Mary Ellen Slefinger popped her head into my office yesterday as she was passing and said, “Look out!  God’s up to something.”  She’s exactly right.  With our heads still swirling from John Casey’s transition from Blanchard as our senior pastor, and now with the announcement of James Grout’s incredible promotion to become the National Youth Director for the Christian & Missionary Alliance–God’s definitely up to something.

So, the Church of Jesus Christ at Blanchard Alliance, how will we respond?  Let’s pray expectantly.  

That’s what Skye encouraged us to do on Sunday during the Caseys’ farewell service.  Regarding our “tomorrows”, he challenged us to do two things: to pray and to trust your leaders.

In regard to prayer, I’m instructed by the three ways Paul prays for the church in Ephesus in Ephesians chapter 1:15-20 (read it for yourself..).

  1. that God would bless the Church with the Spirit of wisdom that we might know Jesus better.
  2. that the Spirit would open the eyes of our heart to know the riches of the hope which Jesus calls us to.
  3. that we would know Christ’s incomparably great power, demonstrated dramatically in his resurrection from the dead and his ascension to be established as supreme ruler and authority over all created things.

In times of apparent uncertainty like these, when surprises come which rock our confidence about tomorrow, let’s pray like Paul teaches us to and trust the leaders that God foreknew would be in this position long before the creation of the world.  As one of those leaders, I’m trusting my incomparably great Leader to shepherd the Church He loves into a time of expectant renewal unlike Blanchard has ever known in its existence.  Together, let’s prayerfully expect great things!

I conclude with another great word from Paul in Philippians 4:6-7:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present our requests to God.  And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will renew your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”

People of Blanchard Alliance Church, Mary Ellen’s right.  God’s up to something!  Pray…full of God’s Spiritwith great hope and power.

I don’t like to think about my enemies because, most of the time, I pretend that I don’t have them.  But if I’m honest, of course I do.  It’s always so much more personally productive and gratifying to subconsciously crucify “those people”–especially my leaders–that I dislike or have hurt me.
Instead, I prefer to believe, in my pride, that I’m one of the most likeable people I know:  a capable leader who’s winsome, articulate and inspiring to follow.  Unfortunately, while I might think these shiny, happy attributes are accurate descriptors of my own character as a leader;  I often grow impatient, judgmental, and downright cantankerous as a follower. As I think about leadership and followership in my own life, I happened across a quote by Henry Longfellow recently that has stuck with me.  He’s quoted as saying, 
“If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life, sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
     This quote serves me like a hot branding iron to what’s left of my right frontal lobe. I feel the need to recognize in myself the fact that some people just don’t (or won’t ever) like me personally or as a leader.  But it’s also a call for serious reflection and understanding to not take my leaders’ mistakes so personally myself–that my leaders are indeed sinful, busted-up humans just like me and Christ calls me to move toward them, love them, forgive them, reconcile with them and forbear with them as a rule of everyday Christ followership, not as a subconscious afterthought.
I’ve often said lately that it’s a miracle of God’s grace that Blanchard Warrenville has survived these past five years. 
As leaders at Blanchard, we’ve given plenty of people the opportunity to be angry with us over the mistakes we’ve made in launching our second campus.  I wasn’t here during those early days, but I can’t help but admire the guts it took to actually act on our faith that way–pretty inspiring, God-honoring stuff.  In some ways, we’ve led well. For instance:
  • We definitely knew that, if Warrenville was to succeed, God would have to empower His people by His Spirit to make it happen. And, without question, we can testify to God’s power at work to sustain us these past five years.
But there’s a more than a few examples of problems that have been more tricky to put up with as “followers”…
  • We didn’t know (or fully understand) how expensive the property we purchased at Warrenville was going to be to develop–particularly the water and drainage issues.
  •  Of course we didn’t anticipate the Great Recession or how challenging and expensive maintaining our Warrenville property would be in that context or our Wheaton campus beginning to show its 20-year age.
  • We didn’t recognize how costly it would be to obligate every parent to serve in childcare over the last five years–while very well-intentioned (and still very effective!–over 80% of our parents regularly volunteer to serve our kids–pretty amazing…)
  • We didn’t realize how challenging it would be to nurture the rich relationship we would continue to share with our Wheaton campus along the way–although it’s been remarkable to watch how John Casey and especially James Grout of late have continued to be a part of the teaching team at Blanchard Warrenville.
  • And, as Campus Pastor, I know I haven’t done a great job of championing Wheaton’s campus life at Warrenville (or vice versa…)
     Frankly, I’m surprised at how forbearing people at Blanchard have really been.  Still, a lot of folks have left us from the original launch.
     But, praise God, most of us are still here.  God’s still “forming a people at Warrenville to glorify him everywhere.”  I wouldn’t say we’re thriving yet–but I do believe we’re on the cusp of some beautiful things to come…
     Right now only 40% of our adults are connected to small groups at Warrenville.  I believe that must at least double in the next year for us to move toward more meaningful and formative discipling relationships.  That requires me championing an intentional strategy for developing and equipping more small group leaders and launching a significant number of new groups this coming fall.
     Despite our readily apparent warts and flaws at Blanchard, a couple who recently attended a family function at another church came back to Warrenville so grateful for the tangible and rich presence of the Holy Spirit alive and speaking to us there during our worship gatherings.  I share their enthusiasm.  I’m also so excited that we continue to make real strides in incorporating our kids into our worship gatherings.
     I love that our church is so full of young families and kids!  Our desire is to include them as often as possible into our worship teams throughout the summer.  It’s critical for all the generations present at our worship services to have a meaningful voice as we listen to God together.
     So, people of God at Blanchard Alliance Church (Wheaton and Warrenville), this is a call for both you and me to trust God as he guides our leaders and all of us in our relationships with one another–we often have much more in common than we give each other credit for.  That’s really no secret at all as common sinners saved by grace. So, in that humbling light, let’s be both Christ-honoring leaders and followers.

This is not an endorsement of dog leashes, dog collars, dog obedience training etc.  But we bought a walking leash for our outrageously enthusiastic dog, Penny.  She loves walks, but, unfortunately, she also loves people and other dogs, too–and just wants to jump on them and smell them as quickly as possible.

Pulling…straining…choking.  Gotta go faster. (repeat ad naseum)

This is what a walk used to look like with Penny–until we got the “Gentle Leader” leash.  It’s very unassuming, really.  It’s not a muzzle–just a strap that goes over her snout just below her eyes that gets snapped up snugly at the crown of the back of her coppery head.  All I can say is that, when we put “The Gentle Leader” on her–it’s like magic!  Instant submission.   Ragged panting and the clatter of excited nails skittering on Pergo get transformed into a quiet, sweet dog sitting there in the living room on her haunches, watching you and patiently waiting for her walk.  Walking Penny suddenly becomes a point of grace in my day–instead of a quick, joint-rattling fifteen minutes on the “random” setting of the treadmill.

So, you might be asking at this point in my latest blog post–what in the world does this have to do with  the church, parenting, recovering from brain cancer–or even Holy Week–some of the more recent topics which occupy my thoughts for Second Campus?

Well, I’ve been doing some experimentation with my preaching of late at Blanchard Warrenville.  Shorter messages (15 minutes…) with a student giving a 1-2 minute summary of God’s Word to them at the end, which then leads to an open discussion with the entire congregation.  After two cracks at it over the last month–at least the experiments haven’t gone awry–they’ve been beautiful and instructive.

But this last Sunday, as I preached on a passage from Luke 20, discussing one of Jesus’ final exchanges with Jewish leaders challenging his authority in the Temple after the triumphal entry. I encouraged my listeners to submit to Jesus’ authority as their rightful King.  It’s really quite remarkable that Jesus spent such a significant amount of time at the temple in Jerusalem preaching the gospel and making repeated attempts to convince the murderous Jewish leaders of his authority as Messiah.  Didn’t he have more important things to do just a few days before his death?

After I finished my message and my nephew succinctly summarized my message, a dear, Spirit-filled woman from my congregation stood and shared her fears about how difficult it is for her to submit to God’s authority, because of her own experiences with abuse of power and authority in her own life–that even the notion of submission to God’s authority is hard to receive because of so many bad examples all around us.  Even though that’s not been my experience, I’m slowly starting to get that submitting to God’s authority is overwhelming and terrifying for some people.  But in reflecting on Jesus’ example–is there any more gentle, humble example of submission than his?  Despite knowing all the gory details about his upcoming death on the cross, he struggled, resisted, strained and objected in the garden in Gethsamane, but, ultimately, submitted to his Father’s will.

I can calmly submit to the authority of  a gentle Leader like that.  Because I do trust that Christ, despite my sin, has nothing but goodwill and love for me.  He proved it by dying for me that Good Friday.  As Paul so beautifully declares in his hymn to Christ from Philippians 2:

In your relationships with each other
Have the same mindset as Christ Jesus,
Who being in very nature God did not consider equality with God
Something to be used to His own advantage
Rather, he made himself nothing
Taking the very nature of a servant
Being found in human likeness
And being found in appearance as a man
He humbled himself
By becoming obedient to death
–even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name
That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth
And every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord
to the glory of God the Father.   (NIV 2011)

There’s no fear in submitting to Jesus’ kind of gentle authority and life.  Have you?