Friday, September 29, 2006

Weekend Linkage

A roundup of juicy links to tide you over until Monday . . .

My buddy The Internet Monk with a good post on reducing to Jesus.

Mark at GospelDrivenLife talks about real grace in the context of the work of Jesus.

If you can wade through the theological jargon, Scot McKnight asks some good questions in a post about The Gospel and The Church, and surmises "What we need more of is a gospel that summons folks into the Church as the worshipping, fellowship, missioning Body of Christ."

At Together 4 the Gospel, Mark Dever talks about "A Good Offense" An excerpt:
One part of clarity sometimes missed by earnest evangelists, however, is the willingness to offend. Clarity with the claims of Christ certainly will include the translation of the Gospel into words that our hearer understands, but it doesn’t necessarily mean translating it into words that our hearer will like. Too often advocates of relevant evangelism verge over into being advocates of irrelevant non-evangelism. A gospel which in no way offends the sinner has not been understood.

Mark Driscoll reflects on the ten year anniversary of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, where he is pastor. Lots of good insights about doing church and ministry in an innovative way in a postmodern culture, and about how dealing with public perceptions.

BCC's own Dirk Plantinga reflects on innovative churches and networking.

Finally, for all you bibliophiles out there, I have provided an update at my original solo blog listing all the books I've read since last September.

Happy surfing!

And see you this weekend!


Thursday, September 28, 2006

You Can Never Go Down the Drain

Mister Rogers occasionally sang a song that went "You can never go down, Can never go down, Can never go down the drain" as part of reassuring his young audience they need not fear the bathtub drain. I don't recall ever having that fear as a little one, and neither of my little ones have ever feared getting sucked down in the gentle tide of the draining tub, but I recall an episode of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" where Rogers sat on the edge of a bathtub and calmly explained that people were too big to go down the drain.

That's a good word. As I said, I don't know what it's like to feel afraid of the bathtub drain, but I can imagine what it's like to be a small child watching the spiral of water over a mysterious hole and worrying it might take him down too. It's an irrational fear, but an understandable one. It was wise of Mr. Rogers to tell children that, despite appearances, they can never go down the drain. It just can't happen.

Do you remember the story of Joseph and his brothers? You probably remember the part about the flashy coat and all that, but if you fast forward through all that -- after Joseph's jealous brothers throw him in a pit, then sell him into slavery, tell their father Jacob that wild animals ate Joseph, enter into a severe famine, become ignorant of all of Joseph's travails in Egypt, wind up in front of Joseph (unbeknownst to them) to beg for food, and have to go back to their father and tell him they're supposed to return to Egypt with their youngest brother Benjamin -- Jacob reflects on all that has befallen his family and says something like "Everything's against me!"

I don't know about you, but I've been there, done that, and threw away the T-shirt a few years ago. The weight of the world comes crashing down, and I just want to throw up my hands and say "I give up." Maybe you've been there too. There's a lot of people living a lot of lives in the world; the potential for pain and suffering and trials and tribulations is infinite. We've got financial problems, health problems, career problems, relationship problems, personal problems.
Maybe you feel like you can't catch a break. Maybe you're at the bottom of a pit so deep you can't even see the light at the opening. Maybe you've been there so long, you've lost all hope you'll ever get out. Maybe the tide has swept you up, you've been waving your arms for help to no avail, and you just know it's a matter of time before the downward spiral drowns you.

Don't lose hope. Don't give up.

You know Jacob, the old man who moaned "Everything's against me"? His son Jospeh, who he'd given up for dead, really did have everything against him. His own brothers try to kill him, then sell him to slave traders. He ends up in wasting away in a prison for years because of the lies of a seductress he refused to be seduced by. And after all that mess he was later able to stand before the very people who started the whole downward spiral and forgive them. He was able to say "You meant all this for evil, but God meant it for good."

Look, just 'cause you're paranoid, doesn't mean nobody's out to get you. There's some people who are in intense pain, both physical and emotional, right now, and it's pain that has gone on for years and years and will probably go on for years and years. I don't mean to be a Debbie Downer, but not everybody gets that super-magical TBN-powered spiritual pixie dust that makes you rich and healthy because you "trust in Jeeeeeezus." The strongest Christians are the ones who are hurting and have been hurting and keep trusting Jesus and will keep trusting Jesus even if their hurt never goes away. That doesn't sell books, I know, but it's the truth. God is omnipresent, right? So while he's perfectly capable of delivering you from your pain and suffering, he's also capable of redeeming you in and through your pain and suffering.

Know this: You cannot go down the drain.
You are in your Father's hand, and nobody -- not even yourself -- can take you out of there. There is nothing that can separate you from the love of God. Nothing. Zip, zilch, nada. No thing and no person can do it. All things work to the good of those who are called according to His purposes. Who's called according to His purposes? If you are a believer in Jesus, you are. So what things work to the good? All things. As our own Lionel Cartright sings, "Not just some things." All things.

This world may be in the proverbial handbasket. It may be circling the drain. Our bodies are indeed winding down. (And more than a few of us have bodies widening downward. ;-) But our help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. Our redeemer lives. And one day, he will descend with a shout, and this old earth will get an extreme makeover in an eternal splash of glory the likes of which will make the aurora borealis look like a Lite Brite. And our sagging flesh and aching bones and slowing hearts and diseased cells will be taken from us, and we'll get fresh legs, a freshly purified heart, fresh lungs to breathe the fresh air of the new heaven and the new earth. We'll get fresh eyes to finally see Him face to face.

Child of God, you have been rescued once. And it was a promise of glory to come. So someday you will be rescued again in such a way you may laugh at all the things that make you cry today. Your anguish over this world and your hurt from your experience in it will become joy over the new world and the worshipful pleasure it brings.

The great thing is that we can taste that joy now, in the midst of our sins and sufferings. We have a mighty God who is strong to save, and He loves us so such. If the birds and the flowers are under his care, how much more do you think he cares about you and me? Most of us know Jesus cried out from the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?". But many of us don't know Jesus was quoting Psalm 22. Go read it.
Do you see that it's not a psalm about God forsaking anyone? It's actually about God delivering his people. Kinda puts Christ's lament in a more reassuring context, doesn't it? Here's verse 24:
For he has not despised or disdained
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.

Wherever you are, whatever you're going through and may go through (perhaps for the rest of your life), know that your salvation lay not in your circumstances or situations, but believe that God is strong to save, and that even his Son suffered torture and death to achieve it for you. You do not hurt alone. Your road may be hard, but despite where it appears to be leading, it is the road to glory. God's will for you will not be disappointment or destruction. The "everything against you" is working toward your good. You will stand renewed, redeemed, and ready to prevail at the last day.
Whatever it looks like, whatever it feels like, you can never go down the drain.


Last night, Becky and I were able to attend the second midweek Focus service. I thought it was great. We came early for the convenience meal, and what a great time we had hanging out as a family in the atrium and getting to talk to folks. we saw some "old" friends we rarely get to see because we attend different weekend services, so it was great to catch up. And we also keep meeting new people too, so that's always cool.

I am consistently amazed by how much this little blog seems to mean to people. I get the "Are you Jared Wilson? I love your blog!" thing just about every time I go to church now, and I'm still not used to it. It keeps startling me and humbling me. I guess as long as folks continue to get something, however meager, out of what I'm writing here, I will keep doing it. Lots of God-bloggers like to think of their blogging as a ministry -- it keeps us from the fear that we are wasting time ;-) -- but even after receiving countless kudos over three years of posting on five different sites, I never really felt the wonderful weight of blogging as ministry until starting BCC is Broken two months ago.

Speaking of ministry, can I just say -- again -- that Bill West is doing an incredible job? His brief journey through the second chapter of Romans last night was fantastic, and it really felt like he felt like he was in his element. The closing application session, with Pastor Dennis doing a theological Q&A on stage with elders Mike Hueneke and Randy Holland was an innovative idea, as well. I've never seen that done before, and I thought it was a really creative way to make the passage Bill had just explicated for us take on some real-world implications.

I also just want to mention how awesome it was to see so many people at a midweek service. Wow! BCC used to not be able to maintain a midweek service, and I don't think it was because people didn't hunger for more biblical knowledge and spiritual depth, but because we never cultivated the importance of such things at other times. If the shake up has done anything, it has made folks reevaluate their values as they pertain to church and to faith, and now that Community and Discipleship are values championed at all other times the church "speaks," we have in just a few short weeks developed an eager audience for a midweek exploration of those values. The last Wednesday night service I attended was a couple of years ago, and there were (maybe) about 50 people there. Last night's attendance looked like a Saturday evening service attendance -- not packed out, but arguably "big."

I'm so excited about the future of Bellevue Community Church. With committed leaders, a reenergized staff, and a joyful, eager church family, we are really preparing for and feeling the freedom to reach the unchurched and the overchurched with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As the prophet Tom Petty once said, "The future's wide open . . ."

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


Dirk took the Bob Dylan reference, so I guess I'll take David Bowie. ;-)

By now you have probably heard that BCC will be making a service time transition starting the weekend of October 28-29. There will then be only two Sunday morning services, at 9:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. Notice this is not just a reduction of worship services from three to two, but also a change in times (the early and late services currently are 8:30 and 11:15). The 10:00-11:00 hour is being designated as a fellowship time for congregants and, ideally, Conexus groups.

Some thoughts on this transition:

1) One strength the traditional model of "doing church" had in terms of its on-site small groups (a.k.a. Sunday School) is that you've got everybody in the same place at the same time. The modern church's transition from the Sunday School structure to a small group-type structure was a good one and the spirit of it must be maintained. But logistically, it just doesn't seem to be working too well in our church and our community. The ideal, of course, is that you have lots of likeminded groups meeting regularly in homes throughout the community. We've got a few of those going on, typically with younger folks like the college group or "young professionals," but for some reason, generally speaking, BCC has never been able to make small groups comprised of couples or families work.

There is an ease and conveniece attached to a designated hour between service times on campus. Now, I know the goal right now is not that this 10-11 slot become the Conexus group meeting time. But I do think the idea ought to be mulled over at a future time as an option. It wouldn't be a reverting back to the traditional Sunday School-type structure. It could be, as now, an arrangement of topical/interest Conexus groups (in other words, groups wouldn't have to be by age or gender) that meet on campus from 10 to 11. Apart from this "feeling" like Sunday School, there's nothing wrong with it, and a whole lot right with it. In terms of convenience and availability, it makes a lot of sense from a Bible study and discipleship training perspective.

2) So anyways, this fellowship time is, right now, designated precisely for that -- fellowship. Service attendees and Conexus group members can get together in the atrium or at Coffee Connection or at the picnic tables outside.
The only problem I see at this point, regardless of the purpose of the "free period," is that there will be no Kids Place activities at this time. Actually, that is definitely not a problem for the Kids Place volunteers, all of whom have been overextended and overworked. (And for those keeping score, the church was practically begging for more Kids Place volunteers for months before the train wreck, so it's not a post-wreck predicament.)
This is less a problem, though, given the goal of the between-time at this time, so while it might mean more little ones running around the place, it will mean a much needed break for Kids Place workers.

3) There should be no denying that a drop in attendance has led (in part) to this change. My sources indicate we have dropped from about 2200 average to about 1600 average, and 600 people, folks, is more than most churches average on an entire weekend. In other words, we've lost almost an entire service's worth of attendees.
The good news, though, is that we haven't lost more, that our average has held and that we are actually, steadily gaining more back. Folks who used to attend BCC are now returning (no comment as to why ;-), and new folks who know nothing of our past are coming in as well. And once we have our new lead pastor, you can expect attendance to pick up also.
So while this transition is partly the result of a drop in attendance, we are definitely not in crisis mode. It is a practical, logical transition based on our current needs. Responses of either "Oh my gosh the church is kaput!" or "See, I told you they couldn't survive!" are equally absurd.

4) I am already hearing about scheduling frustration. For instance, one of the members of the group I lead (from 9:00 to 10:00) used to attend the 10:00 service and is committed to serving in Kids Place during the 11:15 service. So now that the middle service is discontinued, given that her commitment to Kids Place is a given (and thankfully so), she has to either not attend a weekend service or drop out of our small group.
I know the Saturday evening service solves this problem for some people, but most folks just can't get to the campus Saturday night and then for three hours Sunday morning every single week. It's just too much.

4) There are so many people now making so many connections, this new "fellowship hour" sounds like a great idea. A few weeks ago, I would have doubted anybody at the church even knew who I was, and now we've got folks we've never met bringing us meals and becoming friends. I know I'm not alone in this experience. There is lots of good coming out of the tough transition our church has made in the last two months, and one of the "goodest" (to borrow one of my daughter's words) is that people are feeling connected and known and that we're in this together. As Dirk Plantinga himself has pointed out, our two families have attended BCC for about the same length of time (almost 9 years), and it was only through this mess that we met each other. I can say the same thing about another couple we are making plans to get together with in a couple of weeks. And in eight years, I had met one staff member and zero elders. In the last month or two, I've met numerous staff members and nearly the entire elder board. It never really bothered me that I'd never met our church leadership team, but I am so glad that I now have.

So, not that it matters -- although more than one person has asked what I think about the time change, so I guess at least those few are interested in my point of view -- but my bottom line about the transition is this: It will obviously be problematic for some, but I think it is a good and wise decision.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Thank You

Just as a follow-up update, I wanted to let everybody interested know that Becky is feeling much, much better. This is either the biggest coincidence ever, or the theory presented to us last week by that specialist at St. Thomas was correct, because starting about Sunday night, the pain started dissipating, which was right in sync with the doctor's prediction. She felt much better even by Monday morning and had planned to go to work, but still felt a little weak and woozy when she tried to "breeze" through her morning routine so she stayed home another day. But this morning she finally felt herself again, energized and pain-free, so she's back at work and our family routine has gone from "nightmare" hectic to "regular" hectic. ;-)

It certainly seems as if we have finally -- after about 12 years of mystery -- figured out what's been hurting her every now and again. And that's really good news. Even though there's no "cure" per se, just knowing what is going on is a great relief, and now that we know what is going on, the once or twice a year this thing happens will find us prepared with a few ways to help Becky manage and alleviate the pain.

We want to thank everyone so much for their heartfelt thoughts and prayers. We've been so comforted by the love and concern of the BCC family, and the meals that have been brought to us over the last several days have been a tremendous blessing. We really could not have asked for a better and more grace-driven church family. I was talking to Randy Thompson at Coffee Connection last Sunday morning and just told him how overwhelmed we've been by the outpourings of help and concern. Randy just looked at me and said, "Well, that's our job -- to overwhelm you."

I can't think of a better goal for a church's call to caregiving -- to overwhelm the needy with love and mercy.
If you're reading this, and I haven't told you personally, please know the Wilson family appreciates you all so much. You've been a blessing to us.

Blogging note: I'll be talking about the planned church service time change and a few other BCC-related issues in the days to come. As promised, regular blogging will resume soon. You eager readers of the site, thanks ahead of time for your patience.

Friday, September 22, 2006

In Jesus' Name

Do you ever wonder what that means? To do something “in the name of Jesus”? My great friend and fellow Thinkling Phil, who happens to pastor a church in Texas, recently posted a piece on what it means to pray “in Jesus’ name”. It’s a good post; you should read it.

Some people didn’t buy it when I said it before, but I won’t be persuaded otherwise – the point of all this stuff is Jesus.
The Church is called the Body of Christ.
We receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The very word “Christian” means “little Christ.”
The Bible says that in Him and through Him all things hold together. It says we are joint heirs with Christ.
Jesus is the entry into the kingdom of God, and apprenticeship to him is the substance of life in that kingdom.
The entire Old Testament foreshadows the coming of the kingdom of God, and just who do you think is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords?
The first four books of the New Testament, the books which detail the coming of the kingdom and its gift of salvation, tells whose story?
The book of Acts records the acts of whose apostles?
The epistolary works of the New Testament explain to the Body of Christ how to receive, live, and teach the gospel of Christ in the manner with which the body of Christ lived and preached the gospel of Christ in the four Gospels about Christ.
The Revelation of John says a certain someone is the Beginning and the End, and that he’s coming back to rule the new heaven and the new earth. (Hint: It ain’t Joel Osteen.)

Without Jesus Christ (who is God), we could not see or know God, much less be called children of God. The full glory of YHWH God would destroy us in the briefest exposure, while just a touch of Jesus’ robe brings healing.
Jesus is our advocate, our substitute, our ambassador, our sacrifice, our high priest, our scapegoat, our savior, our Lord, our king. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Still don’t think the point is Jesus? Take it up with Paul. Read the book of Colossians. It won’t take long; it’s only four chapters. I’ve read it a few times in just the last couple of days, because it is so thrilling and so comforting. It is just an incredible letter, written by Paul to a group of believers he probably never visited but nevertheless wanted to comfort with a reaffirmation of the real gospel. The Christians in Colossae were becoming susceptible to a blend of Greco-Jewish philosophy that taught that ceremonial and religious asceticism and traditional rituals were the way to appease “spiritual forces.”
And Paul was all “oh no you dih-int.”
So in the four chapters of his letter to the Colossians, he affirms that while final sanctification awaits us in the last day, the present already holds our completion in Christ alone. The point of this whole Christian church thing – according to Paul – is Jesus.

So in Colossians 1:15-22 we read that Jesus Christ is preeminent. Just read those eight verses and see if you think we can speak of Jesus too highly.
In 2:2 we learn that the “the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery” is Jesus.
In 2:6-7 we read that we are to walk in Jesus, to be rooted in him and built up in him.
In 2:17 we learn that religion is just a shadow of the future, but the substance of that future belongs to Jesus.
In 3:11 we learn that Christ is all and is in all.
In 3:15 we are told to let the peace of Christ rule in us, and in 3:16 we are told to let the word of Christ dwell in us.

In 3:17 we are told to do everything in the name of Jesus.

Why in the name of Jesus? Because it is his name we bear. Because if you are a Christian, you live in his world and know it (and want others to know it too). Because you serve in his kingdom and serve him as king. Because there is no other name under heaven or over earth, including yours or yo mama’s, by which you have been saved.

Doing everything in the name of Jesus is the new covenant application of the commandment “Thou shalt not worship any other god.” When you live, pray, and teach “in Jesus’ name,” you are acknowledging that the meaning of life is Jesus Christ.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

How Mustard Seeds Dislodge Mountains

Dr. Foster has recently taken on the issue of assurance. He says some good things.

A few years ago a friend of mine told me that every Sunday when his pastor publicly led willing souls in the "sinner's prayer," he prayed along with it. He did this every Sunday. I asked him why. My friend has been a believer for a long time, and everyone who knows him knows he's a mature Christian and a respected lay leader in his church. So why would he feel the need to repeat the sinner's prayer every week?
He is not a man attacked by doubts, or even fears, for his eternal salvation, but an aspect of his humility before God led him somehow to say the "gettin' saved" words every time. He said he did it "just in case."

I told him I never met an unsaved person who was worried about his salvation, and that the very fact that he was concerned about his salvation was proof in itself he was saved. He later told me that since I said that he hadn't repeated the prayer any more.

Now, let me go on record at least in saying Christians "new" and "old" need the Gospel every day. You and I will need saving faith in Jesus as much on our last day of living as we did on the first. In that sense, confessing our sins in a spirit of repentance and expressing faith in the saving life and work of Jesus Christ is something we ought to do every day, not just every Sunday.
But at the same time, we need not do it for fear we somehow "lost" it between prayers. In fact, we should continue to cling to Jesus like first-time converting sinners not because salvation is tenuous but actually because the salvation of Jesus is sure.

This is one of those neat paradoxes, I think, where our lack of confidence in ourselves drives more into the arms of Jesus. Our doubts and fears, in this sense, are actually the biggest expressions of faith, because we know there is nothing that can cure or repair our desperation other than the saving love of Jesus Christ.

Christians, be confident in this -- when you are most concerned about your salvation, your faith is much stronger than you realize.
I know; it doesn't make sense. "If my faith is strong, why do I doubt it?" you ask. "If I am really saved, why don't I feel like it?"

The answer to the first question is this: When you are doubting your own faith, you are in the blessed position of realizing you cannot save yourself. It is that moment, believe it or not, the moment when you are thinking most less of yourself (if you follow what I mean) that Christ most increases in you. Look, strong faith is not always about supreme confidence in your own Christianosity. ;-) It is actually about your recognition of your own deficiencies and your inabilities, and thereby about your recognition that you really, really need Jesus because you just don't know if you can make it on your own.
The second "assurance of salvation" becomes about feeling great and feeling confident and feeling empowered (or whatever), it has become more about you and less about Jesus. It is not for nothing the Bible says "He must increase, I must decrease."

That sort of responds to the second question -- "If I'm saved, why don't I feel saved?" -- but a follow-up answer to that common question is this: Find feelings in the Scriptures as a reliable barometer of spiritual strength and you will have cause for despair. Let me know if you find it, but until you do, forget judging how much God loves you by how much you feel loved.

This is how much God loves you: He sent His only Son to die and rise again so that anyone who believes in Him won't die but will rise again to eternal life. It doesn't matter how you "feel" about that. It's a done deal. You either believe it or you don't.
And I got news for you on that note too: Even if you have a hard time believing it, it was still done.

Your doubts and fears are instrumental in your discipleship. They aren't fun, to be sure, but neither are suffering and persecution, and Jesus promised both of those things too. The great news of all of it, however, is that Jesus has you covered. He didn't just die to cover your lies and malice and greed and jealousy and all the other obvious sins -- His blood is powerful enough to cover your doubts and fears too.

And that is how you can have assurance even when you struggle with it. Not by pulling your attitude up by its boot straps, and not by suddenly feeling great about some words of inspiration and hope. But by realizing your doubts and fears are the very atoms of faith. Doubts and fears are faith on the elemental level. Unsaved people don't worry about salvation . . . unless they are in the beginning stages of conversion. So when you experience that peculiar "lack of assurance," be assured -- you are on the cutting edge of the Gospel yet again. It may not feel great, but it can be a great place to be. Anything that makes us throw ourselves at Jesus is worth it.
Do you see now how faith as small as a mustard seed can say to a mountainous system of religious rites and duties "go drown yourself," and it will happen?

Most all of us are familiar with the story of Peter's wet and wild adventure with the walking-on-water Jesus. The lesson of faith in that story actually lay not with Peter's walking on the water nor with his sinking. No, the real difference in that story is that Peter jumped out of the boat in the first place. Whether he strolled or sunk, Jesus was there to lift him up.

Remember that while it is through our faith we are saved, that it is by grace we are saved. Don't worry about worry. Grace covers that, as well.

Prayer Update

Wow. Can I just say "wow"? We have been overwhelmed with the outpourings of concern and offers of help since sharing our prayer request for Becky's ailment. We are so blessed to have such an awesome church family.
Don't let anyone ever say Bellevue Community Church does not know how to care.

I have felt a little off balance in handling our response to the offers of help, mainly because I have felt guilty about whether our level of need merited the level of response, but also because I'm a prideful son of a gun who likes to think I can handle everything by myself. I'm stupid like that sometimes. ;-)
Also, we've just been very busy the last couple of days, so it's even been difficult just finding a time to take a breath and try to say "thanks" to some folks, much less make arrangements to accept their help. It took me three days to get my yard mowed, because my weedeater stopped working and I couldn't find time, between trying to sort out our car situation and shuttling Beck to and from doctors, to go borrow one from a friend who only lives a minute or two away.

So if you've offered to help and I've not responded, please don't take it personally. It's not because we don't appreciate it. I have returned a call this morning to make arrangements for some "assistance," so at least know we're not trying to survive all by our lonesome.
Our biggest need right now, actually, is just rest.

The Update:
Becky saw a new doctor yesterday morning, and it seems like, for the first time in about 12 years, we may actually know what has been causing this stuff. It is just a "theory" at this point, but it's a new one, and more importantly, it makes a lot of sense and answers a lot of questions about the affliction that have gone unanswered for years.
If this theoretical diagnosis is true, the bad news, if you can call it that, is that there is no "cure" for it, other than radical surgery that neither Becky nor I want and that the doctor advises against anyway. So it seems as if the problem will recur as it has before, usually once or twice a year.

If this theoretical diagnosis is true, the good news is that at least we know what the problem is, and we know it is not life-threatening or degenerative. It will be a pain -- literally -- to have to keep enduring the thing off and on, but there's an odd comfort in at least knowing what's causing it. And there are some treatments that can be prescribed to lessen the effects and duration, if Becky decides she wants to do them.

The more important good news for us, at this time, is that if this new theory is true, Becky should be feeling much better very, very soon. Soon, as in a few days.

I'm sorry to be so vague about what all this stuff entails, but maybe I should just say it involves the inner anatomy of the female-type person ;-), and that might explain our desire for privacy and discretion.

We are very hopeful that this new doctor has finally figured out what the problem is, and based on that, very hopeful Becky will be feeling much better very soon.
We are so thankful for all our friends and family who have gone above and beyond in offering prayers and support. Please know you are greatly loved and much appreciated, and even if we are not able to accept your offers of help at this time, we praise God for your kind hearts and willing hands.

Our church is so awesome.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Prayer Request

Testing, testing . . . Is this thing on?
Sorry for the absence of late.

I have hesitated to share a prayer concern my family has right now, but I figured if I can't ask my church to pray for us, somethin's rotten in Bellevue. ;-)

Please pray for my wife Becky. She has been afflicted by an ongoing health concern for about 12 years now that causes her incredible, intense pain once or twice a year. This time around started two weekends ago and has continued at least until today. Doctors all along have been baffled, and everybody seems more interested in treating the symptoms than in "fixing" whatever is causing all this. She was out of the office all last week because of the pain, and Friday afternoon, while taking her to see a specialist at St. Thomas, something went really wrong and I ended up having to rush her to the emergency room. (We had both the little ones with us at the time too.) That was probably the scariest moment of my life, because she basically started "shutting down" and was unresponsive.

The doctors still don't know what caused that (although a reaction to the pain medication she was taking may be the best bet), and of course they still don't know what is causing the severe pain she's feeling. She is home now and trying to get some rest (which is why, despite coming to lead my Conexus group Sunday morning, we haven't attended a service in the last two weeks), but still in a lot of pain and discomfort. She obviously missed that doctor's appointment Friday, so it is now rescheduled for Wednesday morning. Please pray that somebody figures out what is wrong and does something about it for once.

In the meantime, we're still dealing with the car mess from the hit and run accident 2 weeks ago and the purchase of a replacement vehicle. So it's just a hectic, stressful time right now.

We cherish the thoughts and prayers of our church family.

If you have any prayer requests, even if "unspoken," feel free to leave them in the comment section.

Regular (and thoughtful) blogging should resume sometime soon . . .


Here are a couple of great passages from one of my favorite writers, N.T. Wright, from his book on worship, For All God's Worth:
How can you cope with the end of a world and the beginning of another one? How can you put an earthquake into a test tube, or the sea into a bottle? How can you live with the terrifying thought that the hurricane has become human, that fire has become flesh, that life itself came to life and walked in our midst? Christianity either means that, or it means nothing. It is either the most devastating disclosure of the deepest reality in the world, or it’s a sham, a nonsense, a bit of deceitful play-acting. Most of us, unable to cope with saying either of these things, condemn ourselves to live in the shallow world in between. We may not be content there, but we don’t know how to escape.

. . . [T]he way through is by sheer unadulterated worship of the living and true God, and by following this God wherever he leads, whether or not it is the way our traditions would suggest. Worship is not an optional extra for the Christian, a self-indulgent religious activity. It is the basic Christian stance, and indeed (so Christians claim) the truly human stance.
(p. 1)

Worship is humble and glad; worship forgets itself in remembering God; worship celebrates the truth as God’s truth, not its own. True worship doesn’t put on a show or make a fuss; true worship isn’t forced, isn’t half-hearted, doesn’t keep looking at its watch, doesn’t worry what the person in the next pew may be doing. True worship is open to God, adoring God, waiting for God, trusting God even in the dark.

Worship will never end; whether there be buildings, they will crumble; whether there be committees, they will fall asleep; whether there be budgets, they will add up to nothing. For we build for the present age, we discuss for the present age, and we pay for the present age; but when the age to come is here, the present age will be done away. For now we see the beauty of God through a glass, darkly, but then face to face; now we appreciate only part, but then we shall affirm and appreciate God, even as the living God has affirmed and appreciated us. So now our tasks are worship, mission, and management, these three; but the greatest of these is worship.

And do you see why it’s so easy to create that pastiche of 1 Corinthians 13, substituting “worship” for “love”? Worship is nothing more nor less than love on its knees before the beloved; just as mission is love on its feet to serve the beloved . . .
(p. 9)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


I could have used both of these quotes in some recent posts . . .
"Jesus came to raise the dead. He did not come to teach the teachable; He did not come to improve the improvable; He did not come to reform the reformable. None of those things works."

-- Robert Capon

"I am a Christian, not because someone explained the nuts and bolts of Christianity to me, but because there were people willing to be nuts and bolts."

-- Rich Mullins

New Starts

Conexus kicks off this weekend! It's not too late to sign up for a group.

Men's Fraternity starts this Sunday also, running for the next five Sundays. (A second "semester" will continue in the Spring.) It's from 6:30 to 8:00 a.m. in The Onion, led by Pastor Dennis Conniff. You can sign up for Men's Fraternity online.

Character Matters

A commenter on an older post writes:
We do not care what he has done in his private life, or in his dealings with [others]. We just know that he is a great speaker and we have always taken something good away . . . after listening to him speak . . . His faith, humor, wit, and his caring for the congregation, to lead us in the right direction, that is all that matters to us.

I'll be honest in saying that stuff like this scares the bejeebers out of me.
It doesn't matter what a person does behind closed doors, or how he treats those in close proximity to him, so long as he continues to perform well and inspire from the stage?

I'm sorry, but character matters. I believe I actually have more respect for the object of this commenter's adulation, because I think even the speaker referenced would say that what a man does behind closed doors is important. How one treats others when he's not in the spotlight matters. Otherwise it's just "talk," right?
The commenter appears, remarkably enough, to confirm this, to say that "Yeah, I don't care if somebody walks his talk so long as I enjoy his talk." And that, folks, is the shallowest (and most dangerous) approach to discipleship of all.

Let me flip the script a bit on this commenter, if he or she is still reading. Suppose you have a child in school whose teacher constantly verbally abuses her in private. Essentially, this teacher hates your kid and lets her know at every opportunity. But in general, the teacher is a capable and talented educator, and the average grade of the entire class is pretty high. Most parents and others see the teacher as a great person with lots of skill. But you know the teacher is terrifying your daughter behind closed doors.
Now ask yourself, how would this statement by another parent strike you: "We don't care what she does in private or how she treats individual students, we just know she's good at teaching."
Does that make sense to you?

The Bible actually says a few things about integrity, about what a believer does in "private life," about outward appearances and reputation versus character and secret dealings. Here's a sampling:

Whoever slanders his neighbor in secret, him will I put to silence; whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, him will I not endure.
-- Psalm 101:5

If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.
-- 1 John 4:20-21

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean.
-- Matthew 23:27

Character matters. If that upsets your weekend spiritual entertainment, so be it.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Right Words at the Right Time

In the last post I talked about how cheap words can be. Now I'd like to encourage you a bit to think about saying some important words at the right time.

While an abundance of words can actually diminish the living witness of believers and the Church they make up, there is also a huge weight to words unsaid. Just a short phrase seems to leave a small gap, but that doesn't stop us from filling it up with all kinds of thoughts, feelings, and actions that actually won't fit where the right words will.

Here are some examples of things you could say or you could hear that could transform, liberate, or heal your thoughts and feelings:

1. I love you.
2. I forgive you.
3. I am so sorry for what I've done. Will you forgive me?
4. I am very proud of you.
5. I respect you.
6. I'm glad that you are mine.
7. I need help.
8. Can I help you?

In certain contexts and life situations, any one of those brief sentences can work a miracle in someone's heart, maybe your own.
Some scenarios you might find helpful:

Wives, when was the last time you looked your husband in the eyes and told him you respected him? Do you know how vital it is for men to feel respected? In fact, he could feel like the cream of the crop at work, receive the adulations and congratulations of his bosses and coworkers, and still be aching to hear from his wife that she respects him. It's so easy to forget to do that when we are focusing on all that we have to do, or when we feel short-changed in the respect department ourselves. But remember, a Great Commandment discipleship requires a "me third" lifestyle.

Husbands, try this out sometime soon. When you get in bed for the night with your wife, tenderly take her face in your hands (her face, guys, not her boobies), and say "I'm so glad you are mine." Do you know how vital feeling cherished and chosen is to wives? How important it is that they feel like after x number of years and [mumbles] pounds, you'd still pick them out of a lineup to do life with?

Parents, when was the last time you told one of your children you are proud of them?

Single folks, parents or not, I don't mean to leave you out, but maybe there's someone in your life who's been begging for your forgiveness, or who's been waiting to extend it to you, that you either need to forgive or apologize to. That goes for everyone. The greatest sin in your life right now is whichever one is keeping you from closeness to God and whichever one is separating you from a brother or sister in Christ.
Think hard about contacting someone to express repentance and say "Please forgive me" or to express reconciliation and say "I forgive you."

No, none of this is easy. The words are brief (at first), but they aren't cheap either. They are hard, hard words, sometimes made more difficult to share by hard, hard experiences.
"But you don't know my husband! He always ..."
"But you don't know my wife! She's a total ..."
"But you don't know what this person did to me!"
"But you don't know what I did to this person!"

Okay. Yeah. All right.
I know it's not easy. It took the humiliation, torture, and death of an innocent man to work your forgiveness and reconciliation. So, yeah, it doesn't come without some pain and sacrifice.
But will you trust me that it is worth it?
Okay, don't trust me. What do I know? I'm just a scumbag blogger. ;-)

But trust God that any words that have healing, love, and reconciliation motivating them are very worth it.

Friday, September 08, 2006

The Hard Stuff of Real Lives

Giving real hope to real people in the real world . . .

That motto is not original to BCC, but oh, I hope to God we make it our own.

A week or so ago on another blog I conversed with a guy named Matthew who said he had done the whole Christianity thing with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength and didn't get anything out of it but an empty silence and a failed marriage. He poured out his story of devoting years and years to faithful pursuit of a relationship with Jesus, of studying his Bible and believing wholeheartedly in what it said, of praying daily with a fervent and devoted heart, of attending church with commitment and openness. Of begging God to take away the same-sex attraction that had been plaguing him since as long as he could remember. Matthew believed his desires were sinful and out of faithfulness did not act on them, and day after day for years and years pleaded with God to take those feelings away. He tried counseling and community. He even tried marriage to a woman. When he was finally able to come clean about his inner struggles, almost nothing he had committed himself to survived the fallout. His marriage was over. And so was his faith.

Matthew says he trusted God and tried truly, sincerely, honestly to have a relationship with Jesus Christ. He says he was repentant and obedient. But God never kept up His end of the relationship, so Matthew gave up. In his mind now, there probably is no God, but even if there is, He ain't worth having faith in. You can't have a relationship with someone you can't see or hear, he says. He tried.

What do we say to someone like Matthew? He's not alone. There are millions of folks like him. What do we say to the Matthews of the world? To the pre- and post-Christian skeptics?

I tried to say a few things as respectfully and helpfully as I could. He was asking questions, and I felt obliged to offer some answers. But I was way in over my head. I was humbled not just by the difficulty in finding "the right words" for an experience like Matthew's, but just by the very idea that a few paragraphs of "insight" in a blog comments section could adequately address, much less honor, his decades of pain and struggles.

This week, at Common Grounds Online, pastor/author Les Newsom posted about his conversation with a seeker-skeptic who wanted to know why God was hiding. Newsom is a very intelligent guy, one with a great pastoral spirit, and he was able of course to work some philosophical ju-jitsu and turn the tables on the asker. Using sound biblical insight and practically flawless logic and rhetorical eloquence, he spoke the truth that it is not God who hides, but us. It was as perfect an answer as one could provide.

Yet I'd be willing to bet it did not suddenly make the skeptic go, "Oh, yes, I see. You're absolutely right."

Words can be very, very cheap. Even the best ones. Even the truest ones. Yes, it is true that God's Word will not return void, but oh how inadequate even our best words can be in "making someone believe." The Bible says that faith cannot come without hearing, so the Church must be dedicated to preaching, but isn't it humbling -- or, at least, shouldn't it be humbling -- to know that it's not our words that work faith in a person, but God's grace?

I'm a words guy. I'm big on words. I want to make a living with my words. I try to get my words published and have had a little success. I fill up too many blogs with words. I fill up a computer file with fictional words. I speak words when I'm teaching. I speak words when I want my wife to know how I feel. I speak words when I'm caring for, instructing, or disciplining my kids.
The world is not short on words, and some of us are trying to speak as many as we think appropriate in the best way we know how.

But words don't save. The Word does.

I'm a fan of apologetics, by which I mean the system and study of providing answers and evidence in defense of the validity and truth of the Christian faith. Apologetics are helpful in evangelism. But I've never heard of anyone argued into or really even intellectually convinced into the kingdom. That can often be the first step, but it's never the only one. Jesus doesn't require we love with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength by only changing our minds. He changes the rest too.

So how do we do this? For the Matthews of the world, and for everyone else? People are looking for sound words, for true words, but mere words aren't working. That there's a new "religious" best seller on the New York Times list every few months certainly proves that. Clearly not everyone was driven to a purpose that ultimately satisfied or they would not have then latched on to finding their best life now. The Church has an abundance of words.
What else we got?

One of my favorite blog-buddies is a guy by the name of Michael Spencer, who's been writing under the nom de plume The Internet Monk for more than a few years. I don't just consider myself a friend of his (he's also the founder and moderator of the Boar's Head Tavern blog, the guy who invited me to be a "fellow" in that conversation), I consider myself a fan. He's a great writer with a lot of hard-earned wisdom. This week he highlighted a post from the Internet Monk archives. It is called To Know We're Not Alone, and I highly recommend you read it. Here's an excerpt:
His face comes back to me across the years, and as I think about my own brokenness, failures, and the desire for common humanity that drives me to nail my thoughts to the door of the world, I wonder if he wasn’t showing me the face of every man and woman I’ve ever met.

You see, the invitation concluded, and that preacher began talking. His words were nervous, not the sure and confident tones of the sermon, but the halting, breaking, fearful tones of the guilty confession. He wasn’t in preacher-speak. He was speaking differently. Humanly. It bothered me.

In my church, our pastor seemed super-human. He was God’s man. A Spirit-filled man. He was different than all of us. He spoke differently. He dressed in suits all the time, even on hot summer days when he was doing yard work. He knelt behind the pulpit when he prayed, even though it was a very large church. He cried and shouted in the pulpit. He declared the Word of the Lord, and pled with sinners to come to Jesus. He was an embodiment of heaven’s man on earth.

He was not like the rest of us, and we knew it.

He did laugh, but not in the same way or at the same things. His wife was saintly, and always dressed like royalty. He could be tender, but he could also be frightening. You knew he spent hours with God, and was different as a result. He was a holy man.

As a young preacher-boy, I wasn’t a thing like him. I’m not sure that I wanted to be. I had walked the aisle and “surrendered” to preach, but could I ever be like that? Holy and separate? Anointed with power? I did believe, I am sure, that being a preacher meant I would be different. God would give to me…..something. The mantle of the prophet. The fire of the preacher. A light in the darkness. I wouldn’t be like other people. I would be safe and protected.

But this evening I was looking at another preacher, not my pastor. And he was not supernatural or holy or other-worldly. He seemed small and frightened. He was talking about his wife. He’d come home, and found his wife with another man. He just said this, to the whole church, as if they must know. He wept. His fear and self-loathing oozed out of him and into the atmosphere of that revival. Everything changed.

His wife was not present, though we all looked around to see her. I was uncomfortable. I wasn’t the only one. I wanted him to stop talking. He was scaring me. Real humanity, and the mess of a broken marriage, weren’t welcome in this revival, or in my world.

He said he and his wife had a lot of trouble, and he’d been taking medicine. But the medicine hadn’t done any good. Now his wife was with another man, and he wanted the church to pray. We did not know what to do with this. It was too much. Too much. Too real . . .

. . . I did not realize until many years later what had happened that night. The preacher was calling out of his darkness, calling into a room of other people, looking for something. What? He was looking to know he was not alone. He wanted to know if anyone else knew and understood what it was like to be human, to hurt and be a failure. To have failed at marriage and now, to have failed at being a “good Christian.” Did anyone care that his life was a wreck, or would they just condemn him? Would they pray for him, or did they just want him to go away?

I have no idea what he found. In me, he found the shock that comes from being confronted with my illusions. I wanted this to be a freakish exception to the rule that God makes us all better and makes everything all right. I wanted this to be a bad dream that would go away, because I did not want to think about the waking realities of infidelity and mental illness and desperate, despairing people. I did want to think that the man standing in the pulpit with the answers might not have all the answers for himself.

My faith rejected such a vision. I thought of that preacher as a sick fool. Today, I know better. He was a window into my own soul. A picture of the human race. A representative of the our true nature. And even more, he was, for that moment a sacrament of honesty in a religion of pretense. He stood there, falling to pieces, asking, “Am I alone? Am I the only one?” But we couldn’t let the secret out. We had to say the “amen,” and go home to a religion that protects us and makes us better.

Some twenty years later, that preacher took his own life. I do not know his path, I only know that in the end, he could not live with himself.

How many times did he stand and tell others to trust in a God of love, mercy and grace? And what did we hear? Did we hear the truth….or did we hear, instead, the invitation to paint ourselves in colors of self-deception and denial, and pretend another week, another year?

Over and over, Jesus reached into the lives of people like that preacher. The last, lost, least, losers. The unacceptable, the unreformable. The failures and the frauds. Those whose lives could not be tidied up with a little cultural religion. And from that, we have constructed a Jesus who prefers the “good Christian.” A Jesus who wants moralizing and religious superficiality. A Jesus who hardly needs to die for us, because a little exhortation to do better and keep on the straight and narrow are more our style. A Jesus without a cross, but with smiles and blessings for our homes and marriages full of “Christian moral values.”

I couldn't have said it any better, and coming as it does as the result of a severe life lesson grounded in personal pains (and not just mental ruminations), I am content to have provided a lengthy excerpt of his piece at the expense of more of my blathering. ;-)

This is why the Jesus + nothing Gospel is vital. This is why a works gospel is worthless, whether its coming from a Pharisee in 1 BC, a fundy hellfire preacher in 1975, or a pomo pastor-buddy in 2006. Jesus must be the point of our work and words . . .

. . . and we must mean them. I don’t mean be sincere about them or do them well. I mean we must mean them. And that is the missing ingredient in all of these real stories of real hurt in the real world. The real hope. Hope that is real. Not just words of hope. Yes, those too, but the authenticity, the pure religion that makes the words real. What is missing, then, is the living witness of the church. The community cannot just be about dispensing kingdom words but about living out the kingdom life and doing the kingdom work.

Will we respond to the Matthews of our community with just good advice? With some clever apologetics and airtight theology? Or with grace and relentless support and a consistent witness that we still believe this stuff and know it makes a difference and are going to keep trusting Jesus is faithful even if they won't? Will we carry on with love? Or with resentment or dismissal or avoidance? Will our testimony be desertion? Or the bearing of burdens?

The people who enter our doors and “test drive” our community had better get more than words for their trouble. Some of them can subsist on good words for a while. But the substance of lives troubled by broken families, broken hearts, substance abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, adultery, pornography, grief over lost loved ones or prodigal children or prodigal parents, lost jobs, lost joys, secret sins and secret shames, doubt and hurt and need and guilt will not be healed by words, but by the living witness of the Body of Christ being the body of Christ to them. The friends of the crippled man didn’t just tear the roof off the sucker so their friend could hear Jesus better; they lowered him down into the middle of an astonished audience so he could be healed.

Jesus Christ came to preach the good news of the coming of the kingdom of God, and everywhere he went, he testified in word and deed to the freedom life in the kingdom gives to the hurt, lost, and lonely. If we, the community the Bible calls the Body of Christ, will be true to our namesake, we will do no less. Our open door must be like the hole in the roof of that house – the place of dramatic entry into a place of real hope for real people with real hurts.
BCC cannot just be about giving people good advice to live their generic lives more successfully; we must be about living the Gospel in a world of hard stuff.

But prove yourselves obedient to the Message, and do not be mere hearers of it, imposing a delusion upon yourselves. But be ye doers of the word...
-- James 1:22

Thursday, September 07, 2006

We're Going to Have a Wowie!

Actually, we will have a rally, but kudos to anyone who gets the movie reference. (It's fairly old school and you probably would have had to either be a young child or be the parent of a young child in the mid-80's.)

Anyhoozle, this weekend, during all four services, Conexus leaders and facilitators will be manning (and womanning?) tables in the church atrium, ready to answer any questions about and sign anybody up for their groups. This will be your chance, prospective Conexus participant, to get some more personal feedback on what a group or class may entail. In many cases, also, you should be able to peruse copies of books or guides that may be used. And, of course, you'll get to decide if the face looking back at you isn't one you'll mind seeing for about an hour once a week.
Fun for the whole family. ;-)

If you are planning to sign up for a Conexus group, please do so, if you are able, through the Conexus page on the Hope Park website. You can sign up a few different ways, but entering through the website is actually the best and most expedient way for the church to receive your registration information and pass it on to the group leaders. In fact, when you sign up via the website, your info automatically gets forwarded to the leader of your group.
(Btw, if you've been signing up for the group I am facilitating, "Exploring Grace," don't worry. I have received your information, and I'll be contacting you all, as a group, sometime soon. Just didn't want you to think you'd slipped through the cracks.)

So don't forget: This weekend is your chance to preview Conexus groups with the folks who will be conducting them at the Fall 2006 Conexus Rally. Shortly before and after all four BCC services.

On a somewhat related note: Anybody know if Men's Fraternity is still going on? I remember seeing that it had been revived recently for early Sunday mornings, and I was going to do a posted "advertisement" for it, but now I see no reference to it on the church website. Has it been cancelled? Anybody "in the know" know anything?


"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

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Scandalous Parable

And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only were hearing it said, "He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy." And they glorified God because of me.

That's Paul writing in Galatians, a letter whose theme is basically "Grace and the Gospel," about the reception by the early church of his miraculous conversion. That he had embraced the faith "he once tried to destroy" could have (and may have) led some into confusion and resentment, but these churches he highlights see instead how this bizarre and "disturbing" turnaround glorifies God. That's the scandal of grace, and I talked a bit about that in relation to Saul's becoming Paul, and his acceptance in the church, earlier in this post.

Today I'd like to apply the scandal of grace to perhaps the most well known of Jesus' parables -- the story of The Prodigal Son. Most of us are at least familiar with the basic plot points, but I fear that its widespread familiarity may have actually taken the punch out of it.

I'm going to walk through it bit by bit, almost "commentary style," hoping to highlight some things you may have not thought of before. And if you had thought of them before, perhaps reviewing the parable in context and the application I will try to make at the end, will renew your affection for the story. For instance, I know that I consider myself pretty familiar with the Sermon on the Mount, but every time I re-read the Beatitudes, I feel like they are piercing my soul for the first time. So let's take a walk and see what happens . . .
Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them.

This thing the younger son is asking for is not just presumptuous and greedy. It is practical blasphemy against his father. In those days, when one said "Give me my inheritance now" it is essentially saying, "I wish you were dead."
"Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

There is a novel's worth of events and experience in the above development. Given the liberty of his father, the son takes it for granted. He pleases the desires of his flesh and the pleasures of the moment. He is wasting the blessing, squandering the grace previously given. And when push comes to shove, he finds that he has not prepared for real life, for the consequences of his sinfulness.
I think, also, there is something quite profound that happens in a human being who gets to that lowest point and is perversely content to stay there. He might have already realized his mistake and begun longing for redemption, but his refusal to move is not so much as him saying "this is my lot in life" but "this is what I deserve." I know of people who come face to face with their sin and are so ashamed by it that acceping grace for it seems impossible to them. They are so overcome, they cannot believe in, and therefore cannot act upon, the idea that they don't have to be imprisoned forever in the pit they've dug and thrown themselves into. Grace, then, is just as scandalous to them as it would be to a third-party observer (one of which we shall meet soon).
The important thing is that the prodigal did ultimately decide to humble himself, embrace his guilt and shame, and take the risk of trusting his father to deal with him honorably. This is what we call repentance.
"When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' So he got up and went to his father.

In faith, the son trusts that his father will not turn him away, that his father will have pity on him. He is his father, after all. But in humility, he makes no demands or makes no obligations. He is willing to work for his father, to recognize he has forfeited his claim of sonship to his father. This is real repentance and a real offer of faith. He will say to his father, "I ask for your mercy, even though I don't deserve it." He is acknowledging that his reception will be colored by whatever his father's will is.
"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

Here's something you may not hear much about, but in that culture at that time, it was considered undignified for grown men to run. It was beneath a man of power and sophistication, considered childish or improper. Yet the father sees his son and runs to him. He stoops; he humiliates himself. He creates a mini-scandal with just that action. What a great narrative picture of the humility and "impropriety" with which Jesus embraced the cross for us. It was beneath him and unworthy of him, but he was willing to stoop to exalt his Father's will, and thereby exalt us to join him as sons of God.
"The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'

The son maintains the spirit of repentance, despite his father's surprising and enthusiastic welcome. The son is not interested in squandering the grace again.
"But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate.

The son is humble and penitent; he is not expecting or demanding restoration to the status of son. He knows he has sinned and is actually taking a risk with just asking that he be allowed to work for the father. But his father will hear nothing of it. "You're still my son," this father of grace says, and he celebrates the restoration of the relationship. He treats him as if he never sinned. He doesn't just offer or extend mercy; he showers the kid with it. He overwhelms him. The forgiveness is absolute. In direct correlation to the measure with which his son has offended him and taken him for granted and sinned against him, the father forgives him and honors him and blesses him.
The sin was radical and absolute; and so was the grace.

Then the scandal builds steam . . .
"Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.'
"The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!'

It gets tricky here, because I think the vast majority of us never put ourselves in the place of the older brother. He's always someone else. Somebody, to be sure, probably somebody we know. But not us. We are either the repentant prodigal or the grace-giving father, but we dang well know the resentful brother is that fundamentalist at work or that TV preacher we can't stand or some relative who ruins every family reunion. There's millions of them out there -- but none of them is us. Right?
The truth, however, and this is when the scandal gets most scandalous, is that we are the older brother more often than not. Here's the litmus test: Ever angry about somebody not getting what you think they deserve? Ever resent that someone seems to have it easier than you? Ever think someone asking for forgiveness got it too easily? Are you constantly seeing lots of people as messed up, screwed up, or wrong, but don't worry too much about if you are?
Do you point the finger a lot? It doesn't matter why, and you may be calling someone a legalist or thinking you're calling them the older brother, but I got news for you -- it's you. (It's me too!)

Any time grace hits you as distressing or inappropriate, and it is not grace that has been given to you, you are the older brother.
Heck, we've all been the prodigal. The prodigal is the personification of every sinner Jesus has ever forgiven. So every follower of Jesus has been a prodigal at one time (and may be one now). The choice we make now, post-conversion, is whether we will be a scandalizing father or a scandalized older brother. Sometimes we don't know we're making that choice. Sometimes it just happens based on our demeanor, our assumptions, our personality, our theology, our upbringing, whatever. The scandal will always be scandalous; it will always disturb and offend. It will always revolutionize and reform. It will always redeem.
" 'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' "

Here is the application for me and you: Which side of the scandal will we be on? Resentment or celebration?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Accidental Religion: Or, Hip Fans of a Cool Jesus

The great irony about the desire of modern churches to leave out “religion” is that they basically introduce religion of a different sort. We are big on talking about Jesus the revolutionary and about how we should embrace "the real Jesus" while getting rid of stale “religiosity,” etc etc.
The only problem is that this approach routinely mistakes Jesus’ call for good behavior for the primary point of Jesus’ mission. We not only emphasize ethics over theology, we construct a superficially religious ethical system without much theology at all. The gospel then becomes about self-improvement and self-help — using Jesus as our model, of course! But sin is not mentioned. Neither is holiness. Ditto repentance. God the Father is only vaguely referred to except as someone who loves you “as you are” and just “wants you to be the best person you can be.”

This is not discarding "religion," by the way. It's just trading in one type for another. The new stuff is actually the same old-school legalism, only now it’s wearing cool clothes and prides itself in all that it tolerates rather than all that it excludes. It is just as vain and self-concerned as the fuddy-duddy religion it abhors. Only it’s worse. Seriously. Because while your old-school “religiosity” might have been too frowny, it frequently got the Gospel right. It might not have had the hippest music or the best coffee or the most relaxing seats or the most modern architecture. But it realized Jesus is God, and it understood that “taking Jesus as your role model” is rubbish.

If you're down with the lingo, it is a preaching of ethos without theos, and it troubles me not merely because it's getting the Gospel wrong, but because it demonstrates not even realizing it. We think we are correcting the Church’s error when really we are just perpetuating a new one.
We think we are preaching the Gospel, but we are in fact preaching about works! And that's how, ironically enough, we've adopted the same sort of religiosity we think we have left behind. We just don't notice it because this religion wears distressed denim and has a faux-hawk.

Can we ever get it straight that the Gospel is for sinners? That Jesus’ kingdom proclamation really isn’t about living harmoniously or “victoriously” or “successfully”?
When did the Church’s message become about being hip fans of a cool Jesus?

Too Much Grace?

An e-mailer asks, "Has BCC not talked about sin and repentance enough, and talked about grace too much?"

My answer: Yes and no.

I'm of the opinion that we can't talk about grace too much. We should be shouting it from the rooftop. It should be in our words, songs, actions, expressions, tones, and eyes. Shots of grace should be slipped like "mickeys" into everyone's cup at Coffee Connection.

The hitch, from my point of view, is that we have to know what grace is. So, no, we have not talked about grace too much. We should be talking about it more. But we should be talking about it correctly. Grace is for sinners. When you subtract authentic talk of the real problem, it doesn't matter how hard you push grace; it would be like offering a cure for cancer to someone who doesn't know they have the disease. The whole counsel of grace must include what grace is present to heal and deliver us from; otherwise it's just cheap sentimentality. It's feelings or behavior.

This doesn't mean, however, that we go back to hammering people over the head with all they've done wrong like Churchy McChurchisons did in the olden days. That was subtraction of the real solution. The danger for us in our day and in our kind of church is, to paraphrase a saying of Martin Luther's, to "fall off the horse in the other direction." The real Gospel lay in the balance of the truth of the Law and the truth of Grace, and when you preach one at the expense of the other, you have ceased preaching the Gospel.

So grace is so necessary, so vital, and cannot be underemphasized. But when you preach grace as merely the "solution" to a lack of confidence or to doubt or to powerlessness to prevail or anything else that is a paraphrase (at best) for the real problem -- sinful natures -- you are not really helping anyone. Given what I know of myself, I am glad that grace is for sinners. And that, given God's grace, I shall not be reckoned a sinner in Jesus.

Touching Base After Vision Night

Been a while, eh? Sorry 'bout that.

We had a crazier weekend than we expected. You ever get weirded out about how busy and tired you can get without even leaving your house?
The girls were under the weather. Becky was in a high speed collision on I-40 coming home from work Friday. She was uninjured, thank God, but obviously very sore for the next couple of days. Between her aches, trying to get the insurance and rental car stuff taken care of on a holiday weekend (it was a hit and run collision, so that complicates matters), and the girls' sniffles, we didn't make it to any service. We stayed in and rested and played and got some housework done. Monday, we did actually get to the pool for half a day, so that was nice.

Some folks are asking for my review of last week's Vision Night. I don't know what to say except that I liked it very much. Each presenter did a thorough enough job with a congenial enough spirit that I think it was more than satisfactory. The highlights for me were Lionel and Paul leading us in some great "stripped down" worship and our celebration of communion (with Pastor Conniff's preceding devotional and reflection).

Probably the most pertinent informational highlights were as follows:
a) the lead pastor search is underway
b) the Crazy Campaign is officially "dead," and you can get your money back if you want (I think), but those who don't want refunds are assured their moneys will be directed to the most urgent budgetary needs of the church at this time
c) the elder nomination and selection process is being fast-tracked.

To expound on that last item:
There were handouts, and I'm sure the info is available on the Hope Park website, but the basic rundown is this:
The congregation is able to nominate members for the position of elder. You may do this by writing a letter or using the church website to present a case for your nominee's qualifications and sufficiency for the position. It's not "he's a great guy" or "he's a smart guy"-type of thing. An elder must meet our church's specific qualifications, which are a) be a member for at least 5 years, b) be in service to the church, c) be a consistent attender, d) tithe, and e) affirm the church's faith and doctrinal stance. In addition, you might want to review the specific biblical qualifications for church overseers found, among other places, here and here. (Elders serve for 4 years.)

Once you have provided your letter of nomination, a list of nominees will be made public to the congregation. At that time, anyone with a "beef" with anybody on the list can and should address that with the church staff or the elder board.
The selection process includes multiple interviews between nominees and pastors, staff, and elders, eventually leading to the current elder board voting on incoming replacements for outgoing elders. This year, there will be 3 elders rotating off, so there will be 3 new elders, one of which will serve only 3 years. (Typically, it is just 2 elders every year, serving for 4 years.)

The time frame has been moved up, also. Normally, the nomination process is open from October 1 to October 31. This year it is September 1 to September 31, so of course, as of last Friday, nominations are being accepted. My advice to you, should you consider nominating someone, is to do so prayerfully and thoughtfully. This is not a time to get "your guy" or your "side" on the elder board. We have an opportunity to further the godly leadership of our church council, and that's what we should do. I have someone in mind to nominate, and I'm guessing you might also. Let's not nominate out of ambition or even admiration. Let's do it out of love and concern for our church.

Hope your short week is going well. I'm looking forward to the start of Conexus, and to the fresh start of our reloaded BCC vision. The best years of BCC are ahead!