Sunday, May 31, 2015

Fallen from Grace

Fallen from grace...

Everybody knows what that means.

Somewhere, somehow, somebody has blown it big-time; committed some heinous action that brought humiliation on themselves, scorn from others, and generally disqualified themselves in the eyes of everyone (including themselves).

It is often used in reference to Adam & Eve's game-changing bad choices with the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil (Genesis 3). Although the Bible never calls their actions a "fall from grace", that's how people have referred to it for centuries, and as a summary statement, it works.

But it's fascinating to see how the New Testament uses the phrase "fallen from grace". The apostle Paul turns the phrase -- as we tend to use it -- completely on its head, with huge implications for us.
"You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace." (Galatians 5:4, emphasis added)
Normally, you'd assume that Paul would use the phrase "fallen from grace" much as we would: somebody has chosen sin over holiness; they have messed up, somehow broken the rules.

Instead, Paul is telling them (and us) that whenever Christians attempt to achieve greater personal holiness by "keeping the rules" (in this case, the Old Testament law, as some false brothers were advocating at the time), that is what constitutes falling from grace.

We tend to approach things perfectly backwards.
Paul writes: "For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope." (Galatians 5:5)

And yet we keep assuming that if we work harder to clean up our lives, then -- and only then -- can we expect more of the Spirit's presence and activity on our behalf.
"Falling from grace" has nothing to do with us screwing up. It has everything to do with trying to achieve a holy lifestyle (which is not optional, just so it's been said) by our own efforts, and expecting to receive more of God as a reward for our hard work.

Paul puts the theological cart back where it belongs with statements like:

  • How foolish can you be? After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? (Gal. 3:3)
  • So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. (Gal. 5:16)
  • Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. (Gal. 5:25)

We start with the Spirit, always. Not with our own feeble human efforts. We didn't enter the Kingdom through our own efforts, nor will we move forward by our own efforts. It's always been about the Spirit. And it always will be.

Anything else is falling away from grace.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Domino Effect

image source
It's fascinating to stop and look at the dominos falling sometimes. Each one, properly positioned, impacts its immediate neighbor, which in turn impacts the next in the sequence, and so on down the line.

I was privy to something of the sort this past weekend. Short version:
  1. I was invited to play bass at Metro Community's worship service. I love visiting Metro; their work with the street community is legendary locally.
  2. at the Thursday night rehearsal for the musicians, worship leader Jeff asked me to look at the portable system he had borrowed from Willow Park Church for a Saturday wedding and help him set it up correctly.
  3. Friday morning: panicked call from Inn From The Cold, asking if I could arrange a sound system for their annual Push To End Homelessness event's morning kick-off
  4. you guessed it -- I immediately phoned Jeff, who immediately agreed to let me borrow his borrowed system, as long as I had it back in plenty of time for the wedding in the afternoon
  5. Saturday: after doing sound (and some minor emcee'ing) to start the Inn's event, I rushed back to deliver the sound system, and pick up my own bass gear to perform at the celebration BBQ downtown at the end of the Inn's event with Public House Band
Here's the thing: the only reason I had enough time to do both the sound/emcee at the start of the event and get downtown in time to perform was because Jeff loaned me his system.

And I only knew of the system's availability because Jeff needed a wee bit o' help with it. 

And none of this would have happened if I hadn't been invited to play bass at Metro on Sunday.
Domino effect, see? Almost as if God, in His infinite sense of humor and helpfulness, was somehow in the mix...

Sunday: after the worship time ended at Metro, there were a couple of things I noticed that really impacted me:
  1. During his sermon, as the community works through the book of Galatians, Tom made mention of where he gets a lot of his insights into his sermon prep -- pastors citing sources! Huzzah! -- and encouraged the congregation to make use of these online helps for their own study of Scripture.
  2. It was a combo of encouragement to do personal study, and a demonstration of an attitude of humility from a church leader. Tom wasn't trying to impress; he was sharing what he was learning in his own journey.
  3. What was even more meaningful was the attitude in which Tom preached (and everyone else I've ever heard speaking during a service at Metro, for that matter): they never, ever "talk down" to the street community that gathers there. They honor their guests by teaching them as exegetically and creatively as any other church in town would with their own congregations.
  4. This is one of the most powerful "living lessons" that Metro provides for the greater Christian community here: their work is not done "for" the street community, but "among". And the respect they show, even in how they teach the Bible, communicates loud and clear their value for each person attending.
They have their own Domino Effect going. And you just know God is in the mix.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

How To Be In-Authentic

I'll never forget the time a classmate failed our Ethics class for plagiarizing his final term paper.

Yes, you read that correctly: he handed in a plagiarized paper -- 100% word-for-word but with his name on it -- in a course on Ethics.

In recent years, I have been very impressed with some of the younger preachers that I have had the opportunity to hear. There are quite a few gifted communicators in the next generation -- biblically sound, interesting to listen to, and skilled at teaching their congregations. More than a few times, to be perfectly honest, I felt kinda small and stupid as I listened to them.

Then to learn that many (not all, but too many) get their sermons from a "service", pre-prepped and ready to share, and all that they have personally contributed was:
  1. insert a few details to make it specific to their own congregation, and
  2. practice in front of a mirror before Sunday.
As a writer, I cite my sources. When speaking, I do the same. At the very least, it's just good manners and giving honour where honour is due.
To not cite your sources (by preaching a sermon you didn't write but presenting it as if you had) is a form of homiletical plagiarism. You may sound impressive, and gain a reputation as a gifted Bible teacher, but you don't deserve it.
And -- eventually -- the people in your congregation are going to figure it out. Some will rationalize that it's okay because the sermon content was good. Many others -- particularly the younger generations -- will feel like you've been deceiving them (the antithesis of "authenticity"). Don't be surprised if they stop coming to church shortly after (and don't you dare blame them for it).

I don't think I'm alone when I say: I'd far rather hear an awkward sermon from the heart of a sincere speaker than a polished performance from a plagiarist.

Monday, May 4, 2015


Today is the fourth of May: the day that Star Wars nerds worldwide go gonzo-nuts with delight.

And, honestly , Wendy and I must also confess to a certain level of anticipation regarding the December release of The Force Awakens.

Ah, but in the Clan McAlpine, there is another yearly celebration that comes with the 4th of May! For Wendy and I, this year marks our 30th wedding anniversary, which snuck up on us (all the clichés about time flying, it turns out, are actually true) and is also an occasion to stop and reflect on how amazing a journey it's been.

Then (1985)
Now (2015)

We've lived in three different countries, have three wonderful -- now adult -- children (see above comment re: time flying), and our memories are crammed almost to bursting with many adventures and experiences together.

May the 4th be with us, indeed. Time to celebrate!