Community and Ministry in the Gospels and Letters of John

This Friday I am teaching at Cranmer Hall‘s “Explore Day,” from 10:30–4:00 (yes, there will be breaks in between, plus lunch!). The idea is to “explore” ministry-related themes in a biblical text (or collection of texts, as it were). Here is my outline for the day. If you are local and interested, email cranmer.admin@durham.ac.uk to register.

Community and Ministry in the Gospels and Letters of John

I. Introduction

“Narrative Ecclesiology”: The Johannine Community & the Johannine Vision of Community

 II. Community

No Christless Church, nor Churchless Christ: The Ecclesial Christology of the Prologue

Corporate “Divinization”? The Fourth Gospel’s Communal Vision of Divine Participation

Born from Above: The Church of a New Humanity

“Characterizing” Johannine Participation: The Man Born Blind, the Beloved Disciple, and Peter

The Ecclesiology of the Shema: One God, One Shepherd, One People

Low Church or High? The Johannine Ecclesial Practices and Leadership Structure

III. Ministry

The Good Shepherd and the Cross: The Johannine Vision of Pastoral Ministry

John the Baptist and Celebrity Preachers: Christological Redirection and Ecclesial Assimilation

“Lord, what about him?” Vocational Envy and Ministerial Competition

Pastoral Hermeneutics and “Writing” as Ministry: John 21:25 and 1 John 5:13

“Paraclete”: The Ministry of the Holy Spirit

Building an Inclusive Community or an Introspective Sect? The Love Commands, Pastoral Ministry, and the Johannine Epistles

Conflict Management: “They went out from us”—A Johannine Vision of Broken Community

 

A Personal Year in Review: Chris’ Highlights

For all of the well-documented or potential problems with our social media-saturated lives, I find it helpful at the end of the year to retrace my timeline (Instagram happens to be my drug of choice) to remember, to figure out my own trends and tendencies, and to reflect on the Lord’s faithfulness and movement, sometimes in imperceptible ways, through the span of twelve months. Out of that reflection I give you my 2014 in review:

  1. Isaiah 61 & the birth of Oak Church

This year has been the year of Isaiah 61’s sprawling vision of renewal and hope for me and my family. Not that we’ve necessarily experienced it every day and in every way, but that we’ve had our imaginations enlivened by it. This time last year, I could not have anticipated the Lord calling my family to go and plant a church. In early spring, through a sovereign tangle of circumstances the Lord orchestrated an opportunity to start another church in an emerging, diverse neighborhood in Durham, NC to which the Gathering Church was courageous and faithful.

Our first Sunday at Oak Church (September 21, 2014).
Our first Sunday at Oak Church (September 21, 2014).

My family and several others from the Gathering Church were commissioned at the end of the summer to form a new worshipping body at an old Baptist church whose congregation dissolved on Easter Sunday 2014. We set out with the start of a vision and a call but without much else, not even a name. Throughout the summer and even now, the Lord has begun to animate our imaginations and ambitions with Isaiah’s words of hope, healing, & hospitality. Our inchoate little congregation hopes to embody and experience all of these things as “oaks of righteousness for the display of His splendor” (Isaiah 61:3).

The first thing we did, even before settling on a name, Oak Church, was to plant a garden, with future hopes of involving and blessing our neighbors.

I can't not think of Sandra McCracken's "Feast and Fallow" every time I pass this garden. It has been a sacramental sign and reminder of what God is doing in Lakewood and our part in it.
I can’t not think of Sandra McCracken’s “Feast and Fallow” every time I pass this garden. It has been a sacramental sign and reminder of what God is doing in Lakewood and our part in it.

Our “kickoff event” in October was a Fall Block Party and Pig Pickin’ which saw more than 300 people from the Lakewood neighborhood join in to pick a whole hog clean (you’ll know what this is if you’re in the American South, not sure this has an European analog).

Fall Block Party & Pig Pickin' in the Lakewood Neighborhood of Durham at Oak Church.
Fall Block Party & Pig Pickin’ in the Lakewood Neighborhood of Durham at Oak Church.

And we collaborated with the Hispanic Pentecostal congregation and Burmese refugee Baptist mission church that meet in our building for a lovely and hilarious Kids Christmas Pageant.

I imagine ANE shepherds being approximately this mischievous.
I imagine ANE shepherds being approximately this mischievous.

As you can imagine an endeavor like this, especially one with such a condensed timeline and intense amount of change, has occupied much of our time, thought, and prayer. It has been simultaneously the most gratifying and daunting task I’ve ever been involved in and has forced me to prayer and reliance on God and the folks the Lord has put around me more than I could have anticipated. It has reminded me that God really does make things new, and that faith amidst that sort of transfiguration requires patience, obedience, and the willingness to be surprised.

  1. A year of great music

I was especially thrilled and privileged to get to see a couple of great shows at my favorite venue, Haw River Ballroom, a reclaimed mill just outside of town. Early in the year, a friend invited me to Jason Isbell and Holly Williams, both put our great records in 2013, but were actually able to deliver their songs live with more craftsmanship and personality than their great recordings. Later in the year Rach surprised me for my birthday with a rare midweek show to see the Lone Bellow. If you’ve never seen or heard them, make it a priority. I can only describe their stage presence as joyful. We stood close enough to see all of the small, almost undetectable little smiles, knowing nods, and slight gestures that come from a trio that knows each other, loves each other, and can flat-our sing together, and in so doing, draw a crowd into their joy.

The Lone Bellow at Haw River Ballroom in November.
The Lone Bellow at Haw River Ballroom in November.

I’ll hesitantly divide my favorite music releases into two categories. My hesitation comes lest I reinforce a sacred/secular divide I’m not too keen to endorse. My first category would be listening music and my second would be music for the Church. They are not mutually exclusive, and their content doesn’t necessarily fit tidily in Saturday night/Sunday morning hermetically sealed containers. Because life just never does.

Some of my favorite Listening Music this year comes from Durham’s Hiss Golden Messenger (think Van Morrison meets Tom Petty), Damien Jurado (I’ll admit it’s kinda cult-y, but I think that was the 70’s Jesus People-fueled intent), Ryan Adams (I’m so glad he seems to have gotten an editor in his life, maybe Mandy Moore?), Beck (gorgeous, wall of sound type stuff. For all the different ways Beck has sounded over the years, I’m not sure he’s ever made a bad album), Blake Mills (so underrated, some of my favorite tones on any record for the last several years. Soulful and innovative, but not too weird.), Floating Action (Groovy, as always. Perhaps Seth Kauffman’s most accessible album to date), Ray Lamontagne (A definite new direction, I think for the better. You can hear the help from Dan Auerbach, Richard Swift, and FA’s Seth Kauffman).

Here is a Spotify playlist of some samples of these tunes:

2014 was also a really good year for lower profile (meaning not the million-selling, CCM variety) Music for the Church. I’ve come to greatly admire what Door of Hope church in Portland, OR (check out a conversation I had last year with Evan Way) is doing using some great indigenous talent and being unbelievably generous with what they produce. This year they released two of perhaps their finest releases in Liz Vice’s There’s A Light, and Evan Thomas Way’s Only Light.

Rain for Roots, a Nashville-based mom-folk collective, also released their second volume of children’s songs called the Kingdom of Heaven is Like This, an edifying and non-insulting singsong take on some of the gospel parables about the coming Kingdom. Sandra McCracken and Co. have managed to achieve the remarkable feat of writing imaginative, simple (not in a pejorative way, ask any songwriter about trying to write simple songs), kingdom-oriented, and abundantly scriptural tunes for parents and kids. I can’t stress how much I love these, not least because of how much I normally dislike some of Sunday School songs.

  1. A minor subplot of 2014 was Donuts vs. Scones.

Judging exclusively from my Instagram feed, some have wondered whether our kids subsist exclusively on donuts. The answer: disproportionately, but not exclusively. With a developing donut culture like Durham has, it’s difficult not to celebrate life’s greatest joys, like birthdays, out of town guests, or…Tuesdays, with sprinkles. I’ve also taken up scone-baking for our Wednesday morning Common Prayer group. This quest for the perfect buttery coffee companion is the labora to my ora. The kids seem to prefer donuts.

Titus "enjoying" his First Birthday donut.
Titus “enjoying” his First Birthday donut.
Noa in her natural element.
Noa in her natural element.
One of my better batches.
One of my better batches.
  1. Getting to know these little strangers that I call my kids
The timing of this post will either be prophetic or unfortunate. Either way, our Seminoles did not lose in 2014.
The timing of this post will either be prophetic or unfortunate. Either way, our Seminoles did not lose in 2014.

It’s been strange and satisfying to realize that perhaps the most prevalent and challenging call to love my neighbor as myself in 2014 happened within the perimeter of my own home. These little neighbors, as they grow and learn and develop are largely strangers even to themselves. This year has been the year that I’ve gotten to see Noa, our 3 year old, become the extroverted, outgoing little pink-loving, gibberish-song-singing girl she is.

A lot of bonding happens at the emergency room.
A lot of bonding happens at the emergency room.

This year has also being the year for my 1 year old son, Titus, and I to become friends. I’m incredibly thankful to the Lord for the ways that we’ve grown together over the course of these 12 months. I don’t know that I ever would have anticipated the challenge of connecting and caring for someone you unequivocally love, but have to work for intimacy and ease. Perhaps another post at another time will allow me to process what this was like more fully, all I know is that I’ve closed the year feeling like I have two little friends who I know better, love more, and who teach me more than I knew about all sorts of things before this year started.

Got a chance to meet Tom Wright this fall while he was in Durham and Chapel Hill for a Veritas Forum. (Also pictured, my mentor, Mark Acuff.)
Got a chance to meet Tom Wright this fall while he was in Durham and Chapel Hill for a Veritas Forum. (Also pictured, my mentor, Mark Acuff.)
  1. Reading forwards and backwards

The second part of this year saw a pretty significant decline in my ability to sit down and read, with most of my reading devoted to focused sermon-writing. That said, I was blessed to read several great books, that I’d highly recommend: Jesus and the Victory of God by N.T. Wright (starting Volume three on Monday!), Slow Church by Chris Smith & John Pattison, Bible and Mission by Richard Bauckham, When the Kings Come Marching In by Richard Mouw, God’s Forever Family by Larry Eskridge, The World is Not Ours to Save by Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, Liturgy as a Way of Life by Bruce Ellis Benson & Reading Backwards by Richard B. Hays. I look forward to Makoto Fujimura’s Culture Care, which I haven’t read, but just came in the mail the other day.

I wish this existed and had been assigned in my undergrad Gospels class.
I wish this existed and had been assigned in my undergrad Gospels class.
  1. The Year of the Bull(pin)

Finally, the Lord gave me the great privilege of partnering (a little) and spectating (a lot) on my wife’s little kids’ apparel business. It’s been incredibly gratifying to see Rach get an idea, teach herself a craft, hone that craft, and then come up with strategies and goals to execute and meet. Her little Etsy shop, Bullpin Apparel, came about after seeing how most kids clothes and baby apparel we were being given or buying for our kidswas poorly made, generic, overly merchandized and strangely/extremely gendered (Little Princess in pink/Little Slugger in blue, etc).

Bullpin Apparel borrows its slogan from Mother Teresa: “Small Things with Great Love.”
Bullpin Apparel borrows its slogan from Mother Teresa: “Small Things with Great Love.”

Rach started screen-printing on some of the best onesies and tees tied to the city that we love (the Bull City), as an expression of care and attention, wit and creativity. I’ve been awed at how generative this little enterprise has been for her, for us, and for others. I’ve loved seeing her love of others come out in the way she creates and meticulously fulfills orders by hand (including one custom order that she received from a mom-in-labor for their kid to come home in). I’ve been inspired by how generous she’s been, including donating a portion of every sale to our friends who are starting a local hospitality home for young men. And all of this not even in the past year, but since June!

At the Rock and Shop popup market at Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh in September.
At the Rock and Shop popup market at Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh in September.

A Personal Year in Review: Andy’s Highlights

2014-11-29 11.48.53
From the Langdale Pikes, b/w Pavey’s Ark and Harrison Stickle

 

2014 has been a monumental year. It was one of the most trying years of my life, and there were a number of low points (like the passing away of my dearly loved Grandmother, who would have been 97 today).

But the year has also been full of wonders and joys. Here is a list…

Completing the PhD. I began entertaining an academic vocation in the year 2000. It was my final year in the MDiv program at Beeson Divinity School. A handful of close friends were contemplating the same path with greater seriousness. I lacked strong enough conviction that I was on the right track to begin applying to doctoral programs. The road that eventually led to a finished PhD over the span of the past 14 years has been crooked, notched, forked, potholed, at times closed down, and often riddled with detours. Even after finally beginning a full-time PhD program in Durham, England, I came close to pulling the plug. The costs were so great; the circumstantial stress too overpowering. Cutting my losses and heading Stateside often seemed the best course. My wife nobly urged me on.

And I finished. The viva went as well as any viva could go. I graduate next week.

A celebratory flat white at Flat White Coffee after submitting my thesis (with the "receipt" issued by the academic affairs office)
A celebratory flat white at Flat White Coffee after submitting my thesis (with the “receipt” issued by the academic affairs office)

 

Beginning an Academic Post. Each year the Society of Biblical Literature issues a jobs report. It is sobering reading material for those already wondering if they should cut their losses and flee PhD programs in biblical studies. As church participation wanes and the economy constricts, academic institutions are disinclined to keep offering full-time posts to people who have spent the past 3–5 years studying covenantal nomism in Deutero-Pauline letters or early Jewish apocalyptic literature.

So a job offer is an enormous blessing. And since the post is in Durham, the Byers family did not have to endure another sudden move. My job title is a mouthful—I work at Cranmer Hall at St John’s College, Durham University as Free Church Tutor and Teaching Fellow. My task is to develop and administer a new ministerial training program for prospective church leaders in the North East of England.

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The view from my office window—St Mary’s the Less, the chapel for St John’s College

 

The UK Release of TheoMedia. I was pleasantly surprised and to receive news from The Lutterworth Press that they wanted to publish a UK version of my latest book. (The only difference between this newer version of TheoMedia and the US original is an index). I am hoping to plan a book release party soon.

theomed

 

 

Multiple Adventures in Europe and the Lake District. The completion of the PhD and the job offer were events that together signaled the end of what may have been the most anxious and intensely challenging season of my life. It is tremendously satisfying to report the two events above because for most of the year they seemed to be impossibilities. A PhD thesis never feels finished. An academic job hunt in the current climate seems so futile. The futility and unending nature of these stressful enterprises darkened every week of 2014 until some relief began to emerge in August.

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Light pouring into a church in Rome (Chiesa del Gesu)

But punctuating this season—a culmination of so many long years of such hard work—were some travel opportunities I still struggle to believe actually happened. Miranda and I went to Florence and Rome for a quick getaway to celebrate our anniversary. There was a jaunt to York and the Lake District with Dave and Dacia Nelson, a wonderful visit to the States for a family wedding, plus a quick journey with my oldest son to Nottingham and Sherwood Forest. Over the summer we took a road trip through England and France, the likes of which could almost rival the imagination of the National Lampoon screenwriters.

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View from the porch of a cabin we were allowed to stay in while visiting the French Alps

 

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Playing around in Sherwood with my oldest son

 

The most meaningful getaway, however, was a week long stay in the Lake District. I had just submitted my doctoral thesis and received word that we had found renters for our house in the States. Miranda gave me a couple of days free for hiking before she brought the kids over to join me. That was the most cathartic, freeing week I can remember since finishing the ThM at Duke seven years ago. A chunk of heart will always be lodged somewhere between the Langdale Pikes and the River Brathay.

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from Pike o’Stickle

 

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From the Cumbria Way along the River Brathay

 

Happy New Year, readers and friends…

The Sweep of Biblical Theology in One Swoop (or at least one awesome piece of art)

Crayon and pencil by Sr. Grace Remington, OCSO Copyright 2005, Sisters of the Mississippi Abbey
Crayon and pencil by Sr. Grace Remington, OCSO
Copyright 2005, Sisters of the Mississippi Abbey

 

O Eve!

My mother, my daughter, life-giving Eve,

Do not be ashamed, do not grieve.

The former things have passed away,

Our God has brought us to a New Day.

See, I am with Child,

Through whom all will be reconciled.

O Eve! My sister, my friend,

We will rejoice together

Forever

Life without end.
— Sr. Columba Guare copyright© 2005 Sisters of the Mississippi Abbey

I’ve been completely mesmerized by this illustration since I saw it a few days ago. I’m tempted to write much, but the picture and the poem really say it all. Just three things:
1) I first saw this through our friend Wesley Hill. I gain access to so much great content from Wes.
2) I attempted to preach a sermon a few weeks ago that this drawing accomplishes in image form.
3) I feel that St. Irenaeus would have loved this.
Happy/Merry Christmas!

Reading Fiction on Christmas Eve’s Eve

Lands of Enchantment, by Norman Rockwell

 

My wife is wrapping Christmas presents for the kids while I sit on the sofa nursing a pulled muscle in my back. We are listening to Chuck Hooten’s latest album. A new puppy is interrupting the gift-wrapping enterprise. I watch helplessly.

My temporary immobility has afforded the opportunity to read fiction.

Reading fiction is a sabbatical exercise for me. I used to only read highfalutin fiction—you know, like Dostoyevsky and Dickens. I read some Thomas Hardy over the summer, finding myself lost in the pastoral countryside of Wessex. I love these classics. But Alan Jacobs’ The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction is helping me get over the need to only read “the greats.”

So is my need for non-productivity.

The novel on the sofa next to me is unlikely to enrich my life. And I will never cite this novel in a blog, in a paper, or in a book. It is a “sabbatical exercise” because no productivity is attached to the turning of those pages.

I need to read something without my trusty .38 black uni-ball gel pen in my hand.

I need books that do not beckon my careful practices of annotation.

Over the past 3 years I’ve read thousands of pages. I’ve written two books clocking in at 170,000 words. I have preached and lectured my heart out. These are facts.

Facts that require some fiction.

Tolle lege.

 

An Advent Thought: A Royal Nobody

(Note: I’m (Joel) contributing to a daily Advent devotional. Each post proceeds from a lectionary reading.)

John 7:40-44

When they heard these words, some of the people said, “This really is the Prophet.” Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” So there was a division among the people over him.

Jesus was a confusing figure. If he really was the “Prophet” (an end-times figure that 1st Century Jews were looking for as a sign that God’s day of final salvation had emerged) or the “Christ” (a king-like anointed leader; again a symbol that final salvation had commenced) THEN WHY WAS HE FROM GALILEE?

Galilee was backwoods. Galileans were a peasant people. Thoughts like this emerge:

“Nothing wrong with Galilee, but the Christ would have to come from somewhere else.”

“If he is from Galilee, he can’t be him.”

Instead, you see, the Christ would be of royal lineage! From the ancient city of David! From David’s line!

John is writing with great irony here, and intentionally so. Jesus had been born in Bethlehem, but he grew up and lived his adult life in Galilee. While John’s reader knows this, the characters in the narrative do not. John loves this dramatic irony.

In this exchange, however, is the great hope of the Advent season. Further, it’s the hope of the gospel, in miniature.

Jesus is indeed royal. He is the king of kings, for crying out loud. The God of all creation, in him all things hold together.

But at his coming, we have a king on the scene that made himself nothing. He’s in human skin. To draw near. To be God with us. To come for and to identify with the nobodies, the insignificant ones, and the ones who don’t have it all together.

More irony? Heck, when this royal son of David went to the royal city of David for the occasion of his birth, forget a birthing suite. His parents can’t even find a cheap hotel room.

It’s that exact combination — his kingliness and his lowliness — that constitutes all our hope.

A Royal Nobody.

All for us.

One Year, Drew & Ordinary Faithfulness

(Note: A year ago this past weekend (12/14 to be exact), my family commemorated the life of my brother-in-law, Drew, in a memorial service. To say his tragic loss has framed the last year for us is an understatement. We’ve learned much about grief, good news, pain, hope, joy and courage. Below are the thoughts I had the honor to offer at his memorial. It’s an ode to Drew, and the “ordinary,” yet sacred, faithfulness he lived. All possible because of Jesus. Themes of Hopeful Realism pervade.)

Romans 14:8

“For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.”

My name is Joel Busby. It is the great honor of my life to be married to Mandy, Mick and Sue’s oldest, and I’m here to offer a few words on behalf of the family. First, let me just say a sincere thanks to you all for the ways you have loved us, supported us, prayed for us, comforted us in the last week. God gives us the gift of his presence through his people and we have felt that in concrete ways. And, we will need it to continue.

We wanted this service to tell a story, first, you heard about Drew, the fun person, then about Drew, the friend. Well, because I represent the family – Mick, Sue, Mandy, Ashley, Abby, Anna and Abby Clark, I could tell you stories that could top all of it. Because we were privileged to know him longest and best, we could say even more. Simply put, Drew Vigneulle was a wonderful person. He loved his family dearly and we loved him too. This family was crazy about our son, our brother, and best friend.

I’m hear to tell you about Drew, the faithful guy, the faithful to the end young man, AND THEN to turn our attention to exactly who it is that made Drew all these things.

Last Saturday afternoon, Andrew Michael Vigneulle, son, brother, brother-in-law (last time I’ll use that term, we dropped the “in-law” part in this family awhile ago), cousin, grandson, nephew, friend, best friend, mentor, co-worker, acquaintance passed from this life into the very presence of Christ.

I say it this way intentionally and carefully as a very loaded summary statement of his life. Through the pain and sorrow and heartache, there is a basic truth that cannot be missed.

Drew’s story is ultimately a story of great success, great faithfulness, great triumph in the things that matter most.

See, as Christians, we believe that God is good to gift us with a certain amount of days. The number of those days, the when and why and how those days will come to a close….see all of that is not our concern. That is God’s business….not for us to worry about. Ultimately we know that he doesn’t forsake or fail his people, and we believe he is wiser than we are.

But with the days that we’ve been given, the call is actually very simple, not easy, but simple. We are supposed to do our best to love God with everything we are, and to love those around us with a selfless love.

And my brother, Drew, did that. Our family has heard over and over and over from you this week, that our precious Drew did that. So, so, well. For me to be able to say that so definitively…Isn’t that such a gift he gave us? We’ve heard stories of acts of kindness and generosity he showed to people, secretly. Things that we never knew and we never knew them because Drew, more than most people I’ve ever met, and unlike many of us, wasn’t too concerned with himself.

Drew was obviously a phenomenal talent. But, when I think of Drew, I’ll always think of a very simple, genuine, honest, authentic faith, and real and true desire to love the people around him….to be a gracious presence wherever he might go. You all know this, but we’ve never known anyone who was quite like him. We experienced that in our family intimately and personally, his absolute humble, kind gracious presence in our lives, you all experienced that too in school, in your homes, on trips, at camp, at Starbucks, etc. etc…

The last conversation I had with Drew, we talked about these very things. Because I’m a minister, he and I would talk along these lines often, about the ultimate things. That day, at my house, he spoke of his desire to be faithful in the places where God had placed him, the circumstances God had given him, a plain and simple and ordinary kind of faithful.

Here’s the deal: Very few of us, will get to do something outwardly grand, heroic, triumphant, for God….And the older I get and the more life I experience, I’m coming to believe “epic” and “grand” things may be a little overrated anyway….

Instead, our lives will mostly be made of tiny, ordinary, seemingly insignificant moments, each an opportunity to be faithful, to love and serve our great God and and to extend his love to others. An author Drew and I liked a lot called this kind of life a “long obedience in the same direction.” A one day at a time, ordinary kind of faithfulness.

And, here’s the irony, when a life is compiled that has been built on these moments, when it is remembered on a day like today, my gosh is it not something to celebrate?

It is good and sacred and beautiful and inspiring…… and actually far far from “ordinary.”

There are lot of talented people, and Drew was one of them, but there are not many faithful people. And when you meet a faithful person, you have encountered something very very rare.

With what Drew was given – talents, abilities, circumstances, even the challenges, the places he found himself – he did his best (of course not perfectly) and he succeeded, at being faithful to the end.

And here’s the thing: when a Christian does this, serves God faithfully with the days he’s been given – though difficult – it’s a dignified, honorable, noble, appropriate, even good, and an okay thing for them to pass from this life into the very presence of Jesus.

In other words, our Drew did exactly what he was supposed to do with this precious life he was given. And it’s the exact thing we are supposed to do with ours, too. Oh that the same could be said about us….What we are saying and celebrating today, at the end of the day, is the story that we all hope our lives will tell, too, right?

(And one thing I want to say to Mick, Sue, my Mandy, Ashley, Abby, Anna and Abby Clark: You did with Drew’s life exactly what you were supposed to do too. Hear that. You loved him. Supported him. Cared for him. Encouraged him. Championed him. He knew you loved him. You were faithful to the end also with Drew. Be encouraged. You were faithful.)

HERE IS OUR QUESTION:

What made Drew this way? What would make a 25 year old young man this way? I’m about to try something daring and impossible. I’m about to try to explain Drew Vigneulle. I’m going to try to put this wonderful man in context….

Here’s our definite answer: Drew lived this way because the grace and mercy and love of Jesus.

See, Drew believed that his life and his story, was actually caught up in a much grander and bigger story. Drew and I loved to talk about this bigger story. And he would want you to hear this story in a fresh way this afternoon. Celebrating Drew is really about celebrating Jesus. Because all these things we’re saying about him, his life in general, was a sign that point us to Jesus.

And, we all always needed to be reminded of this. It happens to be the best news I know and it just so happens to be all our hope. We need this news today, now more than ever. Humor me, while I tell you this story.

Christians believe that a good God created a good world. And through a crazy sequence of events, the world has become marred and broken. This is true on a cosmic scale, we taste death and evil and disasters and tragedy. Just a few minutes glancing at the news will show you what I mean. But it is also true on a personal level. We are victims of this brokenness, but we are also participants. We feel it in our own hearts, our selfish attitudes, in desire to live in a way that says “forget you God”, our propensity to screw things up and make a mess and hurt people, not to mention our fears and insecurities and flaws and imperfection. We are in bad shape, we’ve lost our way, we are in great need. Our world, and ourselves, are broken almost beyond repair. The key word there is almost.

See, we believe, that because God loves sinful broken things and people, he made a move to begin to redeem, renew and rescue. This rescue plan, picked up steam when God himself, unexpectedly, mysteriously, took on skin, became human, entered into our story, showed up on the scene, entered into our mess. (It’s the very thing we celebrate at Christmas.)

And Jesus lived for us, obediently and faithfully, and in his very person and work, he brought redemption and salvation and his rule and reign into our world.

This work comes to a height when, again, mysteriously, he gave his life on a cross. In the greatest expression of love and grace and mercy, he took on evil, and suffering, and tasted death for you and me. At this cross, forgiveness of sin, redemption and rescue were all accomplished. Because of his work we can be right with God, we can be reunited with him. We can be truly free.

And Jesus was raised from the dead, a sign of at least three things:

1) He had defeated sin and evil and death. Obviously, death hasn’t disappeared yet but it has literally been disarmed. It’s ultimate sting is gone. A death can now strangely and mysteriously be celebrated as a crossing of a finish line, as a “gain,” simply “falling asleep.” Something so dreaded is now just a nap. Our son and brother Drew, because of the work of Jesus is now safe and home and more alive than he’s ever been in the actual presence of this Jesus.

2) That God does some of his best work in the darkest situations. Our family hopes in that today.

3) And Jesus’ resurrection was a sign that he is creating something new and fresh and exciting in the world, despite how things sometimes appear. That our God is at work to repair and redeem, to work good, and to extend his rule and reign to all nations. We believe this Jesus will return again to finish this saving work fully and finally, and to create a New Heavens and a New Earth, where sin and death will actually be no more. We obviously are not there yet. We long for his coming, some days more than others.

When people trust this God, cling to him and embrace his grace and mercy, he makes them new and alive. And while we await his return, these Jesus-followers are then sent out as agents, to extend his rule, to extend his love, to proclaim this amazingly good news with words and deeds and to extend his grace in whatever places they find themselves, to work alongside their God in his work to repair and redeem….To shine light into the darkness in plain and simple ways.

That is what my brother Drew was doing.

That was what he was living. Because he had been loved so generously and freely, he was safe and secure and could freely pour that out grace all around him. He believed that this story applied to him personally.

Make sense now?

He was simply playing his role in a bigger story. The good news of Jesus was the behind the scenes story that informed and shaped his life. And it can shape yours, too.