The One That Got Away

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The title of this post is misleading. She didn’t get away. Not really. Sure, she left Churches of Christ and went Lutheran, a move that back in the day would have surely disqualified her from playing the real game. But thanks be to God, some of us who stayed and kept on trudging in the CoC look upon people like Nadia Bolz-Weber and hear a voice that has plenty to say from a tradition that might actually have something to contribute back to us.

But in some ways, she did get away. She does not preach in a Church of Christ, and there are only a handful that would even think about letting her guest preach. Not a special speaker at a retreat, either. I’m talking the big times, Sunday morning, during the worship hour, doing the thing called “the sermon.” (I can think of three off the top of my head.)

So a few of us from the Bering Drive Church of Christ went today to hear this woman who has a powerful voice in American Christianity, mainly because her voice continues to turn the conversation back to God, and how God is available to everyone. Bolz-Weber talks about God in a way that makes God accessible, as though God were actually interested in communion with all people. Sounds almost like something Jesus said.

I sat next to my daughter during the last session. It was wonderful to sit next to her and listen together to a woman who spoke the Gospel with such beautiful sincerity. I wondered what my 14-year-old girl was thinking as she heard Nadia speak–(notice that in the course of a paragraph we are now on a first-name basis)–and as my daughter has watched her own youth minister at our church–(a woman, mind you)–preach a few times herself on Sunday morning. Would my daughter ever get up and speak this good news? Who knows? But I’m hopeful that we are entering a future where more than three places would listen.


Slow Ride, Clear Head, Pure Heart

Bering Drive Jeff ChristianIt wasn’t just because the weather was perfect this morning. It wasn’t about short sleeves and comfortable boots and a throttle that just begs to be twisted. It was about the heart.

Non-motorcylists think that those of us who are crazy enough to put two wheels surrounded by metal filled with flammable liquids between our legs are speed freaks. And while there is no denying the thrill of acceleration that no car can hope to match, some days (like today) are all about a slow ride.

Slow ride. Take it easy.

Some days you need to take your time. Enjoy the smells, the sounds, the low clouds rolling in off the Gulf of Mexico as they lilt above you. Meditate on your joys, hopes, and fears, and then forget them all and just go. Clear head.

This has been a hard week, one of those weeks that choose you. You don’t have a say in the matter. But for the past few days, while trying to stave off the demons of anxiety and worry, I have held on tight to that 800 pound mass of metal, and to an ancient teaching about purity of heart.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8) Some more conservative Bible types than me would probably argue that Jesus is talking about a puritanical brand of morality here where everyone sits around drinking warm water, wearing polyester suits, and sitting in folding metal chairs. I have been in those settings. And trust me, they are no fun. I could never get into a religion of avoidance whose primary goal was to articulate how bad everything is.

No, I think “pure heart” means keeping it open to the possibilities that God is in more places than we think. It’s about maintaining the eyes of our childhood, eyes of wonder, belief in miracles, and the innocence of thinking God is always right around the corner. It’s about believing that God makes good on an ancient promise to always be with us, especially during those weeks when God’s silence is painfully overwhelming.

To Dream Again

Bering Drive Church of ChristChurch divides more than it unites. Streets in the southern United States especially are covered with different names of different churches that send messages to non-Christians and lapsed Christians that only reinforce their negative feelings about church. But I think we can change that.

Romans 13-14 imagines a world where everything starts coming together, where the world starts falling into place in a way that makes more sense than it does on most days. It is a world imagined where we put all of our focus on Jesus in such a way that welcomes more than it divides. We give one another the benefit of the doubt knowing that God is working to shape us in ways that go beyond our delusions of precision and control.

One line in Romans 13 paints a beautiful picture: “For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers.” God’s salvation is nearer to us today than it was yesterday. Now that’s not literal, book-chapter-and-verse truth, right? It’s poetry. It is a clever and beautiful way of saying something about God drawing us nearer and nearer each day. But that beautiful and poetic way of speaking about God’s salvation has an impact on both why and how we do church.

First, to the why. Why church?

The biggest reason has to start with Jesus, the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. If not for Jesus, we would be nothing more than a very odd looking social club. But because of Jesus, our odd gatherings each week make sense.

And I am using the word “odd” on purpose. Because where else would you see the broad spectrum of ages that you see at many churches on Sunday mornings? And so the most important thing about our gatherings is that in the name of Jesus, we come together to tell the story of Jesus, and the way that story shapes our lives. The “why” of church is basically across the board in most Christian communities: Jesus is Lord.

But the “how” is another story. How do we do church? How do we be a church? That one is harder to answer. And it is the one that divides churches. But I’m wondering if the “how” unite us in Christ?

The most important answer how starts with our hearts. Scripture is quite clear that if you get the form down without the heart, God doesn’t care any more about the form. If you read the book of Amos, for example, it’s about a group of people who have the form of religion and worship down pat. But the one problem is that they do not love each other with the love of God from the heart.

So if we place our focus on being a Romans 14 church, it might affect the “how” with more intention. This is especially true in light of Romans 14:19—“Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual edification.”

What if we strive to reflect Romans 14:19 in all of Christianity? Because when we as Christians place our focus there, on the salvation of God through Jesus, it reminds us to keep dreaming, to keep looking for the ways God dreams new dreams for us as his people equipped for God’s service.

So let’s dream again. Let’s dream and pray. Let’s start by putting Romans 14:19 front and center on the front burner of the stove. What can we do to cultivate peace and building up each other?

Let’s dream again. Let’s put just as much passion and focus that we place on our Sunday morning time together into serving others outside of our churches. I love that the ministry of the Bering Drive Church of Christ spreads around our city, and believe that there are more opportunities for service that we have not even thought up yet.

Let’s dream again. Let’s continue to look for ways to welcome others into this wonderful story and community we share. We at Bering started praying a couple of years ago that God would bless us with ten new individuals and/or families. Remember that? Talk about an overflowing cup! God answered our prayers and then some! But sadly, we have also lost some families and people we dearly miss. So you know what? Let’s pray and dream some more. Because what we have here is worth sharing.

Let’s dream again. One of the reasons we are entertaining doing a massive remodel of the Bering building is for the primary reason that we can say “yes” to new dreams. So what’s your dream? What have you been praying about lately? Me, I have been praying that God will work among us in such a way that we can proclaim the truths of Jesus boldly and without reservation in such a way that those who walk through our doors will find a home for a lifetime.

Isn’t that what we all want? A place to call home that lives according to a story so powerful that it saves our lives. Guess what? That’s the story we have. The story of “God with us.”

So let’s dream again.

Gratitude Sunday

Bering Drive Gratitude
Photo by Greg Becker

This past Sunday at Bering was “Gratitude Sunday” devoted to giving thanks for just about everything. For example, we take people for granted like welders and elevator mechanics, people who make a huge difference in our daily lives that we rarely think about as we go through our daily activities. But this week, as we give thanks to God and to one another, we do so knowing that so many people around us make our lives better each day. Here are a few things to watch and read this week as we give thanks:

Gratitude Film from Jeff’s Sermon

JEN’S HANDOUT from Sunday morning class

Ten things that will make you happier

Falling Leaves

As I rode to my office this morning, the autumn coolness and overcast skies seemed all too appropriate. A Volkswagen Jetta crossed my path doing thirty with a flat tire, filling the air with smoke and the unmistakable smell of burning rubber. Granted, a Houston fall does not really hit until December or January when the leaves finally begin to change. But with the sudden death of two loved ones in my church, and the death of a couple of other friends of friends, the gray skies and strong smells of this morning’s ride somehow made sense.

In 1912, Alice Guy Blanché made a silent film called “Falling Leaves.” It is about a little girl whose older sister is very ill with Consumption, as they called it back then. Trixie, the little girl, overhears the doctor tell her parents that her sister will pass away before the last leaf falls before the winter. And in a move of innocence that would only occur to an unsullied child, Trixie sneaks out of her room into the front yard with a ball of string and begins tying fallen leaves back onto the trees.

I wish I could do that today. I am surrounded this morning by broken hearts and disorientation. Emails, phone calls, face-to-face interactions and hugs dominate these days of overcast skies. I dream about having the power to make everything better, to say the right things, to quote the right Scriptures. But sometimes, the best thing we can do is to make sure that we simply embrace. Be together. Support one another. And in so doing, as a kind of physical analogy, we will tie the leaves on the trees for those of us who are no longer innocent, but who hold out hope.

The Search for (Authentic) Community

Yesterday I read an interview with Malcolm Gladwell, author of Tipping Point and Outliers. He is a fascinating person, with what looks to be a fascinating new book called David and Goliath. But all his books aside, what got my attention in the interview was the thread that ran throughout about his return to faith. It’s a common story: Grew up a believer, left organized religion, sensed the presence of God, and then looked for a way for his faith to become his own. That may even be your story.

The interviewer then asked Gladwell if he had a faith community, and he responded, “Not yet.”

My guess is that thousands of people in the Houston area have a similar story to Gladwell’s. If this is your story, and if you have somehow stumbled upon this blog while looking for a community of faith, allow me to make an offer: We are a family-sized community of believers who strive to practice authentic faith. The Bering Drive Church of Christ is a church that reads the Bible together, and looks for ways to live by the teachings of Jesus. We are not afraid to admit when we are wrong about something, and constantly look for ways to grow closer to God. But most of all, we try to be a supportive family to one another, and to those who come our way who are searching for authentic community.

Church at the Black Walnut

Bering Drive Church of ChristThe ghost of church past took me on a ride down memory lane this morning. I remembered a time when my life was dominated by “doing church.” Sunday morning class… Sunday morning worship… Sunday night worship… Wednesday night classes… It was all in the name of community, but somewhere along the way, I noticed that the majority of the time spent at “church” was seated, facing forward, and listening. In order to get to know the people sitting next to me, we had to arrange some sort of lunch meeting, or yet another get together. For some, it was a fifth or sixth gathering for the week. For the introverted half of the population, that was asking a bit much.

Fast forward to the Bering Drive Church of Christ. When I, your friendly neighborhood preacher, began the interview process here, I asked about the scheduled times for classes and worship. My main contact, Paul–(one of the shepherds at the time; not the apostle)–told me that he main face-time for the church was Sunday morning. That’s it. Sure, small groups meet on Sunday evenings in homes. Women’s Wednesday morning Bible study happens in the fall and spring. But as far as regular class and worship, we are all together on Sunday mornings.

What I noticed after being with Bering for a while was the way people found opportunities to be together outside the Sunday morning regular time slot. Rather than facing forward listening to yet another explanation of Romans, people met in restaurants and hospital rooms to sit and share life together. No reason to hurry off to the next meeting or class. Granted, there’s nothing wrong with studying Romans. We are actually doing that in Wednesday morning Women’s Bible Study at the present. But what makes these official class times so good is the family connections we bring to the table at other places.

And that brings us to the Black Walnut Cafe on a Monday night. Last night, twenty-two women from the Bering Drive Church of Christ met for supper. Simple as that. Get together, eat, talk, laugh, share life. Perhaps we can even entertain the possibility that the meal was a form of church. The women were gathered because of their common confession in Jesus. This was more than social time. It was an opportunity to BE the church with one another. Not a program, nor a planned initiative to grow, nor a collection of information. Just a time to be together in the name of Jesus.

And that is all.


Church Not Church

Bering Drive Church of Christ

Settling in to my fourth year at Bering, one of the things I love the most about this church is that it is not a typical church. Never has been. From our beginnings fifty years ago, this church has never been afraid to challenge “the way things have always been.” While tradition has a beautiful place in our worship and service to others, Bering refuses to get stagnate simply to keep everyone pacified.

For example, Bering was the first congregation in the “Church of Christ” tradition to be fully inclusive of women in the life of the church. That may not seem like a big deal to other denominations, but to us, where many young girls grew up believing that worship was a spectator event for them, it was (and still is) a big deal. And when I say that we are fully “gender inclusive,” this is more than “allowing” a woman to make an occasional announcement at the end of a worship service. In fact, gender inclusivity has become such a part of the life of our church that it is really no longer an issue. It is just the way things are.

One of the reasons I am writing this down is to put it on record here on our new blog and new website. Research tells us that we are supposed to put keywords on our website like “gender inclusive” and “welcoming” and “all ages.” That will bump us up on Google, which will direct more people to Bering.

But with all of the effort to get the website noticed, this is really about church that’s not obsessed with church. Or to put it another way, when church becomes the point of church we miss the point of church. With me so far?

So let’s say, for example, that you are reading this entry, but have never been to Bering. Perhaps you are thinking about coming for a visit this Sunday morning. Let me tell you what you can expect:

You can expect to shake hands with a lot of people. Bering is a welcoming place that loves new faces. We are a family-sized church, so you will not see all the bells and whistles of a megachurch. Instead, you will walk in and see a family. A family practicing authentic faith from week-to-week.

You can expect a pretty simple approach to worship. We sing songs, we read Scripture, we take communion every Sunday, and we preach messages from the Bible that challenge and uplift us. We are a Bible-based church that does not worship the Bible. We worship the Lord, and look to Scripture as a way that God continues to share abundant life with us today.

You can expect to see people of all ages who are joined together as one body. As a family sized church, we practice an intergenerational faith where people from all backgrounds and generations live out our faith and learn from one another. Our children’s classes, for instance, are likely to be taught by any number of our adults who care deeply about sharing our faith with generations to come.

And you can expect to be a part of more than what a website can show you. Most importantly, you can expect to be welcomed into a family.