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!