Saturday, April 23, 2011

Encouragement When I Fail

The repeated failures of Peter, as he learned to follow Jesus, encourage me.

“Well, that didn’t work” is a practical commentary on failure. Not that failure is accepted. Failure as a follower of Christ is never accepted, but it must be acknowledged. When confronted in repentance, failure gives way to restoration, to a renewed walk that, because of the experience, is better prepared for similar situations in the future. Colloquial wisdom calls it “Learning from our mistakes.”

Peter was exposed to endless hours of instruction as he journeyed with Jesus, living in community day after day, night after night. His instruction clearly included the stories of Israel, the heritage to which his own story was being added. When confronted with the “kill and eat” dream on the rooftop of Simon Tanner’s home in Joppa, Peter’s reaction was informed by the theology that was the fabric of his own story, “By no means. I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.”Obeying God’s direction, Peter went with those who had extended him an invitation to visit a gentile home in Caesarea. As result of Cornelius’ prayer and God’s response, Peter encountered a community of people who were waiting in the soldier’s home to hear good news from God.

At that moment, Peter made an interesting statement, I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality” (Acts 10:34). “I most certainly understand now.” To what did the “now” of Peter’s statement refer? It must have referred to the total experience of the last twenty-four hours: a dream on a rooftop, an argument with God, relinquishing tradition to obey God’s direction, entering a gentile’s home, hearing how his being there was God’s answer to Cornelius’ prayer, responding to people who were waiting for God’s promised message.

The totality of that experience, all the parts combined, became Peter’s “now.” Apart from the “now” Peter had only words of instruction; propositional truth. But as he obeyed God, theological propositions became experiential truth for him. Let me be clear, I do not mean to imply that the theological propositions alone were untrue. Their truth was activated by obedience. As he confronted his own failure to fully grasp the truth of God, as he repented (turned around, going where he thought he would never go), restoration brought him one step closer to being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. And that is God’s intent for every disciple.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

One Church Brighton Launches

Recently I joined our ministry partner Bryan Doyle who serves Greater Europe Mission for a week filled with tube and train travel around London and other UK cities. During the week I had the privilege of meeting Kingdom leaders who are creating new and effective paradigms of ministry.

This is the story of two churches becoming one - not a merger, but a new entity. After two previous conversations about merging, Gloucester Place Baptist Church and Florence Road Baptist Church, are about to become a new church. In previous dialogues, reticence on the part of one or the other congregations always led to backing away; the costs were perceived to outweigh the benefits. But when both congregations were willing to die, something new, relevant and exciting could be born.

Gloucester Place Baptist Church and Florence Road Baptist Church officially launch as One Church Brighton this week on Resurrection Sunday. Already the two congregations have becoming one community of faith under the leadership of Senior Pastor Dave Steell. When two hundred plus year old congregations agree to die to allow God to birth one new church, it might just be that a miracle has occurred. Since last July, members of the two churches have been moving toward their launch as One Church Brighton; working through the tough issues of letting go of the old and learning to lay hold of something new.

The facilities of both churches will be utilized in the new mission focus, one as an office complex and community center to serve the center city, the other as the primary worship facility with good access to public transportation hubs in the city. As I worshipped with the congregation, I was in awe of the intentional processes they are employing toward becoming One Body.

In the midst of their identity transformation, this group of believers see themselves as one part of Christ’s larger Body in Brighton. It was a joy to hear the members praying by name for sister churches of various denominational traditions; including very specific prayers for upcoming events which they knew would be taking place over the next days.

In a post-Christian culture, the Body of Christ in Brighton is learning how to release itself to a fresh work of God in this generation. It is a lesson that needs to be heard again and again by churches throughout North America.