Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Storming the Gates

In his highly acclaimed book, What’s So Amazing About Grace, Philip Yancey argues that grace is the church’s single most important contribution to our broken world. One need not be a Christian, Yancey correctly contends, to do wonderful humanitarian acts, i.e., feed the hungry, build houses, heal the sick. There is one thing the world cannot effectively do—it cannot offer grace.

Building on this theme, Yancey offers what I believe to be a correct interpretation of the image Jesus used to describe the church’s destiny—“the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). Rather than a metaphor of defense, this figure signals an offensive posture. “Christians,” says Yancey, “are storming the gates, and they will prevail. No matter how it looks at any given point in history, the gates guarding the powers of evil will not withstand an assault by grace.”

As we explore what it means to be a ministry-oriented church, keep at least three important points firmly fixed in mind. First, all ministry belongs to, and is of, God; we are simply participants with Him. Unlike worldly humanitarianism, godly ministry is done in the name of Jesus, and by His power. Second, ours is not a struggle against physical forces. We are at war with the spiritual powers of evil that attempt to keep our world shrouded in darkness (Eph. 6:12).

Third, true ministry occurs within the vulnerable sphere of personal interaction. Jesus did not develop highly organized—and impersonal—“kingdom growth” programs to see how many people he could collect at a given location. No, Jesus simply “went about doing good.” He dared to touch lepers, grieve with those who mourned, and rejoiced with those who experienced God’s deliverance. No program will ever replace the power of a personal touch.

Each time we minister to people in the name of Jesus we apply a solid blow at the gates of hell. May the Church wield the weapon of God’s grace boldly as we reach out to our community.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Financial Peace at Crossbridge

My wife, Carol, and I, along with about 20 other couples just completed Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University, a thirteen lesson series dealing with appropriate money management. It was hosted by two of our couples at CrossBridge whose personal experience and understanding added to the overall benefit of the class.

Ramsey argues compellingly--and passionately--for debt-free living. He further gives practical ways in which this can be achieved. I would recommend everyone availing themselves of this material as we all strive to become better managers of God's stuff.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

And a Child Shall Lead them

In our current climate of ubiquitous self-orientation, a refreshing story of selfless integrity has emerged. Nate Haasis, a 17 year old quaterback for Southeast High, a Springfield Ill. school, demonstrated true character when he had his Central State Eight conference career passing record wiped from the books.

Nate's team was losing to Cahokia High 36-20 with 22 seconds left. Not only was his team going to lose the game, he also was going to fall 29 yards short of the passing record.

Nate's coach stikes a deal with Cahokia's coach at midfield. When play resumes, the Southeast defenders allow Cahokia's running back to jog, unimpeded, into the endzone. Cahokia kicks off, giving Southeast the ball, and Nate the opportunity to get the 29 yards he needs for the record. With 8 seconds left, Nate completes at 5 yard pass to Jacque Robinson who runs without resistance the necessary yards to give Nate the record.

When Nate realized what happened, his conscience wouldn't allow him to keep the record. He wrote the conference president, asking him to remove the record from the books. "Out of respect for my teammates, and past and present football players of the Central State Eight," Nate wrote, "it is my hope that this pass is omitted from any conference record."

Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated concluded his article about this young man by stating:

"And if it bugs you that a kid this honest and this principled doesn't have a singe Division I offer yet, relax. The sooner he gives up football, the quicker we can get him to the place where we really need him--Washington, D.C."


Tuesday, December 09, 2003

The following is the last of three articles that were inspired by my trip to the Grand Canyon this past October.

God and the Grand Canyon 3

Surprisingly, I didn’t sleep very well that night. I guess I was just too exhausted, too sore from the long day’s journey. Just before daylight, my sore legs dragged my aching body to the nearby lodge for a cup of coffee. I got it to go. I was lured to the Canyon’s edge once again to see where I’d been the day before. The morning’s temperature was a chilly 30 degrees. As I made my way to the Canyon, I cradled the cup of coffee in both hands, enticing the rising steam to warm my chilled face.

The path winding around the rim toward various viewpoints largely was deserted. Except for an older couple and a jogger or two, no one was on the path. To my right, three mountain goats were grazing near the trail, inching their way towards me. You never have a camera when you need one!

Along the winding path, there were breathtaking vistas of the canyon, each one offering the observer a fresh perspective of the massive depression. As I continued my stroll, stopping periodically to take in the beauty of it all, I kept choking back tears. I prayed softly, praising God for His unfathomable power.

At one promontory, not protected by railing, was a stone structure near the canyon’s edge. Strategically placed stones created both a low bench and supports for a large flat stone. Apparently intended for group photo shots, this rock configuration became an altar for me. I knelt, and as I imagined the old Patriarchs did at the various altars they’d built, I blessed the name of God.

Before me, and below me, I saw the winding path that we walked the day before. On our journey, I thought I’d noticed all the beauty. But, in my determination to get in and out in one day, I overlooked so much. I kept saying to myself, I want to go back; I’ve just got to go back, next time to experience the place, not just to accomplish a human objective.

Then it struck me. Worship is an encounter with the living God that leads to transformation. How often have we been so pragmatically determined to “do worship,” that we fail to experience, to relish God’s power and grace? How often have we turned worship into take-home tips for controlling our lives and circumstances rather than exalting and deepening our relationship with the very God who is Lord of both our lives and circumstances? At my makeshift altar that morning, I pled guilty to these—and other—self-directed approaches to God.

The next time you gather with fellow believers, I pray you will experience worship here and now. I pray that you will be brought to a place where God is all in all, and there you’ve seen His beauty, experienced His grace. And, hopefully, you will find yourself being compelled to go back again and again for a fresh encounter with His holiness. For, in those compelling moments, we begin truly to sense that He is “all we want, and all we ever needed,” not only here and now but also there and forever.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Down in the River to Pray

The subject of baptism tends to be a lightning rod for theological controversy. We fuss about the mode, meaning, and appropriate subjects for baptism. I've just received, and read the opening chapters of, a new book by John Mark Hicks and Greg Taylor titled: Down in the River to Pray: Revisioning Baptism as God's Transforming Work.

What appears to be the overarching point of the book so far is to move beneath the technicalities of baptism to the trinitarian emport of this act. This is a refreshing glimpse into a church practice that has been sadly diminished by much rangling about it's technicalities.

If the opening chapters are indicative of the balance of the book, it is well worth the read. I know John Mark personally, which makes this book even more significant to me. Because of my first-hand knowledge of John's character and scholarship, I can recommend this book to you without qualification. I'm looking forward to "going down to the river to pray" in order to refresh--and rethink--my understanding of baptism. I hope you will as well.


Monday, December 01, 2003

Here is the second article that was inspired by my experience at the Grand Canyon in October of this year.

God and the Grand Canyon 2

I typically dread the sickening sound of an alarm clock jarring me to consciousness. Not this day. In fact, I welcomed, even anticipated, its annoying beeping. For, this day, I was going to do something I had never done—we were hiking from the South rim of the Grand Canyon to the Colorado River and back. The prospect of such a trek was itself challenging, but we were doing it in one day!

As we approached the trailhead at 6:00 a.m., darkness still largely shrouded the canyon. After a prayer for safety, we began our decent into the monstrous hole. As we walked, the sun’s rays began to tease to light the brilliant colors of the various strata created by forces not fully known. I finally began to see all the astonishing contours of this breath-taking place.

It seemed that at every new plateau, cliff, and crevice something new, more fascinating was revealed. The stroll through Indian Garden, where we broke for a quick snack of payday candy bars, canned beans, and fruit cocktail was an oasis in an otherwise barren land. After several long drinks of water we were back on the trail. More miles of endless twisting and turning as we slowly made our way to the winding Colorado. Our haggard group, consisting of my oldest daughter, sister, Dad, and me, wondered if we’d ever reach the river with the sickening realization that every step we took down we’d have to repeat on the way out.

We made it to the river that day, where we soaked our tired feet in the chilly Colorado. We also dragged ourselves out of the Canyon nearly 12 hours after we began. We did what signs and rangers warn you not to do—we hiked to the river and back in one day. That was a great feeling!

Later, as I reflected on the day’s grueling—yet fascinating—journey, several thoughts came to mind. First, I relished the personal experience that I had with something so much larger than myself that I will never be the same. Second, what really made the experience special is that I shared it with others whom I love. Because of our collective journey, each with our own unique reactions to it, we share an experience that binds our hearts together. I further felt strangely connected to generations past who marked and traveled the very trail we trod.

Nothing can take the place of a personal experience with the Father God. Only until we individually plunge into His presence will we ever begin to understand His beauty, His richness, His grace. Yet, at the same time, there is power in shared experiences. Others who similarly have traveled into the presence of God, with their own, unique response, are forever bound together by such shared experience. Such was the longing of the downcast Psalmist who reminisced about the times he “used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God” (Psalm 42:5).

As we worship, not only are our hearts touched by the Father and drawn into closer rhythm with His, but they also are synchronized with others who share the experience. Such is the power of God’s community—a group of travelers twisting and turning along a path traveled by many before, and powerfully connected by the experience. So, come, now is the time to worship!

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Longing for Unity

A friend recently reminded me of a humurous story that has a somber point. A man, as the story goes, was stranded all alone on a deserted island. This mound of sand, and a smattering of vegetation was his home for a number of years. One day, and to his astonished delight, he saw a ship on the horizon speeding in his direction. The crew spotted his signal, and sent a small boat to rescue him.

While ashore, the captain noticed three huts on the island. Curious, he asked the castaway why there were three huts. "The first," the man answered, " is my home. The second," the man continued, "is my church." Venturing a quess about the other hut, the captain asked, "So, is the third hut your office?" The man, with noticeable angst, responded,"No, That's where I used to go to church!"

Oh, for unity in the body.

Monday, November 24, 2003

The Iron Bowl: It's More Than a Game

Having grown up in Pensacola, Florida, the Alabama/Auburn (or is it Auburn/Alabama?) rivalry wasn't that huge of an affair. Don't get me wrong. Though I haven't conducted a scientific survey, per capita, there probably are as many Alabama or Auburn fans in Pensacola as their are Florida or Florida State fans. However, since moving to the state of Alabama in 1992, I've taken great interest in, not only the game itself, but the entire "Iron Bowl" week.

I have realized that the Iron Bowl is more than an intra-state rivalry in which two teams are pitted against each other on the gridiron. It's much more significant than which team happens to win the atheletic contest.

Here in Birmingham, Alabama, the local news stations run segments about the game all week long. Fans from both sides are interviewed, telling their stories about past games, and sharing their particular traditions surrounding this annual event. Past games. Emotional endings. Tailgating. Travel....And fellowship.

My self-righteous side wonders why folks spend so much time, energy, and money on a football game, especially when our world is saturated with more important concerns. In precisely those judgmental moments, however, I am reminded again that the Iron Bowl is more than just a game. And, I think the church can learn from this cultural phenomenon.

The game itself is only one factor in the overall equation. To its complex configuation, you must include the evocative power of story. During the week of the iron bowl, fan after fan would tell stories of their experiences at these respective schools, and the particular games that they've witnessed. These shared experiences become woven into the fabric of who they are. Thus, they cannot help but speak with great emotion about this game--because it's more than a game.

Story is what brings thousands of cheering fans together each year. And, it is also story that keeps the fire burning through the months "until next year's game."

The Church needs to learn this lesson. We have been shaped by an over-arching story of God's love that has been experienced uniquely by each of God's people. When we attempt to reduce our identity to rules we keep, or steps we've taken, the power of the gospel is drastically diminished. The story of God is about the Holy One Who has pursued the unholy, redeemed them through Jesus, and empowered them to holiness through His resident Spirit. Each of us has a particular expression of that story to tell. May we be so bold as to tell our stories...especially as we enter the Christmas season.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Postmodernism has become the buzz word among theologians and cultural historians. This critial/pessimistic paradigm (if it can be called that) has been gaining strength sense the 1960's. Unfortunately, only until recently have church leaders become slightly aware of this epistemic move, and just now are attempting to respond to it. If historical trends have any predictive ability, church leaders likely will chisel out a postmodern ecclesiology while the cultural stream will keep moving.

I don't know if postmodernity will become the dominant cultural paradigm, particularly sense it is a reaction against something, rather than a move toward something. What that ultimate something is has not yet been determined. This simply means that the church must continue to be "light on its feet" and respond as the body of Christ in any given cultural situation.

As culture continues to be in flux, it is important to, not only be aware of its trends, but develop a relevant ecclesiology to meet new demands. At this point, we do need to think seriously about a postmodern ecclesiology and what that means for churches who were born out of modernity.

A good resource to assist in this process is: Ancient-Future Faith, Rethinking Evangelicalism for a Postmodern Word, by Robert Webber. The following is Webber's own words regarding the focus of his book:

"The fundamental concern of this book is to find points of contact between classical Christianity and postmodern thought. Classical Christianity was shaped in a pagan and relativistic society much like our own. Classical Christianity was not an accomodation to paganism but an alternative practice of life. Christians in a postmodern world will succeed, not by watering down the faith, but by being a countercultural community that invites people to be shaped by the story of Israel and Jesus."

I think you will find Webber's book a helpful voice for these confusing times. His points about Christus Victor, and the place of baptism and communion are especially good.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

LifeSong, the music ministry at CrossBridge, is in the process of recording its 3rd CD. Under the gifted leadership of Greg Miles, LifeSong has become an integral part of what God's doing at our church. With these releases, our prayer is that God will work outside our walls, touching countless hearts, many of whom we might never know. And, to Him be all the glory.

The title for the CD is "Worship: Here and Now." As suggested by the title, the songs generally are vertically postured, though there is the horizontal dimension of calling all seekers to worship. The prayer is that the CD will bring people into the presence of God...where there is mercy.
Several weeks ago, my daughter Amber, my father, sister mother, and brother in law took a trip to the Grand Canyon. It was the first time I visited that famous landmark. The experience proved to be a very spiritual on for me. The following is one article of three that I wrote based upon that experience.

God and the Grand Canyon 1

I had seen pictures, heard stories, and read articles about it. I had even considered scholarly debates about its formation. Was it caused by tenacious uniformitarian forces over millions of years or did catastrophism play a large role in its formation? Being one of the Seven Wonders of the World, I knew Intellectually, that it was magnificent—truly a wonder to behold. But, I had never personally experienced it.

On my trip there, I tried to imagine the impact that the famous chasm would have on my psyche. How would I feel? What would I think? How would it affect me intellectually, emotionally, physically?

We left the Phoenix airport later than anticipated, causing us to reach the deep ditch after nightfall. Though the darkness of night shrouded the gaping crevice, I just had to stumble to its compelling edge. Even in the darkness, I could sense its vastness. It seemed as if the sky itself had been sucked into its gaping jaws. A strange sense of awe—if not fear—began to sweep over me. There, before me in the darkness, was what I had read about, heard about, dreamed about. Though I could not yet see it clearly, I knew I was in the presence of something overwhelming. “Wow,” was all I could form with my numb lips.

I became somewhat frustrated, longing to see the Grand Canyon in all its anticipated glory; all the brilliant hues of rock painted by the sun itself. As I groped along the path winding around the canyon’s South rim, I was reminded of the ultimate mystery of God. Paul said it well; “We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!” (1 Corinthians 13:12; The Message).

At that point, I nearly wept. Wept at the reality that I really do grope in relative spiritual darkness, not fully knowing the Father. But that’s not what really made the tears well up in my eyes. I was overcome with the reality that, typically speaking, I’m easily distracted from a deep longing to see His face. Pressures of all kinds capture my attention. Ministry. Family. Home repairs. Administrivia. How easily these legitimate concerns become the epicenter of my life, creating waves of frenetic responses over the landscape of my soul.

Maybe you know what I’m talking about. If so, I hope you will be compelled to at least stand at the edge of God. For even at His edge, though still shrouded by the fog of our finite minds, you cannot help but be awed by His vastness; His depth; His glory. And maybe while there, you will be compelled to plunge into His presence…and experience His grace.

Oh Lord, “we want to touch you, we want to see your face…we want to know you more!”
Gordon Dalbey, a good friend and brother, has recently released the updated version to his classic Healing the Masculin Soul: How God Restores Men to Real Manhood. I highly recommend this book to all brothers.

As guys, we struggled with many issues, from sexual addictions to relating to our children and wives. Gordon traces out these particularly masculine issues, and points to the only true source of healing--the Father God. This book has become a resourse for me. Having two daughters and two sons, I find myself returning over and again to the wisdom packed in these pages.

To order the book, go to Gordon's website: abbafather.com
Amy Stroup, a gifted musician in the body of Christ, will be at CrossBridge for a Worship and Praise Concert on Tuesday, November 25 at 7:00 p.m. This will be a great opportunity to bring friends to enjoy an awesome time with the Lord.

She, along with Kelly Sutton (one of our youth ministers) will appear on Good Day Alabama that Tuesday morning. For those in the Birmingham area, be sure to watch for them.

Due to the Thanksgiving Holidays, we will not be meeting on Wednesday. May God bless you all in your travels.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

My best friend from Seattle Washington, Brad Bromling, is visiting with me today. He's the guy who fell off the treadmill--those at CrossBridge know what I'm talking about. Great to see him.
Blogging Comes to CrossBridge
This is the first entry for Weekly Words on the Web.