Listening In: Glenn Packiam

WARREN SMITH, HOST: Glenn Packiam, welcome to the program. It’s really an honor to be here with you at New Life Church here in Colorado Springs. I’ve known about you, known about this church for a long, long time. But to be here face-to-face with you is really fun. 

GLENN PACKIAM, GUEST: Thank you, Warren. Great to be on with you today.

SMITH: There’s so many things I want to talk to you about. I mean there’s New Life Church which has a unique place in evangelicalism. There’s what you are doing at New Life Downtown, and we’ll get to all of that, but I want to start with your new book. Blessed, Broken, Given: How Your Story Becomes Sacred in the Hands of Jesus. Blessed, broken, given. Wait a minute, that sounds like the Eucharist, right? Jesus blessed the bread. He broke the bread. He gave the bread to his disciples. Right? And that’s very intentional metaphor in this book, right? 

PACKIAM: It’s absolutely intentional because bread is the most common sort of food staple item that we can think of. And very often we tend to imagine that our lives as Christians, they’re just common. It’s just ordinary. And maybe there are these superstar Christians or these celebrity pastors or whatever. But not me. Not our life, not our stuff. We’re just bread. But when you look at it in the Bible, bread gets purposed in some really powerful ways. You get bread—even in the Old Testament—as a picture of God’s provision, Manna from heaven. Bread becomes a metaphor for the law of the Lord. Jesus refers to himself as the bread of heaven. And then, of course, the moment you mentioned when Jesus on the night that he was betrayed, he took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it.

And actually he did this with the feeding of the 5,000. He does this in a couple of moments. So, my hope is to invite people in to say, what if there’s actually more going on in the very commonness of what your life is? What if there’s actually something really holy and really beautiful happening? 

SMITH: Yeah. You know, Luther had an expression, “Mundane faithfulness,” right? And as I was reading your book, Glenn, and this idea of bread being so ordinary and you even sort of trace some of the ways that bread shows up in different cultures all around the world. In India, it’s naan. In France it might be baguettes or croissants or whatever. And then in America you said, just plain old Wonder Bread, right? White sliced bread. But, you know, even though we can laugh about that, there is something very universal about the idea of bread. Something very common about the idea of bread. And yet as you say in the hands of God that it’s sacred and it’s very special.

PACKIAM: Yes. It comes to contain something more than what we might’ve imagined. It reminds me of, you know, the idea that the earth, you know, Isaiah says, the whole earth is full of the glory of God. What if God created this world to be a container for his glory? And so the Orthodox theologian Schmiemann says, actually when you bless something, you’re returning it to its original design or to its original identity. And so Schmiemann actually says, you know, blessing of the bread at the Eucharist is actually an example of God reminding us what all of creation was created to be. It was created to be a container of the glory of God. And of course the fall impacts that and all of that. But to be blessed as definitely to recover that.

SMITH: Well, to maybe sort of dive a little bit deeper, move a little bit deeper into that idea, you talk about sacramental seeing. Is that getting at this idea that it’s—the thing itself may be common, but if we understand it rightly, if we see it rightly, then worlds open up to us. Is that what you mean by sacramental seeing? 

PACKIAM: That’s exactly it. To maybe use kind of a C.S. Lewis idea, the world is enchanted. There is something more going on here. We can’t always see it, but it’s there. And sacramental seeing, it does not mean that a thing has to change what it is in order to be holy. But we begin to see it differently. We begin to recognize, wait a minute, this is my father’s world. Like that old hymn says. And the earth is full of the glory of God. It’s Jacob waking up from his dream and saying, surely the Lord was in this place and I did not know it. Sacramental seeing is beginning to look at relationships differently and the world around us differently. 

SMITH: Well, as you and I are having this conversation, it’s the season of Easter. We think of Easter as a day, but in fact it’s a season in the liturgical calendar, and one of my favorite stories in all of scripture is a story that I guess you could say comes from the season. The men that were walking with Jesus on the Road to Emmaus and they were walking with Jesus and they didn’t see until Jesus what?

PACKIAM: Broke the bread. 

SMITH: Broke the bread. And then their eyes were open and they said, did not our hearts burn within us. That’s again, the idea once again. I guess my point is, Glenn, this idea is kind of like hiding in plain sight.

PACKIAM: It’s right there. It’s right there in the scriptures where Jesus does this as this clue. And Luke, you know, of all the gospel writers, Luke I think is kind of winking at the listener or the reader because there are three moments and his gospel story where Jesus does this—the feeding of the 5,000, Passover, and then, like you said, the meal with the disciples on the Road to Emmaus. And all three times were meant to kind of say, wait a minute, something more is going on here. 

SMITH: Yeah. So, one of the ideas that you get at in the early part of your book, and also it’s in the title of the book, Jesus first blessed the food. And you talk a little bit about that word blessed in your book. I mean, you know, in our culture we’ve got #blessed, right? Which is kind of glib and flippant and superficial and doesn’t really get at the Biblical idea of what it means to be blessed and what it means to bless something. You already alluded to that to a certain extent whenever you talked about, you know, seeing things in the way in which they were intended, but can you say a little bit more about this idea of what it means to be blessed and how we are blessed? 

PACKIAN: Well, you know, #blessed is when things are going the way we want it to go. You know, you got the deal, you got the perfect latte, or whatever. I’m living the good life. But to be truly blessed is actually to be taken back to the identity that God made you to be. I think about God taking Abraham, calling Abram, rather, out of his father’s house and blessing him, changing his name, but in a sense that naming—God naming Abraham—was a way of saying you’re mine now. I’ve got a name for you and through you all the families of the earth will be blessed. So I kind of say in the book that to be blessed is really to recover your true identity and calling. 

SMITH: Well, Glenn, you’ve introduced another really deep and rich idea and that is this idea of naming things. In Genesis chapter two, one of the first jobs God gives Adam in the garden of Eden is to name the animals. When Jesus cast out the demons from the demoniac, he asked the demons, what is your name? And they said, you know, “Our name is Legion for we are many.” You mentioned the changing of the name from Abram to Abraham. What we call things, the naming of things really matters, doesn’t it?

PACKIAM: It absolutely matters. As Stanley Hauerwas used to say, you know, words create worlds. So the way that we name something affects how we see it and even the way we name ourselves. So my dad, just a little story I tell in the book. My dad grew up in a Hindu family and he was named after a Hindu God or goddess Indra. And so would he became a follower of Jesus. He wanted to renounce that, wanted to leave that. And he changed his name to David because David spoke to him about his new identity and his new future and his new destiny. So how you name a thing, is a part of blessing it. And I think that’s one of the powerful ways that we can bless one another is to say, you know who you are, you are a child of God, you are beloved of God. I have four kids, Warren, and one of my favorite things is to tell them why we named them the names that we gave them. And then to say more about them. And so naming, blessing, it’s all connected to this idea of identity.

SMITH: So, Glenn, what we’ve been talking about up until now, has kinda been the stuff that you were talking about in the first section of the book, which, you know, Jesus took the bread, he blessed the bread. Blessing means rightly naming the things that we see in the world. Rightly naming each other as children of God and image-bearers, if you will, and yet fair to say the Bible doesn’t end in Genesis chapter two. Genesis chapter three and all the rest of the Bible follows. We have the fall, we have this idea of brokenness. Say more about that. 

PACKIAM: Yes. When we use the word broken, it sometimes gets used in multiple different contexts. So it can be a confusing word. So in the book I outline that I want to use brokenness in three different dimensions.

I think each of these three parts overlap at points. They are all kind of the result of sin or the fall. But they are different. So one kind of brokenness is to talk about our own frailty or our own sort of finiteness. This has to do with, yes, it’s the effect of sin in the world, but it has to do more with bodies breaking down or the chemicals in our brain not going right. It’s our own sense of limitations capacity. The frailty that we feel. 

But there’s another kind of brokenness that really has to do with our own failure where no, actually we’ve made poor choices and we’ve fallen short. And this is what the Bible names as sin and our own participation in it. We can’t speak about brokenness in the world as if we’re just victims of it. We’re complicit. And so there’s a kind of brokenness that we are culpable for. 

And then the third kind of brokenness has to do with the fallenness of the world. This has to do with suffering and pain. And the stuff that we experience—tragedy, death. And what’s interesting to me is actually every one of those kinds of brokenness can find a redemption in the hands of Jesus. So you place your frailty in the hands of Jesus. He says, like what he said to Paul, my strength is made perfect in your weakness, your limitations. You bring your sin and confess it to Jesus, he heals and forgives you. You bring your pain and your suffering, he weeps with you and joins in with you and puts in you the hope of resurrection that one day will not always be this way.

And so there is a sense, it’s whatever kind of brokenness we’re experiencing, like the bread that is broken in Jesus’s hands, we can place our brokenness in his hands. 

SMITH: Well and, Glenn, so the brokenness of the world, the brokenness of our lives is redeemed in Christ. And as a result of that we are saved from hell. We are saved from sin. We are saved from death. But one of the things that I love about your book is really sort of quickly pivoting to that third section. We’re not only saved from those things, but we’re saved for as well. Why do we say for? 

PACKIAM: Oh, it’s beautiful, Warren. I mean, I say in the book, you know, bread that is not broken cannot be shared. And so what happens in the hands—when we place our brokenness in the hands of Jesus is it begins to open us up. Not just open us up to God and to His grace. Yes, that’s primary, but it also opens us up to others. Now we’re able to actually form genuine relationships of community and understand that we are all together in the family of God. But it also opens us up to kind of this idea of service. Decades ago, Henri Nouwen had a book called The Wounded Healer. The idea that Paul wrote to the Corinthians about that by the comfort that we’ve received were able to comfort others. And so as we understand the redemption at work in our brokenness, we find givenness. We find a purpose. We’re able to sort of allow our lives to be given for someone else, for the sake of others, for the life of the world. 

SMITH: Well, that’s a hard saying, though, in some ways because there’s a part of us that says, you know, we don’t want to have to be broken to be used. We don’t want to have to be broken to be redeemed. We just want to—God, why did you do it this way, right? And what’s the answer to that? Or at least part of the answer to that? I don’t think we’ll ever really know fully the answer to that question. But—

PACKIAM: What we do know is that God’s redemption is somehow more powerful than any work of prevention. And this isn’t—I say this in the book of like, our question is similar to Mary and Martha’s when Lazarus dies. Each of them in their own way, I mean, Mary in tears and Martha with questions—they both say to Jesus, if you had been here, Lord, this would not have happened. In other words, what they want from God is prevention. Prevent all the brokenness in my life, prevent all the brokenness in my story.

But what Jesus is about to do is resurrection. And resurrection, yes, it means something died, someone died, but resurrection is always stronger. It’s always more than. It’s Paul in Romans saying grace is more. There is something more. Grace is abounding. And Augustine wrote about this, of course, centuries ago when he said, Oh, fortunate fall, that gained for us so great a redeemer. So we don’t know why, all the reasons why there was a fall or why there’s brokenness in our own story. But we do know that the redemption is so powerful that it actually would make us say, I’m kind of glad the fall—It’s a weird phrase, Augustind’s phrase, Oh, fortunate fall. And maybe we wouldn’t say this in the moment of our grief, but somehow our brokenness gets redeemed in such a powerful way that there really is life—life for us in life for others.

SMITH: You know, Glenn, I know you’re a musician and I don’t want to go down a rabbit trail here, but I’m a big fan of a musician named Andrew Peterson and he’s got a song called Don’t You Want To Thank Someone. And one of the lines in that song is what if it is a better thing to be broken and redeemed than to be merely innocent? That’s the language he used—to be merely innocent. And that’s kind of a hard saying, but if the chief end of man is to bring glory to God, what if somehow it brings more glory to God that we are broken and redeemed than, than to be “merely innocent.” That’s a pretty hard but also potentially really powerful idea. 

PACKIAM: It glorifies God because it says there’s nothing that he can’t undo. There’s nothing that could derail. So, throw your worst and somehow God finds a way to make a masterpiece out of what we thought was this disaster. And I would argue that it ends up being for our joy. We have the joy of actually being part of a story that was just miraculously transformed. So, yeah, bread that is not broken cannot be shared. There is life beyond the brokenness. There is a purpose beyond the stuff that’s difficult in our story. And we need not shy away from that. I think that’s part of my hope for the reader is to say, look, what you’ve experienced does not disqualify you. Place it in Jesus’s hands. Let him redeem it. And watch what happens. Watch what comes from it. 

SMITH: Glenn, there’s an idea that I first heard about, I think from Makoto Fujimura, which you talk about in your book called kintsugi. Can you explain what that means?

PACKIAM: It’s this ancient Japanese approach to pottery where a really expensive bowl shatters and they decide instead of throwing away the pieces to put it back together, but put gold in the seams. And so now all of a sudden they didn’t just glue it together, you know, so it’s all, we can see the cracks or whatever. But actually the seams are now filled with gold, so it became more valuable and it became a different kind of beauty precisely because of its brokenness. I think grace is like that. I think grace is the gold that holds the broken pieces of our lives together. So, again, if brokenness is really about openness, being opened up to the grace of God. Then grace is the gold that holds us together. 

SMITH: And the repaired, “repaired” pot, is in fact more precious, more valuable than the pot before it was broken. 

PACKIAM: Yes, yes. Yeah. It became this legend where all of a sudden it became more valuable to buy these pots that had been repaired with gold than not. 

SMITH: Glenn, it’s been great to talk about your book, but there’s just so many other aspects to your life and ministry that I want to talk about that I hope you’ll let me maybe have a quick pivot in our conversation and talk about some of those other things. You’re here at New Life Church which is in some ways has a special place in evangelicalism. Ted Haggard was the pastor here for many years. He was the president of the National Association of Evangelicals when he had this very public moral failing here. You were here, you were on staff at that time. First of all, how was that for you? What was that like? Because that—well, how long ago was that? 

PACKIAM: So, that was 2006. So it’s 13 years ago now.

SMITH: Which was fairly near the beginning of your ministry here.

PACKIAM: I had been here six years when that happened. So I came in the summer of 2000 and so I had been here six years when that happened. And then, you know, have been on 13 or more years since. 

SMITH: So, I mean, when that happened, do you remember where you were, what you were thinking? Was it like, oh snap, whenever you first heard that?

PACKIAM: Oh, yeah, I do remember. In fact, I wrote about it—chapter one of a book I wrote a few years ago called Secondhand Jesus describes that Thursday, that Thursday that the news broke. And when we found out that there was truth to the claims, accusations, all the stuff, his resignation letter that following Sunday. We were shocked. We were heartbroken. I think for me personally, in the months that followed, it was like the Holy Spirit put the searchlight on my own heart to say, okay, so what have you started to believe along the way? One of the things I was really challenged by was being lulled into complacency by the outward appearances of success. You know, it’s very easy for people in large churches and large ministries to begin to think, well, everything’s going well. We must be doing things right. Instead of saying what about my own relationship with the Lord? What about my own closeness and intimacy with God? What else are we not tending to? It also made me kind of reevaluate what it means to be a pastor. What is a local church supposed to be? It made me think about my own desire for a theological education. I mean, it was catalytic for a lot of change in my own life. 

SMITH: Well, and, you know, one of the things that—I mean, obviously that was a terrible event that happened. It was national and international news. I mean, everything from Christianity Today and WORLD Magazine, all the way to, you know, Entertainment Tonight and everything in between. So it was just such a huge event. But one of the things that it seemed to me that happened was that this church, it didn’t destroy this church. And that it did create some introspection. It really caused some real soul searching, repentance, and restoration to happen right here in the church. Is that fair or not? 

PACKIAM: That’s absolutely right. It made us kind of say say, wait a minute, what are we doing? Again, one of the questions you have to think about with things like this happen is what kind of context or what kind of community made that sort of, those sort of actions possible. Now I know the sin of the leader, the sin of the leader, and all that stuff, at the same time, you always want to look back and to say, what are we doing that maybe is putting too much focus on an individual? What do we do that maybe is only celebrating certain kinds of successes? What are we doing that’s maybe not as Christ centered as it could be? So it definitely led us into a season of purification. And I’ll tell you some of the things that happened as a result. One, we began to have a more holistic approach to spirituality. So we were great at prayer and fasting and worship. All that’s great. But we also learned about the really helpful role of counselors and how to integrate other parts of, you know, talk about people helping with brokenness. There’s a whole community that we could kind of lean into and integrate the Lord’s work of transformation. 

We learned about grief and how to process loss, all of that. But we also, I mean secondly, we began to change the way that we did our worship services. So it took a few years, but we eventually moved to having weekly communion. Now I know that seems like a kind of, oh, what does that have to do with anything? Well, it’s interesting because every local church will say, well, we’re all about Jesus, right? But the practices—I’m a big believer that the practices that you do every week in worship actually form you. And actually shapes the way that your faith is.

And at New Life we had, you know, we say, yeah, yeah, it’s all about Jesus. But then we spent half the service as looking at a jumbo-tron of one particular individual, you know? And the more I began to preach and teach, I became nervous of that. I said, wait a minute, I don’t want to replicate the same model. And we recognized that by doing weekly communion, we could point people to Jesus at the end of every sermon. And we could say, look, some things that I said today may not be right, but you know what, the point of today’s service is not, yes, we could do this, but behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

SMITH: Well, you know, Glenn, even though you are a pastor here at a big nondenominational evangelical megachurch, you’re actually ordained within the Anglican Church. And you kind of have this bi-vocational kind of—

PACKIAM: Dual citizenship.

SMITH: Yeah. Dual citizenship. And within the Anglican order of service, a couple of interesting things happen. Number one, as you say, the Eucharist, the communion, the Lord’s table is the capstone of the event. The other thing that happens, which I think is really interesting is after the sermon, they do the, usually, the Apostle’s Creed or the Nicene Creed. And it’s almost as if saying the pastor’s sermon is important, but he’s a human. These are the things that we really believe. And then that is a transition time into the Lord’s table. Again, it takes the attention off of that preacher, off of that one person, and moves you beyond that person—both chronologically because it doesn’t come at the end of the service—but also really symbolically, you know, from this person that may or may not be telling you the truth. Hopefully he is. But then we stand on these core principles. We believe in one God, Father Almighty. And then you move into the actual communion with that God. 

PACKIAM: Yes. And shortly after implementing the practice of weekly communion, it did change our preaching. It changed the way we thought about our worship service. But shortly after that, the elders decided to make our statement of faith at the church, the Nicene Creed. Now, that doesn’t mean we gave up any of the unique things that we do. No, but it allowed us to say, New Life Church, we’re only 37 years old, but we’re located within a 2,000 year old of the followers of Jesus Christ. And this confession, Nicene Creed for 1,700 years or whatever has sustained us and served as these guardrails for us. And that was important because the trap for independent churches is for people to sort of be at the whim and mercy of how persuasive their pastor is. Pastor says this is the issue we all need to care about. Okay, we should do that. But the Creed kind of anchors you. And says, you know, we are stewarding a faith that has been passed on. And so this is what’s central and, yes, there’ll be other things that we step into and comment on and all of that. We’ll do a sermon series on this or that. But this is what keeps us kind of connected. 

SMITH: Well, you know, there’s another sort of defining moment in the life of this church that it happened a few years later and that was the shooting that took place here. Can you say a little about that as well? 

PACKIAM: Yes, so 13 months after the scandal there was a gunman that came on our campus. And it was right after the second service. Opened fire in the parking lot, started walking in down the hallway, and tragically, you know, two teenage girls lost their lives that day. They were in a car in the parking lot. Couple others were wounded. And some security guards were able to slow him down and he ended up taking his own life. The shooter did. But that’s traumatic. I mean, to say the least, you know, and certainly makes you fearful. And that happened on a Sunday. We decided we were going to gather the church on a Wednesday night a few days later. And I’ll tell you, Warren, that was one of the most powerful worship services I’ve ever experienced, because the whole church showed up in force to say, you know what? We still belong to Jesus. We still follow Jesus. We’re not going to back down. We’re not going to be, you know, be governed by fear. That was one of the phrases our Pastor Brady said. And that was another piece though of being able to say, you know, talk about a church experiencing brokenness. New Life experienced brokenness by sin and brokenness by suffering. And that allowed us to change our posture even in the city to say, look, maybe our role in the city’s not to stand above everyone else and start to yell at the culture. Maybe our role in the city is to kind of try to wash the feet of those who are hurting because hey, we know what it’s like now to be in the position of the hurting. 

SMITH: And was that about the time that you decided to plant the church downtown or did that come later? 

PACKIAM: The downtown thing happened later. So, the chronology here—the scandal was ‘06, the shooting was ‘07, we started a Sunday evening service in 2009 that became the genesis of our downtown congregation. I was leading the Sunday night thing. We did weekly communion, the creed, all that. It was kind of our laboratory. That began to spill over. And then we started our first offsite congregation in 2012. 

SMITH: And that’s downtown and it’s grown to about a robust— 

PACKIAM: Yeah, it’s about 1,200 people that come every Sunday morning, two services worship together. 

SMITH: And it doesn’t look like a Evangelical megachurch where they sing two songs and then put a preacher on his feet for 50 minutes. I mean, you basically follow the book of common prayer.

PACKIAM: Yes, and no. I mean, yeah, I mean there’s 20 minutes or sung worship, you know, and there’s an offering, announcements, all that. But then right before the sermon, kind of the liturgy of the word, if you will, there are scripture readers. So we don’t use a lectionary where there’s set texts each week. We still do sermon series through books of the Bible, but I will pick Old Testament, New Testament and gospel passages that go together with whatever series we’re in. So we’re in a series on the parables right now. So our gospel text is set, but I’ll choose a New Testament test and an Old Testament text. Sermon’s 30 minutes. And then we go into, you know, prayer of confession and the words of assurance and all of the stuff that leads us to the table. And then we end with a couple more songs and the doxology and a benediction and it’s great. Yeah, it’s great.

SMITH: And the thing that’s interesting to me is that in this, you know, Evangelical Mecca here, the home of New Life church for goodness sake, you know, the sort of the locus classicus of the, you know, modern megachurch you’re in a downtown urban location with a very liturgical service and the town’s kinda gone nuts over it.

PACKIAM: Well, it’s been encouraging. It’s been encouraging to see millennials. We have a lot of young people at the church who are hungry for a sense of rootedness, who are hungry for a sense of belonging, and who are tired of being oversold, you know, on something hyped. And so to be able to teach the Bible and to be able to call people to Jesus and to say, and now we’re going to pray the prayers that Christians have prayed for hundreds of years, there’s something really beautiful about that. And not just young people, actually, there’s a fair amount of people on the other side of the well curve, if you will, empty nesters who have said, you know what, we kinda bought into a formulaic version of evangelicalism and said, do these things and life will work out this way. Kinda didn’t. But we don’t want to walk away from faith, but we don’t want to anchor it in sort of shallow promises. And so the church has given them some more ancient, some more sturdy ropes, if you will, to kind of hang onto. 

SMITH: Well, Glenn, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it. I mean, it’s, again, a blessing for me to be here and to visit with you and appreciate all you’re doing both here at New Life, but also now with this book. And you know, I have said that I think sort of this ancient-future church model could be the salvation of evangelicalism. Just because it’s a sort of calling us back to known but forgotten things. 

PACKIAM: I agree with you. Amen. Thank you Warren.

(Photo/Outreach Magazine)

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