West Loop UBF, 2008-2014

GraceH&SarahPLiving with my head in the clouds. Last year I shared how West Loop (WL) UBF began in 2008. This is a follow up random, limited and selective reflection of our happy and eventful 6 year story and journey as a church. It mainly explains how my ideological perspectives changed. It is “heady” and not practical. As I’ve often told my wife, “Sorry that I live with my head in the clouds. Therefore, your feet has to be on the ground.” I hope this does not sound bad for her!

A theme for each year. For the last few years, as the primary preaching pastor, I loosely choose a particular theme for each year at WL:
  • the year of the Gospel (1 Cor 15:1-4), a matter of prime importance.
  • the year of Grace (Ac 20:24): Paul’s only aim was to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.
  • the year of Sanctification (Phil 2:12b)–not by human effort but primarily by the grace of God (Phil 2:13);
  • the year of the whole counsel of God (Ac 20:27), also translated as the whole will, plan, and purpose of God.
  • the year of Remembrance (Dt 15:15a; 24:18; 8:2-3), to prompt us to love God (Dt 6:5) and to act and live accordingly (Dt 10:12-13; 30:19-20).
  • For 2015: the year of Faith (Rom 1:17), knowing that it is only by grace that one comes to faith (Eph 2:8-9).

All these themes are rooted and grounded in the gospel–the only power for real authentic transformation and change that happens inside out (Rom 1:16). But Christians are often scared of grace, preferring instead to be punitive and retributive. We incline to giving and treating people as we think their sins deserve. We mistake grace for antinomianism, which was what Paul was accused of by the Bible legalists (Rom 6:1, 15). We think grace leads to lawlessness and licentiousness. This may happen. But withholding grace is never the solution. In fact, when grace is lacking, any church invariably becomes moralistic, legalistic, rigid and inflexible. Insufficient grace also inclines toward lacking the generosity, gentleness and graciousness toward others outside the church, and even in the church.

Changing how I taught Genesis. After teaching Genesis 100s of times for over a quarter of a century, I asked, What is the point of Genesis? Is it “live a life of mission”? Or “be a father of faith like Abraham”? Or “Marry by faith like Isaac and Rebekah”? I think not. It is by the grace of God that God chose our forefathers (and us), in spite of themselves. In 2011 I preached through most of Genesis by focusing on God’s limitless grace extended to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph.

What did Jesus say the Scriptures are about? When I first noticed it, I was surprised to read that Jesus said that the OT Scriptures are about him (Jn 5:39, 46; Lk 24:27, 44). In Acts, both Peter and Paul said the same thing: the OT is about Jesus (Ac 10:43; 18:28). It impressed me that the Bible is NOT primarily a book about proper morals and proper religious behavior, but primarily about Jesus. As a result, I shifted my emphasis from imperatives (commands) to indicatives (grace), from “you love others” to “God loves you” (1 Jn 4:19), from “you live a life of mission” to “Jesus fulfilled his mission for you” (Jn 19:30). Only the latter, the gospel, leads to true transformation (2 Cor 3:18; 4:6). I think I have the support from both Martin Luther and Pope Francis!

Overcoming the iron law of paternalism, patriarchy and primogeniture. Sorry for these rather unfamiliar words. (Google each word.) But they are important because every culture, society and church naturally follows the unbreakable law of these “3 P’s.” Loosely, it means that you follow the chain of command and the norms of society (or the church), whereby the older and the senior is ALWAYS favored above the younger and the junior. But interestingly God’s grace does not follow such “human rules and traditions.” In fact, God, more often than not, breaks such unbreakable human rules and laws by choosing and extending favor to the younger over the older. For instance, in every case, God chose:

  • Abel the younger instead of Cain the older.
  • Isaac the younger instead of Ishmael the older.
  • Jacob the younger instead of Esau the older.
  • Joseph the 11th of Jacob’s sons, bypassing 10 older sons.
  • Ephraim the younger son of Joseph instead of Manasseh the older son.
  • Moses, the youngest one in his family.
  • David, the youngest of the 8 sons of Jesse.
  • Young fresh disciples (Mk 1:17), rather than old tired Pharisees and boring religious leaders.
  • Young Timothy (1 Tim 4:12), rather than the older elders at Ephesus.

What does this mean and how does it apply practically? I needed to unlearn and re-learn what I had previously practiced by honoring and favoring younger people as much as I had honored older people. Under Samuel Lee’s 40 year leadership, everyone in UBF honored him more than everyone else. But by understanding how God does not follow man’s ways of paternalism, patriarchy and primogeniture, I made an intentional internal decision to honor and favor younger people, just as much as I had honored Lee for the last 22 years of his life in Chicago UBF. How would I do this? I encouraged everyone at West Loop to do whatever they wished, or to take any initiative, without asking my permission or first getting approval or clearance from me. Why? Because I trusted them as my expression of trusting God. Because I wish to respect and welcome their initiatives and creative ideas that are different (and better!) than mine.

No more fear of man. A few years ago Prov 29:25 literally changed the way I viewed, perceived and responded to people in authority. Just as I feared and honored Lee, I also feared every older person and leader in UBF. The practical result of this was that I lived before the person I feared, rather than living in the fear of God (Prov 1:7; 9:10). I lived to please the person I feared (Jn 5:43-44), rather than pleasing God (Jn 8:29). This was a miserable way to live. What a tremendous freedom and liberation it was to no longer live in the fear of any man!

No one should fear me or anyone else. Practically, I prayed that WL may be a safe place, where no one would fear me (or anyone else), just because I am an older longstanding leader in the church. If anyone feared me, they will act and pretend and not speak up openly and honestly, for fear of retaliation or repercussion from me. So I chose to welcome critiques from anyone regarding my words, decisions, actions, sermons and leadership. It is sometimes jarring and humbling when some young person says to me, “How can you say such a thing in your sermon!” But I thank God that our WL community is free and unafraid to speak up. One of my catchphrases is, “Please stab me in the front!”

You are truly free and not bound to WL or UBF. In light of the gospel, freedom should be evident and overflowing (2 Cor 3:17; Gal 5:1). When WL began in 2008, I expressed my hope that people who come to WL (or to anything else) come because they want to and not because they have to. So I expressed that nothing is mandatory at WL, not church attendance, not fellowship meetings, not Bible study or testimony writing, not conferences, etc. Because of God’s endless love and grace, whatever is done should be done willingly and joyfully. It should never ever be coerced or guilt-tripped out of people. So I thank God that today no one feels bad for missing any WL or UBF event. In the scheme of things and in light of eternity, that’s really no big deal, don’t you think?
Improve relationships. As an introvert, it is so easy for me to ignore relationships and just focus on business agendas. But as I began considering the Trinity, I realize that relationships of love and trust are crucial, foundational and fundamental to the church and to all of life. Though I am still rather inept at relationships, I want to continually work at building relationships of trust, rather than raising workers for the church. I believe that improving friendships and relationships strengthens the church more than any other activity or agenda.
Relinquishing regular 1:1 Bible studies to promote independent faith and collaboration with others. If I wanted to, I could still carry out 10 or more 1:1 Bible studies a week, as I had been doing for over 2 decades. But I found that though the relationship of the shepherd and sheep may be good, yet relationships with others may not. Also, the 1:1 relationship often created unhealthy dependencies; it became a sort of crutch. The Bible student would rely and depend on me to “feed” them, teach them the Bible, and give them direction for their life. But also I expected the Bible student to prove their faithfulness to God by meeting with me regularly. The greatest downside of such protracted regular 1:1 Bible studies was that this often did not promote independent seeking of God, nor independent study of the Bible, apart from meeting with me.
Reading. Since WL started in 2008 (apart from medical books), I have read more books in the last half a dozen years than I did in the first 5 decades of my life.

Blogging. For all intents and purposes blogging several times a week (100 times plus/year) has replaced my weekly testimony writing and sharing during the first 27 years of my Christian life.


Supporting Philippines and Podil UBF. Thank God that since our inception, WL has been able to support our friends overseas.
Learning Greek and Hebrew. Even though I will likely not finish (I hate languages!), nonetheless by transforming and simplifying my life, I began learning Greek and Hebrew in 2014. It’s the darndest and hardest thing I have ever done!
Sorry as always for my random ruminating reasoned reflective rambling! According to sound advice for blogging, I limit each post to < 800 words. But the Dalai Lama said, “Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.” Did I break my rule of < 800 words properly?
As you look forward to the new year 2015, do you have stories to share about your life’s journey?


  1. Ben, I absolutely LOVE this list! I am so very happy about what has been done by you and everyone at WestLoop church. In the past couple years I’ve not gone to church except to worship with you and WL– and each time was heartfelt, sincere and thought-provoking.

    God-speed for all you do! I love your “year of…” statements. I look forward to the year of jubilee!

    “As you look forward to the new year 2015, do you have stories to share about your life’s journey?”

    In 2014, I published 3 books that tell my authentic self-narrative. Now I don’t have to keep repeating the same old stories about my life, but can just point people to my books. I sold or gave away just under 200 copies, mostly Kindle editions.

    I also am just finishing my 4th book and have ideas for my 5th book.

    For the new year I look forward to: more learning and growing at QuickenLoans as a leader and system owner, publishing more books, attending the Reformation Project cohort from Matthew Vines, joining the Lasting Supper, celebrating my wife’s PhD, and of course, visiting WestLoop!

    I am not looking forward to it but I am willing to continue my ubf exit counseling if people continue to contact me for help (about once a month this happened in 2014). Someone contacted us again just a few days ago with a desperate story filled with physical abuse. I just don’t see how ubf stays operational with all these situations.

    • Thank God for your multiple exciting endeavors! Thank God that you are the right person and in the right place to serve needed exit counseling for those hurt by UBF. I definitely look forward to your visit anytime. A room is always ready for you to stay at my home.

  2. Thanks for your honest sharing. It is really encouraging to read. I believe that your Point of not making People dependent on your person or 1:1 bible study is really crucial. The bible is a living word, not a book being studied in vacuum. Nor by the many boring question sheets of UBF. It proves in your everyday life, whether the word lives in you or is still a theory. And i also appreciate your breaking toaboo of this age-hierarchy that is common in Korean culture and many others. How refreshing to see the examples of the Scriptures. God turns this upside down, Age is nothing Special before HIM

    • Thanks so much for your encouraging words, Libby. I learned that it’s not easy to change after doing something in one particular way for several decades. I conclude that it was not I who changed, but God, who through (upside down) events and circumstances, changed me!

  3. Ben…hope that God changes other chapters in the way He has matured you and those at Westloop….I have come to realize that God had to take me through the last few years to change me as well from the legalisms and the works based demands of UBF….It has been exciting to live in love and freedom in God grace….I thank God for the change in Brian, Joe and others as well…ministry work must be free in grace and the control must be let go….it has been almost 3 years since I attended a UBF worship and feel it has been an liberating experience….if ever your way will stop to visit…but unless other chapters change it is best my family stays away until they get healthy and liberated in Christ…

    • big bear, You are most welcomed to visit me and/or West Loop anytime. My home address is 822 S. Miller St, Chicago, and the West Loop chapter is 1015 W. Polk, which is just round the corner from my home.

  4. MJ Peace

    “But as I began considering the Trinity, I realize that relationships of love and trust are crucial, foundational and fundamental to the church and to all of life.”

    Relationships are the most beautiful things in life. They give life flavor and meaning. I believe that God is answering your (and the other leaders’)prayers for West Loop to be a safe place. I know for me personally, Sunday is my favorite day of the week. I don’t want to miss it. I like that we are not forced to attend any service or meetings. West Loop is not perfect; people have said that we are too democratic and it’s hard to get stuff done. We are loud and annoying sometimes, but we do have community and a whole lot of honesty.

    I am also overwhelmed by the support. If someone wants to do homeless ministry, they can. Or human trafficking or world hunger or compassion ministry (sponsoring children) they can. We are not limited to one single type of ministry because we each are created individually and uniquely and we are at different stages of life. It’s the emphasis on relationships and not evangelism, the emphasis on the indicatives and not imperatives that is so refreshing. May we continue to live out the gospel in life and community (and may that statement not grow hackneyed, banal and trite).