Monday, July 30, 2007

A Year Later

Last week marked one year since Bellevue Community Church, wanting to bring peace and justice to a toxic leadership culture, fired pastor David Foster for verbal and emotional abuse, abdication of leadership, deceit, and compromised propriety of church funds.
It was, all told, a good decision and a godly decision.

I don't have a long reflection for this occasion, but I do want to say how honored I am to be a part of a church whose leadership is willing to risk nearly everything to remain faithful to God and to take care of its staff and members. Our elders risked reputation, health, comfort, and even their own financial solvency to make a very difficult decision to exercise discipline. Even traditional churches these days don't exercise church discipline. In the sort of church BCC is, bringing it to bear on our popular pastor was like stepping out into a canyon and trusting the invisible bridge is there. But they understood reconciliation is not possible without repentance.

You can revisit the nuts and bolts of this brokenness in the archives here, as well as the devotional/spiritual reflections on sin, repentance, forgiveness, grace, and reconciliation the mess inspired.

A year later, we have largely moved on. Our new lead pastor David Perez was hired in March, and we are already 3 sermon series' deep into reforming the teaching vision of the church. The student ministry, now fully supported and amply staffed, is growing like crazy. Our children's ministry is being transitioned from a daycare format to a worship format. Our small groups are growing and maintaining momentum and increasing in the availability of Bible study. We now have a growing college and young professionals ministry. We are incrementally making the necessary move from a church that exists for the weekend service to a church that exists to exemplify the full reconciliation of the Gospel, a church that realizes God did not call us to simply make converts (much less simply to entertain people) but to make disciples.

I have been honored and blessed to have played a role in the process of growth and healing coming out of the mess. The response has been overwhelming to me, and months and months later I still meet the occasional person who says "Your blog helped me so much during that time" or "Your writing really helped me see the situation more clearly." That blows me away.
Thank you for the opportunity to minister to you in that way.

I am hopeful for our future.

So here we are, a year later. Watch this space for an announcement related to this blog. Will post it probably a week from today.

Grace and peace.

America's Next Top Pastor

This is hilarious.
As the noted cultural critic Homer J. Simpson once said, "It's funny because it's true."

When it gets to the "pastor" showing a Braveheart clip, I was laughing out loud.

HT: The Internet Monk

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The New Legalism: Dissatisfied with Christ

We are studying Paul's letter to the Galatians in the Element Monday night Bible study, and last night, as we were discussing Paul's frustration with his Gentile readers over trading in the Gospel he preached to them for the Judaizers' "Jesus plus" false gospel, we saw it as illustrative of everyone's bizarre compulsion to add to the completed work of Christ.

One guy at the study said he grew up in a very legalistic independent Baptist background and went to a very legalistic Bible college. His personal church history was one in which it was very much ingrained in him to "do stuff" (and to not do stuff) to keep God from zapping him. He asked what the modern equivalent of this is, as more churches seemed less that way and more, as he put it, "normal."

My response was that most churches today still deal in legalism. We just don't think of it that way because it is happy, it speaks of grace, and it is not explicitly condemning. But in my mind, every time churches focus primarily on How To ________ or Six Steps to a Successful _________, they are dealing in legalism, because what is legalism but a gospel of works?

This new focus on our works distorts the pure joy to be found in the true Gospel. What it does, in message format for instance, is spend the majority of its time giving us stuff to do to achieve whatever, and then tacks on at the end a brief message about choosing Christ's free gift of salvation. In my estimation, this is bass ackwards. A Gospel-driven message focuses on Christ's work, on God's work on our behalf, and then moves to an exhortation or application. In most sermons in evangelical churches, the focus breaks down to 90% Helpful Tips and 10% Jesus Did it For You (if that much). But I think the reverse should be the standard.

The result in our present gospel misfocus is a practical legalism. It's just legalism with a better marketing plan. It's legalism that sells better than the old kind, because it promises practical, worldly benefits. It promises results.

And that's the real demon in this false gospel. Even as the new legalism pays lip service to grace, as it plays up the need to do this, this, and this to achieve success or victory in your work/marriage/life, it sets up success and happiness as the goal of the Christian life. Those are not bad goals, but they are not specifically Christian goals. The problem with focusing on our work with the promise that it will produce results is that we end up working for results, rather than for Christ. And when results are slow (or nonexistent), it only breeds dissatisfaction, and ultimately, despair.

An illustration: Whenever ministers cover the touchy subject of wifely submission, they inevitably try to soften Paul's instruction here by saying to husbands, "If you will love your wife as Christ loved the church, then she will be more inclined to submit to you." This makes the call to wifely submission somehow more palatable because it now hinges on a husband worthy of being submitted to.
This is true as far as it goes. Meaning, it is (usually) true that a husband who is loving, sacrificial, servant-hearted, tender, and safe will be easier for a wife to submit to than one who isn't. But what happens when he a husband is not perfect? Does the wife get to opt out?
What happens when a wife is not perfectly submissive? Does the husband get to opt out of laying down his life for her?

The new legalistic approach to this situation, and others akin to it, cannot adequately answer this problem. Because it does not address sin. It is focused on results, on what "works," and therefore sets up a person to person dynamic that is, again, a distortion of the Gospel call to righteous living.

The real Gospel of grace, however, calls us to submit to each other out of reverence to God. A wife should submit to her husband not because her husband is deserving of being submitted to (because no husband really is), but because it honors God. A husband should sacrifice and serve his wife not because she deserves it, but because it is a reflection of how Christ loved us. The difference is that we do these good works -- all good works -- not because they will get us stuff or make us happy, but because they are done for and by and unto God Himself. They aren't steps to __________; they are done out of reverence for Christ.

This is because the new legalism, for all its talk of grace and love and tolerance and anti-condemnation, is just like the old legalism in that it tells us not to be satisfied with Jesus. Don't be satisfied with Jesus' work on your behalf, it suggests. That's not enough. Do more, be more, become more. Because the real goal is not satisfaction with Christ, but success in life. I can't think of anything more "anti" the testimony of the New Testament. Health, wealth, prosperity, conquering dysfunction -- the Bible just isn't really concerned with this stuff. At least, not in the ways the modern church is.

The Bible is concerned, however, with our finding joy and peace and satisfaction in Jesus Christ. The Gospel is about living being Christ and dying being gain. The new legalism says living is gain and Christ is for after death. The real Gospel just isn't sexy.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


I read this article on bloggers in the Southern Baptist Convention and I don't know what to think.
I was anticipating really enjoying hearing about the renegade bloggers' challenging of the increasingly tight circling of the wagons of the political old guard.

Instead I found myself thinking both "sides" are more alike than they think.

Near the end of paragraphs and paragraphs of journalistic text -- some of it reflecting incisive commentary on the conflicts/movements, some of it reflecting a basic and biased ignorance of the people being examined -- comes this almost offhand note, perhaps the most telling of all the observations in the ostensibly investigative piece:
The successful vote on the Faith and Message was [Ben Cole's] valedictory -— he plans to participate more at his church (the parking lot was finally repaved) and less in SBC politics.

(Emphasis mine.)

Ambition. Aspiration. Success.

The Church does not need brilliant personalities but faithful servants of Jesus and the brethren . . . Pastoral authority can be attained only by the servant of Jesus who seeks no power of his own, who himself is a brother among brothers to the authority of the Word.
-- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

(Related: To God be the Glory)

(HT: Bene Diction)

Thursday, July 12, 2007


John Piper is hard core. I find him tremendously moving and inspiring. Not least because he frequently makes me very uncomfortable (which is to say, less and less satisfied with myself).
Here's a snippet of a rant of his on the Prosperity Gospel set to a Jars of Clay song:

That discomfort you feel may be the scandal of the gospel.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Gospel Awakening

The Jollyblogger on The Gospel Awakening transforming American churches.

This Gospel Awakening would be marked by three shifts:
1. The Bible as Story - here's an excerpt from Drew's excerpt of a coalition statement:

In this perspective, the gospel appears as creation, fall, redemption, restoration. It brings out the purpose of salvation, namely, a renewed creation.

If this understanding of the gospel gains pre-eminence it will change our view of the gospel as being primarily concerned about the salvation of the individual soul, expanding it to see that the gospel offers salvation for soul and body, and for all of creation.

2. The Gospel as bigger than a salvational entry-ticket.

That follows from the above but emphasizes that gospel transformation is an ongoing lifelong process, not a one time event.

3. A Missional posture towards the culture.

This would be in contrast to a confrontational/oppositional posture towards the culture.

I think he is right - such understandings will radically alter the way we do Christianity and do church.

David Wayne (and Drew Goodmanson, who inspired his post) are speaking from within a Presbyterian context, but I believe we can see the beginnings of this shift in various branches of evangelicalism. In Vineyard churches, in Baptist churches, coming out of seminaries, in the emergent churches, in college ministries, in evolving "seeker churches," etc.
I am really hoping the American Church is on the verge of this shift also. Something's in the air, and while I'm not one of those "revival!"-mongers, I am praying for reformation. That was one of the mottos of the Reformation, after all -- "Always reforming!"


Here's a great personal post from Jeff at Under the Grace:
One of the things that greatly bothers me is how tidy the lives of evangelicals can be. There is no dirt under their fingernails. We’ve got our theology stitched up to the nth-degree, our practice down to perfection (if you can call staring at the back of someone’s head on Sunday perfect), and our icky little private habits hidden from sight. It’s pretty sick.

I’m a recovering legalist, spiritual snob, Christian-fake… you can probably fill in the blank at this point. One day I woke up and had had enough of trying to keep my pastor, friends, and self happy. I decided (through much time and turmoil) that Jesus was happy enough for me so that was it.

I’ve discovered, as I’ve said here before, that Jesus is enough. If his sacrifice doesn’t make me acceptable to the Father then I’m as good as smoked. I’m banking that my faith in the finished work of Christ is enough to make me acceptable to God. So most of the pressure is on Jesus for my salvation. It’s his gig. He gets the credit and the pressure.

Sure, there’s stuff that I need to be doing: resting in the finished work of Christ, communing with the Holy Spirit, and loving my Father in all I do. This not-so-subtle change in thought has done my heart good. It’s revolutionized my faith. It makes me feel that, despite my many failings, I’m going to be OK.

Personal Mission Statement(s)

These words from Paul on the Gospel are really driving me these days:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes . . .

-- Romans 1:16

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
-- 1 Corinthians 2:2

I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus . . . I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace.
-- Acts 20:21,24

The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. As the Scriptures say,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise
and discard the intelligence of the intelligent."
So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish. Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom. So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense.
But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.

-- 1 Corinthians 1:18-24

Friday, July 06, 2007

The Gospel According to Bono

Last Sunday evening at Element I alluded to an interview with U2's Bono in which he contrasted the grace of the Christian faith with the karma of other religions and vague spiritualities. The interview was with Michka Assayas in Christianity Today. Here's the relevant excerpt:
Assayas: I think I am beginning to understand religion because I have started acting and thinking like a father. What do you make of that?

Bono: Yes, I think that's normal. It's a mind-blowing concept that the God who created the universe might be looking for company, a real relationship with people, but the thing that keeps me on my knees is the difference between Grace and Karma.

Assayas: I haven't heard you talk about that.

Bono: I really believe we've moved out of the realm of Karma into one of Grace.

Assayas: Well, that doesn't make it clearer for me.

Bono: You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics—in physical laws—every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It's clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I'm absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that "as you reap, so you will sow" stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I've done a lot of stupid stuff.

Assayas: I'd be interested to hear that.

Bono: That's between me and God. But I'd be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I'd be in deep s---. It doesn't excuse my mistakes, but I'm holding out for Grace. I'm holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don't have to depend on my own religiosity.

Assayas: The Son of God who takes away the sins of the world. I wish I could believe in that.

Bono: But I love the idea of the Sacrificial Lamb. I love the idea that God says: Look, you cretins, there are certain results to the way we are, to selfishness, and there's a mortality as part of your very sinful nature, and, let's face it, you're not living a very good life, are you? There are consequences to actions. The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world, so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death. That's the point. It should keep us humbled… . It's not our own good works that get us through the gates of heaven.

Assayas: That's a great idea, no denying it. Such great hope is wonderful, even though it's close to lunacy, in my view. Christ has his rank among the world's great thinkers. But Son of God, isn't that farfetched?

Bono: No, it's not farfetched to me. Look, the secular response to the Christ story always goes like this: he was a great prophet, obviously a very interesting guy, had a lot to say along the lines of other great prophets, be they Elijah, Muhammad, Buddha, or Confucius. But actually Christ doesn't allow you that. He doesn't let you off that hook. Christ says: No. I'm not saying I'm a teacher, don't call me teacher. I'm not saying I'm a prophet. I'm saying: "I'm the Messiah." I'm saying: "I am God incarnate." And people say: No, no, please, just be a prophet. A prophet, we can take. You're a bit eccentric. We've had John the Baptist eating locusts and wild honey, we can handle that. But don't mention the "M" word! Because, you know, we're gonna have to crucify you. And he goes: No, no. I know you're expecting me to come back with an army, and set you free from these creeps, but actually I am the Messiah. At this point, everyone starts staring at their shoes, and says: Oh, my God, he's gonna keep saying this. So what you're left with is: either Christ was who He said He was—the Messiah—or a complete nutcase. I mean, we're talking nutcase on the level of Charles Manson. This man was like some of the people we've been talking about earlier. This man was strapping himself to a bomb, and had "King of the Jews" on his head, and, as they were putting him up on the Cross, was going: OK, martyrdom, here we go. Bring on the pain! I can take it. I'm not joking here. The idea that the entire course of civilization for over half of the globe could have its fate changed and turned upside-down by a nutcase, for me, that's farfetched . . .

Go read the whole thing. It's great. And very telling that the world's biggest rock star articulates the Gospel better than some of the world's biggest preachers.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007


Happy 4th of July, Bellevue Community Church (and lookers on)!

Remember that when the Son sets you free, then you are really free.

My prayer is that you have the grace and peace of family and friends to spend this day off with. We are so thankful for a church that has provided this sense of community for us, and this evening we will be celebrating with a group of close, close friends we met at BCC only 8 months or so ago. God is amazing and so, so good.

On this day, and days like it, it is tempting and somewhat natural for our spiritual heritage to become conflated with our patriotism. Let us never lose sight of the fact that for however great and free our country is, the kingdom of God is not about borders or nations or governments but about the power of God reigning in the hearts of men and women of all races, nationalities, and ethnicities through the reconciling work of Jesus Christ.
Here's some great stuff from John Piper, given in an address at our nation's capital:
More than ever since 9/11, Christians in America, and especially Christians in the U.S. government, should make clear that there is a radical distinction between Christianity, on the one hand, and American culture and the American political system, on the other hand. Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, atheists, and all other non-Christians need to know this for Christ's sake.

They need to know that Jesus Christ-crucified for sinners, risen from the dead, and reigning as God from heaven today-was accomplishing his purposes, gathering a people for himself from every culture, and building his church before America ever existed, and will be omnipotently doing the same centuries from now, even if America becomes a footnote in world history. Christianity and American culture are radically distinct. It is possible to be a faithful Christian under any regime in the world-and may be easier to be a radical, cross-bearing disciple of Jesus in regimes less prosperous than America.

We should make that clear over and over in these days.

That said, while "God and Country" can dangerously lead to a misfocused "Jesus plus something," we can and should be thankful that God has shed his grace on America the beautiful. We can and should be grateful for the freedom to live and worship in a culture where we are not risking death every time we go to church or mention Jesus. We can and should be grateful that God empowers and allows men and women to protect us and defend the innocent and pursue justice.

We can and should thank God for the blessings of a free nation. And we must not and should not take this gift for granted.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Element Has a Blog!

Check out The Element Meta-Blog.

This is Element's newest foray into developing communication and interaction within our community. Check the space often for Element news and updates, as well as commentary and reflections from the leadership team.

A Shift of Assumptions

Here's a short video of Mark Driscoll explaining the difference between a seeker church and a missional church. Some good stuff here about market assumptions vs. theological assumptions, bringing people in vs. sending people out, etc.

Spirit and Truth

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.
-- John 4:23

There must be something in the air.
Last Sunday night at Element, I preached on "Snuffing Out Spiritless Spirituality," which was (my attempt at) a prophetic call to repent of the disconnection between "spirituality" and theology. My point was that while good works, fruit, and Christian spirituality are required for life in Christ, they don't trump right belief or make sound doctrine optional. You can't live God without knowing God.

Anyways, just now I find this excellent post from Phil Johnson. Here's an excerpt:
Biblically, our theology is an important aspect of our fruit. "Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son" (2 John 9).

Moreover, the notion that what people do is ultimately more important than what they believe flies in the face of the very same proof-texts that are normally used to support it. [Scot] McKnight, for example, quotes James 2:20: "Faith without works is dead" But that verse doesn't suggest that what we do is more important than what we believe; James's whole point is that the two things seen properly are perfectly symbiotic. One is just as important as the other.

And in terms of causal priority, faith does take first place over works, because any truly good works we do are the fruit of our faith—and James expressly says so at the start of his argument: "I will show you my faith by my works" (James 2:18).

That's the same cause-effect relationship between faith and works that Scripture consistently stresses. Titus 2 describes good works as adornments for sound doctrine; not vice versa. According to 2 Peter 1:5-8, Christian virtues are the necessary accoutrements of authentic Christian faith.

And later:
The Emerging penchant for making orthopraxis primary over orthodoxy has produced rhetoric and behavior which at times seem to imply that sound doctrine is almost wholly optional. The whole way of thinking is upside down. But that's not the worst of it. Take the notion that behavior always trumps belief to its logical conclusion, and you will end up making a person's own works the ground of his or her hope for justification.

Yes. That was the thrust of my message last night, which was to say when we divorce right practice from right belief, we suddenly make our salvation about our own righteousness, not Christ's. And as some of the folks who listen to me every week are beginning to notice (if not grow weary of :-), it is always, totally, completely, wholly, and finally about Jesus and his work, not us and ours.

Celebration of Freedom!

Don't miss it!

Tonight at 7:00, BCC has its annual Independence Day party, The Celebration of Freedom. Come for a great musical retrospective of Americana, stay for fireworks and dessert.

Doors open at 6 p.m.