Wednesday, March 19, 2014

When I am Weak …

Anyone remember the scene from Men in Black when the alien took the skin of some poor farmer and kept walking around dragging his foot and asking for sugar? That image was in my mind today. It's a creepy image in one sense, yet in another sense, it was a good illustration of how I have felt of late. I may look like some version of myself from the outside, but inside, it's not me. From there, the analogy breaks down. It's not an alien inside me, but Someone else. When I am weak, then He is strong.

I've been going through a hard time. A number of previous posts have probably made that clear. Sometimes, people remark that I seem strong. Of late, the image of that alien taking over the body of the farmer feels familiar. I personally feel like a limp set of human muscle and skin draped imperfectly over someone else's bones. It may look like me from the outside, but I'm just the floppy external dressing. If there is any strength of character, I know good and well it's not my strong bones holding me up. When I am weak, then He is strong.

In the middle of my struggle, usually when I'm tired before bed, I reflect on what was accomplished in a day. Or maybe it's more accurate to say what was endured on a given day. I have a new appreciation for those words from the Apostle Paul, who walked forward in strong faith while enduring personal physical limitations as well as strong external persecution.
I Cor. 12   9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Know that it is more than OK to be weak. It really, truly is. Lean on Him. Walk through your day envisioning your floppy, imperfect external skin draped over His perfect strong physique. People may see you, but you know that it is He that is inside you. And how much greater is He that is in us … .

Here are a few more verses for your encouragement.
Isaiah 43:2   When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. 
Isaiah 40:29-31   He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.
And my personal favorite tonight as I write this …
2 Corinthians 13:4 For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

The Line at Mars Hill's Communion Table

This week brought to light more disturbing facts concerning Mars Hill's leadership. By paying to put Mark Driscoll's book on the New York Times Bestseller list, Mars Hill Executive Elders may have put the church's 501(c)3 tax exempt status in jeopardy. That would be a multi-million dollar hole from which the church may not recover. There is growing pressure for Mark to step down from leadership as more elders accuse him of what I have personally witnessed firsthand - a bullying, angry leadership style that leaves members and staff bleeding on the sidelines. He laughed about the dead bodies under the bus of Mars Hill in 2007/2008. People have been pointing out the dead bodies for years, but apparently the pile has to be big enough to see from space before enough pressure will be raised to cause change or repentance. But I admit from personal experience that, until you are personally splattered with your own blood or the blood of someone standing beside you in ministry, it is hard to believe the problem is as big as it is.

The larger Body of Christ needs to take seriously the criteria set in Scripture for acting on such accusations – two or three witnesses.

I Tim. 5:19-20 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. 

Using an informal count in my head, I can think of at least 6 ELDERS, not counting deacons, former staff, or general members, with serious claims against Mark Driscoll. The executive elders repeatedly refused to obey I Tim. 5, and now the result is this public rebuke from multiple parties. The point of the Biblical standard of two or three witnesses is clear. One person crying foul does not a foul make. But those pointing out Mark's issues have long since passed the Biblical standard for taking this seriously and rebuking him publicly.

If Mark steps down for a season, which he will likely be forced to do, Mars Hill Church will probably wither. Leadership made a choice during the time our family was still there to move toward a Mark-centered vision of ministry. When we started at Mars Hill, several elders preached the same message at various campuses on a given day, which was a sustainable model. However, since Mark was the most popular of the speakers, leadership decided to set up expensive video equipment to live broadcast Mark to the various campuses. Leaders decided to centralize around Mark and limit the public impact of the other pastors who had previously taught with him. I believe the church took out a large life insurance policy on Mark – Mark joked about it in the early days of consolidation around him. But the financial support of a life insurance policy won't kick in in the event of the moral failure brought about by Mark's longstanding anger problem.

Mars Hill began hemorrhaging leaders in 2008, when it lost 1000 members in a single year after two older, long serving elders were fired. Mark's accountability structure at the time didn't deal with the serious problems at that point, and the loss of mature Christian leaders at Mars Hill since then has only gotten worse. During the years since I left the church, I've watched the branches of the Mars Hill tree grow even heavier with new believers as the root system of mature Christians desperately needed to disciple these converts continues to erode. It is only a matter of time before a wind rushes through and causes the entire tree to crash down. I perceive that these current controversies might finally be that wind, and I do not rejoice in that AT ALL.

Despite all of the controversy though, the line at the communion table will continue. I spent many sweet Sundays in the line to the communion table at Mars Hill. Some of those in line with me now walk with me in line at my church. Some still walk the line at Mars Hill. Many have scattered throughout the pacific northwest. The line going forward on Sundays in the Mars Hill buildings may continue indefinitely. But maybe it won't. Maybe the external structure will tumble down over financial woes and the loss of the integrity of its leader. Nevertheless, the line to the communion table will continue.

The ministry of Mars Hill has brought many to Christ. But we are mistaken if we think the line to the communion table will be thwarted by such misuse of ministry resources or power. People were saved at Mars Hill. But they were saved into something much bigger than Mars Hill. Church buildings and systems are temporary tents over an eternal, immovable rock. Tents blow away in a hurricane. But not the rock.

I walked the line to the communion table long before I went to Mars Hill. And I will walk it long after. I trust that those who found their way to the communion table for the first time at Mars Hill will also find it elsewhere if that ministry falls apart. In fact, I have great confidence that they will. Because the communion of saints and the inclusion into the Body of Christ transcends our temporal, earthly structures. Mars Hill is a tent. The Rock is eternal. The line continues to the Rock, and it is unstoppable.

Monday, March 03, 2014

The Line at the Communion Table

There is nothing more symbolic to me of the gospel and the eternal community of faith cemented together by that gospel than the line to the communion table each week at my church. It's symbolic of the gospel to me as an individual. It's also symbolic to me of the gospel as a part of the collective whole of the Church. When I miss church on a Sunday, that line is still there. When others miss church, that line is still there. That line forms in different countries, on different days, in different forms. That line has formed for generations. It has formed for millennia. Some churches partake weekly. Some quarterly. Some go forward. Some pass the bread around while seated. Yet, the symbol remains constant and has for 2000 years.

The line at the communion table helps me focus in the midst of much that is temporal in life. Jobs and houses don't last. Even the best of relationships don't always endure. But that line to that table will always be there. Somewhere, in some form, it will ALWAYS be there. Believers will be going forward to receive the bread and the wine until Christ returns.

That line reflects to me the best parts of liturgy, those traditions of the church aimed at keeping us in touch with the lineage of the children of God. When I do what my grandmother did, which is what her grandmother did, which is what Martin Luther did, which Peter first did with Jesus Himself, I am in touch with something that transcends my life and personal relationships, yet gives meaning to my life and personal relationships.

This week, my children joined me in that line, and I watched their young forms ahead of me simultaneously aware of the gray haired widowed grandmother behind me in line. I was in line without some people who had been in line with me for years and with some new people who had only just joined. Nevertheless, the line continued, with individuals coming forward as a group to receive the bread and wine, as well as the grace that accompanies those symbols, remembering Jesus' body and blood broken on our behalf. Congregations across the world joined that line, one that has been moving for 2000 years and that will continue to move until Jesus' return. The community of saints who stand together as His body, finding nourishment from His head.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen. The Apostles' Creed 
Luke 22:19 Do this is remembrance of me.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

New Resources for Parents

A friend of mine who helped with publicity for The Gospel-Centered Woman shared with me a few resources for kids, knowing that my son was on the autism spectrum. It's interesting to have a resource created by those with direct experience geared toward children on the spectrum. The first is a children's storybook series about a real-life aspie superhero's quest to be “normal” and a family who wants him to be anything but. This is an interactive APP for iOS (iPhone, iPad), Android (phones/tablets), Kindle Fire, Nook, PC, and Mac by Geek Club Books.

This app has an interactive storybook based on the real JMan, Jonathan Murphy, and his real life adventures growing up on the autism spectrum. Written by his sister, Molly Murphy, and narrated by Jonathan, the story is told by someone who sees his world from a very unique perspective. It promotes self-acceptance, awareness, and understanding for others who are different. It's geared toward kids ages 5-11. It has some cool features, especially that you can change the superhero, JMan, into super-heroine, Jaycee. There is a secret notebook throughout with age-appropriate information on Aspergers Syndrome, being different, and bullying. There are options to have narration with word highlighting if a child isn't interested in reading it to themselves. Here's a link to the website for the app. This seems like a good resource for families with kids on the spectrum.

Another resource I want to share is more general. It's called The God Puzzle. This is a workbook that is a great resource for teaching our children the overarching story of Scripture. I like the order of the lessons, which you can read through here. My boys and I are finishing up another set of lessons from Scripture, but I plan to dive into this workbook with them once we are done.

For so long in my own life, I thought of the Bible as a disjointed series of moral lessons. I was well into adulthood before I came to personally understand the connected, coherent story of the whole of Scripture. I'm excited about a resource that helps me, much like The Jesus Storybook Bible, give my boys a stronger foundation of understanding Scripture. I think I will benefit personally as well.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Teachable Cynics

"If you're regularly willing to give a critique, but not willing to take one, you're not a leader, you're a cynic." - @edstetzer 
Matthew 18:4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Cynicism is the ugly side of discernment. According to Merriam-Webster, a cynic is someone who is “contemptuously distrustful of human nature and motives.” Compare that to something we all desire, discernment. This good trait is “the ability to see and understand people, things, or situations clearly and intelligently.” Do you see the fine line between the two definitions? Our greatest strengths tend to be our greatest weakness. Discernment and cynicism are two sides of the same coin, and any of us who consider ourselves discerning need to be on guard against the other.

How do we foster the good character trait of discernment while protecting ourselves from its ugly counterpart, cynicism? I think the key is found in the quote from Ed Stetzer. The discerning person must be willing to seriously consider criticism of themselves. Back in the day at my Christian college, they called this being teachable.

There is a simple, age old problem that faces a discerning person when they are faced with critique or correction. It is pride. A discerning person likely struggles with personal pride more than anyone else. That's a strong statement, but remember that the central thing about being a discerning person is that you accurately evaluate situations and people. You're good at seeing through others' true motives or the unintended consequences of poorly thought out choices. Discerning people are good at evaluating others, but that can trick them into thinking they are best at evaluating themselves. When someone comes to them with concerns or encouragement, the discerning person assigns the worst motives to them instead of the best, picks apart the person bringing the critique, and then moves from the good side of discernment to the bad side of cynicism. They trust in their discernment more than they trust the one speaking to them. That is the heart of pride.

Humility is a hard trait to foster in ourselves if we feel we are a discerning person. But the ability to receive criticism of ourselves may be the most important character trait of all, especially for a person gifted in discernment. The discerning person has a choice to make in a moment of criticism. Does our discernment define us? If we find our identity in that noble character trait, we actually set ourselves up for failure. But if Christ defines us rather than our ability to discern, then Christ will still define us when we are critiqued. Our identity can stand up to the fact that our discernment of ourselves failed and that we needed someone else to speak into our lives.

As it does at many points of life, a robust understanding of the gospel and our subsequent identity in Christ is the thing that equips us to live as humble, discerning people rather than proud cynics.