Hope at Living Hope

I have never had such an amazing weekend as this last weekend when I preached at Living Hope Community Church in Vancouver, WA. John Bishop, the founding senior pastor, and Duane Warren, are both Western alums and great friends. I’ve taught the staff and pastors in training many times over the years, but this is the first time I’ve preached there. John had just returned from a three week preaching tour in Australia that climaxed at the Hillsong United. Living Hope is quite large, around 5,000, as it comes to its 12th anniversary. They are on several campuses and run six services in their main Brush Prairie campus. So I did two sermons Saturday and three (9, 11, and 1) on Sunday. I preached on the sacrifice of Isaac from Genesis 22, with John closing the service.

The sermon came after we sang "This is our God," a great song John heard in Australia. You can hear it here. The story of the woman who sings in this video has a testimony that is overwhelmingly powerful. You can hear it here and enjoy "Desert Song" as well. When I finished, I had the worship team come back and sing it again with new meaning. John’s invitation was in the middle of the song. The Spirit made the song and the words incredibly powerful.

In the Saturday service, there were dozens of people on their knees at the stage, doing business with Jesus. On Sunday many more also responded to the call to deal with spiritual issues. The atmosphere was electric. In the second Sunday service, John spontaneously led people in a salvation prayer, and then asked for those who had prayed that prayer to raise their hands so he could pray for them. Imagine my astonishment when 52 people responded. He did it again in the final service and another 42 people raised their hands. I could hardly believe it. You can hear the the center of the service here or the whole service on the Internet campus.

There is an evangelistic anointing on the church that’s unique in the Portland metro area. How many churches would have 100 seekers in their services, I wonder. And the working of the Spirit to make the gospel that real is astounding. Many area churches benefit as they get involved in discipling the new believers. Living Hope cannot possibly disciple that many converts.

The last couple of weeks have had more than its share of crisis things. There’s a new born in the NICU at Emanuel with a backward plumbed heart, a hole in her diaphragm among other things. Her parents are from way north in Alaska, not believers, but met a guy from Grace whose daughter had similar problems. I ended up joining him and the father around the baby in the NICU. As my emotions were hit by memory of Elizabeth struggling for life in Children’s Mercy less than a year earlier, we talked as her father stroked his desperately ill tiny girl. Then we joined hands and I prayed for her healing. Her parents went back to their village and will return before the heart repair surgery on Nov. 11. Please pray with me that she will survive until then and that the surgery will work. I want her parents, who have seen the power of the LORD in community, to take a beautiful little daughter home with them.

I prayed today with a friend who had a afflicting presence related to a severe trauma in her life. As I began to pray, the LORD worked, not only overcoming the presence, but doing some deep healing as well. There was a kinship of spirit around His work that left us in silent awe before the joy broke out.

The awesome power of our LORD is astounding. That makes it all the harder when things don’t work as they should. I wait on the LORD, but often in expectant agony or in hopeful sadness. It a place where knowing the support of a friend is so important. It’s a place where the Spirit lives.


ECD summary

Jeremy posted a comment that is both thought provoking and close to a theme of atonement discussion among Evangelicals:

The section about the wrath of God is interesting to me. I guess I’ve always just assumed Christ was crushed under God’s wrath not differentiating between God pouring out His wrath/punishing His son and His son being a suitable sacrifice. I think the key word here is “appeasing”.

How do you respond to the idea that God’s wrath was poured out onto His son and is demonstrated by Christ’s ……I’ll use the word….stress…over going to the cross? Did it come up in your conversation? There’s the “let this cup pass from me” verse and of course the agony demonstrated by sweating drops of blood. I’ve heard it argued that countless martyrs have gone on to brutal deaths, more brutal than Christ’s even, and yet were joyful even to the point of singing hymns. It’s then deduced that Christ wouldn’t be agonizing over losing his life at the hands of man but rather the facing of the wrath of God. Is there anything to this?

There’s no doubt that the Cross was stressful for Jesus, to say the least! God’s response to sin is a holy just wrath. The Scripture is quite clear and it also makes sense that a compassionate, loving God would be angry at the evil done in His creation and to His creatures. The legal versions of the penal substitution view of atonement is that main reason for the wrath is the just response to broken law. It’s not an "emotional" but a "rational" wrath, There is a penalty arising from broken law. There has to be punishment for the broken law and the penalty must be paid to satisfy the just demands of the law. God could pour out His wrath on sinners, but in His love, He poured it out on a substitute, the God-man, Jesus. So the cup Jesus refers to in the Garden is the cup of God’s wrath which He must drink.

This is a tight logic to this. But the thing I look for is not tight logic, but is it biblical? I’m not against logic in any way, but realize that logic is only as good as the premises. In this case the key premise is whether God must pour out wrath of it if can be satisfied in some other way. Must God always punish someone or can His just wrath be satisfied by a sacrifice? If you start with Noah at the end of Genesis 8 you find a bunch of instances where a sacrifice is made and "The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma." In Ephesians 5:2 this theme comes clear when it says, "Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." This same sacrifice theme is all over the NT: For example, Hebrews 10:12 says, when Jesus "offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God." John says He is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world," The reality of a blood offering given to satisfy the righteous wrath and just penalty of sin is very clear in Bible.

But what I don’t find anywhere is that the Father pours out His wrath on a sacrifice. He does pour it out on evildoers who refuse forgiveness in Jesus. John 3:36 intrigues me be because it’s from the "gospel of love" as some put it. But no where in Bible does it say that God punishes the OT sacrifice or that He punishes Jesus. What He does is accept the death of the substitute as a propitiation, appeasing His righteousness.

I’m interested in your responses.

The ECD discussion got very careful in our review of the draft. The key was to affirm as much as all the participants would give Credo to. I was amazed at both the breadth and depth of agreement on what was said. We left it in a quasi-confessional form because that has a familiar feel to it. Here’s the final version of statement:

By our common faith in Jesus Christ we acknowledge and hold as essential to the gospel these life-giving truths:

The Cross is central to the saving mystery of God’s plan for the ages to make all things new in Christ. Therefore it cannot be separated or isolated from the birth of Emanuel, His life and ministry, His passion and death, His resurrection to life, His exaltation to the right hand of the Father, His sending of the Holy Spirit, or His return in glory as judge. In Christ God renews fallen humanity and liberates creation from its ancient curse, the bondage to corruption.

The atonement, the passion and death of Christ, is a Trinitarian event. The Cross is a vicarious sacrifice, a satisfaction, wherein the incarnate God is our substitute, in which the justice and mercy of God are revealed, out of which comes our justification and salvation. Christ is the priest, the sacrificial victim – Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us – and, as God, the one to whom sacrifice is made. Christ’s death on the Cross is the propitiatory sacrifice that satisfies the wrath of God against sin and the expiatory sacrifice that cleanses guilt and shame. It is also Christ’s perfect spiritual worship of the Father, the source and example of Christian discipleship. The Father sent His Son into the world, so that the Son in obedience to the Father, through the eternal Spirit, offered Himself in the shame of the Cross as a ransom for many. In the Cross He disarmed and triumphed over the evil powers. In His death and resurrection, He overcomes death. In His obedience, He conquers disobedience.


Things are not always as they seem

I spent last weekend in Missouri visiting Elizabeth who is almost 11 months old now. Oh, yeah, we saw Donn, Susan too! But this quad miracle baby was the center of attention. She took some first steps while we were there as I had the video camera on her. Of course you’ll want to see them.

P7160014I also drove down to Spring Branch Church of the Brethren, near what used to be Avery Missouri to do my Uncle Richard Poulicek’s memorial service. I grew up there and as I drove, I knew it would be my last time to go there for a long time if ever. So I was quite nostalgic in the early morning mists. I drove through Peculiar and headed toward Tightwad and Racket. I came round a bend and saw a marvelous sun rising to call me. It was just exquisitely beautiful. I stopped to marvel and take pictures before driving on. When I left Tightwad, I entered into the rolling hills, hardwood forests, and rocky crags of the Ozarks. It’s so familiar, touching deep in my heart.

P7160025 As I took the shortcut on the lake road toward Whitacerville, going down the steep hill, I saw another bucolic scene that gripped me. In the nook was a large pond, almost a small lake  with mists all round and geese settled quietly on the water. I drove by since the road was too narrow to stop safely on with visibility so limited by the hills. But I had to come back and take three or four pictures from different perspectives. I turned around and took a couple more . It was so incredibly peaceful.

But as I took the last picture, something moved. Then there were two loud pops. Hunters sprung out of the blind and fired at birds flying overhead. Double click on the picture above (the last one I took) so you can see it large, and you’ll see the shotgun coming up. It was a graphic reminder that things can be so very different than they seem. The bucolic peace was actually frought with danger. And it was too late to do anything about it.

The memorial service was a small group gathered round the grave. We talked for an hour and then I put on my coat and tie to become Rev. Breshears and lead the service. As we began, a group of 5 or 6 white pelicans flew quietly over head. We looked and in the distance was another flight of 50 or 75 of the giant birds. As we proceeded, the flight moved toward us. As I read the final Scripture and prayed, they circled over us several times before continuing their divinely beautiful journey. It was God’s way of placing the beauty of forgiveness on a live that had much sin in it. But Richard did turn to Jesus later in life and did his best to live a repentant life of faithfulness to his wife and LORD. As I drove by the places I lived as a boy, I gloried in the beauty of Jesus and healing, praying it for places where rifts are still real.

We took Elizabeth for her first outing away from Mom. Susan was glad but nervous as Sherry and I drove away with her child, her only child, her beloved child. Donn and I saw a marvelous football game and we celebrated family at Jack’s Stack.

Cyndee and I will go to Phoenix this weekend to connect with her sister. A very long story of miraculous proportion there. And it will be a very good Poppa daughter time as she and I spend the weekend at the Grand Canyon. I’m so sorry. I thought you were off the list. This has been a lot of family time. David, Sam, Nicole and Joy came here Monday and Tuesday for the first celebration of Nicole’s eighth birthday. Very fun to have family.

Things are not always as they seem. Sometimes they are dangerous, sometimes way better.