A Little Respite

May 14, 2015 — 4 Comments

res·pite
a short period of rest or relief from something difficult or unpleasant.

 

“Your brain is broken,” said my neurologist. While concerned, I didn’t despair at his evaluation. In truth, I was somewhat relieved. For more than three months I had been suffering from continual lightheadedness, periodic headaches, and a bit of fatigue here and there. The road to the neurologist had crossed paths with several different medical professionals, but now I felt I had arrived at an answer that both corroborated my condition and the narrative that produced it. The diagnosis was essentially an anxiety-disorder where my brain keeps telling my body to stress even though I am not consciously stressed about anything in particular. It’s frustrating, demoralizing, and flat-out no fun.

It’s something I’ve been completely open about with the guys I lead alongside at CCCC. I’ve no need to hide it. I’m not Superman but a limited creature who struggles with the brokenness of sin. I couldn’t avoid my illness if I wanted to. My condition so debilitated me at times that they would encourage me to go home. Nothing like someone telling you, “Yancey, you look horrible! My goodness, go home and get to bed.” to reaffirm you’ve really got a problem. I appreciated their honesty and concern. It also motivated them to encourage me to take a leave of absence for my mental health.

So, beginning this last Monday on the kind recommendation of our elders, I am taking off 30 days from any and all responsibilities at CCCC (no email, no phone, no preaching, etc.) in the hopes the month-long respite will be catalytic for my continuing mental rehabilitation. Do I like this? Not really. I love what I do. I love who I work with. I love CCCC in general. Do I need this? Probably. Only time will tell. I’ve never taken off 30 days straight. It will likely drive me crazy but, after hearing counsel from friends who’ve suffered from stress-related issues and professionals who deal with them, this seems a prudent step to take. You should know, I find myself in better health than even a month ago. My symptoms, instead of being ever-present in some form or fashion, now come and go with decreasing frequency and intensity. Here’s to hoping (and praying) this little respite will speed up the recovery process.

I’m also going to be taking a respite from social media over the next thirty days. So, if you don’t hear from me, know that I’ll be trying to rest somewhere, thankful for my church, and seeking the grace of Christ in it all.

 

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching,
for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,

that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
– 2 Timothy 3:16-17

It was a moment indelibly imprinted in my memory. I was an undergrad student at Baylor and speaking with one of my religion professors about the exclusivity of salvation in Christ. The professor was kind to entertain the dialogue, and it was a friendly, good-spirited encounter. But what stood out in our conversation was a comment he made. In our discussion I referenced a Pauline passage in support of the idea that God saves people solely through the Person and Work of Christ and asked what he thought about that specific biblical text. He simply responded, “Well Yancey, I hope Paul was wrong.” It wasn’t a debate on whether the text in question was genuinely scriptural of whether I might have misinterpreted the passage, my professor simply believed that the apostle was wrong. I was taken back by his frankness but appreciated his honesty.

As an evangelical Christian, I believe the entire corpus of the Bible is inspired by God. The technical definition is verbal-plenary inspiration. In essence, I believe the original writings of the Scriptures (known as the original manuscripts) contain all the words God wanted for them, and none that he didn’t. In short, it’s all the Word of God. My job as a follower of Jesus is to read it faithfully, interpret it soundly, and apply it sincerely. There is no question in our studying the Bible we will encounter difficult to understand passages (cf., 2 Pt. 3:16) or sections which push against our worldview, yet our call is to know what the Bible says as God’s Word and apply it as such. The option followers of Jesus don’t have is to dismiss any Scripture simply because we disagree with it.

That’s why when I hear professing Christians today offer explanations for their rejection of positions or beliefs God’s people have held for literally millennia from reading their Bibles (e.g. sexuality, gender roles, marriage), I hear the echo of my old professor’s voice belying his trust in the total inspiration of Scripture. But culture is a mean mistress, for in order to be embraced by her, she calls followers of Jesus to separate from biblical authority by either deluding them to conjure fantastical if not bizarre exegetical claims of fairly straightforward passages or, as in the case of my professor, to simply deny their inspiration altogether. Consequently, the Bible is treated like the drunk uncle at the family reunion. You have to keep him around because he’s family, but you’re embarrassed by him every now and then for what he says and does. Thus, you’re always either having to tell your friends “what he really means” or just ignore him altogether.

This exposes not the weakness of Scripture, but the one who, in trying to be embraced by the world, seeks to tweak it, silence it, or apologize for it. In their attempt to “dress up” the drunk uncle of Scripture with new interpretations and understandings that no believer in two millennia would ever conclude, they merely display their embarrassment of the Bible. It says things that now might make us persona non grata in the public square, marginalize us in national conversations, or just keep us from being the cool kids anymore. That’s why if we can’t make certain biblical passages disappear, we invent ways to make them more socially palatable, hoping the culture doesn’t shift any further lest our drunk uncle embarrass us even more.

Others take the route of my old professor. Instead of looking silly trying to convince everyone that the Bible doesn’t say what it clearly says, they advocate biblical authors were simply wrong. Recently Rob Bell, the former pastor and current self-help guru for Oprah, when asked what he thought of the church’s refusal to embrace same-sex marriage, replied, “I think culture is already there [with same-sex marriage] and the Church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense.” 1 The Bible? Listen, the Scriptures are wrong on this. Christians need not look to it as an authority on this issue and follow the culture. At least Bell is honest, the rest give off the idea they’re simply embarrassed.

Neither of these approaches to Scripture cut it. The Bible doesn’t give an easy way out for those who claim to follow Jesus. Passages like 2 Tim. 3:16-17 affirm the totality of the Bible’s inspiration, not to mention Jesus’ own endorsement of Scripture (cf., Mt. 5:18) and its authority. I’m mindful of John 6 where, after Jesus taught some “hard sayings,” verses 66-68 record, “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.'” Wrestling with what God’s Word says is part-and-parcel of following Jesus, but rewriting or rejecting what it says, isn’t.

It’s only embarrassing.

I enjoy Latin American culture. It is complicated, unique, fascinating. Latinos are known as warm, vibrant, and gracious people. As a Texan, where Anglos have ceased to be a majority and three out of every ten Texans speaks Spanish, 1 I feel a greater connection to my Latino friends than maybe those not from the Southwestern United States. Indeed, our “national” food in the Lone Star State is a marriage between cultures: Tex-Mex. I’ve even begun to teach myself Spanish over the last few years. I not only find it a beautiful language but one that better connects me to my Latino friends. So, when I was asked to go to Central America to connect with potential church planters, I jumped at the chance.

Last week I had the privilege of being a part of Plantadores, the first Acts 29 Network Conference held in Spanish-speaking Latin America. The conference was hosted in Guatemala City at Casa de Libertad, an Acts 29 member church led by Pastor Francisco Bendfeldt. He and Jay Bauman, an Acts 29 pastor in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, are co-directors of the fledgling Acts 29 Latin American region. In my two days spent at the conference, I was blown away by what I experienced.

The first thing I noticed was the passion Francisco and his team at Casa de Libertad had for planting gospel-centered churches all throughout Central America. It’s been said that much of Latin America is experiencing a wave of Protestantism unseen in a history dominated by colonial Catholicism. Today, Latin American countries such as Guatemala, Honduras, and others boast of a population that surveys itself as 40 to 50% Christian. But these numbers can be somewhat misleading. The predominant Christian influence is Pentecostalism and, from what one hears, most is of the dangerous prosperity gospel. For example, I was told that 90% of Guatemalans who identify themselves as Christians believe that the ‘health/wealth’ message of the prosperity movement is sound biblical, Christianity. This notion was affirmed in many other conversations with Hondurans, Venezuelans, and other Latin American pastors at the conference. This only served to deepen the resolve of Francisco and his team to develop and commission church planters from Casa in addition to raising the call to Central and South Americans to plant gospel-centered churches.

[L-R] Me, Byron Vaughn, Jay Bauman, Phil Taylor, Francisco Bendfeldt

The vibrancy of Christianity, which had been located in North America for the last few centuries, is now shifting to places like China, Africa, and the countries of Central and South America. This should call us to greater fervency to see gospel-centered works planted in these regions (and others) – even more so when we see the Spirit stir up men young and old who desire to plant churches in these areas. To wait is to allow other works to hamstring new converts through things like prosperity theology, the chains of legalism, or other harmful teachings. To enjoin the Acts 29 church planting movement (among others) is to be a voice for gospel-centrality, the sovereignty of God in salvation, and the multiplication of local churches. And with around 50% of all Hispanic adults in the US being foreign born, 2 helping plant churches in Latin America may be a chance to impact the United States for the gospel in the future.

It is for reasons like these, that my gratitude only deepened for Francisco, Jay, and the other men and women gathered for the purpose of planting gospel-centered congregations from Mexico to Argentina. It’s also why it felt, from an Acts 29 Network point of view, somewhat an historic moment to conclude the conference with an invitation for my fellow Latin American brothers to not only plant churches but to do so with Acts 29. From what I’m seeing and hearing from my Latin America friends, it seems like something really hopeful may be afoot. Oh that the Spirit of God would not only stir up a movement of church planters committed to planting healthy churches but believers in the United States and elsewhere who would be willing to give aid to that cause for the good of Christ’s church and the glory of God.

UPDATE (3/11/15): For a report on this conference from The Gospel Coalition

Notes:

  1. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/01/24/in-2014-latinos-will-surpass-whites-as-largest-racialethnic-group-in-california/
  2. http://www.pewhispanic.org/2014/04/29/hispanic-nativity-shift/