Discipleship for Our Children and Students

Many in the church have asked about our plans and goals for Sparrows, Sunday School, and Youth Ministry. As members from a number of backgrounds, we have had a wide range of experiences with youth ministry; some good, some bad, all with baggage. Many have strong ideas of what youth ministry is not, but it is a little harder to come back and state positively what it should be. Hopefully, this article will move us at least a few steps in that direction, and prove helpful for those with children in or approaching RYF and any in the church who want to know more about our various ministries. Our goal for our children – as in our goals for the entire church regardless of age - is to disciple toward ever-growing, Christ-like maturity. Admittedly, Christian maturity is a moving target, one of those constantly unfolding objectives we can never exhaust. The more we grow in it, the farther we realize is left to go. Where do our children and students fit into all of this?

Bridging the Gap

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Our children belong to our households and they live under our care, but this will not always be so. At some point, they will need to learn to live in and as the church outside of our homes.  In reality, from the day our children are born, they are moving from our covenant household to their own. They progressively try on and grow into new pieces of adulthood: feeding and dressing, forming relationships outside of our family, determining schedules, taking on and fulfilling responsibilities, and eventually living on their own. And so, it is in the church; from our Sparrows class training them in the practices of gathered worship to youth navigating the pressures and decisions of pre-adulthood, we are ministering to our children by bridging the gap between covenant households: ours to theirs.

These are not disjointed phases with neat and clean starts and stops; months and years bleed from one to the next with discernible, but overlapping shifts in needs and abilities. So, let’s picture the various ministries to our children and students as lengthening strides across a single bridge. It is our hope that the different ministry venues and emphases for our Sparrows, Rock Badgers, Lions, and Youth prepare and naturally lead children into fuller and fuller participation in the church, and that this will lead them naturally to connect and serve in local a local church when they leave our homes for college or whatever life has for them beyond our nests. We pray that this will each of these will progressively move them toward a lifetime of committed, joyful, and growing discipleship throughout adulthood in the Church.


The Current Shape of Our Ministries

Let’s work backward from our stated goals of lifelong, faithful and joyful discipleship within the Church. By the time our students are finishing High School and (often) moving away for school or work, we hope that they will find their rest and identity Christ with an integrated understanding of Christian faith and everyday life. We want them firmly rooted in Christ with self-aware wisdom and discernment. This means they will need to have assorted platforms for discussion, teaching, and fellowship. When our children are younger we feed them answers and teach with simplicity, but as they grow, they need – and rightly take on – greater nuance and complexity in discussion. We want 16-, 17-, and 18-year olds who are considering, weighing and asking good questions of their own relationships, experiences, and the wider world through the lens of the Christ’s gospel, but we don’t throw them in the deep end day one of Sparrows…we spend years together as a church family, week in and week out giving a little more breadth, pushing them to pull back a little more from the simple answers we started with to read, contemplate, and interpret Scripture with greater skill and devotion, learning to pray and interact more and more with the community of our church outside of their age bracket.  

Life & Doctrine We intend to cultivate maturity and discernment, so biblical instruction and sound doctrine necessarily sit at the core of our concern, but they don’t sit there alone. Admittedly, this process takes years, and our goal is not to graduate junior academics. Our students should not see this as teaching as theory separated from the life of the church, but as a tool enabling them to interact more deeply with private, family, and corporate worship.

Biblical and theological instruction will be one focus in this process, but the gospel is more than information and life in the church requires more than knowledge. Not only will they need right doctrinal answers, they will need to learn to ask good questions of their experience. They will need to be able to hammer out solid answers. Our students will need to grow up strong in their doctrine and vigilant in their practice of sanctification. This means learning the practice and necessity of real community, confession, and repentance. All of these things are essential not just for their private exercise, but for times when they will be required to call others along in them as well. So, while we want to have fun when we are together, our time, activities, and meals are not intended to attract and entertain. They afford us regular time spent together during which our students can get to know each other and their older sisters and brothers in the faith better. Knowing one another ought to make more substantial community more natural and accessible in coming years.


In Short

If asked, how would we briefly explain what we’re trying to do? In short, we are aiming at maturity by means of discipleship in reliance on the grace God alone grants. Specifically, when discipling our children and students, we consider much of our task in terms of growth and preparation. We are growing them in the gospel and preparing them to live outside of our direct oversight and care. On their way, we are committed to training them to be the church: to grow and live as Christ’s church even when they are not under our shepherding as parents or elders. May the Lord work through, beyond, and - when necessary - in spite of us to raise our children as his worshippers.

Fall Sunday School: You Are What You Love

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Last night, I couldn't sleep, so I started a new book. It's one I told you I would be reading through the fall, and I invited (maybe urged! but at least invited) everyone to join me. James Smith's three-part Cultural Liturgies Series is fantastic: Imagining the Kingdom, Desiring the Kingdom, and Awaiting the King. This fall, I want us to read through the abbreviated version of these three, You Are What You Love. (Find it at Powell's or on Kindle)

When I opened my copy, the preface sounded eerily reminiscent of what I was after in my sermon on Sunday:

You’ve caught a vision. God has gotten bigger for you. You’ve captured a sense of the gospel’s scope and reach—that the renewing power of Christ reaches “far as the curse is found.” You have come to realize that God is not just in the soul-rescue business; he is redeeming all things (Col. 1:20).
The Bible has come to life for you in ways you’ve never experienced before. It’s almost like you’re seeing Genesis 1 and 2 for the first time, realizing that we’re made to be makers, commissioned to be God’s image bearers by taking up our God-given labor of culture-making. It’s as if someone gave you a new decoder ring for reading the prophets. You can’t understand how you ever missed God’s passionate concern for justice—calling on the people of God to care for the downtrodden and champion the oppressed. Now as you read you can’t help but notice the persistent presence of the widow, the orphan, and the stranger.
Now the question is: What does this have to do with church? This book articulates a spirituality for culture-makers, showing (I hope) why discipleship needs to be centered in and fueled by our immersion in the body of Christ. Worship is the “imagination station” that incubates our loves and longings so that our cultural endeavors are indexed toward God and his kingdom. If you are passionate about seeking justice, renewing culture, and taking up your vocation to unfurl all of creation’s potential, you need to invest in the formation of your imagination. You need to curate your heart. You need to worship well. Because you are what you love. And you worship what you love. And you might not love what you think. Which raises an important question. Let’s dare to ask it.

In our fall Sunday School class we will be reading through and using James Smith's You Are What You Love to launch us into discussions on the nature of discipleship. How are our hearts shaped and molded little by little, and how do we engage that process? How do we rest in Christ and at the same time exercise proper diligence in the things to which he calls us?

Grab a copy (Powells, Amazon, Paper, Kindle - whatever), and let's get started. The content of the book is under 200 pages. I have only read the first chapter so far, but it's good, and I think it will fuel good and refreshing conversations for us.

Waking Up To Lament

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I'll likely tease out my thanks at some point below, but in case I get distracted, I want to start by thanking Michelle Higgins, Christina Edmondson, Ekemini Uwan, Jemar Tisby, Tyler Burns, Russ Whitfield, Mike Higgins, Michelle Alexander, Jill Allison, Mika Edmondson, Duke Kwon, Bryan Stevenson, Rachel Denhollander, Soong-Chan Rah, Sherman Alexie, and Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Most are people of color, many are women, and most have a deep Christian faith, though a few struggle with or outright disbelieve the gospel. All have advocated for justice, and every one of them has suffered deep injustice. I have read or listened to some of their voices more than others in the list, none of them as much as I should, and I still need to find more voices of experience and reflection different from my own. For that, I will need to engage face to face with new people and their experiences, but that is a discussion and post for another time.

For now, I will focus on what they have taught me about lament. Broad evangelicalism in America is generally ill-equipped to consider, much less practice lament. Within that, our own strand of Reformed Christianity actually has good categories and a decent heritage of practice, but robust and full-orbed lament has been neglected for generations in most our majority-culture churches. Frankly, we have been too comfortable to be bothered by it. In our Reformed justifications, we use our not-yet-mature views of what we mean by "grace" as a shortcut to every comfortable facet of the gospel: celebration, freedom, hope, and rest. I have too often read and rehearsed Scriptural lines that describe tears traded for laughter while ignoring, glossing over, and reinterpreting the calls for God's people to return to mourning. Calls like the one found in James:

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

Taking someone else's wise advice, I have spent the last couple of years giving more focused attention to people with cultural experience very different from my own. I expected to be informed, and I was, but often and powerfully these folks have let me eavesdrop on their own lament. In this, they have invited me to try it on.

In their laments, and especially their calls to act, most, if not all of the Christians in my list above have been attacked and had their orthodoxy, their faith, their integrity, and their motives questioned. 

Pick one or two, and find a place to start reading or listening; if you want help, email me, and I'll be glad to point you toward or tell you more about their work.

Waiting for Consolation

I was working on Advent stuff: liturgy, preaching plans, etc. and I ran across Annie Proulx’s speech at the National Book Award, and then, through Proulx, stumbled into this poem by WisŁawa Szymborska. In Consolation Szymborska writes beautifully, though pessimistically about hope in a world of harsh realities. The laments are fair, and her longing is right. But the expectations are cynical. Hope seems relegated to fiction in Darwin's world of strength and Szymborska's world of harsh reality. You know the feeling; movies resolve all conflicts in 90 minutes, and sitcoms accelerate to get it done in 30. And now, binge-watchable series have taken over, because 8-10 hours seems like a more realistic wait for our heroes to defeat the Demogorgon. In daily life, healing takes years, and resurrection is extremely rare. Consolation and redemption start to feel naïve at best. But here, against the dismal backdrop of cynicism, the good promises of Advent ring back, "it's not foolish, we just haven't reached the final chapter yet."

Enter Simeon. Luke 2.25 - Simeon filled with the Holy Spirit and waiting. Waiting for the Consolation of Israel. Consolation follows the narrative forms of stories we know, but it is much more than George Bailey's friends coming to dump laundry baskets of cash and save the building and loan, and it isn't the long-lost Golden Retriever limping over the hill to reunite with his family. It's a king returning with kept promises on his lips, justice in his hands, and resurrection in his wake. But both Proulx and Szymborska are right to point to resolutions anchored in opening chapter conflict. This is how most stories function, not just because the formula works, but because that formula mimics. Art imitates Life in this case. I think I would reset the poem; hope is always audacious (to borrow a phrase), in fact, it's often far-fetched, but that doesn't make it wishful.

I loved the way Syborska stated the reversals of redemption drawing biblical themes like the prodigal. Her words were tongue in cheek, but so similar to the true hopes of Mary’s song in Luke's gospel. Above, I have paired the Polish poet's work with another artistic rendition. Sister Grace, a Cistercian nun in an Iowa Order, Our Lady of the Mississippi, painted "The Virgin Mary Consoles Eve" in 2003. A glimpse that first-chapter wrongs will be set right, but this story and its waiting lasts generations.

Consolation isn't an idea too good to be true, it's a person, the Person, who is Truth itself, and too good and gracious to ever be false.


Bleeding Word(s) Pt. 1

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Earnest Hemingway is often credited for saying “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter…and bleed.” One quick caveat: this saying is often attributed to Hemingway, but he may not have said it; the origin is debated, and even if he said it, it’s still possible that he only adapted it from another source. The original idea may have come from first from a particular journalist Hemingway enjoyed or may be part of a collection of writing influences. I love Hemingway, but regardless of the quote’s origin, I’ve come back to the idea many times when I struggle to get my own thoughts down. I love it for the struggle it reflects in the creative process – not only the struggle to fight through writers’ block and produce (though that’s part of it), but the flesh extracting work of writing something serious and personal. Bleeding onto the page, in that writing with substance requires you to bleed onto the page and with some degree of pain and sacrifice leave some part of yourself there.

BUT – the more I have reflected on the quote and the concept, the truer it seems to me. Truer than Hemingway or others probably intended. Others have bled to write and to speak; beyond creative struggle, beyond being intensely personal or vulnerable. The prophets and apostles bled to preach. Suffering, beaten, imprisoned, and at times executed: Daniel thrown to lions, and his companions tossed in a furnace, John the Baptist beheaded, Peter (according to tradition) crucified upside down. The book of Revelation is John’s recorded vision on a Sunday, that he calls ‘the Lord’s day’ while he is exiled & imprisoned on the Isle of Patmos.

And this “bleeding to be heard” isn’t just something trapped in the past, read about in history books, but hardly imaginable now. I think of a friend of mine in Dallas, and for his safety now, I will refer to him as “Richard.” Richard is Turkish, born and raised in Turkey, (actually not far from where Paul was imprisoned at the time he wrote the letter of Philippians, and not far from some of the churches receiving Jesus’ letters in the opening chapters of John’s Revelation). Studying philosophy in University as a “secular Muslim,” Richard was suddenly and miraculously converted. He was being discipled by two indigenously Turkish, Protestant pastors. One weekday morning, men came into the apartment where they officed and told them to renounce their faith. Disown their Savior, or they shoot them. They refused, and the men shot them in this apartment, in front of another member of the church. At the time, Richard was arranging to move to the US and study in one of his pastors’ seminaries, and this did not slow him down. If anything, this accelerated his need to study well and return, because there were suddenly two fewer seminary trained pastors to feed Jesus’ sheep in Turkey. So he did. Richard finished seminary, worked through his own ordination and mission organization sending requirements and is now church planting and pastoring in Turkey, emailing updates and asking for prayer, and that we not share his name or location.

American Christians get bent out of shape and declare that we are suffering a war on Christmas if people say Happy Holidays to us in December. At times, well-meaning, but woefully misguided people from our extended church family vote or swarm social media, around issues of perceived persecution in things like potentially losing tax-exempt status. Others have literally bled to speak, bled to preach & proclaim Christ. Many of the prophets and apostles bled through beatings, torture, or martyrdom because they could not be kept from singing Christ’s glory and goodness.

Their suffering and sacrifice shouldn’t surprise us – the Christ they proclaim, the Christ we trust for our salvation, and the Christ on whom we have hung every last hope – this Christ is the Bleeding Word. He is the eternal Word of God made flesh with and for us, who bled and died in our place, and then called us to grab a cross and follow.

Gratitude is Always Directional and Best Practiced in Community

The language of gratitude is slowly losing an important nuance. Sometimes we use the language of thanks, when we really just mean that we are glad. Thanks are always directional. Gratitude always has an indirect object; to be grateful, to give thanks, you must be grateful TO someone. You cannot be thankful without thanking someone. You can be generically glad or impersonally happy for some thing or situation, but you cannot be grateful unless you are addressing it TO someone.*


Imagine a perfect autumn day. You sleep in peacefully, and when you wake up, the house is quiet. You slip out and go for a walk in your brisk, newly-wet Portland neighborhood. The long-awaited rains have washed the atmosphere, cleaning away the dust, pollen, and ash that have been hanging in the air for the last several weeks. You breathe easily, and as you pass your neighbors’ houses, you notice that their yards look as refreshed as you feel.

You come home, grind coffee and put water on to boil.

During the day, you read a little, reflect, and finish a couple of simple tasks that have been hanging over your head. You were not stressed, but you feel satisfied and accomplished.

Later you meet up with friends or family for dinner, and the conversation is both deep and light. You laugh, and you discuss things of substance. The time together is delightful. You feel closer to those around the table, like you know what’s going on in their thoughts and their lives. They have encouraged you, and it seems you have been able to do the same for them.

At the end of the day, you take up your normal chores to get ready for bed. You straighten the living room, get your running shoes out for the morning, do the dishes, and brush your teeth.

Doing the dishes, you think back over the day, and there’s a sudden wave of contentment. You are intensely peaceful, happy, and glad for everything and everyone in your day.

Isolated with just your memory at that point, you can be deeply glad, happy, and content. But there is a deeper and better experience waiting. A relational, devotional practice, and it is necessarily directional and interactive. This gladness and contentment deepen, when they become gratitude, but to grow into gratitude, your thanks must be addressed, whether that is to the people who facilitating and participating in your day, or to God.

The most appropriate order would be to God and then shared with the people involved, because not only are you thankful for the things they did, you're thankful to God for putting these people in your life. Your friends and family deserve thanks for their love and interactions with you, but they didn’t give you peaceful sleep or bring the rain. In fact, they have chosen not to remove themselves from your life, but God put you together in the first place.

Paul does both in his greeting to the Philippian saints: “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” When he prays for them, he gives thanks to God for them and their partnership in the gospel with him (there’s the directional & devotional piece). Then, he shares his gratitude with the people who occasion it (there’s the communal practice).




*If you want to think more about the logic here, consider what misplaced gratitude says about our need to place gratitude somewhere. If my children buy me a tie for Father’s Day, I may really enjoy the tie, and I may share my appreciation with you when I show you the gift. BUT I cannot be thankful to you for a gift you had no part in giving. To thank you would violate the nature of gratitude. I am thankful for the tie, but thanks that are improperly aimed are improper. To be properly thankful for the tie, I have to be thankful TO those responsible (partially or entirely) for the gift. Misplaced gratitude helps illustrate the reality that thanks (if it is thanks and not general gladness) must be placed/ addressed with or to someone.

Considering Additional Elders & Deacons

We're looking for some additional elders and deacons; ideally 1-2 new elders and 2-3 new deacons. And the process for identifying, training, examining, and then finally deciding on them is a tandem effort between the session and congregation as a whole. Here's an overview of the process, and a little bit on how to think about the people who serve the church in these ways.


The Process

June 8-30, 2017 - Nominations

We will be accepting nominations from the congregation starting Sunday, June 7, and ending Sunday, June 14. You will be able to submit nominations through this online NOMINATION FORM or by submitting one of the paper forms provided at church.

Summer - Discerning 

Time allowed and spent discussing, praying, and discerning the nominees general readiness and sense of calling to serve.

Fall - Training

Training & Examination of candidates

Winter - Electing

Qualified candidates will be placed back in front of the congregation for election.


A Little Bit on Leaders

To lead in the church is to serve it, and for a bunch of followers of Jesus, it's a leading made up entirely of following. For this reason, leaders are not more important, they are not more loved. The good news and transformational redemption of Jesus means that our roles do not determine our nature, status, or value. In the good news of Jesus, our truest self is not chosen; it's created. Our status is not earned; it's given. Individually and communally our character is formed. Our relationships are both invited & built. Our wisdom is cultivated over time. And our various roles are callings. God calls, and we answer and discern as a community.

Jesus built his church out of people - messy, in-the-process people. And it's beautiful, but baffling that he chooses to lead and care for his church through these same members. So, what should we look for, and how will we go about getting additional leaders?

Elders serve the larger church body by caring for people and leading them in the overall mission of the church.

Deacons serve the larger church body by helping to meet needs within the congregation, and then lead people into pursuing the same kind of justice and mercy outside of the church.

For both of these, God has given us qualifications in Scripture. These qualifications aren't separated from the overall calling of the church or individual discipleship. Instead they give us representative pictures of maturity and evidence that the people entrusted with this kind of service are growing in Jesus' image in specific ways. 

At the bottom of this post, you can read the specific qualifications taken from Scripture along with some explanation from The Book of Church Order, but I'll start with my own summary. I'll consider the Elder/Shepherds first, and then the deacons.

In the Old Testament & in the New Testament, God gave leaders to his church using titles and language that invoked at least two dominant metaphors: Elders for the city & Shepherds for the field.

Elders for the City. The metaphor of the elders is rooted in a particular place. It pictures the church like a city with a rich web of relationships and interactions, and at times complex issues for care. In ancient cities, the elders functioned like a council and a court, resolving disputes, and working to design structures that better served the health of the city. When the Apostle Paul wrote to Titus, he instructed him to appoint elders in each city, because they needed to be local. They needed to not only spend time with the particular people of the churches they served, but the towns and cultures in which they lived.

Shepherds for the Field. The metaphor of shepherding is much more directional. Elders are called to shepherd, and this is a call to follow Jesus, our Shepherd Messiah, who leads us into his redemption and out into his mission. Just as Jesus knows us by name, guards us, and leads us out (cf. John 10), shepherds are called to know the people of the church intimately, protect them from harm & attack (whether from inside or out of the church), and to lead us out to follow the voice of Jesus as he calls us along in his own ministry collectively. 

Deacons are called to serve, and repeatedly in Scripture, they are called to make sure that no one is being neglected in the day to day needs and care. 

Deacons for the Table. The language and metaphor of the deacon's work is actually waiting tables, not because their work isn't important - it's vitally important! But their work often addresses very practical needs, at times being the means by which God answers the prayer for daily bread...literally. And all of this, while different than the elder's work of shepherding is spiritual requiring maturity and the wise application of compassion.



Qualifications For Elders & Deacons

The following qualifications for Elders & Deacons are taken from Titus 1 & 1 Timothy 3, with additional explanatory notes taken from chapters 8 & 9 in the Book of Church Order.


Titus 1.5-11

5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— 6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. 7 For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.


1 Timothy 3.1-13

1 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

8 Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. 9 They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. 11 Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. 12Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. 13 For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

From The Book of Church Order; chapters 8 & 9

Those serving as elders "should possess a competency of human learning and be blameless in life, sound in the faith and apt to teach. He should exhibit a sobriety and holiness of life becoming the Gospel. He should rule his own house well and should have a good report of them that are outside the Church.
It belongs to those in the office of elder, both severally and jointly, to watch diligently over the flock committed to his charge, that no corruption of doctrine or of morals enter therein. They must exercise government and discipline, and take oversight not only of the spiritual interests of the particular church, but also the Church generally when called thereunto. They should visit the people at their homes, especially the sick. They should instruct the ignorant, comfort the mourner, nourish and guard the children of the church. They should set a worthy example to the flock entrusted to their care by their zeal to evangelize the unconverted and make disciples.  All those duties which private Christians are bound to discharge by the law of love are especially incumbent upon them by divine vocation, and are to be discharged as official duties.” 
Those serving as deacons bear the duty "to minister to those who are in need, to the sick, to the friendless, and to any who may be in distress. It is their duty also to develop the grace of liberality in the members of the church, to devise effective methods of collecting the gifts of the people, and to distribute these gifts among the objects to which they are contributed..."
Because the ministry of deacons is spiritual in nature, those chosen to serve should be of: "spiritual character, honest repute, exemplary lives, brotherly spirit, warm sympathies, and sound judgment."


The Good News of Scars

Reading Craig Barnes’ The Pastor as Minor Poet, and reflecting on Gregory the Great’s Pastoral Rule, I collapsed some thing said by each to become something neither said, but I'm always glad when authors make me sit down and think.

Along the line of St. Paul’s reasoning, Gregory writes of the wounds that we bear as good and humbling for us, creating and maintaining dependence, and Barnes discusses what he calls the “attractiveness of a scarred soul.” Barnes argues that the still bleeding wounds are often overwhelming and unhelpful (and ultimately repelling) to the congregation. In my own thoughts around this, I've called this a "therapeutic pulpit," those places you get the sense that the preacher isn't standing up to address God's people as much as he is lying down on a couch for catharsis. It's less proclaiming event, and much more therapy session, except that the congregation is not paid by the hour to listen and take notes. But, I digress...again. When Barnes discusses the scarred soul, he writes that scars are attractive, in so far as they not only humanize and make the pastor relatable, but they show that the word preached has been at work on the preacher as well.

In my own reflections around these ideas and images, scars add a humanizing texture, but they do far more than that. Scars preach an additional feature of the gospel that needs highlighting for both the pastor and congregation. Scars don't come for every wound, only the serious and deep ones. And they provide more than just the evidence that these deep and serious wounds occurred. Scars exist only after serious and deep wounds are seriously, deeply, and thoroughly healed. Scars are the testifying trophies. They tell us that grace and healing more serious than our wounds. Scars last longer than the wound. Many become permanent reminders that grace was sufficient not only to stop the bleeding in the wounded season, but grace regenerates with greater strength than was there before.

When we see each other's scars, we do see important evidence that we share pain & history. When we see each other's scars, we're reminded that God's love for us is stronger and more permanent than the thorns of the curse. Scarred souls aren't naïve, but they do hope.

Braces & Tourniquets

The writer to the Hebrews discusses this need to run wild and free, and as I think of running two powerful images come to mind: Phoebe & Forest.

Phoebe; not Paul's commended friend, Phoebe, in Romans 16...Phoebe Buffay from the '90's. "Didn't you ever run so fast, you thought your legs were gonna fall off; like when you were running toward the swings, or running away from Satan?!"

It's a great picture of running wild and free, but freedom is more than a choice in the moment, more than personal fiat. It requires liberation. And liberation for us is Christ's ongoing, good & joyful work within the community of saints - the church. 

Liberation to Run in Hebrews 11 & 12

Remember that scene in Forest Gump? It's the famous, "Run, Forest, Run!" and "You may not believe me if I told you...but I can run like the wind blows!" scene. If you don't remember it, watch it here, and get ready for all the feels. If you haven't seen the movie, stop what you're doing, and go watch it.

 Run, Forest! Run!

Run, Forest! Run!

There's more here than just that lump in your throat. Forest's braces are a perfect visual of what should happen for our communities over time. Our hobble, should become and awkward gate, and that gate, should become a side-swinging jog, but if we're going to run, the braces need to fall off. 

But his braces weren't always encumbering. In fact, earlier in his life, they helped him stand up straight, at a time when his back was a "crooked as a politician." The braces actually helped him stand and walk, but only at first. Eventually, he outgrew a need for them. Over time the braces intended to help him began to hold him back. His braces had become shackles - encumbrances - and they had to be thrown off.

The same thing is true of tourniquets - they are essential in the very short-term to help slow or stop bleeding. They are essential to survival and healing, but their returns are diminishing. If left too long, they would strangle and leave us with gangrene. Essential in the moment; deadly over time.

Braces often address needs we have while strength increases, and tourniquets handle triage. In our spiritual lives, we may have needs for one or both at different points. Young in your faith? You may need a brace to help bolster you while you grow into things. Blindsided by some deep struggle with sin? There may be tourniquet measures of accountability and control to help "stop the bleeding" in the short term.

Neither of these should become our long-term hope or rest. Both should be employed with a view to depending on them less and less. They may be gifts from your Savior that he uses to move you to greater strength and freedom, but they will become destructive, if trusted to be surrogates for him.

Let's look forward to casting them off and running to follow Christ.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Maundy Thursday Moves Us Past the Frame

Edmund & Lucy Dawn Treader Last Supper.png

Liturgy & Dramatic Enactment

In his book, Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C.S. Lewis’ describes children, who don’t just have their imaginations captured by a vivid picture of a ship. The image actually captures them, …as it becomes larger and more alive, and pulls them in.

Our redemption is like that picture.

Jesus has written us into his story of redemption, and our participation and benefit is inevitable for people that receive his grace, and yet, we may not always smell the salt in the air, and feel the wind pushing us forward, or the roll of the mighty ocean of his Sovereign Presence…

Special liturgies and services like Maundy Thursday are meant to be a chance to climb past the picture frame, so that we can not only be aware of God’s grace, but touch and feel – smell and taste it.

 God of the Vulnerable...Why We Walk in Public –

I felt it last year, and I felt it again this year – I felt silly walking around in public, wearing a robe, with a big group of serious people. Not silly in a “this is ridiculous” kind of way. I felt conspicuous and on display – It feels vulnerable to me. It feels out in the open…EXPOSED.

This is part of climbing past the frame and into the story with these first disciples. They have felt exposed at a few points so far:

When Jesus explained that one of them would betray him, only Judas had actually made arrangements, but they all felt exposed in the weakness of their own devotion.

When Jesus was arrested, they all felt exposed to the danger that came by association, and without hesitation or thought, they panicked; they all left him and fled.

It hasn’t always been this way, BUT this is the refrain for most of the human experience…

Exposed & Vulnerable –

Adam & Eve – Naked & unafraid & unashamed – nothing to hide and no need to guard: Their entire existence was nothing but being known, secure, loved.

After the fall, humanity wanders through strategies & failed attempts. Suddenly known, secure, and loved becomes suspect, vulnerable, & ashamed.

And these things lead us to cover, hide, & protect.

Jesus Steps Into Our Frame –

Tonight’s service might be about helping us climb past the frame, but redemption was accomplished as Jesus stepped past the frame and entered our picture, becoming not just sovereign observer, but saving participant.

He left safety and comfort behind to be vulnerable and exposed – not only WITH US, but IN OUR PLACE!

He didn’t just see our judgment, he climbed onto our cross.

He didn’t just understand our estrangement, his Father abandoned him instead of us.

Jesus didn’t just grieve our death, he locked himself in our grave.

And tonight and tomorrow Lent culminates as we climb past the frames of our routine comfort.

At a distance, the picture he pulls us into looks like one of suffering, it looks like vulnerability more than salvation…but pulled in close, we’ll see it’s a picture – not of our death - death and suffering are just the frame. Jesus is pulling us into his picture of resurrection.

But first, we let him pull us in… past the frame…

To feel some of the weight of these things this evening, we will end by reciting the Apostles’ Creed only so far as Jesus suffers, and then we – like his first friends – will scatter and leave the park in silence…to be re-gathered & reunited by the light of his resurrection Sunday Morning.

The Places You Will Be From

As always, Mad Men is brilliant. In 75 seconds, they touch on so many edges of what we're considering in our Advent series on Recovering Place.

Don ever searching for the good life, a better woman, a deeper pleasure, a stiffer drink, or higher honor. Inside the show, he is described at times as a man without people, past or place. This clip is taken from season 1 episode 6, pregnantly titled, "Babylon." Every character has been exiled to some extent, and in their wandering they cry for roots.

They get wrong the origin of the Utopia pun (no real evidence that it's actually Greek; Thomas Moore seems to have created the word for the sake of the pun in his 1516 work Utopia...but I digress). They miss the etymology, but they nail the substance - I're referenced it a couple of times in our sermons: EU-topia, "the good place," and OU-topia, "no place/ nowhere, or the place that is not."

Rachel's explanation of the ideal you can imagine without committing is revealing and a delusion, but you can watch her cynicism open Don's eyes to the self-defeat of his own wandering. Of the show's many premises and recurring themes, Don's incessant wandering and detachment is key to his character. As the show unfolds season after season, it becomes clear that Don's placeless existence has chosen him in many ways, long before he started choosing it for himself. And regardless of who's driving things - whether Don or his circumstance - his uncommitted smile is hollow.

"I'll visit, but I don't have to live there..."


You May Not Be Religious, but tell me you love Bob Dylan.

Song to Woody is fantastic, and if you haven't heard it, you need to find it. Google, Spotify, YouTube, vinyl; find it.

"...I wrote you this song.
'Bout a funny ol’ world that’s a'coming’ along.
Seems sick, and it’s hungry;
It’s tired and torn.
It looks like it’s a-dyin’ 
but it’s hardly been born."

Commending Bob to a friend earlier today, while thinking about the incarnation and the practices of Advent. Couldn't help but appreciate the beauty and longing here.