in us. This is why Paul uses the phrase in specific contexts:
We are created for good works "in Christ" (Eph. 2:10).
Being "in Christ" does something for us, as it brings us near to God (2:13).
We are all joined together into a living picture of the temple (which is where God lives) when we are "in Him" (2:21-22).

This is what it means to be a Christian. It means to be "in Christ." It means to be connected in a lifeblood way to the redemption and resurrection Christ gives to the faithful.
It is not about admiring Jesus, liking Jesus, having Jesus as your MySpace hero.

Robert Short, in The Parables of Peanuts, his book on spirituality in the Charles Schultz comic strip, writes:
The nominal Christian, then, will see Jesus as a name, a representative, a symbol, a personification, a prototype, a figure, a model, an exemplar for something else. The nominal Christian pays homage to something about Jesus, rather than worshiping the man himself. For this reason, nominal Christians will extol the moral teachings of Jesus, the faith of Jesus, the personality of Jesus, the compassion of Jesus, the world view of Jesus, the self-understanding of Jesus, etc. None of these worships Jesus as the Christ, but only something about him, something peripheral to the actual flesh-and-blood man. This is why when the almighty God came into the world in Jesus, he came as the lowest of the low, as weakness itself, as a complete and utter nothing, in order that men would be forced into the crucial decision about him alone and would not be able to worship anything about him.

So you have Jesus saying things like "If you want to save your life, you gotta lose it" and "The first will be last" and "You must deny yourself." This is no call to some generic optimistic aspirations, no matter how "Christian" they are packaged. This is a call to cease being one's old self. To stop being dead, actually. To die to death and live . . . "in Christ."
Dietrich Bonhoeffer says that when Christ bids a man come, he bids him to come and die. That's not something you hear from America's pulpits too often these days. We are more accustomed to learning about how to let Jesus make us successful at whatever it is we are trying to do. But when Jesus said "Take up your cross and follow me," the flesh and blood people who heard him 2000 years ago thought only of death. We have the luxury of thinking of "taking up our cross" metaphorically, like it is some ordinary life burden to bear. A difficult spouse or boss. A nagging doubt. A problem with our self esteem. Financial debt. Whatever. But the disciples of Jesus had seen hundreds of literal bodies decaying on literal crosses. "Take up your cross" did not mean "put up with something irritating."

So over and over the New Testament, from Jesus in the Gospels to the apostles in the epistles, tells us -- urges us, commands us -- to be "in Christ." That is where real life is found.
Back in Ephesians 2, verse 14, Paul says that Jesus himself is our peace. Paul will not let us believe for any second there is any virtue or value worth having outside the person of Jesus Christ. Peace is not a general feeling or a universal moral virtue. Jesus Christ himself is peace. Just as love is not niceties or altruistic kindness. God Himself is love. The Bible does this to us over and over again -- it continually points to the triune Creator as the epitome of, the manifestation of, the giver and the gift of all the things we think of as good and right and necessary.

Jesus is not a pop song, snuggly sweater, affectionate boyfriend, poster on your wall, self-help book, motivational speech, warm cup of coffee, ultimate fighting champion, knight in shining armor, Robin to your Batman. He is blood. And without blood, you die.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Vision Night Video

Looks like I jumped the gun yesterday. :-)

The video from Wednesday's Vision Night is up today at the Hope Park website. Go here and scroll down to BCC Special Events.

Unrelated, but:
I know the new profile pic is fuzzy. That's because Macy took it. :-) But I figured it was time for a new photo. May try to get a non-fuzzy version up soon.

Happy Friday!

Weekend Linkage

It's been a while since I've done one of these. So here's a collection of quality links to take you through the weekend.

"I just had to go to church."

More on joy from Scot McKnight's Jesus Creed blog.

Do you suffer from Quiet Time Guilt? This post is for you. :-)

My wife Becky has started blogging at her MySpace page.

It's sort of a long post, but it's a good one: The Internet Monk on the inherent hardship of real ministry.

Christianity: What's the Point?

Community Christian Church in Naperville, Illinois has produced a series of "Christian vs. Christ-follower" ads that parody those funny Apple/PC commercials. They are quite clever and pretty well produced.
I'm no fan of Christian subcultural kitsch substituting for authentic faith, but I am really wearying of this whole "us vs. them" thing, particularly when it comes down to dividing up who really follow Jesus better. What I think these things communicate, although surely not purposefully, is "I'm the better Christ follower because I'm cooler than you." Which is just as awful as one assuming they're a better Christian because they know more stuff, listen to the right music, and have a Jesus fish on their car. It smacks of reverse Pharisaism to me, and I'm seeing lately all the stinkin' time: "I thank you, God, that I'm not like those religious people over there . . ."
When will we figure out we all need each other? That none of us can say to another, "I have no need for you"?

Finally, if you haven't seen U2 singing "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes" (with a little help from the Pope, George Bush, Tony Blair, and Oprah), you really should.

Happy surfing! See you next week.

A Personal Note

I just wanted to take a minute to say Thanks to all of you who continue to read BCC is Broken, and especially to those who continue to express their appreciation for my meager meanderings. I am constantly humbled by the notion that anybody's getting something good, let alone edifying, out of the writing here, but as it is certainly my aim to do that, I find your feedback very encouraging and edifying myself. There is still someone every weekend at church who approaches me to thank me for the blog, and I'm still not used to it. I would have thought it'd be "old" by now, but apparently it's still a blessing to some folks, and knowing that is a blessing to me. In fact, just this last Wednesday at Vision Night, three people introduced themselves to me and thanked me for the blog. I didn't think the evening could have gotten any better, but those conversations really made my night.

For a while, aside from these brief personal encounters, I had no way of knowing if there were many people still reading the site. I figured that after the hoopla died down in the media, and as I trended away from "news" and the gory details, people would lose interest. The drop-off of commenting seemed to confirm this suspicion. But a few weeks ago I installed Sitemeter so I could track readership, page views, duration of views, referral stats, etc. Turns out BCC is Broken averages about 80 unique visits a day, which is pretty good for a little Blogspot blog about a local church that is not on many people's blogrolls. Actually, checking this morning, I see the average daily visits is 104. I think the news about the lead pastor candidate visit and the elder introductions probably spiked the average up a bit.

And readership is not limited to the Nashville area either. BCC is Broken has regular readership -- and by that, I mean, it's not just a random visit by someone arriving via a search or something -- in Michigan, New Jersey, California, Colorado, Washington, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Illinois, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and even our neighborhood to the north, Canada. Persons living in cities in these areas check the site out every day. And of course there are lots of Nashvilles, Brentwoods, Franklins, Murfreesboros, and Kingston Springs(es?).

It has been an honor to serve BCC in this newfangled way. And as long as people continue to demonstrate interest and to profit in what is posted here, I will continue posting.

I also wanted to say a few words to the folks who have been telling me in person and via e-mail how they wished I had been selected as an elder. I very much appreciate the thoughts. It's a cliche, I know, but just being nominated was an honor, and all the notes of support I received leading up to the announcement multiplied the encouragement hundredfold.
The truth is that throughout the process I have reserved the right to withdraw my name from consideration, based primarily on the fact that I didn't think I'd have the time to serve the way the position and the church require. I have already committed to leading two small groups and also to teaching in the upcoming alternative worship service for the Studio 215 crowd (at this moment named Element). Those commitments, plus just regular family commitments, my continuing publishing efforts, and the promise of a regular freelance editing gig had me very reluctant to take on a position that, at this stage in the life our church, would require loads of time and focus and a practically undivided commitment.

The elder board was on the exact same page, being aware of my previous commitments to the church. The reasons expressed to me for my not being selected are in fact the very reasons why I would have withdrawn my name from consideration. So the end result would have been the same; either way, I would not be serving as elder.
The elders have made wise and prayerful decisions -- as they have all along -- and the men they have voted as their incoming members are great guys with lots of faith and wisdom. I know two of them personally, and they are just fantastic guys.

So while I appreciate the expression of "disappointment," please don't assume that I am disappointed or hurt by the results. I am encouraged by the direction of our church and think the world of our elders (past and present, outgoing and incoming), who have given up so much of their time and gifts (and occasionally health) to love our church as Christ does. You can trust these men.

Well, the note turned into a novel. Sorry about that.
But all of that to say, from the bottom of my heart, Thank You Very Much, friends and readers. It is a joy to write for you.


Thursday, December 07, 2006

Covered in Joy

We are listening to a lot of Christmas music at our house. Have been for quite some time, actually, as Becky had our tree up the first weekend of November!
Today, Grace and I were listening to "God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen," which she liked very much. But she misheard the phrase "comfort and joy" and was singing it "covered in joy."
I may actually like that better! Covered in joy. That's awesome.

"To save us all from Satan's power
When we were gone astray
Oh, tidings of covered in joy
Covered in joy!"

And as it came from a child named Grace, I like to think of the concept as a gift of grace. The gift of grace in the gift of forgiveness in Christ should overwhelm us with the joy of salvation.

How are you today? Are you covered in joy?

But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you.
-- Psalm 5:11

How to be Spiritual

Since not all of us can retreat into a cave and live a hermit-like existence living off roots and berries, wearing animal carcasses, and spending all our time praying and reading Scripture in the original languages. Some of us have to find ways to live in the Spirit in our cubicles, breakfast nooks, grocery stores, and bedrooms. This post from Once More With Feeling is for the rest of us and proves the Bible's got us covered too. :-)
-- Drink and eat a lot with family and friends (Deuteronomy 14.22-27; Ecclesiastes 9.7).

-- Include strangers, people below your socio-economic status, and characters of ill-repute in these parties–if you notice they aren’t being treated in a really welcoming manner, you may need to invite fewer of your friends in order to produce the right environment (Deuteronomy 16.10-15; Luke 14.12-14; Luke 15.1, 2).

-- Have frequent sex with your spouse (Ecclesiastes 9.9; First Corinthians 7.2-5).

-- Enjoy your work (Ecclesiastes 9.10).

-- Work hard (Ecclesiastes 11.6).

-- Worship God in public with other people (Psalm 100, ad infinitum).

-- Sing really violent songs as prayers (The Psalms).

-- Loan money without expecting payment in return (Luke 6.35).
-- Pursue profit in business–otherwise you are never going to be able to afford to be open handed (Luke 19.20-26; Ephesians 4.28).

-- Enjoy the luxuries you have (Ecclesiastes 9.8).

-- If it is an especially holy day, and you hear the Law of God and are feeling especially convicted for your many sins, make sure you don’t weep but rather go party and share food and fellowship with others (Nehemiah 8).

-- Gently restore people you catch in wrongdoing and don’t demand payback when you are the victim (Galatians 6.1, 2).

-- Teach your children to be spiritual(Deuteronomy 6.1-9).

-- Don’t care if anyone else judges you or your children as unspiritual; care what God thinks (Romans 2.28, 29).

(Hat tip: Alan, one of my compadres at Thinklings)

Vision Night

A recap of last night's Vision Night at BCC and some reflections. This will be hit-and-run style, 'cause my three-year-old is asking me to play Candyland with her, and I cannot say no. :-)

If you happened to miss last night, I've been told video of the "presentation" portion of the service will be available at the BCC website sometime today. If you weren't able to make it, you should definitely watch it.

Lionel started us off with a great time of worship. It's been a while since I've sung "Spirit of the Living God" (which may not be the right title, not sure), but I love that song.

Dennis presented a neat "imaginary reenactment" of the Last Supper for us while we celebrated communion.
I don't know if you realize this -- heck, you probably do -- but communion is a vital ingredient in the life of the Body of Christ. I will probably post on the Lord's Supper sometime in the coming weeks, but for now I just want to say how grateful I am that it seems to be more at the forefront of our corporate worship than ever before.

After worship and communion, Bill West took the stage to address the congregation.
Okay, can I just say I flippin' love this guy? It was not a planned portion of the evening, so Becky and I were holding our breath, afraid he was about to announce his resignation. I've sat through a few such announcements before, and they are heartbreaking when the minister making the announcement is someone you've grown attached to.
But Bill said two things that needed to be said. First, that he has a great peace about knowing he is not God's man for the lead pastor position. Second, and perhaps most importantly, he knows BCC is where he's supposed to be and he is not going anywhere.
You need to watch the video at this point, because the spontaneous and lengthy standing ovation Bill received at this point was the most powerful moment of the entire night.

Look, we've needed a pastor, and Bill has more than filled the role. I have to confess in always suspecting I was in the minority regarding my appreciation of Bill. It was an encouragement to me to know I'm not alone, and what a dramatic statement it was to Bill and to each other that everyone felt the simultaneous compulsion to let Bill know we love him, appreciate him, and praise God for him. And obviously it was a great encouragement to him, as well.

After Bill's address, the elders began taking the stage to make their individual presentations.

Mike Hueneke introduced us to the four incoming elders. They are:
Mike Dillon
Mark Freeman
Tony Rich
Billy Williams

These are four great guys with a lot of faith, wisdom, intelligence, and expertise between them. I think our elder board has made a great move in voting these guys in. Let's remember to keep them in our prayers as they take the reigns of our leadership during this continuing transition. And if you happen to see one of them at church sometime, please tell them congratulations and thank them for their service.

The update on the lead pastor search is that there is really only one guy in the pipeline, and it was the candidate we heard from last weekend. Our elders are continuing to talk with him, and all parties involved are continuing to pray for God's leading in this area. The next stage may be inviting him back for a town meeting-type Q&A with BCC folks. The elders are well aware that you can't know much about a guy just by hearing how good a speaker he is.

Minister Search, the firm we are using to find candidates for us, does not have any other viable candidates for us to engage with us at this time.

Alex Poston took the stage to tie up a loose end from the original cottage meetings, a final piece of data from the initial "fallout." Lots of folks continue to wonder about the expense account audit, and as recently as the last Tennessean article, dollar amounts continue to get bandied about. The elders felt it important to address this clearly and directly.
Apparently the final figure the auditor came back with is $369,000 of undocumented expenses; that is to say, $369,000 charged to expense accounts that did not have receipts. There is no way to know what this money was spent on.

A few folks in the Q&A time wanted to know what this means. Nobody would really say what they meant by "what this means" and consequently the elders did not really just lay it out there.
This is my interpretation, and I'm sure it could get me in trouble. :-) Basically, we had to turn in a real figure to the IRS for our own tax purposes. It was not done in any retaliatory way against the Fosters. But to maintain the church's non-profit status -- essentially, to stay in good with the government regulation of churches and non-profit agencies -- we had to cooperate in this process. But after handing this information over, it is now out of our hands. That could not be more important to say. Anything that happens from this point on is not the responsibility of BCC. Anything that may result from this data's surrender will not be done by BCC or done on BCC initiative. And when I say "anything that may be done," I'm talking about any legal ramifications involved.
It is in the IRS's hands now, and whatever is to be done about this unaccounted for 369K, if anything, will be their decision.

Randy Holland addressed the ministry needs of the church. There is a huge need here for people to continue stepping up to volunteer in some ministries (particularly in the student ministry, which is growing extraordinarily (from 12 to 60 in a few months) and in Kids Place). He also announced a family and couples focus for a new small groups initiative. Randy will be spearheading that effort, and he is looking for 2 or 3 couples to volunteer to lead these groups. He is committing to assisting and "mentoring" the leaders.
Conexus will continue, as well, and we are always looking for new leaders.

Trey Adkisson gave us a financial update, and I won't even attempt to recall the exact figures involved, because I have a terrible memory with such things. I've been told that last weekend was great in terms of giving, as would be expected given the larger than ordinary crowd present to hear the lead pastor candidate, but in terms of per capita giving it was a huge spike.
But we are still in need of increased giving. Thankfully we have enough money at this point to maintain with current staff and mortgage and such at least until Fall, but we are hoping and praying for increase in meeting budgetary needs in the coming weeks. The general view here is sober but optimistic. And as the lead pastor process progresses, and as attendance continues to improve, we are trusting God will provide the resources necessary to keep BCC itself a full-capacity resource for all who come.

Well, that's the short of it. I probably missed something, and I'm not even going to try recounting the entire Q&A with the elders at the end. I'm not sure if that portion of the evening will be included on the video, but if is not, the elders continue to make themselves available for questions or concerns. Their e-mail addresses are available on the BCC website, and the incoming elders' addresses will be, as well. Don't hesitate to ask somebody.

And please watch the video when it is available. It will fill in all my gaps and give you a greater sense of the flow and spirit of the evening.

It's Candyland time for me! And Grace has been very patient, as this post was not as brief as I intended it to be. :-)


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Don't Forget!

Vision Night is tonight at 6:30.

We will worship and receive communion. And will meet our new elders and get an update on the lead pastor search.

Childcare is provided.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Spirituality For all the Wrong Reasons

You probably know Eugene Peterson as the writer behind The Message translational paraphrase of the Bible. Peterson is a phenomenal pastor/writer/scholar who has written some extraordinary works. I am just now finishing up Eat This Book, which is about reading Scripture for transformation (as opposed to just information), and it is quite possibly the best book I've read this year (and I read a lot of books!). Peterson's little book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, which reflects on the life of discipleship by focusing on the Psalms, is one of the best books on basic Christian living available. Peterson is an insightful, intelligent guy, and he always writes from a pastoral heart, with a deep affection for the Church.

One of his best "works" (and perhaps most provocative) was actually an interview with Christianity Today editor Mark Galli that came out last year. The interview was titled "Spirituality For all the Wrong Reasons" and it made a huge splash in the Christian blogosphere. It's about church and pastors and "religion" and how Christianity interfaces with culture (and vice versa). Some of the issues raised are of vital importance to the vision and values of BCC and churches like it.

I've had a difficult time finding the article online, because although the full text used to be available free at Christianity Today's website, it is now only available to subscribers. But a resourceful reader at The Thinklings found a link to the full text for me, and in the interest of posterity -- and because it is that good a read -- I'm going to reprint the whole thing here as well. It is rather long. But it is very worth the time it takes to read.

What is the most misunderstood aspect of spirituality?

That it's a kind of specialized form of being a Christian, that you have to have some kind of in. It's elitist. Many people are attracted to it for the wrong reasons. Others are put off by it: I'm not spiritual. I like to go to football games or parties or pursue my career. In fact, I try to avoid the word.

Many people assume that spirituality is about becoming emotionally intimate with God.

That's a naive view of spirituality. What we're talking about is the Christian life. It's following Jesus. Spirituality is no different from what we've been doing for two thousand years just by going to church and receiving the sacraments, being baptized, learning to pray, and reading Scriptures rightly. It's just ordinary stuff.

This promise of intimacy is both right and wrong. There is an intimacy with God, but it's like any other intimacy; it's part of the fabric of your life. In marriage you don't feel intimate most of the time. Nor with a friend. Intimacy isn't primarily a mystical emotion. It's a way of life, a life of openness, honesty, a certain transparency.

Doesn't the mystical tradition suggest otherwise?

One of my favorite stories is of Teresa of Avila. She's sitting in the kitchen with a roasted chicken. And she's got it with both hands, and she's gnawing on it, just devouring this chicken. One of the nuns comes in shocked that she's doing this, behaving this way. She said, "When I eat chicken, I eat chicken; when I pray, I pray."

If you read the saints, they're pretty ordinary people. There are moments of rapture and ecstasy, but once every 10 years. And even then it's a surprise to them. They didn't do anything. We've got to disabuse people of these illusions of what the Christian life is. It's a wonderful life, but it's not wonderful in the way a lot of people want it to be.

Yet evangelicals rightly tell people they can have a "personal relationship with God." That suggests a certain type of spiritual intimacy.

All these words get so screwed up in our society. If intimacy means being open and honest and authentic, so I don't have veils, or I don't have to be defensive or in denial of who I am, that's wonderful. But in our culture, intimacy usually has sexual connotations, with some kind of completion. So I want intimacy because I want more out of life. Very seldom does it have the sense of sacrifice or giving or being vulnerable. Those are two different ways of being intimate. And in our American vocabulary intimacy usually has to do with getting something from the other. That just screws the whole thing up.

It's very dangerous to use the language of the culture to interpret the gospel. Our vocabulary has to be chastened and tested by revelation, by the Scriptures. We've got a pretty good vocabulary and syntax, and we'd better start paying attention to it because the way we grab words here and there to appeal to unbelievers is not very good.

This corruption of the word spirituality even in Christian circles -- does it have something to do with the New Age movement?

The New Age stuff is old age. It's been around for a long time. It's a cheap shortcut to -- I guess we have to use the word -- spirituality. It avoids the ordinary, the everyday, the physical, the material. It's a form of Gnosticism, and it has a terrific appeal because it's a spirituality that doesn't have anything to do with doing the dishes or changing diapers or going to work. There's not much integration with work, people, sin, trouble, inconvenience.

I've been a pastor most of my life, for some 45 years. I love doing this. But to tell you the truth, the people who give me the most distress are those who come asking, "Pastor, how can I be spiritual?" Forget about being spiritual. How about loving your husband? Now that's a good place to start. But that's not what they're interested in. How about learning to love your kids, accept them the way they are?

My name shouldn't even be connected with spirituality.

But it very much is.

I know. Then a few years ago I got this embarrassing position of being a professor of "spiritual theology" at Regent. Now what do you do?

You make spirituality sound so mundane.

I don't want to suggest that those of us who are following Jesus don't have any fun, that there's no joy, no exuberance, no ecstasy. They're just not what the consumer thinks they are. When we advertise the gospel in terms of the world's values, we lie to people. We lie to them, because this is a new life. It involves following Jesus. It involves the Cross. It involves death, an acceptable sacrifice. We give up our lives.

The Gospel of Mark is so graphic this way. The first half of the Gospel is Jesus showing people how to live. He's healing everybody. Then right in the middle, he shifts. He starts showing people how to die: "Now that you've got a life, I'm going to show you how to give it up." That's the whole spiritual life. It's learning how to die. And as you learn how to die, you start losing all your illusions, and you start being capable now of true intimacy and love.

It involves a kind of learned passivity, so that our primary mode of relationship is receiving, submitting, instead of giving and getting and doing. We don't do that very well. We're trained to be assertive, to get, to apply, or to consume and to perform.

Repentance, dying to self, submission -- these are not very attractive hooks to draw people into the faith.

I think the minute you put the issue that way you're in trouble. Because then we join the consumer world, and everything then becomes product designed to give you something. We don't need something more. We don't need something better. We're after life. We're learning how to live.

I think people are fed up with consumer approaches, even though they're addicted to them. But if we cast the evangel in terms of benefits, we're setting people up for disappointment. We're telling them lies.

This is not the way our Scriptures are written. This is not the way Jesus came among us. It's not the way Paul preached. Where do we get all this stuff? We have a textbook. We have these Scriptures and most of the time they're saying, "You're going the wrong way. Turn around. The culture is poisoning."

Do we realize how almost exactly the Baal culture of Canaan is reproduced in American church culture? Baal religion is about what makes you feel good. Baal worship is a total immersion in what I can get out of it. And of course, it was incredibly successful. The Baal priests could gather crowds that outnumbered followers of Yahweh 20 to 1. There was sex, there was excitement, there was music, there was ecstasy, there was dance. "We got girls over here, friends. We got statues, girls, and festivals." This was great stuff. And what did the Hebrews have to offer in response? The Word. What's the Word? Well, Hebrews had festivals, at least!

Still, the one big hook or benefit to Christian faith is salvation, no? "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved." Is this not something we can use to legitimately attract listeners?

It's the biggest word we have -- salvation, being saved. We are saved from a way of life in which there was no resurrection. And we're being saved from ourselves. One way to define spiritual life is getting so tired and fed up with yourself you go on to something better, which is following Jesus.

But the minute we start advertising the faith in terms of benefits, we're just exacerbating the self problem. "With Christ, you're better, stronger, more likeable, you enjoy some ecstasy." But it's just more self. Instead, we want to get people bored with themselves so they can start looking at Jesus.

We've all met a certain type of spiritual person. She's a wonderful person. She loves the Lord. She prays and reads the Bible all the time. But all she thinks about is herself. She's not a selfish person. But she's always at the center of everything she's doing. "How can I witness better? How can I do this better? How can I take care of this person's problem better?" It's me, me, me disguised in a way that is difficult to see because her spiritual talk disarms us.

So how should we visualize the Christian life?

In church last Sunday, there was a couple in front of us with two bratty kids. Two pews behind us there was another couple with their two bratty kids making a lot of noise. This is mostly an older congregation. So these people are set in their ways. Their kids have been gone a long time. And so it wasn't a very nice service; it was just not very good worship. But afterwards I saw half a dozen of these elderly people come up and put their arms around the mother, touch the kids, sympathize with her. They could have been irritated.

Now why do people go to a church like that when they can go to a church that has a nursery, is air conditioned, and all the rest? Well, because they're Lutherans. They don't mind being miserable! Norwegian Lutherans!

And this same church recently welcomed a young woman with a baby and a three-year-old boy. The children were baptized a few weeks ago. But there was no man with her. She's never married; each of the kids has a different father. She shows up at church and wants her children baptized. She's a Christian and wants to follow in the Christian way. So a couple from the church acted as godparents. Now there are three or four couples in the church who every Sunday try to get together with her.

Now, where is the "joy" in that church? These are dour Norwegians! But there's a lot of joy. There's an abundant life going, but it's not abundant in the way a non-Christian would think. I think there's a lot more going on in churches like this; they're just totally anti-cultural. They're full of joy and faithfulness and obedience and care. But you sure wouldn't know it by reading the literature of church growth, would you?

But many Christians would look at this church and say it's dead, merely an institutional expression of the faith.

What other church is there besides institutional? There's nobody who doesn't have problems with the church, because there's sin in the church. But there's no other place to be a Christian except the church. There's sin in the local bank. There's sin in the grocery stores. I really don't understand this naive criticism of the institution. I really don't get it.

Frederick von Hugel said the institution of the church is like the bark on the tree. There's no life in the bark. It's dead wood. But it protects the life of the tree within. And the tree grows and grows and grows and grows. If you take the bark off, it's prone to disease, dehydration, death.

So, yes, the church is dead but it protects something alive. And when you try to have a church without bark, it doesn't last long. It disappears, gets sick, and it's prone to all kinds of disease, heresy, and narcissism.

In my writing, I hope to recover a sense of the reality of congregation -- what it is. It's a gift of the Holy Spirit. Why are we always idealizing what the Holy Spirit doesn't idealize? There's no idealization of the church in the Bible -- none. We've got two thousand years of history now. Why are we so dumb?

Since the Reformation, though, we've championed the idea that the church can be reformed.

Hasn't happened. I'm for always reforming, but to think that we can get a church that's reformed is just silliness.

I think the besetting sin of pastors, maybe especially evangelical pastors, is impatience. We have a goal. We have a mission. We're going to save the world. We're going to evangelize everybody, and we're going to do all this good stuff and fill our churches. This is wonderful. All the goals are right. But this is slow, slow work, this soul work, this bringing people into a life of obedience and love and joy before God.

And we get impatient and start taking shortcuts and use any means available. We talk about benefits. We manipulate people. We bully them. We use language that is just incredibly impersonal -- bullying language, manipulative language.

One doesn't normally think of churches as bullying.

Whenever guilt is used as a tool to get people to do anything -- good, bad, indifferent -- it's bullying. And then there's manipulative language -- to talk people into programs, to get them involved, usually by promising them something.

I have a friend who is an expert at this sort of thing. He's always saying, "You've got to identify people's felt needs. Then you construct a program to meet the felt needs." It's pretty easy to manipulate people. We're so used to being manipulated by the image industry, the publicity industry, and the politicians that we hardly know we're being manipulated.

This impatience to leave the methods of Jesus in order to get the work of Jesus done is what destroys spirituality, because we're using a non-biblical, non-Jesus way to do what Jesus did. That's why spirituality is in such a mess as it is today.

But many pastors see people suffering in bad marriages, with drug addiction, with greed. And so they rightly want to help them now, by whatever method will work.

Yes, except something backfires on you when you're impatient. How do we meet the need? Do we do it in Jesus' way or do we do it the Wal-Mart way?

Spirituality is not about ends or benefits or things; it's about means. It's about how you do this. How do you live in reality?

So, how do you help all these people? The needs are huge. Well, you do it the way Jesus did it. You do it one at a time. You can't do gospel work, kingdom work in an impersonal way.

We live in the Trinity. Everything we do has to be in the context of the Trinity, which means personally, relationally. The minute you start doing things impersonally, functionally, mass oriented, you deny the gospel. Yet that's all we do.

Jesus is the Truth and the Life, but first he's the Way. We can't do Jesus' work in the Devil's way.

I get exercised about this because many pastors are getting castrated by these methodologies, which are impersonal. There's no relationship to them. And so they become performance oriented and successful. It's pretty easy in our culture, at least if you're tall and have a big smile. And they lose their soul. There's nothing to them after 20 years. Or they crash. They try all this stuff and it doesn't work, and they quit, or quit and start doing something else. Probably 90 percent of the affairs that pastors have are not due to lust, but boredom with not having this romantic kind of life they thought they'd get.

What if we were to frame this not in terms of needs but relevance? Many Christians hope to speak to generation X or Y or postmoderns, or some subgroup, like cowboys or bikers—people for whom the typical church seems irrelevant.

When you start tailoring the gospel to the culture, whether it's a youth culture, a generation culture or any other kind of culture, you have taken the guts out of the gospel. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not the kingdom of this world. It's a different kingdom.

My son Eric organized a new church six years ago. The Presbyterians have kind of a boot camp for new church pastors where you learn what you're supposed to do. So Eric went. One of the teachers there said he shouldn't put on a robe and a stole: "You get out there and you meet this generation where they are."

So Eric, being a good student and wanting to please his peers, didn't wear a robe. His church started meeting in a high-school auditorium. He started out by wearing a business suit every Sunday. But when the first Sunday of Advent rolled around, and they were going to have Communion, he told me, "Dad, I just couldn't do it. So I put my robe on."

Their neighbors, Joel and his wife, attended his church. Joel was the stereotype of the person the new church development was designed for -- suburban, middle management, never been to church, totally secular. Eric figured he was coming because they were neighbors, or because he liked him. After that Advent service, he asked Joel what he thought of his wearing a robe.

He said, "It made an impression. My wife and I talked about it. I think what we're really looking for is sacred space. We both think we found it."

I think relevance is a crock. I don't think people care a whole lot about what kind of music you have or how you shape the service. They want a place where God is taken seriously, where they're taken seriously, where there is no manipulation of their emotions or their consumer needs.

Why did we get captured by this advertising, publicity mindset? I think it's destroying our church.

But someone else might walk into Eric's church, see him with his robe, and walk out, thinking the whole place was too religious, too churchy.

So why are they going if it's not going to be religious? What do they go to church for?

Of course, there's another aspect to this. If you're going to a church where everybody's playing a religious role, that's going to be off putting. But that performance mentality, role mentality can be seen in the cowboy church or whatever -- everybody is performing a role there, too.

But we're involved with something that has a huge mystery to it. Are we going to wipe out all the mystery so we can be in control of it? Isn't reverence at the very heart of the worship of God?

And if we present a rendition of the faith in which all the mystery is removed, and there's no reverence, how are people ever going to know there's something more than just their own emotions, their own needs? There's something a lot bigger than my needs that's going on. How do I ever get to that if the church service and worship program is all centered on my needs?

Some people would argue that it's important to have a worship service in which people feel comfortable so they can hear the gospel.

I think they're wrong. Take the story I told you about this family in front of us on Sunday. Nobody was comfortable. The whole church was miserable.

And yet, they might have experienced more gospel in going up and putting their arms around that poor mother, who was embarrassed to death.

How do we know when they have moved from merely adapting ministry to the culture to sacrificing the gospel?

One test I think is this: Am I working out of the Jesus story, the Jesus methods, the Jesus way? Am I sacrificing relationship, personal attention, personal relationship for a shortcut, a program so I can get stuff done? You can't do Jesus' work in a non-Jesus way and get by with it -- although you can be very "successful."

One thing that I think is characteristic of me is I stay local. I'm rooted in a pastoral life, which is an ordinary life. So while all this glitter and image of spirituality is going around, I feel quite indifferent to it, to tell you the truth. And I'm somewhat suspicious of it because it seems to be uprooted, not grounded in local conditions, which are the only conditions in which you can live a Christian life.

Pure Biblical Teaching

Not just preaching from the Bible -- actually preaching the Bible!

At the 2006 Worship God Conference, a pastor by the name of Ryan Ferguson recited Hebrews 9 and 10 in a very dramatic, very powerful way. This is biblical preaching at its purest. But it doesn't sound like a recitation or a reading. It sounds like a good preacher preaching. Please watch; it's pretty stinkin' awesome. (It's about 11 minutes long.)

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version is copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Back to BCC: Gutcheck Time

This is one of those posts that may make some folks angry, and I'm okay with that, because this is one of those "hills worth dying on" things for me. And if we're going to do this thing called Christian community, I'm of the conviction that we ought to do it correctly (which is to say, biblically).

Point blank: If you all you want out of a church is a spiritual pep talk every week, it's not a church that you want. I'm not sure what it is, but it's not a church.

The campus was packed this past weekend, which was a good thing. It was difficult to find a parking spot, which is a good thing. This influx and overflow of attendees obviously had something to do with the lead pastor candidate's visit. And that's a good thing too, I think.
But, look, let's be honest. If you've been withholding yourself from BCC until a "new guy" shows up, let me suggest, as respectfully as I can, that you need a spiritual gutcheck. While you've been absent, biding your time till we have a speaker for you to audition, the rest of us have been actually doing church. We've been rebuilding our spirits and the life of our church. We've been sharing our hearts and lives, and we've been growing together and toward God. We've been learning and growing under Bill West's shepherding and teaching. We've been sharing coffee and laughs. We've been caring for each other's children. We've been dining in each other's homes. We've been studying the Bible together and praying with and for each other. We've been showing up to help at the Nashville Rescue Mission. We've been showing up to help widows and divorcees with the burdens of real life. We've been comforting the suffering and the grieving.

And we've been able to do all that because we've stuck around. We've invested in our church and in each other. And while none of us deny the value of a quality voice on our weekend stage, we've decided church is not about speaking to a gathering but growing in a community.
We realize that it's not a great speaker that makes a church -- it's the community itself. And so the "voice" we are looking for is one that comes not just from a good preacher but a great pastor. "Pastor" means "shepherd." And looking for a shepherd presupposes a care and concern for a flock.

For those who have been holding back, waiting to see whether the show will go on, let me assure you that it will . . . and it won't. BCC will always value dynamic, engaging speaking and incredible, energetic music. But it now also values biblical, pastoral teaching and authentic, God-honoring worship. And we are growing from a collection of individuals who attend into a Body that grows. We desperately want you to be a part of this way God is redeeming us. But it might require relinquishing your self. (Just as Jesus said that to follow Him, one must "deny himself.")

BCC is a great church and a great many of us are enjoying it very much. I can't count how many people I've heard say that this is the happiest they've ever been at BCC. These are real people, by the way, people who grieved over the mess we went through, not people with axes to grind or bones to pick. What has surprised many of us is how close this thing has made us, how comforting the healing process has been, and what an incredible blessing it's been to refocus on what it really means to be a church. And how we've been able to do this under the assumption that we've been "going without."
But the truth is, we haven't been going without. We've had what every good church needs -- loving people and a faithful leadership. A new speaker would just be gravy. :-)


On Our "Guest Speaker"

If you happen to not know, we had our first lead pastor candidate teach at BCC this weekend. While it appears the "powers that be" aren't too concerned about keeping his identity under wraps (plenty of people I spoke to already knew his name and point of origin before the Saturday evening service, and his message will be available for download on the Hope Park website sometime today), I don't plan to use his name, simply out of respect for his home congregation. I'm sure there are folks there who know, but as I'm unclear on how common this knowledge is in his church, I'll maintain confidentiality. But if you didn't hear him, you can obviously get his name from any BCC'er who attended or from the sermon audio.

People are asking what I thought.
Well, first of all, did this guy have ginormous hands, or what? Seriously. He has mitts like frying pans. He could swat a plane out of the sky on accident. :-)

Really, though, he was a great speaker. Very dynamic, very engaging. Very energetic. Very easy to listen to.
More importantly, at least in my estimation, he brought a Gospel-driven and thoroughly biblical message. The guy had a lot of Bible in his message, and that is a very, very good thing. And he didn't use it haphazardly or buffet style. He preached contextually and narratively, and he proved a message doesn't have to be a self-helpy topical outline with some quotable quotes thrown in to engage a listener.

One approach I liked in particular was the way he connected, by way of contrast, passages featuring the "early Peter" in the Gospels with the writings and outlook of "late Peter" in the Petrine epistles. What a unique and powerful way to demonstrate, with an actual biblical illustration, the way Christ following changes the identity of the Christ follower.
Making the connections between biblical texts is so important in this day of biblical illiteracy, even in the church. Showing how the pieces fit the whole, how passages separated by many pages fit into the same Story of redemption and God's work in history, is a much needed exercise, and that it was done from our stage in such an exciting, loving, and applicable way was a joy to behold.

I didn't get a chance to meet our guest in person, but I've spoken with a few folks who did -- both in meetings and in informal, get-to-know-you encounters at Coffee Connection -- and I hear that he is warm, friendly, and personable. I have listened to enough folks in the last few weeks to know that accessibility and openness are forefront values in our church's shepherding these days. It seems, at first glance anyway, that this candidate fits that bill.
In our reorientation and reevaluation, we are of the conviction that it is not a speaker we need, but a pastor. And there is a difference.

Don't forget to attend Vision Night this Wednesday evening (6:30 p.m.) for an update from the elders on the pastor search.

Dirk Plantinga has a couple of good posts up on the lead pastor candidate and his weekend message.