Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ukraine Ponderings on "Cheap Grace"

Sasha and Natasha Savich

I asked my good friend and fellow pastor, Sasha Savich, what is one major difference between USAmerican evangelical Christians and Ukrainian evangelical Christians.

He thought for quite a time. Then, he said, "Cheap grace. You American Christians have cheap grace. You think that once you're saved, you're always saved no matter how you live. There is no seriousness about how you live your lives before God. In Ukraine, we think our daily life shows whether or not we are truly saved. We have to persevere in obedient living in order to have confidence that we belong to God. It's not that we believe we lose our salvation, but that, in obediently following Jesus, we show that we have true salvation. There is no 'cheap grace'."

Somehow Sasha's comments have an apostolic ring to them. We in the USA present a "bar code"gospel (according to Dallas Willard), believing we'll be scanned into heaven when we die--no questions asked. The idea of seriously persevering in the faith (as a good tree bears good fruit) is optional for us because we have a glib "eternity security" rider on our salvation insurance.

Plus, Sasha went on to say, we in America have so many places to go to church. If a church is not to our liking or confronts us because of our sin, we just go down the street to a church that fits our tastes. We can live any way we want. In Ukraine at present, to be called to a holy life is a serious matter because biblically faithful, believing communities are hard to find. Sadly, with the McDonaldization of the church in Ukraine, this will fade. Sasha laments this inevitability.

Perhaps we leaders and congregations in the USAmerican church need to take the warnings, the very real warnings, of the Book of Hebrews to heart.

It's worth pondering.


Sunday, February 11, 2007

Two of My Favorite People...and More

Lillian May Francis

John and Eugene

Julie and I had a great time in San Diego visiting with our family. Little Lilly captured our hearts and so we hugged and kissed her a lot. We enjoyed staying with Elisha and Bryan, Benjamin, Zachary and Lillian. They live in a cute, roomy home in El Cajon.

At the National Pastors Convention I got to meet once again Eugene H. Peterson. He has deeply influenced my vocational identity as a pastor. He also wrote the Foreword to my book Jesus the Pastor: Leading Others in the Character and Power of Christ. In my opinion, Eugene Peterson has more radical ideas about the church than many "emerging" leaders do, and his ideas are mined from Scripture, not culture; from traditions, not trends; and from a thoroughly saturated life in the kingdom of God.

Two other provocative speakers, for me at least, were Ruth Haley Barton who spoke about the priority of solitude in a leader's life (using Moses' life as the example) and Mark Labberton who spoke and wrote about "the dangerous act of worship" (using Daniel and his three friends as examples). Mark is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Berkley, CA, and his ideas are riveting as he welds, on solid biblical ground, worship and justice-bringing into a single, unified reality.

As always, it was good to see John Raymond (aka Elvis) of Zondervan. Zondervan is the major sponsor of the National Pastors Convention. John served as executive pastor of Bella Vista Church and is the living expression of a spiritually gifted leader. John is a great companion for the journey into the kingdom of God. Tim and Diane Cosby were also at the conference. Tim serves as the current teaching pastor of Bella Vista Church and is one of the most sensitive, pastorally prophetic pastors that I know.

Julie and I have a few days to recoup and then we leave for western Ukraine for two weeks of ministry to young local church leaders. We leave this coming Tuesday. Pray.


Monday, February 05, 2007



"O LORD, Creator of the heavens and the earth, we thank you for making San Diego, CA, where it is 72 degrees and sunny--just like Eden.

"We thank you for moving in the hearts of those who plan the National Pastors Convention to host the gathering in San Diego, CA. Thank you for their sensitivity to invite us from frozen exile to tropical Eden, at least for a few days. This eschatological experience generates enduring hope in those of us in exile.

In Exile, Michigan today it is minus 5 degrees F with a wind chill factor of minus 21. East of Eden is a cold, chilling life of unrelenting blizzard conditions. Hyperbole is the language of exile.

While in Eden, CA, Julie and I will also spend "grandma and grandpa" time with our daughter Elisha and her family, husband--Bryan, and our grandchildren-- Benjamin, Zachary and very huggable, kissable Lillian.

We return to Exile on Saturday and regroup for our trip together to Ukraine--which, in the Greek, means "the uttermost parts of the earth."

All prayers for us are greatly appreciated and shamelessly solicited.

Pray for all the sad souls who wanted the Bears to win the SuperBowl, for they, too, are feeling the cold especially hard today.


Sunday, February 04, 2007

Wedding Guests and Memories

On an extremely blizzardy night, Julie and I attended the wedding of Benjamin David Chapman and Brittni Li Gilmore. Benjamin is the youngest son of our good friends, Don and Jan Chapman. We've also known Scott and Karen Gilmore and their family for a long time. When I first came to Bella Vista Church, Rockford, MI, Don joined me on staff. We served together for 5 years and have known each other for 26 years.

Last evening, the wedding guests prompted so many good memories of enduring relationships, with the common bonds being our devotion to Jesus Christ, serving in Christian ministry together, and watching our "little ones" grow up and reach the moment when they stand before God and witnesses and say "I do."

Weddings of children whose parents and wedding guests have shared life's journey deeply and enduringly are profound markers of life's wonder. Weddings seem to say: Here's a new chapter in what life is about--God, promise, relationship, life, laughter, love and, most of all, shared meanings at the major intersections.

One young lady, Betsy Velker, who, when she was little, drew pictures for me during my sermons and gave them to me after the service, asked me to dance with her at the reception. We were dancing and she told me, "I'm going to get married a year from this coming summer and you are going to do my wedding." Little Betsy, beautiful young lady, imminent wife of some lucky young man. I know and have served in ministry with Betsy's mother and father.

We saw Dan and Ellen Clark who had four boys who were very close in age to our four girls. Julie and Ellen were pregnant at the same time with their Andy and our Shamar. As parents, we would "arrange" the match-ups. We were not as successful as Jan and Karen were in "arranging" Ben and Brittni's marriage. In a wedding video, Jan and Karen told their story: When Karen first held baby Ben Chapman on a hot Sunday night at Bella Vista Church, she said to Jan "I want this boy." Ben is now Karen's son-in-law. And, of course, Don and Jan have a new daughter as well. By the way, Dan and Ellen's son, Rob married Marie of the Gilmore clan, and had the first girl in the Clark clan in 52 years!

People prompt memories of eras of our lives. Calendars and Blackberries are poor substitutes for crying, laughing, praying, traveling, learning, protesting, serving and growing up together. We don't mark time best by numbers, but by relationships. We saw Ralston and Cindy, David and Ruth Ann, the Stoner family, Jonathan, Mary Kay, Dick and Sara, Steve and Jan, Kurt, Gail and gorgeous Maggie, Mike and Colleen (up from Florida), Tony and Amy, Helen and Denise and some of her family. Denise is now related to the Gilmores, Clarks and Chapmans through the marriages of all these kids.

Life is full of pain, too, and amidst the joy of the wedding lurked memories of shared agony, even horror. Yet, weddings say, "No, evil. You are not welcomed here. You often take your best shots, but in the end, you lose. The wine of joy here is a gift from Jesus--the One who is good and sparkling Light. So, dark evil and your devastation, get out."

Julie and I danced to "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." The DJ had a voice like Frank Sinatra's. A little later, we danced to the song that we first danced in public to: "Unchained Melody." We've seen our daughters grow up, two of them marry and begin their families. We were in a room with people with similar life experiences. The formal attire, the fine cuisine, the music and laughter--all symbols, as Don mentioned in the ceremony to his son and daughter-in-law, that speak profoundly of realities we now barely know.

For a moment last night, we experienced the future...we danced with hope...we drank a wine created by Jesus called "I am making all things new."


Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Holy Art of Conversation

The Holy Art of Conversation
John W. Frye

Wrinkles at the corner of the eyes,
a softening inflection of the voice,
a sigh, a slight turn of the head,
a friend speaks to me.
A sacred entity in wearied body
bearing the Image--
priceless, deep imprint of the Other.

Gesturing, fumbling hands,
awkward silences and jump-start
coming from inside a being,
from a silence unknown to me
except for this series of sounds.

Conversation is a miracle,
a treasure hunt
for meaning, acceptance;
an audio map
Out of the complex wilderness
for two simple, broken wanderers
who drink hot coffee.

Are those wrinkles in the corner of the eyes
or are they branches of the burning bush?
What is this space, other than holy ground?
How is it that our feeble, speaking voices
usher us into the Eternal Silence
where words can't convey this exact moment?

Holy, holy, holy is this moment almighty!
Two beings, coffee on their breaths,
with puffs of air exchange their souls
on wispy sounds, from very deep to deep!

I walk away from the moment
with a new limp
with a new hope,
for I have wrestled with God
in another whom I call