Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Once Saved, Always Saved?

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith . . .
-- Hebrews 12:2a

This post is inspired by a reader's comment left on a previous post titled Grace and Faith, Law and Works. It is a bit of a theological rabbit chase, but I do think it's a valuable one, particularly as it relates to the work of salvation and to a Christian's assurance of salvation. (For a bit more background on where I'm coming from on the issue of assurance, you might want to check out the following posts: How Mustard Seeds Dislodge Mountains and Faith Wavers, Grace Sustains.)

The primary question before me right now is: Is the idea "once saved, always saved" a true one?

The short answer is Yes.
The long answer is "It depends."

Because I believe the work of salvation is done by Jesus, that it is accomplished in his sinless life, sacrificial death, and bodily resurrection, I have a hard time believing in any sort of tenuous salvation. I believe what Jesus did accomplished salvation, and because what he accomplished was effectual for the salvation of sinners, the sinners who are saved will stay saved.
In John 6:39, Jesus says, "This is the Father's will, that of all He has given me, I will lose none."

Typically what someone means when they ask the above question is this: "Do you believe someone can pray the so-called Sinner's Prayer and then go on doing whatever the heck they want for the rest of their life?"
The answer to that, for me, is No. And the reason is because someone who goes on living exactly as they had before the prayer has not really repented. This does not mean, of course, that every believer stops sinning. But it does mean they don't want to. It does mean they are truly attempting to follow Jesus. It does mean they are convicted and/or grieved over their sin. It does mean, at the very least, that they recognize their sin as sin, and as sin that offends God.

The sticky wicket here in this question is emphasizing the need for the life of discipleship as evidence of one's salvation without making it sound like you have to do good works to be saved. The other tricky part is talking about these things with any conviction without making it sound like you can tell who's saved and who isn't.

This is what I believe:

Those whom God saves stay saved. I believe the Bible teaches this.
Even those whom God saves still sin. I believe the Bible teaches this too.

Those who are saved will evidence the fruit of their salvation in their life.

The life of discipleship is not a perfectly upward trajectory. It's messy. It's bumpy. It's confusing. There's times of joy and times of pain. There are times we feel close to God and times we feel very far away from Him. There's times we are sure of our salvation and times we wonder how God could ever be interested in scumbags like us.

You can't lose your salvation, because you didn't win it in the first place. Jesus won it for you, and once you are in His hand, nothing can snatch you out (including yourself). The Bible says nothing can separate us from the love of God; not height nor depth nor angels nor demons nor the present nor the future, etc. When it says "nothing" can separate us, I assume it means nothing can separate us.

More properly stated, I believe in the Reformational concept of the perseverance of the saints. (For you Calvinism curious out there -- and I know you're there -- that is the P in the TULIP acronym.) Perseverance of the saints basically means that those who are saved will persevere in their salvation; they will, for lack of a better way to put it, be found faithful on the day they take their last breath or the day Christ returns, whichever comes first.

This sort of gets at the commenter's original remarks, which spoke of the thieves on the cross and deathbed confessions. All I know is that Jesus does the saving and that He requires repentance and faith. If you've truly got that from the beginning -- I mean, if you really repent of your sin and you really exercise faith in Jesus -- then you will be truly repentant and truly faithful at the end, whenever that is. So I, for one, am not comfortable deciding who was sufficiently unbackslidden between the beginning and the end to slide in to heaven. I'm glad God makes those decisions, and I'm glad His grace covers all the times of my unfaithfulness throughout the course of my life. I don't think I'm as bad a guy as I can be, but I am bad enough to deserve hell, so I suspect some will be surprised to see me beyond the pearly gates, just as I'm sure we will all be surprised to see some we never thought would make it.

The bottom line is that simply reciting the sinner's prayer and then going on with life as usual demonstrates not really meaning the sinner's prayer. But the overarching point, for me anyway, is that it is not the sinner's prayer that saves, but Jesus. And if He wants you, me, or the jerk down the street on His team, we're on His team. And there's no trades.

"What if you want to be released from your contract?" I hear you saying. The simple answer to that, as harsh as it may sound, is that anyone who wants out and stays out wasn't really in to begin with. They just wore the jersey.

Now, I know good Christian folk who will disagree with this view. I have some friends, including a very close friend who is a pastor, in the Free Will Baptist denomination, and they believe that one may, in essence, forfeit his or her salvation. (Don't say the phrase "lose your salvation," because aside from it not really capturing what they believe, you will see them getting snarky and patting their pockets, mocking, "Salvation? Salvation? Where'd you go?" My pastor friend does that, the jerk. ;-) No, what they believe is that as someone can choose salvation with their free will, they can then give it up with their free will. (They also believe then that person can't get saved again, which always makes me wonder what happened to free will, but maybe it went wherever the lost salvation goes. Wherever socks escape from the dryer to, maybe?)

The key text for this issue is Hebrews 6:4-6, which talks about those who have "tasted of the heavenly gift" and have yet fallen away. The passage says such people cannot be restored. Theology nerd though I may be, and despite studying this and related issues in this passage and many others for years, I'll be honest in saying I have no idea what this refers to. My theory is that, by "tasted of the heavenly gift," the author of Hebrews is referring to people who participate in the visible church -- specifically, people who take part in the Lord's Supper -- yet who are not really Christians.
Obviously I could be wrong about that, but the main reason why I do not think those who have tasted of the heavenly gift yet fall away are true Christians is that the author contrasts this situation with "things pertaining to salvation" in 6:9. In that verse, the author appears to be saying, "But I know better of you, the ones who are truly saved . . ." Check it out and see if you don't agree.

To some extent, I think a lot of these issues could be tempered, if not resolved, by changing the focus of the work of salvation. Because while I certainly agree that saved people act saved -- the alternative is, in the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, "cheap grace" -- I don't think any amount of acting saved saves anyone, just like I don't think any amount of acting unsaved gets you unsaved. In our sin, we are condemned. But in Christ, we are redeemed. And when the Son has set you free, you are really, truly free. If the work of salvation is accomplished by the strength of Christ according to God's will, and if Christ's strength and God's will are perfect, then the salvation of those who trust Jesus is sure, regardless of their slip-ups, slidings, or silliness. And God, unlike us, always finishes what He starts.

He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it . . .
-- Philippians 1:6

Now unto Him who is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever.
-- Jude 24-25

Happy Reformation Day!

Okay, so today is Halloween. I don't know if your family "celebrates" this day or not, and my personal opinion is that whether one "does" Halloween or not is a matter of Christian liberty. I won't make fun of you for abstaining, and you don't condemn me for dressing my girls up like fairy princesses and taking them door to door for candy. As far as I can tell, fairy princesses are cute, candy is a gift from God, talking to my neighbors is a good thing, and if any of that pleases Satan, he's a bigger idiot than I thought he was.
But anyways . . . ;-)

Bottom line: Every day is the day the LORD has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it (Psalm 118:24). God owns every day. The devil owns none.

Today is also Reformation Day. On October 31, 1517 a hacked off Augustinian monk traipsed to the Wittenburg chapel and nailed a notebook to the door. The hacked off monk was Martin Luther, and the notebook was his now famous "95 Theses," which were mainly a list of grievances about how the Church was selling salvation to people willing to pay for it, but which ended up lighting the fuse on the Protestant Reformation.

You may not think that's a big deal, but if you believe in salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, and you attend a church that lets you believe that, you have an irrascible, constipated, beer-drinking, foul-mouthed monk to thank for that. And God for creating him.

On this Reformation Day, the 559th anniversary of the posting of Luther's diatribe, why not think about reformation in your own life? What parts of your heart and mind need a spiritual revolution? Where do you feel God most at work in your life? Maybe there's a relationship you need to mend; maybe there's a sin or bad habit you need to ditch for good; maybe there's some spiritual discipline (prayer, Bible study, worship, etc.) you ought to undertake more deliberately. Nail a resolution to reform on that area of your life.

Luther was obviously marked for death once he left the reservation (so to speak). At one of his trials he was ordered to recant his belief in justification by faith, and facing death, he could not violate his conscience. "Here I stand," he said. "I cannot do otherwise."
Pick your battle. Tell Satan and your "old man" that they don't own you or this day or you on any day. Speak to Jesus and into your own life the words of commitment, "By the grace of God, here I stand. I cannot do otherwise." And just see if the spirit of repentance fully embraced doesn't bring a spirit of renewal and reformation in that area of your life.


Thursday, October 26, 2006

Signposts of the Gospel

You may have already noticed I have added a What I'm Reading list to the right sidebar menu. It precedes my list of general recommendations and consists of the books I'm currently reading.
At the top of the list is The Radical Reformission, subtitled "Reaching Out Without Selling Out," by Mark Driscoll, founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington.* This is the first book of his two books, although I read the second one first, and wow, is it good. Very good. Driscoll's often blunt plainspeak may not communicate well to all readers, but I think anybody interested in growing a church that reaches the lost while still maintaining consistent fidelity to the Word and the Gospel ought to read the book, particularly those in the leadership of such a church effort.

I'm about halfway through Radical Reformission, and there's a lot of things I'd love to share from it, but the portion that stands out the most is from the fourth chapter, in a section where he elaborates on Seven Signposts of the Gospel. These are things Driscoll thinks are important in reconciling people to Jesus Christ. Below I am excerpting the last three points, as I think them most relevant to our ongoing efforts at BCC:
signpost 5: the gospel builds a spiritual family

One of the prominent metaphors of the church in the New Testament is a household -- or an extended family -- held together by the blood of Christ. No wonder the New Testament tells Christians to treat one another as brothers and sisters. In our day of devastated families and generational fracturing, churches that operate like loving spiritual families, caring for and correcting one another in love, can be the most convincing proof of the power and benefits of the gospel.

signpost 6: the gospel is about participation with God

While it is true that we are saved not by our good works but by the good works of Jesus (Eph. 2:8-9), it is also true that we are saved to good works (Eph. 2:10). The gospel is not simply about getting my sins forgiven and then sitting around until I get to heaven or until Jesus returns. The gospel compels us to participate with God in the culture we live in. Any gospel that does not compel us into mission overlooks both the duties and delights of being a Christian.

signpost 7: the gospel is about Jesus as the means and end of our salvation

Simply, Jesus is not a means to things such as wealth, health, heaven, happiness, wisdom, and success in marriage, church, ministry, theology, or politics. Anytime that Jesus is used as a means to an end, a false gospel has been introduced and the thing improperly focused on becomes a false god. To remain on task with reformission, we must continually be about Jesus as the means and end of God's will, and we must both proclaim his truth and live his lifestyle . . .

* Having since finished the book, it is no longer on the What I'm Reading list. I have added it to the list of Recommendations, however.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

How Two of the Hardest Things to Comprehend Reflect the Two Things We (Ought To) Enjoy the Most

It occurred to me a day or so ago that the two Christian doctrines we have the most trouble understanding and explaining -- the doctrine of the Trinity and the doctrine of the Incarnation -- are perhaps the two most vital in the Christian's knowledge of God. Lots of so-called "Christian" churches and movements have done their darndest to jettison these theological truths, perhaps out of frustration over their irrationality, and plenty of have tried to augment them, reshape them, redefine them, or dillute them with lame illustrations and metaphors. We should go easy on such people, because honestly, anyone who claims to really understand how Three Persons can simultaneously and coherently exist as One God, or how one Person can be simultaneously and coherently both the God of the Universe and a flesh-and-blood man, is lying. These are lofty truths -- big stuff about a big God -- and it's only natural that finite minds can't wrap themselves around them.

But we need them. The Trinity and The Incarnation are the theological foundations of who we are and what we must do. Here's why:

It is all about connections. We were made to be reconciled to God and to be reconciled to each other. God designed us for fellowship with Him and community with each other. From the beginning to the end, and all points in between. Man cannot live without God, and it is not good for man to be alone.

The Trinity, for instance, gives us a great God-picture of relationships. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit share a unity of will and holy love that demonstrate to us that even in who God is, relationships matter. There are three Persons in the Godhead, and each is equally and eternally God, but they each represent different roles and serve in different functions. Reminds me a bit of how the church is called the Body of Christ. All believers make up one Body, and even though we each have different gifts and serve in different capacities and with different levels of strength, we are equally and eternally the Body of Christ.

The scholar Miroslav Volf has written a book called After Our Likeness that surveys the ecclesiology (views of church) of several important leaders across the spectrum of modern Christianity (the then-future pope, Joseph Ratzinger is one of them), and the recurring theme Volf distills these disparate views into is how the diversity in unity of the Church universal mirrors the triune God who instituted it.

The Incarnation is a redemptive truth we cannot do without, lest we endanger salvation. In emptying Himself out to assume manhood, Jesus came to live the sinless life and die the atoning death that only man should have done, but only God could have done. (I'll talk more about how the Incarnation relates to "getting saved" in an upcoming post.) In the Incarnation, we see not only "God with us," but "God for us."

I just read a story online about a pastor who took his youth group to a ministry to the homeless called Church in the Park. He wrote about meeting a homeless man who couldn't speak due to some disability; the man wrote down everything he wanted to communicate. One of those messages included these words: "'Jesus wept' is the only verse I know."
But what a verse to know, eh? I imagine this man may have clung to those two words in some of his darkest hours. The glory and beauty of the Incarnation are in the fact that God redeems our pain and suffering by sharing in it. We are low, stooping people, and we have a God who made came low and stooped to save us.

And this stuff is there from the beginning. Right at the start, God created Adam to be in fellowship with him. Adam was made for God. ("Adam" means mankind, don't you know, so the real truth there is that God made mankind for Himself.) And the Incarnation gets foreshadowed in the very creation of Adam: God formed man out of the dust of the ground and blew His breath into him. Adam was alive with the breath of God. And once we fast-forward to the New Testament, we see that Christ is called the New Adam. He even underwent a three-fold temptation by the devil as Adam did, and redeemed that mess.
Then God gave Adam a girl, because he knows dudes dig chicks. And because we were not made to be alone. We were made to be with God and to be with others. And then if you really wanna complicate the thing, you can see the man-woman romance reflected back onto our relationship with God. Notice how the Bible talks about Jesus being the bridegroom and the Church being His Bride. And how God commands husbands to love wives like Christ loves the Church.

It's there in the Ten Commandments too. The first table represents our relationship to God and the second table represents our relationship with our fellow man.
And then Jesus echoes the Ten Commandments and the relationships commanded in them when He gives the Great Commandment: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself." Jesus puts the bottom line of Love on the Law, and is there anything more crucial to relationships than love?

We echo these important truths when we gather for worship. We become a living picture of our reconciliation with each other, and as we collectively glorify God in worship and the preaching of the Word, we participate in our reconciliation with Him.

The Trinity and the Incarnation: these are the weighty, complex, irrational truths that shape and inform our relationships with God and with each other. They are the theological foundations of who we are and what we are to do. And like human relationships, they often don't seem to make sense and it can be tempting sometimes to think them unnecessary. But I find a thrilling beauty in the idea that the stuff that makes us feel most connected and most whole -- knowing God and loving other people -- comes directly from some infinite place of unfathomable intelligence. And our love for God and our love for others comes from the ineffable God and the love He has for Himself and for us.

For in Him we live and move and have our being.
-- Acts 17:28a

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God . . . We love because He first loved us.
-- 1 John 4:7,19

God's Will For Your Life

Yesterday I posted a piece on "finding God's will for your life" at the Studio 215 MySpace page. Worth a look if you're so inclined.

Keep in mind that it is written primarily for the Studio 215 crowd, so my customary sarcasm is ratcheted up a few notches, probably to the point of abrasion.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Weekstart Linkage

Okay, so I didn't get around to posting some weekend linkage last Friday. A buddy of mine called me up with a last-minute editing project that had a Monday morning deadline, so I've spent the last few days diligently proofing some dude's book manuscript. But let's just get in our Delorean, juice up the flux capacitor, and travel back to Friday, where we can pretend I already posted this. ;-)

My very good friend Bill Roberts talks about Maturity.

Glenn Lucke talks about how to be a Christian in the culture.

Dan Edelen, who is sort of like the blogosphere's John the Baptist, talks about the dire need for community in the church.

Mark Lauterbach has a great post on the Gospel and the culture, and writes, "God is not so squeamish." Heh. Here's an excerpt from his conclusion:
We are called to display the heart and holiness of God. If all we do is condemn the sin of our culture -- and give people a moral message, we have conveyed holiness without compassion. God agonizes for sinners . . . God dirties his hands with the rescue work and does not keep safely aloof. Do I?

Good stuff there. Go read the whole thing.

BCC's own Dirk Plantinga has a good post on Choosing Joy.

Finally, here's a re-run from the Thinklings archives: That Groovy Jesus and His Message of Peace, Love, and Good Vibes

Happy surfing!

And stay tuned. I've got more posts percolating: how the Incarnation of Jesus relates to our "getting saved" stories, responding to a recent commenter's remarks on "once saved, always saved," a good excerpt from a Mark Driscoll book, and I might even reveal God's will for your life (if you're extra nice to me ;-).


I (Heart) BCC

I have been so in love with our church lately. Haven't you?

I know I haven't posted anything in a few days, and I have no way of knowing -- save by a few comments and the occasional "Enjoy your blog" from someone at church -- if anybody's even stopping by here on a regular basis. But I'm going to try to keep the site active, even as I think the primary reason for starting it is no longer necessary. We are still going through, and will go through in the future, some interesting and exciting transitions, and I do know from comments and e-mails and personal conversations, that people in our church still have questions (about all sorts of things related to the Christian life) and still desire connections. So as long as BCC is Broken can serve in that way, I'll keep posting.

Did you attend the picnic two weekends ago? If you didn't, you missed a great time. The food was fantastic, the games and activities for the kids were fun, and the spirit of community was electric. We've been going to BCC for about 9 years, and while we knew a few folks, it has only been in the last couple of months that we have felt truly connected to the people at our church. And I know, because people keep telling me, that a lot of others feel the same way.

I heard the estimate that about 500 people attended the picnic, but it never once felt like hanging out with a bunch of strangers. I don't know how else to put it, and I dare not elaborate just for the sake of propriety, but it certainly feels like a burden has been lifted off BCC. And that's all I'll say about that.

This last weekend in our Conexus group, we did something a little different. Instead of going through the scheduled session in our study (Grace by John Ortberg), we went around the room and shared our "coming to Christ" experiences. In the olden days of churchianity, we used to call this "giving your testimony." ;-)

It was probably the best session our group has had. We even ran out of time and plan to continue at our next meeting with those who didn't get to share. There's a whole separate blog post brewing on my reflections on our time together, but for now let me just say that hearing people's stories, with all the pain and yuck and mess and struggle, but also with all the joy and victory and faith and hope(!), renews my confidence in the church -- in our church -- as the instrument of God's power to save in Jesus Christ.

Hearing everyone's story also does this: It lets you know you're not alone. And one of the flaws that can pop up in churches like ours -- a thing that by design is valued for the "safety" of seekers -- is a culture of anonymity. It is important that people checking out the church for the first time (or the first few times) not feel singled out or cornered. They want to investigate in anonymity, and that's not a bad thing. (Remember the days when churches told guests to raise their hand so everyone could look at them? Or wear a sticker that said "Visitor"? Yikes.) But the trick lay in cultivating a community that prevents long-term anonymity. The thing that was so attractive at first (being left alone) becomes a frustration, because one of the purposes of Christian community for those who want to be in it is to be connected with other believers in the Body of Christ.

Bill West has been doing a great job. He is picking up steam and developing a rhythm. The message topics and main points have really been some great, truthful, powerful stuff. And every week, I hear share a reflection from a past message of his, some bit of truth or wisdom that has affected or impacted them.
I tell ya, it is a scary -- but exciting -- time when just speaking the grace of Jesus seems so revolutionary even to people in the church.

I think BCC has always skirted the line between "including the Gospel" and being "Gospel-driven." It is my perception that we have now crossed, and my hope that we will continue to cross, the line into really being a Gospel-driven church. We are in the process of speaking grace to all generations and doing the hard work, from the pulpit and from the hearts of those in the trenches between weekends, of reconciling people to Jesus Christ.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Grace and Faith, Law and Works

It started last week when, in an email exchange with a reader, I touched on the difference between doing works to earn God’s favor and doing works because you have God’s favor. That same week I was thinking about “faith and works” quite a bit and feeling disappointed in a few things written on the subject in the Christian blogosphere. (I tried to flesh out some of my criticism in that 30 Theses thingamajig.) Then, Sunday morning, my wife and I talked with a friend who has experienced some pretty heavy religious moralism in her church background after our small group meeting, and we discussed “works” and legalism. Then Monday evening I was hanging out at BCC’s twentysomethings Bible study, and as we were talking about grace and forgiveness (in relation to Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well), someone mentioned how Jesus often included admonitions to “stop sinning” in these encounters, a fact often overlooked. Then, a friend commented on my theses from last week, asking me to further explain #27, which talks about salvation by grace and works religion. The capper was Pastor Bill West’s message on Romans 6 at last night’s FOCUS service.

So after all that, I’m thinking, “Hmmm. Maybe I should say something more direct about this stuff.”
Romans 6 is a wonderful place to get some meat on this specific subject – the relation of The Law and Works to Grace and Faith. Re-read it, if you don’t mind. What I’m gonna write below draws largely from what Paul says in that chapter.

So here are a few things I think important about faith and works and grace and forgiveness and obedience, etc.:

We all agree you cannot earn your salvation, right? I mean, that’s sort of one of the fundamental doctrines we Protestant types got from the Reformation. The official nerdspeak is sola fide, which means “faith alone.” The Bible says, and therefore the Reformers said, that salvation is by grace alone (sola gratia) through faith alone in Christ alone (sola Christus). (By the way, there are five solas, and if you’re interested, you can read more about them here.)

So if we all believe you can’t earn your salvation, that it is a free gift of God given by grace and received through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ (rather than the person and work of ourselves), than why do we so easily fall into this practical mixup of works and obedience and all that?
Well, I guess there’s an odd comfort in that this stuff is nothing new. Paul addresses it right there in Romans 6, and there are basically two errors Christians tend to fall into, represented by two extremes in response to belief in the Gospel. These extremes were problems even in the early church are highlighted in Romans 6:1-2 and Romans 6:15, the two “Hell no!” passages Bill referred to last night.

The first error (6:1-2) is the extreme called license. This view takes the perfectly correct assumption that as Christians our sins past, present, and future are forgiven by God and further assumes that it then doesn’t matter if we sin. In fact, there were at Paul’s time, and there are some in our time now, who sin freely and wantonly, in essence making their “coming to the Lord” some sort of “Get out of obedience free” card. But the thrust of sola fide is not that Christians are not commanded to do good works or to obey the Law, but that we do not have to do those things to “get saved.”

The truth is, before salvation, we could not do those things anyway. It’s not just that works aren’t the designated path to getting saved, it’s that it is impossible to please God with works before you’re saved anyway.

The other error (6:15) is the extreme usually referred to in academic circles as antinomianism. Antinomianism is just a fancy word that basically means “against the law.” This is the view that because we are saved by grace under the new covenant in Jesus Christ, the Law has been rendered obsolete, defunct, worthless, unnecessary, etc. Remember, though, that Jesus said he did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it.

This gets tricky, because obviously if you look back at the fullness of the Law in the OT, there are all kinds of restrictions most of us consider non-binding today. Eaten any shellfish lately? How about pork? Worn any clothes that have blended threads? Touched your wife while she was having her “lady’s deal”? Mowed your yard on the Sabbath day?

Bible scholars tend to differentiate in these cases between cultural and ceremonial aspects of the Law as applied to the nation and people of Israel, and what’s called the moral law. I tend to believe that in the new covenant, as Jesus replaces Israel as the focus of the community of the kingdom of God, the cultural and ceremonial markers are deleted, if you will – fulfilled in him. This is why we no longer, for instance, make animal sacrifices in the temple, even though they were prescribed by Jewish law. Because Jesus was the final and fulfilling sacrifice, and because the Holy Spirit is present in every believer now, not located in a building (“Your body is the temple . . .”). Also, throughout the New Testament, you specifically find these ceremonial and cultural laws explicitly declared “over.” We’re told that all food is clean now. We’re told that one doesn’t have to conform to Jewish ceremonies and rituals to be a Christian. We learn that obeying God is no longer about culture or ceremony, because the Gospel is for both the Jew and the Greek and the vessel of the salvation community is the Church universal, not the nation of Israel.

But the moral law – you know, the ten commandments and the direct applications thereof – are still in effect. They are still binding. Now, as then, the moral law does not save. But they are still what saved people do. Does that make sense? If it doesn’t, the letter of James in the NT will really drive you bonkers. Martin Luther called James “a right strawy epistle,” and if the human sparkplug of the Protestant Reformation wanted to chunk James’ letter, no wonder we rubes have such trouble with it today. But if you doubt the importance of works to the life of faith, re-read James today. Wear a helmet.

Paul says in Romans that the Law condemns, that it does not have the power to save. The mistake we often make, then, is to believe that the Law is bad. But the Law is good. It is God saying “This is the standard of holiness.” Now, he knows we can’t meet it perfectly, and he knows we can’t do any of it on our own power. So the expectation is not that we will get ourselves saved or earn God’s favor through following the Law. The expectation is that once God saves us and once we have received his favor, we will want to obey his good Law out of gratitude and willingness. Obedience, then, is not merely an obligation, some dry religious duty we mope through so Jesus will put a gold star on our homework. Obedience is an act of worship. Obeying God’s law is not how you get saved; obeying God’s law is what saved people do.

Following the Law will not get you free. But once Jesus sets you free, suddenly you are now free to follow.

Another related extreme not mentioned yet is legalism. Legalism is really the opposite pole from antinomianism. Whereas antinomianism says the Law is abolished and Christians no longer need obey it, legalism says obedience is how you get God’s favor. Legalism is the thing we all pretty much agree is bunk – works salvation. And most Christians will say they are not legalists but end up practicing or preaching legalism anyway. It has many subtle forms.

For instance, there are many good Christians who will tell you that salvation is the free gift of God given by grace and received through faith alone in Jesus Christ, but will nevertheless suggest you tuck your shirt in before sitting down at Christ’s table. There’s this idea that one must “get cleaned up” before coming to Jesus. This error confuses many prospective believers, who in their confusion really want to follow Jesus, but worry that they haven’t quit smoking yet or haven’t kicked their addiction to pornography yet or haven’t kicked their boyfriend out of the house yet. See, we recall correctly that Jesus’ encounters with sinners in the Gospels usually included him saying “Go and sin no more,” but we usually forget that Jesus typically says this at the end of his encounter with them. He never says, “Hey, come have lunch with me after you stop doing such-and-such.” He says, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” He says, “I will give you living water.” He says, “Neither do I condemn you.” He says, “Come, follow me.”
He doesn’t tell anybody to stop sinning in order to get their golden ticket. Because he knows they’re going to keep sinning even after they’ve got it. Jesus is a pretty realistic guy when it comes to human nature. ;-)

But what he does say is, “Your faith has made you well” and “Go and sin no more.” There is a clear call to obedience, a clear call to become obligated to rid ourselves of sin. And Paul addresses this, again, in Romans 6. All that stuff about crucifying our flesh, about dying with Christ, about the process of sanctification.

Here’s how the process works:
Justification – this is us being declared righteous despite our sin because of our faith in Jesus to forgive us from our sins.
Sanctification – this is the process of getting “cleaned up,” which is declared as a once-for-all reality in the way God sees us through His Son, but also an ongoing reality in the way he conform further to God’s will through our continued faith and applied obedience.
Glorification – this is the end result of the ongoing sanctification, where Jesus comes back when the Game Over message pops up, and we are finally delivered physically and spiritually from sin and death.

This process is evident in Jesus’ interaction with those who came to him. He declared them justified and then sent them off on their sanctifying journey. He didn’t put the cart before the horse, in terms of telling them to get sanctified before he would justify them. That is essentially what legalism is: get yourself rid of sin before Jesus will save you from sin. But, obviously, if you could sanctify yourself, you wouldn’t need Jesus to save you, would you?

I hope some of this makes sense. I think this stuff is really important, because even in modern, grace-driven, “hip” churches like ours, these errors can creep in and be held by sincere, nice people without them even knowing it. We can believe we don’t need to think about our sin because Jesus is our homeboy (license) or we can believe we’ve got to worry about our sin all the flippin’ time because Jesus wants us nice and polished (legalism) just as easily today as the early church did centuries ago.

(Apologies for the length. I haven't posted in six days, though, so maybe you can just think of this as 6 posts in one. ;-)

Friday, October 13, 2006

30 Theses (Give or Take): A Ramblin' Rant in Helpful Bullet Point Format

The following is an informal list of basic principles relating to discipleship and "doing church" that I try to think and live by. I share them only because I think, whether I'm right or wrong in my assessments, that the issues themselves are very important. Every generation must wrestle with the way it lives and presents the Gospel to a dying world. Every generation must put walking shoes on its theology, so to speak, and in some cases, helmets and body armor. (And in some cases, take the armor off.) This is my little way, in my little corner of my little world, of nailing my little Post-It to my little Wittenburg door.

1. Discipleship is designed to be experienced in community. God saves individuals, but He does not save them to an individual faith but to a kingdom life populated with other citizens who share that faith.

2. The Bible designates one vessel to hold this kingdom community, and it is The Church. You might fraternize with other believers in coffee shops, informal communes, online chat rooms or forums, blogs, bars, or the big outdoors, but only biblical churches satisfy the discipleship need for The Church.

3. Honest Christians will differ on what constitutes a “biblical church,” and while disagreement is understandable and okay, beware of any church that says, explicitly or implicitly, “we do it right” or “we do it better” than the church down the street.

4. Ecclesiological one-upmanship (“My church is better than your church”) is a sin.

5. The reason you should not give up on church or The Church is because Jesus did not give up on you. And if He calls the church His Body, giving up on it means giving up on Him.

6. There are no perfect churches, especially if they have people in them.

7. Expecting a church to “fit” you or to always be comfortable or catering to your needs is arrogance and foolishness.

8. You can pick your friends and you can pick your church, but as in all families, you don’t get to pick who’s in The Body. Only God can do that. And when you decide certain people (or certain churches) are not worthy of your presence, ask yourself if you are worthy of God’s. (Hint: You’re not. But he came into your life anyway.)

9. My friend Bill Roberts has been doing church work for years. Two blog posts he’s written you really should read are More on “Why Church?” and Is the Bride Beautiful?.
Seriously, click on them and read. They are important.

10. If the entirety of your churchy desires consists of filling a seat to experience a good service, you are not a congregant in a church but a consumer at a concert.

11. What you win people with is what you win them to.
Win people with flash, spectacle, presentation, etc., and that’s what you win them to. Don’t be surprised if, like all consumers and what attracts them, they eventually get tired and move on to the next attraction. Don’t be surprised if, provided they remain, they continually request more, better, higher . . .

12. Church leaders don’t really need to choose between fidelity to the Gospel and engaging the culture. They just need to make sure they put them in order. First things go first and inform secondary things. Fidelity to the Gospel should inform your cultural engagement, and not vice versa. If your first aim is to please man, you will please some god, but it won’t be the God you want to please. But if your first aim is to please God, you will please some men.

13. Some men won’t be pleased if your first aim is to please God. This is called “the scandal of the cross,” or “the offense of the Gospel,” and it can’t be helped if you are faithful to God’s Word.

14. Decide if you’d rather give people what they want to hear or what they need to know. People need to know they are sinners in need of a Savior. People want to hear that deep down they’re okay and their good buddy J.C. affirms them in their okay-ness, which is b.s. that helps nobody.

15. You don’t have to beat people over the head when telling them what they need, and in fact, if preached well and practiced incarnationally, you will find that you will win more than you’d think.

16. You cannot program a church into success. Programs are great, but they are applications. They are the “how” of doing church. Give up the tyranny of results and start with the “what” and “why” questions first.

17. A church’s success should be neither entirely nor primarily measured by its attendance. Also, a church’s growth should not be entirely or primarily measured numerically.

18. It is okay to think about numbers and numeric growth. Beware of church growth philosophy extremes. But the litmus test for whether something should be done in or by a church should never be “will it increase attendance?”. Naked ladies giving away free Krispy Kremes will increase attendance. Hiring Oprah Winfrey to speak (preferably clothed) on self esteem will increase attendance. It is okay to think about and strategize for numeric growth. But when you cut corners on the Gospel or pander, you are not trusting God for that growth; you are trusting yourselves.

19. Churches that advertise more in terms of what they’re against (“religion,” “tradition,” “formality,” other churches, etc.) are playing to people’s bitterness and will likely be filled with bitter, prideful people.
Defining yourself by what you’re not gets old quick.

20. Religion is not really a bad thing. Religion just means “how faith is practiced.” Jesus was a pretty religious guy; he was observant of the Jewish feasts and festivals. He followed the Law. The New Testament book of James tells us about “pure religion.”
The word “religion” has taken on a bad connotation because of all the loser churches who took Jesus out of the equation and made religion about legalism instead of liberty in Christ.
In other words, religion does not save you; it is what you do because you are saved.

21. Tim Keller wrote, “Irreligious people seek to be their own saviors and lords through irreligion, worldly pride. ('No one tells me how to live or what to do, so I determine what is right and wrong for me!') But moral and religious people seek to be their own saviors and lords through religion, 'religious' pride. . . . Both irreligion and religion are forms of self salvation."
Since I don't think religion is inherently a bad word or a wrong concept, I would replace Keller's use of "irreligion" and "religion" with "antinomianism" and "legalism," respectively, since that's really what he means.

22. Let’s be clear: It’s not a sin to be unhip. If “religious” to you just means “not down with the times,” religion is not your problem; idolatry is.

23. C.S. Lewis said, “To go with the times is of course to go where all times go.”

24. It’s not a sin to be unhip, but it is a sin to be boring when talking about God or presenting His Word. It doesn’t actually say that in there ;-), but if you believe it is true when it says we shouldn’t be ashamed of the Gospel because it has power to save, you should at least act like you believe it.
This means that, whether you’re doing the preaching or listening to it, if you are angry, sad, or cynical more than you’re happy, joyous, and hopeful, you’re doing it wrong.

25. On the flipside of “it’s a sin to make the Gospel boring,” is that you can’t make the Bible relevant. The Bible’s already relevant. Generations of churches made it sound irrelevant but it wasn’t because they were unhip but because they were unfaithful. Be honest about, engaging with, and faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and people will see its relevance.

26. The phrase “personal relationship with Jesus,” while informed by a conflation of several very biblical ideas, is not in the Bible. Neither is “ask Jesus into your heart.”

27. Lots of people who think they have traded religion for a relationship with Jesus have actually done no such thing. They’ve just traded an outdated religion for a newer model.
It is true that works will not save you – in fact, the truth of salvation by grace in Jesus Christ should be shouted from the rooftops – but if your “Christianity” is about incorporating Jesus into your life in order to be happy or successful or generally more at peace with yourself, guess what? That’s religion. And it ain’t even a good one.

28. You can be just as prideful and in just as much “stale religiosity” in a casual, informal, rah-rah “yea Jesus” church service as you can in a dressy, formal, “serious” one, particularly if you are proud of being casual and informal and rah-rah.

29. I stole the above idea from Dallas Willard, who writes in The Divine Conspiracy, “You can be just as 'man pleasing' and 'fleshly' in extemporaneous and informal religious exercises as in preestablished and formal ones -- perhaps even more so -- especially if you are proud of being informal.”

30. Worship is about connecting with God, telling Him and your fellow worshippers how much He is worth. You can just as easily do that with loud drums and electric guitars as you can an organ (and vice versa), provided your heart’s in the right place. It has nothing to do with style and everything to do with substance. You know you care more about the former than the latter when you start thinking more about performance than praise.

31. Worship is not just something you do to music. The quality of the Christian life is one of worship.

32. These things are not things I’ve known so much as learned in my slow, imperfect journey with Jesus, and in the ongoing purification process the Bible calls “sanctification” but which I frequently think of as “becoming less stupid.”

While posting a list like this seems even to me a bit self-involved, I thought I'd at least offer the possibility that I didn't make all this stuff up. References that guide my thinking on these matters include:
1 Corinthians 12:1-27
Ephesians 2:8-22
Hebrews 10:18-25
James 2
James 4
Romans 1:16
Galatians 6:2-10
Acts 2:38-47
John 6:41-68


Weekend Linkage

Some surf-satisfying links to get you through the weekend.

Andy Rau at ThinkChristian asks an uncomfortable question about the goals, plans, and programs of churches and ministries: "Is this benefitting the kingdom of God?"

At Intellectuelle, Bonnie asks, "What part should maintainance and/or building of a church facility play in the stewardship of a Christian or a congregation?"

Mark Lauterbach hits one out of the park every day at GospelDrivenLife. Here's a recent example, all about the importance of Story in studying and teaching the Bible's story of Jesus and theme of redemption. This approach really resonates with me, and I'm willing to bet it does most others too. "Narrative preaching," properly executed, can be a great and effective bridge between expository sermons and topical sermons.

Similar to my recent bit on In Jesus' Name, Scot McKnight blogs on Paul's phrase "To the Lord"

There are so many conferences for Christians, preachers, teachers, church leaders, worship leaders, et cetera et cetera going on in the evangelical landscape today that "Christian conferencing" has become a cottage industry in itself. But I'm willing to bet the latest Desiring God Conference would have been worth twice the admission, what with leaders like John Piper, Tim Keller, Voddie Baucham, and Mark Driscoll speaking. At Reformissionary, pastor Steve McKoy shares a couple of pull-quotes from the conference. One is a good one from Driscoll on Calvinist "contenders," but the one I like is this from Keller:
There has to be a lifelong process of realizing the wonder of the gospel. Religion gives you control which is why it's so popular. Religion is "I obey, therefore I'm accepted." The gospel is "I'm accepted, therefore I obey."

Milton Stanley's Transforming Sermons is another blog you should add to your bookmarks. (And not because he quotes and links to me more than occasionally. ;-) He just writes great and helpful stuff, and when he's not writing it himself, he has a knack for finding the folks who are and links to them. For instance, he found this gut-punching post from Christianity Today's Kent Carlson on the brutality of pastoral ambition. Milton's pull-quote will be mine as well:
Something has happened in the past thirty or so years that has shifted our pastoral ethic from one of faithfulness to one of productivity and success. I believe this has stirred the fires of ambition. Given the nature of our American culture, this doesn't surprise me. It also doesn't surprise me that the battle with ambition will be a ferocious one, for the tendency toward self-absorption plagues every one of us. I just wonder why this is not a front burner item that is being addressed with greater passion in the popular Christian media. It would be so refreshing to hear Christian leaders in some panel discussion copping to the fact that they struggle with it and it often drives their ministry. We all know it's there. If only we could start being honest about it.

I just added Confessions of a Reformission Rev by Mark Driscoll, pastor of Seattle's Mars Hill Church, to the Recommendations list in the sidebar. It is a great, great read for anybody interested in both growing a church for the lost and remaining faithful to the Gospel. Driscoll describes himself as theologically conservative and culturally liberal, and he must be doing something right if he can go to one of the least Christian cities in the nation, preach hour long sermons full of theology and calls to repentance from sin, and somehow turn a steady crowd of drug addicts, porn addicts, punk rockers, ex-gays, "loose" women, and the occasional demoniac or nutcase into a vibrant and still growing congregation of about 10,000. I don't agree with all Driscoll says (apparently he thinks stay-at-home dads are sinful sissy-boys :-), but I recommend the book for anybody interested in pastoral honesty, integrity, and, perhaps more importantly, plainspeak in a world of prepackaged pastoral buzzwords and "church growth strategies."
Read the Internet Monk's review of Confessions of a Reformission Rev. for more info.

If you can avoid drowning in his characteristic ellipses, BCC'er Chuck Leonard has a neat post on keeping the Sabbath.

Finally . . .
Studio 215, BCC's burgeoning ministry for twentysomethings, college & career, and young professionals, now has a MySpace page. Check out Studio 215's MySpace.

Happy clicking!

Last Minute Reminder

Don't Forget! The BCC BBQ Picnic is this Sunday from 12:30 to 3:00 on the lower lawn outside Kids Place.

Food, fixin's, and drinks will be provided, but if your last name begins A-K please bring a side (like a veggie tray and dip), and if your last name begins L-Z please bring a dessert.

There will be activities for the kiddos.

Bring a blanket, some lawn chairs, and plan to spend some fun time with the church family.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

To God be the Glory

What is the meaning or purpose of life? What are we here for? The Westminster Confession of Faith addresses this aeons old question this way: The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
Notice there's nothing there about self esteem or success or "victorious living." Those things might be part of your specific package deal, but for the Reformers, the purpose of our existence is to bring glory to God and enjoy His presence. This is undeniably personal, but it is also undeniably theo-centric (God-centered).

This week I and others praised the Pennsylvania Amish community for their radical grace in response to the most heinous of murders. This humble community of Jesus followers demonstrated an openness and an obedience and a willingness that puts most of our feeble attempts at Christlike living to shame. But that's sort of beside the point. Because as much as the Amish are due honor for their granting forgiveness, we must be careful that it is not the Amish who are glorified. What they did would not have been possible without the work and power of Jesus Christ.

So the media -- including some Christian bloggers -- is providing analysis that is deceptively inaccurate. The Amish deserve kudos, but God deserves the glory. What happened in Pennsylvania in the wake of that tragedy is not only or primarily a testament to the humility, faithfulness, or meekness of the believer; it is a testament to the inestimable grace of the Almighty God.

We Christians today are accustomed to commenting on the strength or size of our faith and the faith of others. When someone overcomes impossible odds, we may say, "She had so much faith." When someone fails -- maybe it's ourselves -- we are tempted to think, "Maybe he (I) didn't have enough faith." I won't discount the necessity of faith. How could I? It's all over the Scriptures. We are justified through our faith. But did you know even your faith is a gift from God? That's right. Your faith, big as a mountain or small as a mustard seed, is there because God willed you to have it.

Last week I shared with my Conexus group and with the readers of this blog a message by John Piper called Sustained by All His Grace. An excerpt:
[W]e really do work, but all our working is the fruit of enabling grace. Paul explains this in Philippians 2:12b-13:
Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

We work, but when we have worked by faith in God's enabling future grace (rather than for the merit of the law), we turn around and say about our work, "My work was God's work in me, willing and "doing his good pleasure."

So when we say . . . that we are "sustained by all His grace," we do not mean sustained like friends sustaining a broken wheelchair while we do our own independent work. We mean that everything in this spiritual dynamic is sustained by God's grace. "Treasuring all that God is" is a work of grace in my heart. I would not treasure God without a mighty work of grace in my life (Acts 18:27; Phil. 1:29; Eph. 2:8f; 2 Tim. 2:25). "Loving all whom he loves" is a work of grace in my heart (1 Thess. 3:12; 4:9; Phil 1:9; Gal. 5:22). "Praying for all his purposes" is a work of grace in my heart (Phi. 2:13; Heb. 13:21). And "meditating on all his word," is a work of grace (Psa. 119:36).

Why has God set it up this way? Because the giver gets the glory. God has established the universe in such a way that it magnifies the glory of his all-sufficiency. You can see this really clearly in 1 Peter 4:11:
Whoever serves, let him do so as by the strength which God supplies [that's grace]; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

God gets the glory because he gave the grace.

But who gets the glory in our lives, in our day, when a great faith is exercised? Is it ever God? Maybe. Is it always God? I don't think so. The Bible talks about "heroes of the faith," and therefore so should we. But we should never make our heroes into idols, and at no time is that more tempting than in our culture of celebrity Christianity. Who gets the glory at Lakewood Church in Houston? Who gets the glory at Saddleback in California? Who gets the glory at Willow Creek in Chicago? Who gets the glory at Potter's House in Atlanta? Who gets the glory at Bellevue Community Church or at The Gathering in Nashville, Tennessee? Who gets the glory in your church, in your family, in your life?

Whose reputation are you trying to further?
If you say it is Jesus Christ's, are you ready to apply to your own life, whatever it takes, the fact that He had to go through shame to get to glory? However monumental your own work for the Lord is, it is not your doing, but His. Hebrews 12:2 says Jesus is the starter and finisher of your faith, and that to get to "enjoying God forever," he endured the scorn and shame of the cross. In your life, are you too busy planting your flag to take up your cross?

Your faith has made you well, but God is the healer. Your faith has saved you, but He is the Savior. When you do good works so that men may see, is it to further your career, your public perception, or your renown? Or is to glorify your Father in heaven? If we were to put a spiritual magnifying glass over your house, over your church, over your office, over your personal portfolio, over your promotional website, over your heart -- who would be magnified? I think like most people, I find myself crying out to God when I feel weak but tooting my own horn when I feel strong.

But if I am a real follower of Christ, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me, and the life I live with flesh and blood I actually live in He who loves me and died for me. I hope my life of faith is lived with the explicit and implicit acknowledgment that both my life and my faith are gifts from God and that therefore it is He who gets the glory regardless of what I achieve or don't achieve.

It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God -— that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord."
-- 1 Corinthians 1:30-31

For through the grace given to me I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.
-- Romans 12:3

Monday, October 09, 2006

Happy Hour

It's official. Poll results were overwhelmingly in favor of the church service time transition, confirming the leadership decision to start, on October 29, the new BCC Sunday morning schedule. (This is the same day Daylight Savings time ends, by the way.) The new Sunday morning schedule will look like this:

9:00 -- early service
10:00 -- Happy Hour!
11:00 -- late service

Happy Hour will be a time of community fellowship, where you hang out at Coffee Connection or elsewhere in the atrium or outside on the patios. One of the great innovations of this community hour from 10 to 11, in my mind, is the two-for-one drinks. When you buy a coffee or bottled drink, you'll get a second one free. And that second one you're supposed to give away. I think that's pretty stinkin' cool.

Also please note that while Kids Place programs will continue during both morning services, there will be no childcare available during Happy Hour. Maybe you can make it a family breakfast time!

Elder Nominations

The deadline for congregational nominations of elders has passed, and the list is in. This month select BCC staff and current elder board members will begin the interviews process with the nominees, culminating in a November-December election by the current board of its three incoming members. (Remember that three of the current elders will be rotating out. Remember that there are three vacancies at this time. Two will serve four years, one will serve three.)

The nominees are:
Mike Dillon
Mark Freeman
Larry Hall
Tony Rich
Devon Weller
Billy Williams
Jared Wilson

And a sterling bunch they are, yours truly humbly excluded of course.

At this point, if you have cause for concern for any of the nominees or know of a legitimate reason for their disqualification, please contact church staff or one of the elders.
Remember to think more along the lines of biblical guidelines or our specific church's guidelines, not necessarily that Devon Weller cut you off in traffic one afternoon. I mean, I think Billy Williams is a certified nutcase, but unfortunately "insanity" is not listed 1 Timothy as a disqualifier for eldership. Oh well. ;-)

The next step of course is Elder Fight Club, where the last three men standing move on to serve.


BCC in the Wayback Machine

What a delightful surprise to have Jason Pettus-- er, um, excuse me: I mean, Dr. Jason Pettus bringing the message this past weekend. To those who have found a bittersweet homecoming in this rebuilding transition at the church, having a former minister to students beloved by many return to guest preach was surely a blessing. Jason -- I'm sorry again -- Dr. Pettus ;-) is now the lead pastor at Living Hope Baptist Church in Bowling Green, Kentucky and came to deliver part 5 in BCC's Relational Realities series after a postponed engagement to speak at BCC in the Spring.

I remember when I first met Jason. It was probably 1998. The church was still meeting at the middle school, and I had e-mailed just expressing interest in where Becky and I might plug in to ministry. Jason took the time to meet me for coffee at the Bean Central (?) on Murfreesboro Road, and so he was the first (and really only) staff member I knew from then on for several years. I started volunteering in the student ministry, and I always enjoyed hearing his heart for youth. His speaking style I would always characterize as "warm."
Seeing him this weekend was great, and I see he's only gotten warmer.

Jason said a lot of great things this weekend -- among them highlighting how we tend to touchy-feely passages like 1 Corinthians 13 that ought to scare us to death -- but my favorite was probably when he shared a word of exhortation and promise regarding our lead pastor search. He said God is right now preparing our new lead pastor for us just as He's preparing us for our new lead pastor. I thought that was a good word reminding us of God's sovereignty in this situation. God cares about our church; finding our shepherd will not be a crap shoot.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Weekend Linkage

A hefty helpin' of more juicy linkage to take you into the weekend . . .

From Thinkling Phil: Should I Be Afraid of God?

At Common Grounds Online: The Gift of Agitation

The Jollyblogger talks about anonymity and "singling people out" in church. (This is obviously a more pressing issue for churches smaller than ours and that do "the welcome" differently, but the underlying concerns are applicable for any church interested in having a welcoming presence during worship time.)

Mark is five posts into a great series on The Privilege of Prayer at GospelDrivenLife. Good stuff.

This week I shared with my Conexus group the text of a very good message by John Piper called Sustained by All His Grace. Don't mind if I share it with you.

Happy surfing!
And see you this weekend!


Patience and Reconciliation

As our church re-commits to its core values and as the people of our church radically reevaluate their personal values, the subject of reconciliation inevitably comes up. I am hearing people talk about it not just in terms of our church, but now, as a result, in terms of their own lives and relationships.

This is a good thing. When you recognize something is broken, it's both understandable and valuable that you'd want to fix it. But the work of reconciliation is tricky. Reconciliation can lay at the end of a long, dark, treacherous road. And the bitter truth of the work is that those who set out on that road may never reach their desired destination.

Know that desiring reconciliation is a good and godly desire. It is an attitude, a perspective, and a behavioral stance that brims with the Gospel. For that is what the Gospel is -- that we can be reconciled with God. So any time you desire reconciliation with someone you've wronged or with someone who's wronged you, you are seeking to reflect the glory of the Gospel in your own life.
So here are some truths, a couple of them hard, about the work of reconciliation:

1. Reconciliation is a two-way street.
This would seem to go without saying, but many are the hurts and frustrations of those seeking reconciliation with someone just flat-out uninterested in it (or flat-out difficult to deal with).
Repentance is an act one person does. Forgiveness is an act one person does. An offender can repent whether his victim forgives him or not. A victim can forgive whether his offender repents or not. But reconciliation cannot occur without a repentant offender and a forgiving victim. It just can't. And because both repentance and forgiveness are difficult works, sometimes with long hard roads of their own to reach, reconciliation becomes even more difficult. The beauty is when both parties are willing. It doesn't always make the reconciling work easy, but it obviously makes it easier, if only because having two willing parties makes the reconciling work possible.
But what if one is not willing? That is the second hard truth . . .

2. Reconciliation is risky.
This is why working at reconciliation is no guarantee in itself that reconciliation will be achieved.
We are dealing with human beings here, not logic problems. And human beings can be manic, messy, and messed up. Sin is so destructive, so harmful. It shouldn't surprise us at all that "fixing it" can be a complicated process. Perhaps the hardest truth of all is that you cannot control what someone else will say or do. You may be really seeking reconciliation with someone, but if they are unwilling or intent on maintaining their ill will toward you, you will be doing this work alone. This doesn't mean you don't do it. It just means, you do the work of reconciliation without a guarantee. There's a godly glory in taking this risk (which I'll mention in a sec), but it will no doubt cause the person seeking reconciliation much pain and lots of doubt.
You cannot control anyone but yourself; therefore you cannot guarantee results. On the other hand: You cannot control anyone but yourself; therefore you can still seek reconciliation because it is the right and God-honoring thing to do.

Paul says three things remain: faith, hope, and love. These must all be present for the work of reconciliation to be effective . . .

3. Reconciliation requires hope.
When both parties are willing, both hope to God that He will grant them their joint desire for healing. And when an offender is genuinely repentant and a victim is genuinely forgiving, God grants this desire. That is the guarantee of grace; if you want it, you got it.
When only one party is willing, one hopes to God that He will grant both parties healing. It may not happen, but by maintaining a steady hope that He will do it you are also acknowledging that . . .

4. Reconciliation requires faith.
If you are trusting your words and works to bring healing, you will probably be frustrated by the results. As we said, people are complicated. The work is messy because sin does real damage and emotions cause people to act all sorts of messy ways. But if you trust God to do the work of reconciliation, then He can use your words and works to bring healing. His strength is perfect. That's good news for imperfect people.

5. Reconciliation is the work of love.
The greatest of the three things that remain is love. That is the impetus of the Gospel, and that is why your desire for reconciliation must be about extending the love of God to someone and seeing it produce fruit in your life and all you encounter. Reconciliation is Great Commandment discipleship. It's okay to desire fellowship, peaceful encounters, or calmed nerves and emotions. But those things must all be byproducts of the chief motivator of reconciliation -- real love for the other person.

The sixth and last truth may be the most important:

6. Reconciliation requires patience.
This is so, so crucial. Because if reconciliation is really what you want, you cannot give up. If you are a forgiving victim, you must be relentlessly patient in the face of continuing hurts and dismissals. It's likely your offender doesn't think he's done anything wrong. It's likely he thinks you're pathetic or stupid or even arrogant for forgiving him for something he doesn't think requires forgiveness. Still, you must be patient, accept the risk, and continue to work in love.

If you are a repentant offender, you must be patient with your victim. Depending on the hurt you've caused, forgiveness may take a long, long time. Accept the risk that it may never come. But you cannot make demands or continue to place obligations. Be relentless in making amends and being open to whatever your victim would have you do or hear. It doesn't mean you have to take abuse forever, but if you are truly repentant and truly want reconciliation, this stance does often require a "doormat phase." If you are repentant, it's okay to accept that your victim does not want to be in a relationship with you any more. You don't have to place yourself under their abuse. But if you want reconciliation, you probably do.

Be patient with each other and with the work God is doing. Reconciliation with God required the sinless life of Jesus, the torturous work of the cross, a painful death, and the miracle of the resurrection. We should not expect reconciliation in our own relationships to be easy or instantaneous. We have long roads on which to carry heavy burdens. The great thing is that reconciliation honors and glorifies God, and so He will honor and sustain you in that work, whatever the "real life" result.

Here's Paul in Galatians 6:9-10:
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

Don't get tired of doing good. Don't give up. It may not end with the results you want, but glorifying God will always be to your benefit.
Here's Peter in his second epistle, 3:9:
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

If reconciliation is a living picture and application of the Gospel, then let us "be Jesus" to others by being patient in the work. Just as the Lord was patient with us because He did not desire our destruction, be patient with others as you desire reconciliation.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Faith or Enthusiasm?

I tell you, if you haven't read any Dietrich Bonhoeffer, you really oughtta.
A quote:
Dear brethern. our real trouble is not doubt about the way upon which we have set out, but our failure to be patient, to keep quiet . . . And we simply cannot be constant with the fact that God's cause is not always the "successful" one, that we really could be "unsuccessful" and yet be on the right road. But this is where we find out whether we have begun in faith or in a burst of enthusiasm.

(Hat tip: Live Free or Die)

Prayer Quilt for Hal Wilson

From Colleen Gibson:
If you happened to be at church on Sunday, you might have noticed Pam Stahl standing behind the quilt in the atrium. Pam led our Let's Quilt Conexus group in the past and decided to take a break during the past 2 semesters. During this break, Pam discovered her huge passion for a prayer quilt ministry [amazing what God will do when we take a break!] at BCC. She and various other group members still meet, on a sporadic basis, and sew beautiful quilts for individuals who might need them.

The quilt that's displayed in the atrium is for Hal Wilson. Hal has recently been diagnosed with cancer. For those of you who don't know Hal… he and his wife Dickie greet on Sunday mornings and previously led the Motorcycle Slow rider's conexus group. Hal has decided to use his cancer and start a new ministry. He arrives early at his treatment sessions and shares his love of life and love for people and God with others who are experiencing cancer.

The whole premise behind the prayer quilt is to have many people come together and pray over the needs of those who are sick. As you pray you tie the knots. There are many knots of prayer to be tied.

If you were not able to tie a knot this past weekend, please know that Pam will be here again next Sunday. Please stop by to say hello and say a silent prayer for Hal.

Don't Forget

Join us for the midweek FOCUS worship service tonight at BCC. Pastor Bill West continues teaching through Paul's letter to the Romans.

Convenience meal is at 5:30 (tonight is Whitt's BBQ), and the service starts at 6:30.
Kids Place programs are available.

Click the link above for more details.

Also, BCC's Baby Dedication ceremony will be during the November 1st FOCUS service. Get details and sign up online here. Photos are due by October 9.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Forgiveness is Weird

By now you've no doubt heard about the Amish school shootings. What a tragedy. And as the father of two little girls, the profiling this murderer undertook in singling out female victims makes me shudder.

Media outlets are straining hard to play up the religious angle of this story, knowing of course that even mainstream religious folks in America find the Amish "unique," but here is something news folks will of course be puzzling over:
Rita Rose, a local nurse and midwife who delivered several children in the Amish community, told NBC’s Ann Curry that the mother of a 13-year-old girl who died has forgiven Roberts.

“She holds no ill will toward the shooter. She’s very forgiving. Christ forgave us, and we in turn forgive, and they honestly have forgiven,” she said. “Even last night, there was no anger toward the shooter.”

There's been lots of notice lately over film director Spike Lee's HBO documentary on the Katrina disaster, but one of Lee's best movies is a documentary that came out a few years ago called 4 Little Girls, about the 1963 Birmingham church bombing by white supremacists that left four little black girls dead. Lee revisits the scene, uses archival footage and old news broadcasts, tries to recapture the cultural climate of the times (it was the hotbed day and place of the Civil Rights movement, after all), and interviews witnesses. And the families of victims. At one point, some of the families speak of having forgiven the murderers. This surprises and confounds Lee, who for the most part, as in his Katrina documentary, does not intrude personally upon the footage he is shooting. But the idea that these families could forgive the murder of these little girls just blows him away.

Forgiveness can do that. That's the scandal of grace. In his message last weekend, Bill told the story of a mother who ultimately forgave the drunk driver who killed her teenage son. Not only did she find her way through anger and bitterness to forgive him, she and her husband ended up working reconciliation with the man. Her husband, who was a pastor, even presided over the man's marriage.
Can you imagine that? Essentially adopting the guy responsible for the death of your child? Performing his marriage ceremony? It's outrageous.

The world finds Christianity and Christians very weird. They think we're weird for all sorts of things, some of them justifiable and some of them not. May they always find us weird for being radical about the incredible, scandalous gift of grace God has given us. May we always be found weird for our ability to forgive those one would think unforgivable. Doing so is irrational, inconceivable, countercultural. And it glorifies God.

Back to Rita Rose, that nurse involved in that grief-stricken Amish community:
She added that the tragedy would likely strengthen the religious beliefs held by the Amish community, despite talk from outsiders that the lack of a phone or other modern amenities might have averted or cut short the tragedy.

“There’s two things that happen to your faith,” she said. “Either you let it go and get bitter, or you grow stronger — and we’ll grow stronger.”

Faith Wavers, Grace Sustains

This coming weekend in my Conexus group, we will be talking about "Sustaining Grace." I'm looking forward to it, because I think it is a very important aspect of God's grace for us.

Last week, I posted something I called How Mustard Seeds Dislodge Mountains. It addressed stuff many people are concerned about -- assurance of salvation, feeling secure, worries and doubts related to one's faith. I think the issues I tried to illuminate in that post are very important, but even as I clicked "Publish" after typing the last period, I felt like I hadn't said it well enough.
The gist of what I wanted to communicate is there in the last paragraph, actually, and the point I was trying to make is this: Despite the fact that our faith in Jesus brings us salvation, it is God's grace that keeps us saved despite our level of faith or the severity of our doubts. In other words, your faith may waver -- it might be strong one minute, weak the next, practically nonexistent in one moment, all you've got left in another -- but God does the saving, Jesus did the work, and whatever the level and quality of your thoughts and feelings, His grace is always sufficient.

This week I revisited a favorite CD of mine, 40 Acres by Caedmon's Call. It's not one of their more recent releases, but despite not really being an "old" album, it was an instant classic. If you've never heard it, do get your hands on a copy. It's definitely one of the ten best works of Christian music in the last 10 years.
Anyways, there's a song on 40 Acres called "Shifting Sand" that perfectly captures what I imperfectly tried to say in that "Mustard Seeds" post. Here are the lyrics:
Sometimes I believe all the lies
So I can do the things I should despise
And every day I am swayed
By whatever is on my mind

I hear it all depends on my faith
So I'm feeling precarious
The only problem I have with these mysteries
Is they're so mysterious

And like a consumer I've been thinking
If I could just get a bit more
More than my 15 minutes of faith,
Then I'd be secure

My faith is like shifting sand
Changed by every wave
My faith is like shifting sand
So I stand on grace

I've begged you for some proof
For my Thomas eyes to see
A slithering staff, a leperous hand
And lions resting lazily

A glimpse of your back-side glory
And this soaked altar going ablaze
But you know I've seen so much
I explained it away

My faith is like shifting sand
Changed by every wave
My faith is like shifting sand
So I stand on grace

Waters rose as my doubts reigned
My sand-castle faith, it slipped away
Found myself standing on your grace
It'd been there all the time

Yeah, that's the ticket. As I said in that previous post, whether Peter walked on the water or sunk, Jesus was there to keep him from drowning.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Words of Grace

Our older daughter is Macy. She is a sensitive, kindhearted, introverted, creative, and thoughtful five-year-old.
Then there's Grace. She is Macy's three-year-old sister, and she is a tornado. We like to joke that God had us name her Grace because He wanted us to have a constant reminder of what we'd most need in parenting her. She is a reckless, boisterous, full-speed-ahead bundle of impulsiveness and energy. She's pretty flippin' awesome.

One thing that has surprised me is that, despite Macy's apparently more introspective and thoughtful personality, Grace is the one who has asked more childliike "theological questions" than Macy ever did. We do not worry at all about Macy's spiritual maturity, but Grace is constantly asking questions about where Jesus is and where God is, and she frequently talks to us and her stuffed animals and dollies about "the Lord Jesus." She is also very much into worship music. She listens to it on repeat on her little boombox while she sleeps all night.

Every night during bedtime prayers, when we get to the part where we ask God to bless people we know, we have the girls each list people they'd like God to bless. The list usually consists of family members, and for Gracie, it includes herself more than once. ;-) During last night's prayers, though, Grace included "my church teacher" in her list. I thought that was awesome, and if anyone reading this happens to work in the 3-year-olds class at Kids Place either Saturday evenings or Sundays at the 8:30 timeslot, please know that Grace wishes a blessing on you!

This morning when I got her out of bed, I noticed she had at some point in the night, turned up her worship music fairly loud. "Time to get up, little Praise Baby," I said. She got up happily, as she often does, and said, "I like to worship the Lord cuz I'm addicted to it." (The girls are fond of saying they're "addicted" to stuff ever since their Mama explained to them that it means they "can't enough of" something.)
I couldn't think of a better way for a Dada to start his day.

Comic Book Guy Says, "Best. Sermon. Ever."

Seriously. If you missed Pastor Bill West's message on forgiveness this past weekend ("Forgiveness is For-Giving"), you missed an awesome presentation of the Gospel applied.

The place where the two halves of The Great Commandment meet is in our granting grace in the forgiveness of others out of the wonder and gratitude and perspective of knowing that God has granted grace in forgiving us. This is why in the Lord's Prayer the phrase "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us" is so connected, so linked. Notice the "as" joining the two actions; it does not say "forgive us if we forgive others" or "forgive us so we can forgive others" or "forgive us before we forgive others," even though those and a variety of other variations can be true. It is an ongoing, dynamic, quality-of-life act of worship that has us living lives of confession and repentance before God and applying that attitude in our relationships with others.

Bill's message points and applications were great, important, and crucial to our lives as followers of Jesus and to our life as a church. If you missed it, read the notes or get the audio. You won't be disappointed. In my opinion, this was the best Bill's ever been at BCC.

Extra, Extra

In my own surfing over the weekend, I found two more good blog posts on issues of real concern to the contemporary church.

The first is by one of my very best friends and one of my all-time favorite people. At Thinklings, De (Bill) talks about manhood, masculinity, and the messages, explicit and implicit, sent by the modern church. He offers some great correctives. (He calls them "suggestions," but I think they're correct, so I'll call them correctives. ;-)
This stuff about Christian masculinity, about men in and out of the church, about good husbanding and fathering is so, so, soooo important. Do read the post, if you get a chance. Bill knows what he's talking about.

Secondly, did you know that there are more than a few people, even within the Church itself, that are distressed over or concerned about or critical of (or threatened by?) the idea of connecting the church's messages to Jesus Christ? You wouldn't think that'd be so controversial, but voices both "conservative" and "liberal" are getting nervous about the gradual move in some of America's churches to make the message of the Bible about Jesus and the salvation we find in Him.
Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle is going to spend twelve weeks teaching his church about Jesus. You can read about his motivation to do this in a post at his Resurgence Blog titled "Vintage Jesus". It is both sobering and exciting that this decision seems so radical. (I kinda dig that Jesus-by-way-of-Che logo at the top of the page. Kinda.)

A by the way fun-fact:
Driscoll's previous stuff on men in church is partly what has raised Bill's ire. ;-)