Author Archives: WRBC

Loved by God

Special Blog from Bryan Brock:

This morning I was reading the New York Times obituary of the great Dean Smith, long-time basketball coach of the University of North Carolina. You have to respect coach Smith and his accomplishments – even if you are a Duke fan. 879 wins with only 254 losses is truly amazing.

While his accomplishments in college basketball are to be lauded and remembered, what stood out to me in his obituary was his strong commitment to Christ. Even the New York Times could not help but recognize it. Coach Smith was a believer in and follower of Jesus and you did not even have to read between the lines to pick up on that fact.

There was one quote in the article which resonated with me. At one point in his life Coach Smith wrote: “What do you call the worst human beings you know? Human beings loved by the Creator!”

I have to admit that when I think of the worst people I know “Loved by God” is not usually the first thing that comes to mind! In fact, I can come up with all kinds of names and labels before I am reminded, if at all, that these people I am hating on are created and loved by the same God who created and loves me.

As humans we like to create categories of “us” and “them”. For some reason it makes us feel better to know that we are one of “us” and that we are certainly not like “them”. We do this in politics, in social status, in race, and even in religion. However, Coach Smith reminds us that all this dividing and sorting is ultimately OUR doing – not God’s. Instead, in God’s eyes, we are all loved and all created by him.

How different would our world be if we all saw each other as Children of God before we noticed how we are different? How would compassion and justice grow if we started with the premise that “the other” is loved by God just as we are loved by God? My prayer is that God would remind us of his love for ALL His children – even when we are in the midst of forgetting.

I’m looking forward to being with you next week!

If you are interested, here is the link to the NY Times article on Coach Smith.

 

Everything I Need To Know I Learned From Teenagers?

Our teenagers are at Queens College in Charlotte, NC for PASSPORT this week. You might think this week would come as a welcome breather, a respite from the chatter and energy of our most vibrant Wieucans. But I miss them.

Earlier this year I thought I might be able to join them, but it was not meant to be. Sitting comfortably in Atlanta, I’m not missing living in a dorm room, cafeteria eating, or keeping “teenager” hours–teenagers are exhausting! But I am missing our walks across campus together, volleyball tournaments, nightly devotions, and watching our students worship.

You can learn a lot from our students, and over the years I have. Here are three of the most important things I’ve learned.

1. There’s no substitute for enthusiasm. 
Enthusiasm is infectious. It makes heavy jobs light, boring tasks fun, and long days shorter–and teenagers have it in spades. Adults tend to meet new ideas with fear, doubt, and skepticism. Teenagers have a way of both offering and embracing new ideas with wonder, energy and enthusiasm.

Too often our teenagers have good ideas that we have to say no to because time or resources are lacking, but I wish we could say yes more often. We should say yes more often. For teenagers the default option is yes.  Sometimes that gets them into trouble, but more often than we do, we ought to channel their enthusiastic optimism toward building the kingdom of God. God–and our teenagers–might amaze us with their creativity.

2. Christian formation is a decisive element in the development of adolescents.
Our teenagers face challenges and pressures that few of us could have even imagined when we were their age. The culture they grow up in is increasingly secular, selfish, and jaded. Most of today’s teenagers operate without many of the safety nets of community and family that we wish were there for them. It only takes one bad mistake to slip between the ropes. Voices of love and encouragement, voices that provide safety and boundaries, are few and far between. Without safe places and clear boundaries the fragile innocence of youth doesn’t survive very long.

The church is one of the few places where the sacred continues to be celebrated. The church ought to be a place where Christ-like selflessness is taught and modeled. The church can be a place where innocence is preserved; not simple-minded naivete, but the dreaming innocence of creatures in union with their Creator. Many of our teenagers are lucky enough to have these Christian qualities modeled at home, but not all of them are. That makes the work of the church in the lives of teenagers ever more important.

Besides, if we’re intentional about providing safe and sacred places, setting clear Christian boundaries and expectations, and modeling Christian behavior for our teenagers, it might spill over into our adult populations, too!

3. Authenticity trumps everything. 
Teenagers have a special knack for sniffing out the fake, the contrived, and the outright fraudulent. You can’t “fake it” with teenagers, at least not for very long. More than any other age group, teenagers are bombarded with social interactions designed to get them to be or do or buy something. Teenagers live in a world of transactional relationships where every encounter is graded as a win or a loss. If you want to shock a teenager, be transparently honest and authentic, expecting nothing in return for your time and attention. In today’s world, authentic relationship is a truly radical idea.

Come to think of it, in an “everything old is new again” kind of way, authentic relationship has always been a radical idea. It was one of the most consistently radical elements of Jesus’ interactions with others in the New Testament. The unexpected way that Jesus entered into relationships with unexpected people in unexpected places consistently shocked the first-century crowds that followed him. So when we say that teenagers have sharp antennae for authenticity, what we’re really saying is that teenagers have a high aptitude for recognizing and celebrating Christ-like relationships.

Our teenagers come back from PASSPORT tomorrow. When they return, they’ll be expecting and craving a church that welcomes their enthusiasm, a church that is a safe place to explore and experience sacred subjects, and a people willing to enter into authentic relationships that model the relationship-building example of Christ.  If we can be that for them, they can lead us to partner with God to do amazing things.

I’m Proud To Be A CBF Baptist

The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship held its General Assembly in Atlanta last week.  Wieucans participated in a number of ways. Several of our members volunteered their time at the registration desk. Choir members participated in Friday night’s worship service.  Our CBF staff members filled all kinds of roles to make the weekend a success. Your ministers participated in worship and workshops designed to help us do our jobs better. One of our teenagers even helped supervise children’s activities during the event.

Our partnerships with CBF and CBF-GA are vital to Wieuca’s future, and a strong, committed Wieuca has the chance to provide important vitality and life to these partner organizations.  Here are three big takeaways from last week’s assembly.

CBF CONNECTS US TO EXCELLENT PARTNERS
Whether working through the global missions and church support functions of CBF proper or connecting with partner organizations like the Baptist Joint Committee  and the New Baptist Covenant, CBF provides opportunities to learn from and partner with excellent individuals, organizations and churches. We can learn a lot from other CBF churches in our city and all over the country. Through CBF we are connected to ethicists, theologians, activists, missionaries, ministers, professors and lay people with more experience and expertise than we could ever absorb. We ought to take better advantage of those connections. And let’s not sell ourselves short. We have experience and expertise worth sharing with our partners, too.

CBF PUSHES US TO BE FORWARD THINKING IN OUR APPROACH TO MISSION AND MESSAGE
New Global Missions Coordinator Steven Porter challenged CBF churches to be forward thinking in their approaches to missions, evangelism and partnership. Acknowledging that old methods of outreach and evangelism have produced diminishing returns for some time now, Porter encouraged us to be open to more modern evangelistic approaches as we seek to reach our communities.  He also reminded us that “evangelical” should not be a dirty word in moderate Baptist circles.  And people like CBF theologian-in-residence David Gushee–and others–will continue to push us to more fully embrace progressive, biblical approaches to scriptural interpretation, justice and peace issues, and the relationship between believing Christians and our governments.

CBF GIVES US THE OPPORTUNITY TO REACH THE WHOLE WORLD FOR CHRIST
If CBF is anything, it is a missions sending body. As we partner with CBF, we support people committed to carrying the message of Christ all over the world. From Atlanta and Miami, to India and China, to South Africa and Uganda, to Japan and Indonesia, to Belize and Brazil, the gospel of Jesus Christ is being proclaimed by people we support and train and pray for and host and even visit from time to time. I’m one who thinks we should do everything in our power to more generously support all of the missions initiatives of CBF.

Every time I attend the General Assembly I’m reminded that I–and we–should do more to take advantage of everything our association with CBF has to offer. And I’m reminded of how important it is that we make sacrificial efforts to cooperate with and support the work of like-minded Baptists. CBF is large enough to have a national and global impact; large enough to be heard in the Oval Office, the halls of Congress, and at the United Nations. But it’s not so large that your voice won’t be heard; not so large that our voices can’t help shape its direction.

We should cooperate and contribute, support and encourage, listen and guide as CBF continues to grow.  I’m proud to be a CBF Baptist.

Shakespeare, Scripture And Blankets In The Park

Two weeks ago Julie and I celebrated our wedding anniversary by attending a performance of As You Like It in Piedmont Park. The experience reminded me of a few things that might be applied to the church. Here are three.

1. When insight into human nature is combined with humor, the impact can be profound. Some say Shakespeare is inaccessible because the language is unfamiliar to modern ears. They complain that it’s hard to understand and boring. I”ll be the first to admit that until we get familiar with Shakespeare’s vocabulary and rhythms of language, it can be difficult to read the words on the page. But when those words are skillfully acted out on stage, it’s a completely different story. Even then, the unfamiliar language could leave the stories inaccessible if the stories and characters didn’t connect with us on a fundamental level; but they do!

Shakespeare In The Park

Shakespeare had a genius gift for portraying characters with depth and true to life emotions, fears, temptations, jealousies, and hopes.  While watching As You Like It, I was struck by how closely the humanity of the characters on the stage resembled my own. Equally intriguing was the sharp wit of the characters. Humor and a keen insight into what makes us tick can make a lasting impression on an audience.

At church we tell stories that many people argue are inaccessible. People say they don’t read the Bible because it’s hard to understand or boring. And that might be true if the stories and characters didn’t connect with us on a fundamental level: but they do!

The good thing about the Bible is we have characters with depth and true to life emotions to work with.  And we have the chance every Sunday, through skillful storytelling, humor and insight to connect the humanity of Holy Scripture with our own humanity–the chance to leave a lasting impression for Christ.  As Christians that is both our obligation and our privilege.

2. The more things change, the more they stay the same. A lot has changed in the last 400 years. But what was funny in 1600 is funny now. What was true then is true now. What was beautiful and gallant and charming then is beautiful and gallant and charming now. What was evil and duplicitous and wrong then is still wrong now.

Technology changes. Language changes. Customs change. Clothing changes. Professions change. Economies change. Governments change. Family systems change. But Shakespeare’s stories remind us that right and wrong don’t change. Love and lust; pride and greed; valor and selfishness; sin,forgiveness and redemption all continue to rule our affairs in more or less consistent measures.

The outer identifiers of life change all the time. But the human heart remains the same. Jesus’ words continue to be as relevant and challenging today as they were when he first spoke them because we continue to be as torn between selfishness and selflessness, justice and grace, as we’ve always been.

3.  Excellence and artistry need not be inaccessible to the masses. In fact, when creative work can’t be widely understood and isn’t widely appreciated it usually signals a shortcoming in excellence, artistry, or both. What does it take to connect with the wider world? Shakespeare reminds us that we don’t need to dumb down our message or appeal to the lowest common denominator to reach the masses.

Shakespeare wrote for princes and paupers, for servants and kings.  One way to find broad appeal is to aim for popularity. That can work. But there’s another way–aiming for excellence. Excellence is a language common to us all, universally recognized and appreciated. Excellence has a lasting appeal that the purely popular does not.

At church we have the most excellent message to share. In Christ we are given the key to a most excellent adventure.  That message–and our Savior–deserve excellence in worship and Bible study and fellowship and community and preparation and prayer. God is excellent, so when we are excellent, people will see God in us.  And, I promise you, God in us has broad appeal. Excellence will always be popular.

So that’s what I was thinking about while reclining on a blanket on a perfect Friday night in Piedmont Park.  Great thoughts for an anniversary celebration–I’m a hopeless romantic, I know. But that’s not all I was thinking.

I was also thinking how lucky I am to be married to the most wonderful girl in the world. God is good. Very good. Excellent, even. Happy anniversary, Julie!

 

An Ode To Summer 2014

I’ll admit it. Summer snuck up on me again. Like every year, I spent all fall and winter waiting on summer to get here. And like every year, it’s here faster than I expected. In the dark days of February I thought summer would never come. In March, I got my hopes up too soon. In April I put my sweaters away too early. And I’m not sure what happened to May. But Memorial Day is behind us. Summer is here. School is out. Pools are open. And the days are about as long as they’re going to get.

“The Summer of George” is one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes because I share George’s unbridled enthusiasm for the possibilities of summer…and his aversion to all stinging insects. So like most years, I wonder what I can do to make this summer the Summer of Sapp. No, I won’t get three months of paid time off from the New York Yankees like George. I wouldn’t take a paycheck from the Yankees if my life depended on it–Go Braves–but maybe I will be able to make the most of my favorite time of year.

So now that summer’s here–and before it sneaks by me–I need to remember what exactly I was longing for back in February.

I’m grateful for warmer weather. For the smell of honeysuckle in the air. For green grass, rocking chairs, covered porches and the chance to watch my dog chase tennis balls across an open field.

In the winter, I try to keep to an exercise routine by running inside on a treadmill. Running outside is a lot more fun. I’m grateful for that. If you ever hear me complaining about it being too hot—and you might—just remind me of February and I’ll quickly change my tune.

I’m grateful for summer because I enjoy stretching out on a lounge chair by the pool. For my money, there’s not much that beats putting my earbuds in, setting Pandora to the Spin Doctors channel, and reading Rolling Stone in the sunshine. I don’t need teak deck chairs and palm trees in the Caribbean to enjoy summer, although that’s nice. A pine straw dusted plastic lounge chair suits me just fine.

I’m thankful for longer days. Longer days mean you don’t usually have to drive home from work in the dark. They mean you can watch the sun set over Turner Field on a Tuesday night if you want to. They mean the possibility of evenings spent outside by the grill or on the jogging trail or at the tennis courts. And sometimes longer days mean after dinner trips for ice cream to the Frosty Caboose. Try the chocolate-peanut butter.

For many of us summer means time away at the lake or the beach or in the mountains—fried seafood enjoyed in the ocean air or the gentle lapping of water against a dock. For others of us it might mean buttery popcorn at a summer blockbuster or a blanket on the lawn at an outdoor concert. All pleasures afforded by July that January just can’t offer.

Summer also brings with it a more relaxed pace. It doesn’t always feel more relaxed, but summer is a time to catch my breath. Traffic’s not as bad, so my commute is shorter. I’m not always sitting in my car feeling like I’m running late for something. I can roll the windows down if I want to and turn the radio up when my favorite song comes on. I can wash my car in the driveway. I can eat on the patio at my favorite restaurants. Summer’s a time to get lost in a good book and a time to enjoy family and catch up with old friends.

If you want to ruin summer for me, just remind me how close we are to the days getting shorter (June 21st). That’s the most torturous paradox of God’s creation—that the best and longest day of the year also signals the beginning of the long, slow march to the shortest day. But for the next few weeks, the days will just keep getting longer until they seem to stretch on forever. Or at least until nine o’clock.

A nine o’clock sunset? If you ask me, we don’t need any more proof that God exists and that God loves us very much.

Happy summer.

Heaven In The Modern World

Heaven has been a popular topic of conversation lately. Books and movies have addressed the subject, and we’ve been spending both Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights at Wieuca talking about what a Biblical understanding of what heaven looks like. Are there pearly gates and streets of gold? Clouds and white robes and halos? Will we be able to look down on the events of earth? Where is heaven? Could we spot it through a telescope?

Just last week I wrote about the conflict between faith and science; or as I see it, the conflict between biblicism and scientism.  I happen to be one who believes that modern science and faithful adherence to holy scripture need not be in conflict.  Belief in heaven, however, is one of the places where the compatibility between a traditional interpretation of scripture and fidelity to scientific principles seems to be most strained.

Suffice it to say, when I think about heaven I come up with more questions than answers. And the more I think about heaven, the more questions I have.  I don’t have any problem with that. I don’t need all the answers.  I don’t need to know the physics of how heaven works any more than I need to understand the particulars of gravitational pull.  All I know is that both keep me grounded.

Like gravity quite literally keeps our feet on the ground, an understanding of what the next world represents provides the foundation on which to stand as we build our lives in this world. The Christian acknowledgement of heaven recognizes at least three basic truths.

1. This world is not as it should be. 
2. God loves us and calls us to himself.
3. There’s more to life than physical existence. 

From these three, we can find purpose, direction, and meaning for today.  Our purpose is to partner with God and fellow Christians to make this world more like heaven. We acknowledge this every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer…”thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

A home with God in heaven gives our lives clear trajectory and direction. We are moving from a temporary existence in a world that is not as it should be toward an eternal existence in a perfect world with a matchless God. In Christ, God calls us home and reserves us for himself. As C.S. Lewis reminds us in The Last Battle, heaven is a call to move farther up and further into the perfect goodness and love of God’s creation.

Understanding that we are more than physical beings gives our lives ultimate meaning. We are spiritual, metaphysical beings that house the indwelling spirit of our creator, allowing us to experience the very real–if often fleeting–presence of God in this world; a spiritual presence that goes beyond what our physical senses can measure and record.  What better sense of meaning can we experience than the knowledge that we are conduits through which the creator of the universe continues to be creative and revealed?

A lot of people find strong biblical evidence to pull together detailed pictures of what the next life will be like, and I applaud their efforts. But I think the more important question is not what heaven will be like, but what the reality of heaven means for life right now.

So, I don’t know exactly what heaven will look like. I don’t know how to balance its physical and metaphysical and mystical realities in a way that will satisfy both the biblicist and the scientific skeptic. But I do know this. What we do know of heaven gives deeper meaning to our lives today.

Heaven is an acknowledgment that we were intended for more and better than this fallen world can offer. For now I don’t have to have all the answers, and neither do you as long as together we keep honestly seeking after the one who does.

Cosmos and Christianity

I’ve been watching Cosmos on FOX on Sunday nights. I love the host, Neil deGrasse Tyson. His passion for making science–physics and chemistry and biology and geology–accessible to the masses is infectious. And the discoveries of science–what we know and are continuing to  learn about God’s creation–are fascinating.

As much as I like him, he’s voiced some pointed critiques aimed squarely at Christianity during the series. That’s not a reason not to like him; we could use some critiquing now and then. But some Christians feel he’s been TOO antagonistic toward our faith during the Cosmos series.

Those most likely to take offense at Tyson’s editorializing are those who take a low view of the scientific method. Some Christians question the validity of many scientific truths. I’m not one of them. We can’t rely on the science that keeps our airplanes aloft, cures our diseases, and forecasts the weather at the lake this weekend and reject the science that intrudes into our preferred worldview or that would at first glance appear to challenge our faith.

"But what is man that thou art mindful of him?" Psalm 8:4

“But what is man that thou art mindful of him?”     -Psalm 8:4

Scientific understanding ought to be held up to the same level of critical scrutiny as any other truth claim. But once a scientific claim has been reviewed and validated, we ought to accept it. God is revealed–not challenged–as we understand more and more about the universe.

When Tyson appears too antagonistic to the faith or Christians turn blind eyes to scientific truth, we’re not seeing a conflict between Christianity and science; we’re seeing a conflict between scientism and biblicism.  We’re seeing an ideological conflict that has very little to do with either being a follower of Christ or seeking rational truth about the observable world.  In effect, what we see and hear are arguments between those who would put the Bible ahead of Christ and those who would put faith in  the abilities of science ahead of verifiable, scientific truth.

I have a tendency to chuckle when I watch the most esteemed scientists in the world bend over backwards to try to explain where matter come from prior to the Big Bang or make wildly speculative claims about how life first came to our planet. Science may one day shed some light on those questions. But for now, a simple “Science can’t answer those questions” would suffice.

While watching scientists struggle to answer tough questions can tickle my funny bone, I’m tempted to cry when I watch otherwise intelligent theologians and evangelical leaders dismiss universally accepted scientific truths because they don’t fit neatly into a literal understanding of Biblical storytelling. On the other hand, we don’t need to be bending over backwards to make our biblical interpretation fit neatly into scientific truth either.

When God’s inspired word and scientific truth don’t match exactly, it’s okay to say I’m not sure. We would all do well to be more willing to say “I don’t know” a little more often.

The belief that science can reveal all truth (scientism) or that the Bible is the only source of truth (Biblicism) or that we are capable of complete understanding of truth (humanism) all fly in the face of another truth claim, one we ought to be more mindful of.  Jesus said, “I am…the truth.”

We’re talking about heaven in worship right now. We’re having to ask questions about the nature of heaven, it’s place in creation,  and how we understand a spiritual and even physical life after death.  The idea of heaven, of life after death, is a direct affront to scientism and the idea that there could be more to life with God than scripture reveals is an affront to biblicism. Both biblicism and scientism crave certainty. Neither are very comfortable with doubt or the mystery the unknown.

But the truth is, this side of heaven, we’re gonna have to learn to be comfortable with some uncertainty. Even the Bible tells us there’s much we have yet to learn. And the breathtaking advances of science invite as many questions as they reveal answers.

God is bigger than the scientific method. There’s more to life than the senses can verify. Even rational inquiry has it’s limits. Scientism is a form of idolatry. But it’s not the only form. God is bigger even than our sacred scriptures.  Bible worship is itself just another form of idolatry.  We do not worship at the altar of scripture or the altar of the textbook. We worship at the altar of the Lord.

So on Sunday nights, when I sit down on the couch to watch Cosmos, I trust Christ to guide me. And as I hold scripture in one hand and my science textbook in the other, I wish that God (or natural selection) had given me a third hand to hold the popcorn!