Thursday, June 21, 2007

Picnic Photos

Reader Chip Curley emailed his photo album from last Sunday's Father's Day Picnic and Car Show.

Thanks, Chip!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Pastoral Care (from the Other Angle)

These stats, reported by the Resurgence Blog, are sobering:

* Fifteen hundred pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches.
* Fifty percent of pastors' marriages will end in divorce.
* Eighty percent of pastors and eighty-four percent of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastors.
* Fifty percent of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
* Eighty percent of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years.
* Seventy percent of pastors constantly fight depression.
* Almost forty percent polled said they have had an extra-marital affair since beginning their ministry.
* Seventy percent said the only time they spend studying the Word is when they are preparing their sermons.

Pastors' Wives

* Eighty percent of pastors' spouses feel their spouse is overworked.
* Eighty percent of pastors' spouses wish their spouse would choose another profession.
* The majority of pastors’ wives surveyed said that the most destructive event that has occurred in their marriage and family was the day they entered the ministry.

(Sources are Barna and Focus on the Family.)

We would all do well at this point to ask ourselves if we are more tempted to criticize our leadership than we are to encourage them. When you are inclined to "speak up," is it more out of disagreement than affirmation? When was the last time you sent your pastor/teacher/whatever an email, letter, card, or phone call just expressing a simple message of thanks?

What are our churches doing to take care of our pastors and their families?


You really should be reading Mark Lauterbach's blog, GospelDrivenLife. It is phenomenal.
Here's a bit from a recent post on the patience of Jesus:
But pride in me is foolish. I would never think it right to wait until I am healthy before going to a doctor. But I do that kind of thing all the time. I wait until I am better to confess sin. I wait until I am better to give a testimony. I wait until I am better to flee to the Savior.

I have a Savior who simply says, “Come” – and in him are riches of grace and mercy that is is both willing and desirous to pour out on me. I am called to flee from all hope in my self, my good works. I am called to fall at the Savior’s feet and receive grace for my soul – and to do so every day.

"For a fallen man to pick and choose how he will imitate Christ is treacherous territory indeed."

He's a bit high-falutin', but here's an excerpt from a doozy of a post on a "tough customer" Jesus by Doug Wilson:
I hope it is possible to say this with all reverence, but Jesus was a tough customer. Contrary to popular opinion, the Lord of the gospels was not the original flower child, and He did not come in order to make us all feel better about ourselves. The image that many have of the Lord’s personality and strength of character comes more from man-made traditions and saccharine portrait painters than it does from the Bible. One easily envisions the image of a genteel limpwrist standing outside the door of someone’s heart, gently tapping, because of course the doorknob is only on the inside. The only thing missing from this vision is the ribbon in his hair. I have sometimes thought that a far better picture of Jesus knocking at the door of my heart would be a commanding hand from offstage, two rows of angels with a battering ram, and a worried-looking troll peeking out over the wall of a castle.

Otto Scott put it well when he said that the God of the Bible is no buttercup. And when Jesus came He revealed all the attributes of the Father, and not just those things which we can easily interpret as comforting to ourselves. But the Lord’s words were simultaneously blunt and pointed, and as Chesterton put it, He did not hesitate to throw furniture down the front steps of the Temple. However, we like to hear all about love, and mercy, and comfort, and kindness. This is not bad in itself; these are all biblical revelations of God’s nature and character. But we present them out of context; we neglect the wrath, and holiness, and justice of God. We do not neglect these attributes because they are contradictions to the first set; we neglect them because we do not know how the Bible reconciles them. Notice how the apostle seats them at the table together, as though they were good friends. "Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness" (Rom. 11:22). We must constantly remember that a half-truth presented as the whole truth is an untruth. God is kind, and God is severe. Jesus reveals the nature of the Father to us; Jesus is kind, and Jesus is severe . . .

It's all good. If you can hack through the density of his prose, and the length of the post, it's worth the effort.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Religion vs. The Gospel

I hate that we apparently can't rehabilitate the perfectly good concept of religion, but in this instance, as it means "salvation by doing stuff," this piece by Mark Driscoll is right on.
The Difference between Religion and the Gospel

By Pastor Mark Driscoll

Religion says, if I obey, God will love me. Gospel says, because God loves me, I can obey.

Religion has good people & bad people. Gospel has only repentant and unrepentant people.

Religion values a birth family. Gospel values a new birth.

Religion depends on what I do. Gospel depends on what Jesus has done.

Religion claims that sanctification justifies me. Gospel claims that justification enables sanctification.

Religion has the goal to get from God. Gospel has the goal to get God.

Religion sees hardships as punishment for sin. Gospel sees hardship as sanctified affliction.

Religion is about me. Gospel is about Jesus.

Religion believes appearing as a good person is the key. Gospel believes that being honest is the key.

Religion has an uncertainty of standing before God. Gospel has certainty based upon Jesus' work.

Religion sees Jesus as the means. Gospel sees Jesus as the end.

Religion ends in pride or despair. Gospel ends in humble joy.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Father's Day Car Festival

What could be better than a Father's Day outing that involves food, fun, and cars? BCC will be hosting Dad's Day Car Festival right here on the Hope Park campus on Sunday, June 17. Kids, bring your dads, and dads, bring your kids out to the BCC parking lot right after the 11am service. We'll have free burgers and hot dogs, live music, and of course, lots of antique and classic cars for the whole family to enjoy. Admission is free.

Whatever Works?

The greatest threat to the gospel specific to today is the indirect challenge of pragmatism among evangelicals.
-- Mark Dever

Some random personal opinions (of mine) related to this issue of pragmatism in the Church:

1) There was a point at which a considered concern for removing unnecessary traditional or religious cultural barriers between seekers and churches became a passion for doing "whatever it takes" to get people in the doors. I don't know where that point was, and I'm sure it happened gradually, but it obviously resulted from changing a focus from saving souls to gaining numbers.

2) Consequently, and somewhat ironically, the current equivalent of the 80's-90's seeker churches are not really bringing the lost into the life of discipleship so much as they are attracting Christians who have become bored with their previous church.

3) Consequently, many churches have become suppliers of spiritual milk not to new believers but to "old" believers who have never matured into the desire for meat.

4) Worship time has become more entertainment driven not as a means to attract the lost but to ensure that a church's "show" is better than all the other churches' shows.

5) The embrace of pragmatism affects nearly all of a church's aims, so that even the largest churches with the most resources do not actually plant new churches so much as they are franchising themselves. We see this currently with the satellite church movement, in which large churches with popular teachers do not raise up pastors to plant missional churches elsewhere but set up "spin-offs" where the main church teacher is shown on video screen.
This means that either a) really big churches with lots of money and personnel are somehow unable to raise up and train quality teacher-pastors, or b) they are able to do so but prefer the attraction of the celebrity quotient of their pastor. Either of those options does not bode well for the state of the missional church.

6) The first question we must ask when planning teaching, music, creative elements, fundraisers, marketing and advertising -- basically anything the modern church does -- is not "What will people think?", but "What will God think?"

7) Fidelity to the Gospel should always trump "whatever it takes."

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


The impact God has planned for us doesn't occur when we're pursuing impact. It occurs when we're pursuing God.
-- from Phil Vischer, co-creator of VeggieTales

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Felt Needs

From a spot-on post by J.D. Hatfield at Voice of Vision:
The problem is that people aren’t looking for salvation as being reconciled to God. The old (real) gospel starts with an offended God. The new (false) gospel starts with a wounded “us”. The truth is not that we are wounded but that we are dead!

The gospel is not a commodity, and unlike what we hear preached as the gospel these days, Jesus isn’t very passionate about some of your greatest felt needs. There is nothing distinctly Christian about the new gospel messages at all, that is why they are so popular.

Via Thinklings, which was via Transforming Sermons


It has been my great privilege since last fall to get to know and to get to serve the emerging generation in and connected to BCC's community. We call the ministry to these college students and young professionals Element, and as each week goes by, I become more and more in love with the hearts and the spirits of those who wander into the Element community.

From the beginning, those of us charged with steering the church's ministry to this group decided we didn't want to just put on a program. I for one was never interested in just hosting a 13th grade-type of attraction. We wanted to foster community, we wanted to not just hand out some information, but to actually bring young people into a more vital discipleship to Jesus. We are attempting this not just by holding a Sunday evening worship service, but by making small groups just as big a priority, and by making community service just as big a priority. Those are the three foundational supports of what we're trying to do -- worship (in music and teaching), community (in group studies and social events), and service (cooperating with service ministries in Nashville and helping out the needy in the BCC family).

In my estimation, these great people I get to do life with are doing a great job. In the span of just a few months, we have grown from one small group meeting in a living room to three groups. We have made monthly service projects not just a feature of our ministry but a commitment by our ministry. And in the worship service, we have gone from getting our feet under us (the first service was my first time delivering a message in about ten years) to seeing a committed group worshiping enthusiastically, voices loud and hands raised, and tuning into the teaching with focused faces and meaningful responses.

The personal feedback I get from people entering the Element community is so encouraging. Lives really are being changed. The personal stories one may hear in share times at the Bible studies are testaments to the work God is doing through this effort, and for every one of those stories, there's one or two more emailed or MySpace messaged to someone on the leadership team.

These are exciting times in the life of Bellevue Community Church. The future is bright, not because we are talented or productive or "spiritual" -- but because God is good.
It is an uphill trudge weening people off of self-help Christianity and into the exciting Gospel-driven life of real discipleship, but love speaks volumes, and while the effects are not always instantaneous, they are lasting. They are eternal. Because God's Word does not return void.

Thank you, BCC, for giving Element to me, to us, to the young people in Nashville. This burgeoning discipleship community is a great investment in the progress and future of the BCC family.

You Don't Have to Get Your Act Together For Jesus to Love You

Here's an excerpt from a great article by John Piper:

In Luke 17:5 the apostles ask Jesus to increase their faith. How does Jesus help them? In two ways, both of which are by telling them truth. So even in the way he responds he shows us that faith comes by hearing. Knowing certain things should increase our faith.

First, he strengthens our faith by telling us in verse 6 that the crucial issue in accomplishing great things to advance the kingdom of God is not the quantity of our faith, but the power of God. He says, "If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and be planted in the sea'; and it would obey you." By referring to the tiny mustard seed after being asked about increased faith, he deflects attention away from the quantity of faith to the object of faith. God moves mulberry trees. And it does not depend decisively on the quantity of our faith, but on his power and wisdom and love. In knowing this we are helped not to worry about our faith and are inspired to trust God's free initiative and power.

Second, he helps their faith grow by telling them in verses 7-10 that when they have done all they are commanded to do, they are still radically dependent on grace. Jesus gives an illustration. You might want to read it again in verses 7-10. The gist of it is that the owner of a slave does not become a debtor to the slave no matter how much work the slave does. The meaning is that God is never our debtor. Verse 10 sums it up: "So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, 'We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.'" We are always his debtor. And we will never be able to pay this debt, nor are we ever meant to. We will always be dependent on grace. We will never work our way up out of debt to a place where God is in our debt. "Who has ever given a gift to him that he should be repaid?" (Romans 11:35).

When it says in verse 9 that the owner does not "thank" the slave, the idiom for "thank" is provocative. I think the idea is that "thanks" is a response to grace. The reason the owner does not thank the slave is that the servant is not giving the owner more than what the owner deserves. He is not treating the owner with grace. Grace is being treated better than you deserve. So it is with us in relation to God. We never treat God with grace. We never give him more than he deserves. Which means that he never owes us thanks. God never says "Thank you" to us. Instead he is always giving us more than what we deserve and we are always owing him thanks.

So the lesson for us is that when we have done all we should do – when we have solved all our pastoral care problems and fixed the attitudes of all our people and mobilized the most missions and loved the poor and saved marriages and reared godly children and boldly proclaimed Christ – God owes us no thanks. Instead we will at that moment relate to him as debtors to grace just as we do now.

This is a great encouragement to faith. Why? Because it means that God is just as free to bless us before we get our act together as he is after. Since we are "unworthy" slaves before we have done what we should, and "unworthy" slaves afterwards as well, it is only grace that would prompt God to help us. Therefore he is free to help us before and after. This is a great incentive to trust him for help when we feel like our act is not together.

So two things increase our faith: 1) that God himself and not the quantity of our faith is the decisive factor in flinging mulberry trees out of the way; and 2) free grace is decisive in how God treats us before and after we have done all we ought to do. We never move beyond the need for grace. Therefore let us trust God for great things in our little faith, and let us not be paralyzed by what is left to be done in our lives and in our church.

Graceless Christianity

I think we ought to help our fellow followers of Jesus develop practical, applicatory ways to live out life in the Spirit. Faith is not living if it doesn't work, no doubt.
But the more I hear this plea for "practical application" as the substance of biblical teaching and preaching, the more intrigued I am as to why people prefer homework over simply hearing the announcement that Jesus has done the work necessary to redeem us, and that there's nothing we can do to earn His love and favor. Why isn't it an awesome thing, an inspiring thing, to hear the proclamation of the Gospel itself? Are we so un-enamored with the person and work of Jesus that we consider the atonement irrelevant, boring, or peripheral to getting a Christian honey-do list?

As sinners saved by grace, we must get far more excited about hearing what Jesus has done for us and will do in us than we do about The Six Steps to _________. The cult of application is just a newfangled works religion, and while our faith should produce fruit, and while we should commit ourselves to the service and sacrifice for others, and while we should dedicate ourselves to spiritual disciplines, when we subjugate the Gospel proclamation to practical application, we are preaching a graceless Christianity.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Jesus Didn't Come to Make You Happy

This is where that Debbie Downer sad "wah wah" sound effect comes in. :-)

No, but seriously. Taking off from that choice quote on discipleship from the Mike Ayers message I highlighted yesterday -- "To be a follower of Jesus, you must renounce comfort as the ultimate value of your life" -- I think it's very important to note the place we tend to go off the rails most when trying to find God's will and to follow Jesus. We have this notion that difficulty or trial or problems are somehow indications of being outside of God's will, conveniently forgetting that Jesus himself promised us trouble, that Paul himself called suffering a privilege, and that the entire testimony of Scripture speaks to difficulty as the very refining process through which our faith is matured and our characters are made most like Christ's.

There's nothing wrong with seeking safety and ease, except when we do so at the expense of faith, and therefore at the expense of holiness. Jesus did not come to enhance our lives, to somehow give us the American dream of "life, love, and the pursuit of happiness." He came to give us life, because we were dead. He came to give us the gift of God's grace and love, and many times the experience of grace and love finds us smack dab in the ups and downs of a life requiring patience, faith, endurance, and hope.

The fruit of the Spirit are not comfort, happiness, convenience . . . The fruit of the Christian life is not meant to be circumstantial and emotional. They are deeper, faith-rich qualities born of adversity.

Jesus did not come to make you happy. He came to make you holy. And there is a joy in that process we can find that is much deeper, much greater, much better than the happiness we are far too easily pleased with.

Conexus is Coming!

BCC is gearing up for the summer semester of Conexus, our small group program. If you care about connecting with other people, if you care about being a real part of community, sign up for a group. There's no better way to meet people, to -- as part of our mission states -- "know people and be known."

Conexus directories come out this weekend, but it's already available online. Throughout the weekend services and Happy Hour, visit the Conexus Rally in the atrium, get some info from group leaders, and sign up!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Great Words

Do you listen to sermon podcasts? Can I recommend two great ones to you that I just listened to today?

That video clip I feature a couple posts down is from a recent Mark Driscoll sermon called Examining Two Enemies of the Gospel (religion and idolatry), that he delivered at some conference in Texas. I listened to the whole thing today while watching the girls at the pool, and holy cow -- it just may be the best sermon I've ever heard.
Seriously. No exaggeration. I'm racking my brain trying to think of a better message, and I've heard lots of good messages in my short life. I can't think of one.
In content and delivery and style and engagement, it is very near perfect.
You can listen to it online at the link above, or download the mp3 from Mars Hill's media library.

The other message is from the man I consider my mentor-pastor. His name is Mike Ayers, and he's the founding pastor of The Brook Church Community in Houston. I listened to his message "Counting the Cost" today, and it's really good.
A choice quote: "To be a follower of Jesus, you must renounce comfort as the ultimate value of your life."
Wow! True dat.
There's no individual link for the message, but go to the Brook's sermon audio page here and look for the title "Counting the Cost." You can listen to it online or download the mp3. (A personal testimonial about the MasterLife program from a church member starts out the message, so if you download the audio, feel free to start your listening at the 8:23 mark.)

Two great messages. My gift to you. :-)

The Myth(?) of the Persecuted Church in America

From BeliefNet's Rod Dreher:
I had lunch today with a three Christians, one from Europe, one from the Middle East, one from Southeast Asia. Here is a summary of our conversation:

The Middle Easterner: We are being terribly persecuted. Our people are being killed and deprived of their rights in every way. Many of us are emigrating to escape. The government does not protect us. Everyday life is martyrdom. Our biggest challenge, aside from survival, is how to love those who kill and persecute us. We don't understand why Christians in the West, and the Western media, doesn't tell our story.

The Southeast Asian: Christianity is formally permitted, but our people and our clergy face constant persecution, and we are so relatively small in number that there's very little we can do except endure.

The European: Our churches are virtually empty. We are tolerated because we are irrelevant. Christianity is seen as a hobby, but that's it. We look around at all our magnificent churches, and see that the faith survived all kinds of immense hardships and challenges over the centuries, but Christians made it. Now, in our time, Christians are completely free to worship as they like, and everyone has all their material needs taken care of, but there is a real question of whether we are going to make it. Wealth and freedom is doing to Christianity in Europe what centuries of suffering and privation and persecution did not.

And there's me, the American, feeling rather ashamed of myself. Perhaps I should have told these people about the war on Christmas in my country.

HT: Boar's Head Tavern

American Idol(atry)

Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church Seattle, with a powerful anecdote on idolatry in America:


I've overhauled the sidebar menu. Changed a few things around. Deleted broken links. Added a short blogroll under a new heading ("Read").

Part of updating the blog is keeping the links fresh.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Jesus Was Never Too Busy

From Abraham at the Desiring God Blog:
Sometimes I pretend I don't have time. All the tasks on my to-do list are incredibly important.

I'm too busy to answer that email. Too busy to help my neighbor—anyway, I don't even speak Spanish. And I can't give my wife a hand—too much to do. I've got a meeting. I've got to get the sermon posted. I'm blogging. Terribly important, indeed.

Then there's Jesus.

When his cousin and friend John the Baptist had just been beheaded, Jesus tried to go to a lonely place to mourn, but the crowds beat him there. He healed their sick and he served them all dinner. Only then, in the evening, did he get a chance to be alone. And even that was interrupted (Matthew 14:10-25).

Another time when he was alone praying, Peter sought him out to let him know everyone was looking for him (Mark 1:35-39). He did not respond at all irritably. Perhaps that seems like no big deal, but think about the meeting that Peter broke up when he interrupted Jesus. When God and his son are talking it is more important than any conference call or international summit we can imagine. Two beings whose job is to create and maintain universes are consulting with one another—and they don't mind little Peter breaking in with information he is convinced is important.

Even when his life was on the line, Jesus had time for other people's problems.

When someone threatens to kill you and you don't think it's quite time to die, escaping will jump to the top of your task list, won't it? It did for Jesus, but he still let himself be bothered by others' urgency:

The Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him. Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all.
(Matthew 12:14-15)

It would be like if your pastor was willing to stay up front after a service and pray for you, knowing there was someone in the building waiting around to shoot him.

Isn't Jesus wonderfully peculiar? Everything he does is infinitely more important than what I do, but every time I interrupt him, he pays attention. Nothing prevents him from loving us. During immense sadness at his own loss, he made sure others were happy. When he was in the most important meeting in the world, he listened to a nobody. And when he was fearing for his own life, he saved others' lives.

He always had time and he always will, and I don't feel very busy anymore.

A Useless Crucifixion?

I've said elsewhere what an exciting day we live in when the cross of Christ is even a scandal in American churches. This is because the evangelical culture has traded "Christ as life" for "Christianity as help." But rather than despair over this deficiency, as so many within the Church are, I tend to see it as a great day for the scandal of grace. Those who get the Gospel get to pull a big freak out on Christian and non-Christian alike! :-)

The Internet Monk is talking about this stuff this week too:
A highlight for me is a discussion of just how useless the crucifixion of Jesus is in much of evangelicalism today. If our great need is to be delivered from the wrath of God, then Jesus is our mediator. But what if our big problem is losing ten pounds? Finding a bigger house? Paying for college? Getting out of debt? What if the guilt that concerns us is the guilt of not having a pool like our neighbor? What if the center of our prayers is the moral life of our kids or our physical health? Do we actually need a crucified Jesus for any of these things?
. . .

The prosperity gospel isn’t on the fringe any more. As William Willimon says, churches now advertise that they “have what you are looking for.” What is the average American looking for? A bloody savior to deliver from the wrath of God? Or success in life?

Toying with Returning

A good friend recently suggested I hang a CLOSED sign on BCC is Broken. I can't deny I've thought about it. But I can't bring myself to do it. I have flirted with the idea of resuming posting here when I finish the Old School Jesus series at Element, but the truth is, finishing one series won't exactly free up a whole lot of blogging time. I'll be starting another one immediately after.

But I do miss writing for the great readers I had here, and since SiteMeter informs me weekly that people are still checking in (although obviously not as many as in the blog's heyday), I think I will try to cultivate a readership again first with some quality links and then, as soon as can be managed, a return to original posting.

We are enjoying a new chapter in the life of our church. David Perez has been at the helm since Easter Sunday. We have seen the rise of new generational ministries (Launch for middle school, Element for "college and career"), as well as the unabated continuation of service ministries that BCC has always been known for (rescue mission work, Habitat builds, Soles 4 Souls, soldier support, children's home volunteerism, etc.). We have clung to what is good of the old and have moved on to the new with hope and faith.

There's still stuff to talk about, isn't there? :-)

Grace and peace to you.
More coming soon . . .