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    Bono, Pastor Pete, and the Psalms

    This short documentary is a gem. Fuller Studio teamed up with Fourth Line Films to present this conversation between Eugene Peterson and Bono about the Psalms. David Taylor asks questions and guides things along. The result is nothing short of fantastic.

    In 2011, Molly and I saw U2 in Saint Louis during the U2360° Tour. It was memorable.

    Nathan Clarke and friends with Fourth Line have been sharing their wonderful work in the Box Canyon Sessions, which I've enjoyed tremendously.

    I'm really glad to share the documentary above. Eugene Peterson has helped me, and so many others, imaginatively enter the story of the Bible, and to experience the words found there afresh. He has done so through his paraphrase translation, The Message. And the Psalms are such a treasure, meant to be internalized and turned to prayer. They provide a vocabularly for conversation with God, and tie us to those who have gone before us and experienced the same exuberant joys and deep sorrows of life.

    The Psalms, rightly read and faithfully redirected in prayer, engender in us texture and depth and realism, or density. They help us to embrace the magnificence of this world, of creation, and of God, and invite us to worship. But they also help us to face the violence, hurt, confusion, and felt injustice, and to cry out to God. The Psalms invite us in to the fullness of life as it is experienced before God, and sharpen our perception of the ways in which God is working, or, at the very least, our confidence therein.

    Watch this film. Revist the Psalms. See how they have shaped two profound voices of our time, both poets.



    Transition News

    A transition is ahead for the Simpson family, and I'd like to share the news.

    Yesterday, I announced to my congregation an upcoming transition in the life of University Baptist Church.
    On July 1, 2016, my wife Molly will begin service as Associate Pastor of First United Methodist Church in Waco, Texas. Many years ago, Molly served as an intern at FUMC during our undergraduate studies at Baylor. This opportunity came as a surprise to us, yet we believe God opened this door. Our family will relocate in June.

    This means that my time of service as Minister to Students at University Baptist Church is drawing to a close. My last day of service will be Monday, June 6.

    The Simpson family has been given the opportunity to begin a new season of life and ministry in a different context, and after careful discernment and prayer before God, we have determined this is our next step.

    For the past three years, Molly has been a wonderful help and support as I have served as Minister to Students at UBC. She has cared for our children, been a gracious host for students and leaders when we have opened our home, offered her gifts to our congregation, and provided me with wise counsel as I have led within my role. 

    When we chose to transition our family to Fort Worth in 2013, she chose to step back from congregational leadership. We believe God has blessed our family because of that decision, and are convinced that we have grown in love for one another while with UBC.
    Now, I will have the opportunity to support her, offer my gifts to a new community, and be present with our children in similar fashion as she returns to a pastoral leadership role. Our family is unique, as Molly and I have each been ordained as ministers in our respective traditions. It is my desire to serve alongside her, just as she has served alongside me, and to honor her as she seeks to fulfill God’s purposes for her life.
    After our move to Waco, I have a few goals I would like to pursue. Chiefly among those goals is to pursue studies in the PhD program in religion at Baylor University. This has been a dream of mine since my time of study as an undergraduate student, first conceived sixteen years ago. A number of things will need to align for that to be possible. We believe this move is a first step. I would appreciate continued prayers from the people of University Baptist Church, and from all my friends, that God would make my path level and my next step plain.
    Lastly, I would like to express my thanks to the people of UBC. In Philippians 1:5, Paul refers to the “partnership in the gospel” he shared with the church at Philippi. Since beginning service with University Baptist Church, I have been deeply thankful for the ways in which students and congregational leaders have been willing to join with me in following after Jesus Christ. Tomorrow morning, and in the weeks to come, I will continue to express my gratitude to you and to God for the work we have undertaken together.
    I am of the opinion that God has done wonderful things in the lives of many of our students while I have been with UBC, and I am thankful for this. It has been a joy to see God bearing fruit in the lives of others. It has also been very humbling. We are but bit players on a grand stage, and the drama is God's. It is a privilege simply to be part of the story.
    In parting, I am excited about what is ahead for my family, but I am also grieved because of what we will leave behind. I take this as a good sign. It is a sign of love. I am thankful both to God, and to UBC, for giving me the privilege of sharing life in the kingdom of God during this season. I am also thankful for the ways this congregation has shown the love of Christ to my family. Many of you have been so very generous. Thanks be to God.

    I would invite my readers to pray for me, my family, and for the people of UBC in the days and weeks ahead. 

    May the Lord bless you and keep you, now and always.


    Community Begins with Christ

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, "Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ." He further states, "It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God's Word and sacrament." If that isn't enough, Bonhoeffer reminds us, "The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer."

    One of the greatest longings of our time, it seems to me, is for community. And one of our greatest fears, both expressed and unexpressed, is that of being alone. For many, our longing remains unfulfilled, even among those who claim to take part in Christian community, try as we might to connect with others either publicly or online.

    Which leads me back to Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer identifies two ways community is realized for the Christian: in and through Jesus Christ.

    While commentators quibble over the exact meaning of the phrase in Christ, all seem to agree that it is a reality entered into mystically by faith. I think of the words of Paul in Galatians 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." There has been a crossing over, a transformation, a change of status. Those trusting Jesus are no longer apart from him, but now stand in him.

    What does this mean for community? It means, first, that Christian community is not first achieved by some action on one's own part, but rather is enacted by the person and work of Jesus Christ. We have been incorporated into the Christian fellowship. We do not create it.

    But to enter into the community, we must come through Jesus Christ. And it is through him that we encounter our brothers and sisters. Jesus has made such a community possible through his body and blood. He is our mediator, and the one in whom we receive peace, not only between God and human beings, but between brother and sister. Bonhoeffer says it simply: "Christ opened up the way to God and to our brother."

    Lastly, Bonhoeffer claims that the goal of all Christian community is this: "they meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation." It is within the fellowship that we are reminded of what Jesus has done not only for you and me, but for all of creation.

    Bonhoeffer incisively reminds his readers that not every Christian experiences the visible fellowship of other believers. The sick, infirm, the scattered, the solitary missionary worker, they remain part of the fellowship in and through Christ, but lack the daily experience of a common fellowship. For most of my readers, face to face interaction with other Christians is not only possible, it is routine. And, dare I say for some, it is taken for granted.

    So, the next time you interact with others in Christian community, remember how the fellowship has been made possible: in and through Christ. Remember that the presence of other Christians is a gift, graciously given because of God's recognition that it is not good for human beings to be alone (Gen. 2:18).

    Recall that your interactions with other Christians are made possible through Christ, who has removed the barrier of our own egos and united us to one another (it is difficult to feel superior to anyone when one begins to realize the depth of one's own sin). It is difficult not to feel love for others whom Christ has redeemed.

    Then, lastly, remember that you are present with your brothers and sisters as a herald, a bringer of the message of salvation. Spread the Word. Perhaps in doing so, Christians who experience aloneness and lack of community will begin to realize the richness of Christian fellowship, and the true joy of being united to one another, and to God, together.


    The Church is a Diversity By Design

    On more than one occasion, I have marveled at the differences existing within the fellowship of the church, whether it be racial, socio-economic, political, theological, liturgical, or otherwise. At times, I have been in awe. But not always.

    I confess to being snobbish, from time to time, regarding just who God has called to be part of the church, or in what way those in the church express their devotion to God. This is not easy to admit. I may conceal it well. But in my heart of hearts, I know. There are people I am quite surprised to find myself in fellowship with, not by my own appointment, but by the calling of Christ.

    And when I reflect upon this reality, I quietly confess my sin, remember that I am redeemed by sheer grace, and humbly ask that God reform this deficiency. Perhaps, over the course of time, the Great Physician will rid me of all impurity, and I will experience the sweetness of welcoming all people in to God's great fellowship, as they actually are, not as I wish them to be. It is God's great feast, not mine, and I trust that he possesses greater wisdom when compiling a banquet list. My parties can be a bit dull. If our picture of Jesus given in the gospels is any indication, with God, it is not so.

    C. S. Lewis is instructive. In Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, Lewis writes:

    It takes all sorts to make a world; or a church. This may be even truer of a church. If grace perfects nature it must expand all our natures into the full richness of the diversity which God intended when He made them, and Heaven will display far more variety than Hell. "One fold" doesn't mean "one pool." Cultivated roses and daffodils are no more alike than wild roses and daffodils.

    There is beauty in diversity, and God calls us together not according to our race or social status, our talents or our abilities, but instead by grace. Diversity is God's design. And unity is given in Christ.


    The Turning of the Seasons

    Easter rests over the horizon.

    The seasons change.

    Fall, winter, spring, and summer. Or Advent, Christmastide, Ordinary Time, and Lent. Easter (celebrated as a season, not a day), followed by Pentecost and, once again, Ordinary Time. Christ the King Sunday concludes the year, and Advent begins again.

    As time goes on, and as my life continues to be defined by the rhythms of the church, the calendar increases in significance. Not the four seasons, per se, but rather, the story of God as it is given in Scripture and as it is told within the life of the congregation. To be acquainted with "the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27) requires discipline, and intention. A plan. Christmas and Easter are helpful anchor points, but there is so much more to tell. And we are so forgetful. Now and again, it is good to look up and be reminded of where we stand in the year.

    Presently, we are approaching the fifth Sunday in the season of Lent. This is a time in which we are reminded to repent of our sins, and to intensify our focus upon discipleship to Jesus. There's never a bad time to repent, or to follow Christ. In fact, that is the daily calling of the Christian. But, lest we forget these essentials, it is good to be reminded, and the calendar can be an aid.

    For a Baptist kid from East Texas to be familiar with the liturgical calendar, much less to appreciate it, is quite strange. Growing up, we celebrated Christmas and Easter as special days. And I'm thankful for this. I'm also thankful that for the remainder of the year, we focused our congregational energies on one or more books of the Bible, and walked through the text as a congregation. The Word was preached as the people gathered for worship, and the saints were equipped for ministry. This is good. 

    On Christmas Eve, we celebrated the Lord's Supper, silently, listening to great hymns of the faith and solemnly observing one of the two ordinances. There were no cell phones to turn off, only rowdy children to corral. During the time of year in which we remember the coming of God in the flesh, the celebration of the incarnation, we reminded ourselves of the purpose for which Christ had come: to redeem sinners from the power of death, and to usher in the kingdom of God. Christ did not only come to die. The gospel is even richer than that. But the fact that he did die to redeem sinners is a pivot point in the story, inseparable as it is from his resurrection, and his incarnation. The story of Christ doesn't fit in a nutshell, and cannot be captured in a soundbite, try as we might.

    On Easter we sang our most jubilant songs, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Among the many things that formed me, the congregational call and response of "He is risen! He is risen, indeed!" was immensely compelling. In my congregation, over a thousand men and women spoke these words with conviction and power, and my heart swelled with hope, and my faith in the gospel grew.

    But we didn't celebrate the seasons, or other formal church holidays or feasts. And that's OK. Paul, perplexed by believers in Galatia who he thought had gone adrift, writes in Galatians 4:10 that they had been observing "special days and seasons and years." He openly worried his efforts had been wasted. I can sympathize with Paul sometimes.

    In the text I've cited, some think Paul was speaking against formal, routine observances of the liturgical type, maybe even a special Christian calendar. I don't think so. I think something else was going on in the first century. While it's true that formal observances can devolve into dead religiosity, correlation does not imply causation. Some of the most free flowing, spontaneous Christian gatherings can be just as Spirit-depleted as a high mass. Showmanship is not a denominationally specific vice. And the Spirit blows where it will.

    Now, I am in a context that celebrates the season of Advent. And we celebrate Holy Week. We emphasize Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and pull out all the stops for Easter.

    In youth ministry, we widen the lens just a little, and at least name the beginning of the season of Lent. We don't have an Ash Wednesday service, but we spend about six Wednesdays in a gospel. This year, we have studied the Gospel of John. We read John 1, and contemplated Jesus's coming as the Logos, "the Word," "the meaning of life." We contemplated John 3, and asked what it means to be "born again." We read in John 6 about Jesus miraculously feeding 5,000 men, plus women and children, and considered how with God, there is an abundance of grace and love. And tonight, we turn to John 11.

    In John 11, we read the story of Jesus and his friend Lazarus. Jesus makes one of his famous "I am" statements, declaring himself, "the resurrection and the life." There is no greater hope. Jesus rages at death in this narrative, and calls Lazarus forth. Why does Jesus do this? The key is found in verse 15. Jesus tells his disciples that Lazarus has died, and that he is glad he was not there. Jesus says this was so, "so that you may believe."

    Each week, I walk with people who are diverse in their outlook and convictions. Some are people of strong faith, who only wish to please God with their lives. They are a mess like all of us, a bag of mixed motives, guilty of missteps. But their heart is inclined toward God. There are some who oscillate between belief and unbelief. And then there are those who are plagued by their doubts. And each week, I join them as a brother in Christ, and speak to them the Word of God. And the Spirit blows where it will.

    Of course, my hope is that they would hear and believe. That they would consider the cross (Good Friday!) and believe that on Sunday, the tomb was found empty ("He is risen!"). Then, I pray that they would follow Christ, through fall, winter, spring, and summer, and then again through Advent, Christmastide, Ordinary Time, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and Ordinary Time. And as the years pass, I pray that they would mark out the time by how they have grown in faith, and the good things God has done, and the comfort they found when the passed through a valley. That's what I pray for, anyway. That thing about the Spirit holds true, once again.

    As we approach Easter, I pray that God would bless you, and that you would walk in the way of Christ, that the time you have been given would be defined, first and foremost, by Christ and his love. 

    This essay originally appeared in my (mostly) monthly eNewsletter update. You can subscribe at my About page. Thanks for reading.