Saturday, December 01, 2007

The Gospel and Culture

Race highlights the fact that in our congregational life we usually do not reflect the variety of cultures. There are Asian, West Indian, and Anglo-Saxon congregations worshiping and meeting close to each other. These groups meet at work and in school, but not always in church. If the church is middle- class and intellectual in the language of the services, in the music employed, in the life-style expected of Christians, in its leadership, and in the methods of presenting the gospel, then the whole atmosphere is such as to repel those who are not middle-class and intellectual. They feel out of place and unwanted, even if they are given a friendly greeting at the door. The life of the New Testament Church was evidence of the supernatural; God was in their midst. The power of Christ was a reality. The fellowship could not be explained in simple natural terms. A church divided on social and racial lines is not evidence for the supernatural, but for the simply human and social. ... David Bronnert, "The Gospel and Culture" in The Changing World

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Boston - City of Champions

Congratulations to my sister and my West Virginia friends who are serious Red Sox fans.

It looks like the Boston area is swimming in sports success this year. The Patriots are playing as well as any team in recent NFL history - they toyed with the Cowboys a couple of weeks ago, until the Cowboys took the lead in the second half. That had the effect of awakening the sleeping giant and they have been on fire ever since.... Boston College is also getting into the act, and since they are no longer in the same conference as WVU, they are in the drivers seat on the road to winning their conference championship and competing in the BCS.... The Celtics appear to be the cream of the crop in the East with the additions of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.... I don't know much about the Bruins, but anything less than the Stanley Cup and the city will have forgotten them because by then the Red Sox will be well on their way to repeating.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

PMC Reflections

This weekend brought another of the cluster meetings for the area congregations participating in the Partnership for Missional Church. We have made a three year commitment to this process and are about 1/3 of the way through the second year.

Initially there were ten congregations; this weekend there were eight - Skillman, North Davis, South MacArthur, Preston Road, and Metro from the Dallas area, Highland and Minter Lane from Abilene, and Mineral Wells.

Each of these congregations is committed to carrying out the mission of God in its community. Several, like Skillman, are faced with changing demographics both in the neighborhoods surrounding their locations and within the congregations. More about this later, but for now three thoughts resonate...

We need, as leaders, to move from a model that is primarily focused on decision-making to one of discernment. I posted some thoughts on this about a year ago; we are comfortable taking information, making some decision, and going on about our business. We do that regularly in our professional lives, and carry those skills and practices into church leadership. The result is that we often decide and then ask God to join us, rather than trying to discern what God is already doing and joining Him.

We need to reframe our perspective of 'serving' the community. Instead of looking for ways to do for the community, we need to seek opportunities to do with the community. (This is something that Larry James figured out a long time ago.) We will not be able to enter into healthy relationship with people when we perceive them to be needy and ourselves as providers.

We must trust in the resurrection; we need to trust that if 'our' congregation as we know it should die, that God can raise it again into something greater that more closely reflects his purpose and carries out his mission. Much like Barton Stone and the Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery, we must be willing to give up our identity and sink into union with the body of Christ at large, trusting that God will indeed raise us up again in accordance with his purpose.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

More on Fire at Pepperdine

My admiration for Pepperdine president Andy Benton is only reinforced by his calming response to the Pepperdine community...

M E M O R A N D U M
TO: Campus Community
FROM: Andrew K. Benton
DATE: October 22, 2007
RE: Fire Update

Today is a much better day. The winds are still high, but the smoke is clearing and as far as we know there are no fires burning on campus. Nevertheless we are on alert and we have a strong fire prevention/containment presence standing by.

I know this was a first-time experience for most of you. I am so proud of your calm response and your concern for each other. The worship service yesterday in the cafeteria with helicopters flying into and out of view behind the leaders is something I will never forget.

Our campus damage is limited to a portion of a pool shack near the Baxter Drive swimming pool and three cars which were parked in the Theme Tower lot. The rest is landscaping and we can fix that in time. The important thing is that you are safe.

From our position of relative safety we will have a chance to serve; indeed, some of our best work in the Malibu community has emerged from a crisis just like this one. If given the chance, please volunteer to help those who did not fare as well as we did yesterday.

Good planning is of no value without great people willing to respond. My colleagues and I were very proud of our whole campus community yesterday. You were an inspiration to us.
We will keep you informed as this new day develops.

>>>>>>>>>>>>
More info via this CNN interview of 2 Pepperdine students early Monday morning.

Fire

When I first heard of the wild fires in California this week, I have to confess my sense of relief that Taylor is spending his sophmore year in Germany rather than being on campus in Malibu. While I have been following with interest, empathy, and concern, my level of concern has not been nearly as acute as it would have been had he been on campus. Especially when I saw some of these pictures from the Pepperdine campus...












Monday, October 22, 2007

Pepperdine Update

Malibu Canyon Fire Update for 6:30 a.m., Wednesday, Oct. 24

Pacific Coast Highway is open in both directions between Santa Monica and the University and between Kanan Road and the University. While both Kanan and Topanga Road are open, Malibu Canyon Road remains closed.

Pepperdine's Malibu campus is scheduled to re-open for regularly scheduled classes and programs, today, October 24. All Pepperdine campuses outside Malibu remain open for classes. All employees who are scheduled to work today are asked to report at their regularly scheduled time.

With the personal safety of our community members in mind, Pepperdine urges faculty, staff, and students to exercise caution in commuting to the campus.

Students, faculty, and staff are requested to check Pepperdine's homepage where regular updates are posted. Messages concerning the situation are made simultaneously on Pepperdine’s Emergency Page (http://emergency.pepperdine.edu/) and on Pepperdine's toll free Emergency Information Hotline at (888) 286-5659.

Updated information about road conditions is available on the Road Condition Hotline at (310) 506-ROAD (7623).

Malibu Canyon Fire Update for 7 a.m., Tuesday, Oct. 23

Pepperdine officials have announced that it will not hold classes on the Malibu campus today, October 23. Events scheduled for today on the Malibu campus have also been cancelled as the University continues to work closely with local, county, and state fire officials in response to the Malibu Canyon fire. Only critical support personnel should report for work. All Pepperdine campuses outside Malibu remain open for classes.

All roads leading to the Malibu campus are closed at this time. Information about current road closures is available on the road condition hotline at (310) 506-ROAD (7623).At the present time, students, faculty, and staff on the Malibu campus remain safe and it is recommended that they not leave campus.

Conditions remain unchanged since 7 p.m. last night.

Malibu Canyon Fire Update for 4 p.m., Monday, Oct. 22

Pepperdine officials have announced that it will not hold classes on the Malibu campus on Tuesday, October 23. Events scheduled for Tuesday on the Malibu campus have also been cancelled as the University continues to work closely with local, county, and state fire officials in response to the Malibu Canyon fire. Only critical support personnel should report for work.
All Pepperdine campuses outside Malibu remain open for classes.

All roads leading to the Malibu campus are closed at this time. Information about current road closures is available on the road condition hotline at (310) 506-ROAD (7623).At the present time, students, faculty, and staff on the Malibu campus remain safe and it is recommended that they not leave campus. Another update will be posted at 7 p.m.

Pepperdine Reponds to Malibu Canyon Fire - UPDATED 6:50 a.m.

All classes on the Malibu campus have been cancelled for today, Oct. 22. Only critical support personnel should report to campus via PCH south from Kanan Dume Rd. The Pepperdine graduate campuses outside of Malibu will be open and classes will be held. Only critical communication systems, such as email, Internet connectivity, and telephone services, will likely be available today.

Students, faculty, and staff members who were relocated to the Tyler Campus Center, Payson Library, and Firestone Fieldhouse were allowed to return to their dorms and on-campus residences around 2 p.m. yesterday. All have been requested not to leave campus.
All roads leading to Pepperdine University are closed.
10/22/07, 6:50 a.m.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Oswald Chambers on the Life of a Disciple

We do not need the grace of God to stand crises, human nature
and pride are sufficient, we can face the strain magnificently; but
it does require the supernatural grace of God to live twenty-four
hours in every day as a saint, to go through drudgery as a disciple,
to live an ordinary, unobserved, ignored existence as a disciple of
Jesus. It is inbred in us that we have to do exceptional things for
God; but we do not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary
things, to be holy in mean streets, among mean people, and this is
not learned in five minutes.....
Oswald Chambers

Monday, October 01, 2007

Work As Witness

From Rubel Shelley's Fax of Life today...

Title: Work as Witness
Date: For the Week of October 1, 2007

Centuries ago somebody began spreading the false idea that the Christian life is to be understood in terms of two arenas – sacred and secular. Sacred places are church buildings. Sacred events are those such as worship or baptism or weddings. Sacred people are preachers or church officers.

The remainder of life was declared secular. So farms, stores, and schools were secular places. Surgery and manufacturing, accounting and teaching, driving and watching TV - all were labeled secular. And ordinary people doing the routine and humdrum things of shopping, eating, and reading are secular.

But that is so terribly wrong. In God's plan for human existence, it makes no sense. In light of Christ's teaching, work is witness.

I can grant that there is a sense of the sacred and holy in a church assembled for worship that is missing from a crowded, noisy office. But work is sacred too. It is holy by virtue of divine presence you bring to it as a person filled with God's Spirit and participating in God's creative work.

Writing letters, hiring people, selling lumber, stocking shelves, firing someone who broke company policy again, answering phones - these and whatever other things you will be expected to do today are not secular. They're not, that is, unless you misunderstand your role in them. You and I are in the world to continue the work of God. Creating. Improving. Empowering. Doing things that we and others will look at and say are "good" or even "very good."

My appeal is not that we should become workaholics. Instead, it is that we see ourselves as God sees us. We are extensions of his presence into the nooks and crannies of the world. If Paul could tell slaves to do their chores "with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to human masters" (Ephesians 6:5-8), surely some of us could take a more elevated view of our tasks in the workplace.

Work isn't an unspiritual curse from which you should desire freedom in order to visit retreats, seminars, and workshops on spiritual life. It is your lab for turning lead to gold, humdrum to holy by the Spirit-presence you take to life.

Your spiritual life won't be on hold as you work today. It will be on display.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Final Thoughts on Tolerance (at least for now)

A few final thoughts. I began talking about tolerance from the perspective of disagreement within the church, and proposed this definition: Tolerance is the subjugation of personal preference and opinion to the promotion of unity. Another way of saying that is not only do I not have to get my way, I don't resent it when I don't. I believe that this is a large part of 'loving my neighbor', and very much what it means to 'consider others better than myself'. I think these definitions work both in corporate settings and in interpersonal relationships.

As we talked about where to draw the line - what should we not tolerate, or what do we believe that God would not tolerate - it seems to me that it is our nature to draw lines where God would not, and to ignore some of the lines that God would draw. I don't know that it is our nature, but it certainly seems to be our history. Much of what we don't want to tolerate seems to come down to differences of opinion; what God seems not to tolerate is arrogance, injustice, mistreatment of the poor, the embracing of evil.

Even when dealing with with issues of justice, the line is not always clear. One obvious example in today's world is immigration, where there is a need to balance security with fairness. It seems to me - wherever one falls on a continuum from 'give me your tired, your poor' to 'send em all back where they came from' - when compassion is absent, when an entire group of people is presumed guilty until they prove their innocence, when one group of people is required to document its status to a higher standard than the ordinary population, the line has been drawn in the wrong place.

A less clear issue to me is the balance between personal freedom and corporate security. I don't have any idea of some of the things our government leadership knows about the dangers in today's world, but I have a concern when the government takes the position that it may monitor private conversations without warrant, when it can imprison people without charge, when it condones mistreatment and even torture, that the line may have been drawn in the wrong place. One of the scenes from Truth and Translation featured a former victim of torture at the hands of the police confronting the police official who had tortured him. The official's response was that if he could prevent multiple deaths from a terroristic act by torturing one individual, that he would do it again.

A little closer to home. Taylor and a group of about 50 Pepperdine students departed from LAX on September 5th, and arrived at Frankfurt International Airport on the 6th. News broke on the 4th that three German terrorists had been arrested - they had a large amount of explosives and one of their primary targets was the Frankfurt International Airport. As the news came out in bits and pieces it became apparent that their arrest had been largely enabled by American monitoring of their cell phone conversations.

I am thankful that the line was drawn where it was.

For me, the end did justify the means in this case. There are people with more knowledge than I whom I gladly trust to act appropriately. Yet, the nagging thought that 75 years ago the German people trusted a charismatic leader to act appropriately...

Saturday, September 22, 2007

More Intolerance in the News

The same morning that the front page chronicled the marchers gathering in Jena, the lead story in the Metro section was that local state representative Kirk England was switching from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party. His reason? "I found that the Republican leadership in Austin had no tolerance for the values and priorities of the folks I represent."

The referenced leadership would be a governor who alienated his own majority party members by issuing executive orders to enact laws that the legislature wouldn't, and a Speaker of the House who survived attempts by his own party members to remove him as Speaker only by a questionable parliamentary procedural interpretation that was the basis for his refusal to hear motions from the floor for the last two weeks of the legislative session.

Descriptions of both men range from principled to obstinate to arrogant, depending on who is doing the describing, but there are few who would describe them as tolerant....

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Intolerance in the News

I opened my paper this morning and front and center on the front page was an article about the thousands of people gathering to march in protest in Jena, Louisana. The vast majority of what I know about that situation I have learned from the media - I have no doubt that there are details of which I am unaware. Of some details there seems to be no dispute.

There was an oak tree on the high school campus that was for whites only; A black student asked a school official if black students could gather under the tree and the next day there were three nooses in the tree; The principal recommended that the students responsible for the nooses by expelled, but was overruled by the school board - they were given 3 days of in-school suspension instead; There were multiple confrontations between black and white students; A black student was beaten by a group of white students and former students at a Friday night party; A white student was beaten unconscious by six black students the following monday; One white former student was charged with battery in the Friday incident; The six black students were charged with attempted 2nd degree murder in the Monday incident; The charges were reduced to aggravated battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated battery for Mychal Bell, the first black student to stand trial; Bell faced an all-white jury; The 150 people called for jury duty included black citizens, but only 50 people appeared, and none of them were black.

The obvious perception is that justice in Jena is different for blacks than for whites. As I mentioned, there may well be details that might shade that perception a little, but the overwhelming evidence is that overt racial discrimination is alive and well.

What does that have to do with tolerance? The easy answer is that a lack of tolerance fostered an environment where these things happened. The more difficult questions are how can tolerance develop in an environment of injustice and so lacking in trust? What responsibility do we have to refuse to tolerate such an environment? Perhaps more to the point, how can we justify that we continue to tolerate it?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Britain's Got Talent

American Idol, America You've Got Talent, and similar shows feature judges who demonstrate varying degrees of tolerance and intolerance for the people performing on their shows. This video clip from the initial performance of the eventual winner of the Britain's Got Talent show is terrific - while enjoying the performance, watch the transformation in the judges' attitudes from a barely tolerant disdain to enthusiastic embrace...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Truth in Translation

Happy Birthday, Dad.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
A most vivid example of both tolerance and intolerance thrust itself into my consiousness when Barbara and I went to see Truth In Translation a week or so ago at SMU. This is a play about the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), as experienced by the diverse group of translaters who interpreted the testimonies of both victims and perpetrators into the 11 languages spoken in the country. The TRC was set up by South African president Nelson Mandela to help the country deal with the aftermath of the terrorism, violence, torture, and other human rights abuses that happened during the struggle to end apartheid.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission offered an opportunity for anyone who felt they had been a victim of violence to come forward and be heard. Perpetrators of violence could also give testimony in exchange for amnesty from prosecution. Throughout the play, pieces of actual testimony emerged through the voices of the tranlators. Their reactions as they listened to and repeated the testimonies of both victims and perpetrators painted a vivid picture of the range of emotions the testimonies brought out. Their interactions with each other, as members of the various cultures within South Africa, portrayed a microcosm of what the country itself was going through.

One of the most striking things about the evening was when we entered the lobby prior to the play. There were dozens of poster-sized banners, each portraying the story of one of the people who testified before the TRC. What was striking was that many of the people who had been victimized or who had lost loved ones had forgiven and had even developed a relationship with the person who had victimized them. There was one particular quotation that struck me, although a couple of weeks later I can't reproduce it verbatim. The context was that a woman had developed a friendship with the man who had murdered her father. The essance of what she said was that forgiveness was a journey; there were days when it was very difficult to forgive and days when it seemed that forgiveness was not needed, but that it was an ongoing journey and not something occurred once and then was bottled up and put away.

Monday, September 17, 2007

More on Tolerance

In the previous post I mentioned learning to practice tolerance in several different contexts - within a congregation, within the church at large, within interpersonal relationships, within the larger community. Over the past few weeks I have been considering some of the implications of the practice of tolerance, and have been deliberately conscious of examples and non-examples of tolerance within these contexts. Over the next few posts I will point out some of the examples that I've noticed.

There is an old saying that he who stands for nothing will fall for anything. One of the issues raised in class discussion yesterday was the potential of being too tolerant; the specific question was "Where do you draw the line?" The seemingly obvious answer would be where God draws it, but that may not be as obvious as some seem to think. The Pharisees were pretty certain that they knew what not to tolerate, but Jesus was pretty clear that they didn't get it. He seemed to tolerate people while not tolerating behavior - "Where are your accusers? Does no one condemn you? Then neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more."

It appears fairly certain that certainty is not tolerable to God, but certainty has been at the root of most of the division (which also seems to not be tolerable to God) the church has known. I would define tolerance as the subjugation of personal opinion and personal preference to the promotion of unity.

Using this definition, one recent example of tolerance at Skillman was our "Together We Worship" service a couple of weeks ago. We had a service focused on kids, with songs, a dog, and even communion geared towards children. While much of what was planned would not fall within the preference of most of the adults present, it was one of the most enthusiastically supported and participated in assemblies in recent memory.

Sadly, within this same recent timeframe we received a memo from one of the other congregations in town asking us to participate, financially and by lending our name, in an ad denouncing a decision by another of our local congregations. Regardless of one's opinion on the decision or the issue involved in the decision, the lack of tolerance exemplified here cannot contribute to the unity that Jesus prayed for.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Tolerance

During the month of September we have been discussing Tolerance in the Covenant class, using Romans 14 and 15 as the primary text. We began the discussion somewhat abstractly, talking about the differences in the history and contextual backgrounds of the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians in Rome and how that impacted their views on eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. We looked at the apparent contradiction in what Paul instructed the Romans and what he told the church in Galatia - in Romans he seems to come down on the 'side' of the Jews, and in Galatians he sides with the Gentiles - and suggested a couple of principles that seem to be consistent across both letters.
The first principle seems to be to accommodate the outsider. In Rome, the Gentile Christians were the established or dominant group; in Galatia, the opposite is true. In both instances he criticizes the establishment for trying to force the outsider to conform to its brand of Christianity.
The second principle seems to be to develop a tolerance for differences in interpretation, opinion, and practice. Tolerance is a mindset to apply within the congregation and to the church at large; to interpersonal relationships and to citizenship within the larger community.
I will have quite a bit more related to this concept over the next few days, but I thought that this comic from Sunday's paper captured the essance - you can click on it to see a more readable version...

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Middle Wife

I am working on a series of posts on Tolerance and Unity, but in the meantime Barbara sent this to me and I couldn't resist sharing it....

The "Middle Wife" by an Anonymous 2nd grade teacher

I've been teaching now for about fifteen years. I have two kids myself, but the best birth story I know is the one I saw in my own second-grade classroom a few years back.

When I was a kid, I loved show-and-tell. So I always have a few sessions with my students. It helps them get over shyness and usually, show-and-tell is pretty tame. Kids bring in pet turtles, model airplanes, pictures of fish they catch, stuff like that. And I never, ever place any boundaries or limitations on them. If they want to lug it in to school and talk about it, they're welcome.

Well, one day this little girl, Erica, a very bright, very outgoing kid, takes her turn and waddles up to the front of the class with a pillow stuffed under her sweater. She holds up a snapshot of an infant. "This is Luke, my baby brother, and I'm going to tell you about his birthday."

"First, Mom and Dad made him as a symbol of their love, and then Dad put a seed in my Mom's stomach, and Luke grew in there. He ate for nine months through an umbrella cord."

She's standing there with her hands on the pillow, and I'm trying not to laugh and wishing I had my camcorder with me. The kids are watching her in amazement.

"Then, about two Saturdays ago, my Mom starts saying and going, 'Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh!' Erica puts a hand behind her back and groans. "She walked around the house for, like an hour, 'Oh, oh, oh!' Now this kid is doing a hysterical duck walk and groaning.

"My Dad called the middle wife. She delivers babies, but she doesn't have a sign on the car like the Domino's man.

They got my Mom to lie down in bed like this." Then Erica lies down with her back against the wall. "And then, pop! My Mom had this bag of water she kept in there in case he got thirsty, and it just blew up and spilled all over the bed, like psshhheew!" This kid has her legs spread with her little hands miming water flowing away. It was too much!

"Then the middle wife starts saying 'push, push,' and 'breathe, breathe. They started counting, but never even got past ten. Then, all of a sudden, out comes my brother. He was covered in yucky stuff that they all said it was from Mom's play-center, so there must be a lot of toys inside there."

Then Erica stood up, took a big theatrical bow and returned to her seat. I'm sure I applauded the loudest. Ever since then, when it's show-and-tell day, I bring my camcorder, just in case another "Middle Wife" comes along.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Unity

The task is not, in essence, the securing of uniformity, or cooperation, or Church reunion, or any of the external forms, through which nevertheless the unity may be manifested. Within the wide bounds of the Christian Church there is abundant scope for the multiplicity of races, languages, and social conditions; room also for separate organizations with different traditions of faith and order, and much diversity of operation. But there is no room for strife or hostility, for pride or self-assertion, for exclusiveness or unkind judgments, nor for that kind of independence which leads men to ignore their fellowship with the great company of believers, the communion of saints. These things are contrary to the revealed will of God, and should be made at once to cease. As these disappear, the outward manifestation of unity will come in such ways as the Spirit of God shall guide. ... G. T. Manley, Christian Unity [1945]

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Jerry

Last Sunday morning I was sitting in the Covenant class when one of our ladies tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I could help a gentleman who was in the lobby. I walked out to the lobby and saw a guy sitting on the couch. He appeared to be around 40 years old, and was not dressed like most people at Skillman on a Sunday morning...

I sat down next to him, told him my name, and asked how I could help him. He said his name was Jerry and that he had a job at a laundromat a couple of miles away. He had ridden to Skillman on his bicycle. He was supposed to get a better job driving a delivery van for the company that owned the laundromat, but his wallet had been stolen and he needed some money to get his drivers license replaced.

The easy thing to do would have been to give him some cash and send him 'gratefully' on his way, but it so happened that I was not carrying any cash that day. I asked him what time he had to be at work on Monday. He said he was supposed to be there at 10, so I told him that if he would meet me back here at 8 o'clock Monday morning I would take him to get his drivers license before he had to go to work.

He said he would try, but could I give him some money for food, so I took him to the grocery store and bought a couple of bags of groceries. We got back to the church building just as class was letting out. He loaded his grocery sacks onto his bicycle, thanked me, and rode off, and I went in to church. Afterwards, I arranged with one of the ministers to take him and get his license if he showed up Monday morning.

Monday morning, no Jerry. But around 8:30 Wednesday morning I got a call from the church office that he had called to see if I could pick him up at the laundromat and take him to get his license. I actually had some unscheduled time that morning, so I went and picked him up and took him to Dallas City Hall to get his license. I asked him what ID he had so that he could get his license, and he didn't have any. He had lost his birth certificate some time ago, and his social security card was in his stolen wallet along with his license. He said that a police officer had told him that it wouldn't be a problem, because he was in the computer...

It was a problem. I got a glimpse of the frustration faced by people without the resources to navigate the systems of government regulations - regulations that are in place for the common good, but often significant barriers for the poor among us.

There was a short line at the drivers license window, but a large group of people who had been through the short line and were waiting to be called. When we got to the window, the lady asked Jerry for some identification, and he told her that the officer said he wouldn't need any because he was in the compter. She handed him a sheet of paper with a list of acceptable forms of identification and asked if he had any of those. He told her his wallet and IDs had been stolen and asked what was he supposed to do. Her response was "Come back when you have one of these on the sheet".

One of the forms of ID on the sheet was a birth certificate, and there is also a birth certificate office at City Hall, so we went there next to inquire about getting a copy of his birth certificate. The lady there said it would be no problem to get a copy as long as he had a drivers license or some other valid form of identification. He told her that he didn't have any, and she said that if he had a parent or sibling with ID that they could get a copy. He told her that it would be to hard for his mother to get to City Hall, and she gave him a form that his mother could send in by mail. He said that his mother could not afford the $22 fee and I told him that I would pay for it.

Jerry was still a bit frustrated, but out of excuses at this point. We took the form, and I took him back to the laundromat. I handed him the $22 to pay for the copy of his birth certificate, and told him that as soon as he got it to call me, and we would go and get his drivers license. He hasn't called yet, but I'm hoping that he will....

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Coors Field vs Fenway

This morning as I was driving to work, one of the morning crew on the Ticket (sports radio station in Dallas) was describing his visit to Fenway park the previous week. I couldn't help but compare his experience at Fenway with our own experience at Coors Field in Denver last week. I've been to games at 1/2 dozen major league stadiums, and Fenway is on my list of places to visit, but so far, the closest I have been to one of the great ball parks was a snowy early March tour of Wrigley Field.

As the radio host was describing his experience at Fenway, it lived up to and even surpassed expectations. I can't really say the same about Coors Field...

The stadium is in a reviving area of downtown Denver, and it looks good in its setting. We spent our first night in Colorado in downtown Denver, and were within a free shuttle and a few blocks' walk of the stadium. Denver, while a mile above sea level, sits on the plains at the edge of the Rockies; it was 96 degrees the afternoon that we got there, but the Cubs were in town and we decided to go to the game.

Games in Colorado start at 6 pm, and having never been to the stadium before, I requested seats that were not directly in the sun. I was assured by the guy behind the window that our seats would get only indirect sun. We ended up sitting about 2/3 of the way down the right field line, facing directly into the sun, and just sat there sweating and downing bottles of water. The seats are angled slightly towards home plate, but if you sit back in your seat your line of sight reaches a point just beyond the pitchers mound. So we sat sweating and leaning forward craning our necks in an effort to see the whole field. The crowd was lethargic, the game presentation was bland, and there seemed to be more Cubs fans than Rockies fans. Overall, easily the least enjoyable major league game that I have been to, although we were treated to a very fine sunset as the sun finally sank behind the mountains in the background.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Rocky Mountain High

Just back from a restful week in Colorado. I had planned to go to Colorado since my Jr High days when I heard John Denver singing Rocky Mountain High every morning on the school bus. (AM radio stations in the 70's in Wheeling, WVa were somewhat predictable in their play lists) - I just never imagined that I would be nearly 50 before I actually got there. I had been to Colorado Springs and the Air Force Academy several summers ago when I was coaching Lauren's off-season basketball team, but I spent most of my time with basketball and chaperoning a dozen girls...


Barbara, Taylor, and I spent last week in Estes Park, at the edge of the Rocky Mountain National Park. We white-water rafted, drove some scenic routes, did some hiking - it does not take long to become breathless at that altitude - and Taylor and I rented ATVs one afternoon. We spent one day at the Planet Bluegrass Folks Festival in Lyons. While the high temperature in Dallas topped 105, we enjoyed highs in the low 80's and lows in the 50's. We also rested to the sound of the Fall River just below our deck, and caught up on some reading.

Ironically, coincidentally, or perhaps providentially, one of the books I was reading was Daryl Tippens' Pilgrim Heart. Two of the chapters are entitled Resting: The Day Sabbath Becomes Joy and Resting: More Blessings of the Sabbath. He speaks of the rhythm of creation, the rhythm of nature, and how they reflect the nature of the creator. He talks of rest, sabbath, as being an integral part of that rhythm, and focuses on God's resting on the 7th day, of David's solitude as a shepherd, and of Jesus routinely withdrawing from and then re-engaging the crowds.

Being made in the image of God, it is within our nature to need and to benefit from regular rest. Unfortunately that's counter to the busyness in our lives. While it is not pragmatic at this point in my life to spend much time in Colorado on a regular basis, it is imperative that I 'rest' regularly.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Examen

During the month of August we are meeting on Wednesday nights for a meal and a time of prayer. This evening we practiced an abreviated form of a practice called Examen. Generally attributed to Ignatius sometime in the early 16th century, Examen is a daily exercise that has been a regular practice of Jesuits ever since. The Examen is a methodical prayer designed to help you recognize and receive God’s presence and action in the routine of daily life.

In churches of Christ we have a long history of rejecting practices that originate from within other denominations, and particularly from within Catholicism. I'm becoming convinced that we have sometimes cut off our nose to spite our face. It does not necessarily imply agreement with theology to adapt practices that can be helpful in spiritual formation in either a corporate or an individual sense. The more I learn, the more I discover that I don't know...

American Catholic Update describes these five simple steps to the Examen:

Recall that you are in the presence of God.
We are always in the presence of God, but in prayer we place ourselves in God’s presence in an especially attentive way.

Look at your day with gratitude.
As you move in gratitude through the details of your day, remember that every single event has been God’s gift. As you take stock of what has been given you this day, take special care to notice what you received and what you gave. As you complete the review of your gifts and the particular gifts of this day, pause briefly to thank God for all these.

Ask help from the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit will help you understand the mystery of your human heart, and at this point you ask to learn more about your actions and motivations. This is not a “beat up on yourself” session, where you will grind at the core of your being in sadness over things you have done wrong. Rather, it is a gentle look with the Lord at how you have responded to God’s gifts.

Review your day.
Here you review your entire day, watching it like a little movie that replays in your mind. Be sure to notice the details, the context of what happened and how you acted. As you look through the day, notice especially your interior motives and feelings. Examine just how conscious you have been of God’s presence and actions in your life.


Reconcile and resolve
In the first and second steps, we ask the Spirit of God to guide us as we look at our day with gratitude. In the third and fourth steps we ask the Spirit of God to guide us as we review our actions. The final step, our heart-to-heart talk with Jesus, is the fruit of that repetition.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Tom Landry and Faith

Taylor and I are going to the Cowboys' first preseason game this week. I have not been to a Cowboys game since Jerry Jones bought the team, and Taylor has never been. Since he will be spending their last season at Texas Stadium in Heidelberg, this may be the last opportunity he has to attend a game at the stadium with the hole in the roof.

While I grew up far from Texas, I have been a Cowboys fan for as long as I can remember. I think it goes back to the very first time I became aware of a football game on television, and the Cowboys were playing the Redskins. In my young mind, the cowboys represented the "good guys", and I have followed them ever since.

I have long since abandoned the notion that the Cowboys are the "good guys", but there have been some truly good Cowboys, and the best was Tom Landry. He set an example for millions by living according to his faith. This is what he had to say about faith...

I realize that a lot of people think the idea of a "personal relationship" with God sounds disturbingly exclusive, some-how presumptive, and more than a little pious. I thought the same thing before I read what the Bible said and decided to become a Christian. According to the Bible, this idea of having a personal relationship with God isn’t at all presumptive. It was God’s idea. And it’s not at all exclusive. It’s available to anyone who accepts God’s offer. It’s that belief, that faith, more than anything else that enabled me to last 29 years on the sidelines of the Dallas Cowboys. It’s that faith that has allowed me to keep my perspective and not feel devastated or bitter about being fired. And it’s that faith that gives me hope for whatever the future holds for me . . . Landry: An Autobiography

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Some Quotes on Prayer

Meanwhile, little people like you and me, if our prayers are sometimes granted, beyond all hope and probability, had better not draw hasty conclusions to our own advantage. If we were stronger, we might be less tenderly treated. If we were braver, we might be sent, with far less help, to defend far more desperate posts in the great battle. ... C. S. Lewis

Prayer is not a way of making use of God; prayer is a way of offering ourselves to God in order that He should be able to make use of us. It may be that one of our great faults in prayer is that we talk too much and listen too little. When prayer is at its highest we wait in silence for God's voice to us; we linger in His presence for His peace and His power to flow over us and around us; we lean back in His everlasting arms and feel the serenity of perfect security in Him. ... William Barclay

Our ordinary views of prayer are not found in the New Testament. We look upon prayer as a means for getting something for ourselves; the Bible idea of prayer is that we may get to know God Himself....Is the Son of God praying in me, or am I dictating to Him?....Prayer is not simply getting things from God, that is a most initial form of prayer; prayer is getting into perfect communion with God. If the Son of God is formed in us by regeneration, He will press forward in front of our common sense and change our attitude to the things about which we pray. ... Oswald Chambers

Friday, August 03, 2007

Old Words to Think About

Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by these who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion....

The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. - Augustine

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Some Gems in Blogland

I've been away from the blog for a few days and this evening as I was catching up on some of the blogs I regularly read, there were several that were powerful...

Larry James has a terrific story about being a neighbor...

Craig Jones is an old friend dating back to my freshman year at Harding. His wife Jan has cancer, and he sent this article by Tony Snow to David Underwood. It provides a tremendous perspective on life, death, and disease...

Brian Mashburn's most recent post contains a link to this thought-provoking article describing the current condition of the churches of Christ by Joe Beam...

Many of you are aware of the wreck a couple of months ago that took the life of Conner Brown and severely injured his sister Bailey Brown, two of the children of Tod and Lee Ann Brown. I knew that Tod was a minister on the staff of a church in Midland, but did not realize until some time later that Lee Ann was the daughter of John and Rosalyn Bailey and the sister of Steven Bailey - a family that I have been acquainted with since my first year in the classroom. The Browns' journal is heart-wrenching and encouraging - an honest account of their struggle and faithfulness as they attempt to pick up the pieces of their family.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Free Movie...

This Sunday night, The Skillman Church of Christ will host a free screening of the movie Sophie Scholl. The movie will be shown in the church’s sanctuary at 3014 Skillman from 5-7PM and following the showing of the movie the audience will be invited to participate in a discussion about the film that will end at 8 PM. We will serve refreshments during the discussion time.

The movie set in 1943 tells the true story of Sophie Scholl, who along with her brother, is a member of the White Rose, a non-violent anti-Nazi group. At great personal risk, she, her brother and their friends distribute literature challenging Hitler and the Nazi government. Eventually, the government arrests her and her brother and tries them for crimes against the state.

The film raises many important questions such as, what do we value the most in life? Can we stand on our convictions when everything and everyone else opposes them? When is civil disobedience appropriate?

If you have any questions call the church office at 214.823.2179

Sunday, July 22, 2007

It's WHO You Know...

We were in Austin this weekend and visited the University Avenue church this morning. They are beginning a series on getting to know Jesus better. Mark Love (not The Mark Love of PMC) is one of their ministers and spoke this morning. He was describing a number of situations in his life where he had benefited - tickets to sporting events, cutting through red tape, etc - because he knew someone, and used that old phrase "it's not what you know, it's who you know".

The typical context for that phrase is often politics or business, or a combination of the two. It is sometimes used as sour grapes, but is often used in a fatalistic acknowledgement of reality. And in that context there may not be anywhere that it is more true than Austin, unless it's Washington...

But when it comes to our relationship with and standing before God, there is no truer statement - It really is WHO we know. And I think that the series at the University Avenue church is right on track. I believe we have settled way too often for the what we know - knowledge about the Father, about the Son, about the Spirit - and have been unable or unwilling to recognize that knowledge about is not the same as knowing God, knowing Jesus, knowing the Spirit. Brian Mashburn put it this way in a recent post, and I think he is right on target...

The great change in my life was the focus on depth, not breadth. I'm not interested in learning more stuff about the Bible as much as I am interesting in understanding and assimilating and becoming the stuff that I have already learned. I'm not as interested in more people being "in my church" as much as I am interested in the people "in my church" taking their next step into Christlikeness. I'm not as interested doing more stuff in my Christian service as I am in doing less stuff more deeply. I believe that the focus on depth can lead to breadth, if God deems it, but that the focus on breadth steals depth.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

More on Missional Benevolence

In timely regard to the conversation and comments to this week's earlier post, the current issue of Leadership Journal includes Missions That Heal, an article by Joel Wickre that speaks directly to the concept of doing good with the best of intentions. Here are the first few paragraphs...

In my own attempt to deal with poverty in a Christlike way, the most profound lesson I've learned is also the most obvious: Poor people are people. Those who live and die in want of basic needs are just as smart, beautiful, creative, motivated, holy, and wise as you and I. They are also just as dumb, ugly, dull, lazy, sinful, and foolish as you and I. Living in Nicaragua, Mexico, and more recently Kenya alongside people in poverty, I've seen how our inability to identify with people across the wealth divide can subvert our good intentions in missions, hurting the people we're trying to love.

Examining our blindness to the humanity and volition of poor people would reveal a deeper issue underlying poverty: broken fellowship. We show our alienation from God by toxic relationships with each other, inequality, and poverty on a local and global scale. Fellowship among believers is at the heart of God's vision of redemption, alongside his desire for us to have individual relationships with him.

Maintaining healthy relationships across the wealth divide, however, is not easy. Lack of awareness of the enormous power differential between the "servants" and the "served" has led countless well-meaning mission groups to disempower poor communities. People who are treated as helpless come to hold a lesser view of themselves. People who believe they are "blessed to be a blessing" and in no need themselves come to a lesser view of the people they serve. These victim and savior complexes create a co-dependency that perpetuates the problems of poverty and far outweighs any temporary relief such missions provide.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Reasons For Hope

A couple of significant signs of hope for Skillman's future...

Sunday morning James and some of the youth gave a brief report on their recent trip to New Orleans. That our kids and sponsors have been willing the last 2 summers to spend a week in the 9th Ward serving in dirty, humid, almost unfathomable conditions is in itself a good thing. But the sign of hope is in what James said at the conclusion of the report - "As we did in New Orleans, let us do in Dallas"....

The Friends (Young Adults) class has been exploring what it means to be missional in the community, and some have begun a practice of meeting an hour early each Sunday morning to pray for Skillman's efforts in this area. Below is a copy of the email reminder sent out today...

Hey guys,Just a reminder - to those of you interested in lifting up Skillman in prayer as we seek God for direction for our church and community, we will be meeting at 8:00 am before church every Sunday in the Prayer Room. (The Prayer Room is a room in the back and to the right of the auditorium if you are standing on stage looking at pews.)Hope to see you all there!
Bethany

"Prayer and meditation have an important part to play in opening up new ways and new horizons. If your prayer is the expression of a deep and grace-inspired desire for newness of life—and not the mere blind attachment to what has always been familiar and "safe"—God will act in us and through us to renew the Church by preparing, in prayer, what we cannot yet imagine or understand. In this way our prayer and faith today will be oriented toward the future which we ourselves may never see fully realized on earth."- Thomas Merton

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Missional Benevolence?

Underlying many of our conversations at Skillman about becoming missional is a consistently voiced thought that the purpose of our participation in the Partnership for Missional Church is to attract more people and increase our numbers. I've not been articulate enough to bring about an understanding that becoming missional is about fulfilling the mission that Jesus gave us, that attracting new members may be a by-product but is not the goal. Transformed lives is the goal...

A recent conversation about reviving our Benevolence Program illustrates. A comment was made that we need to revive our food pantry because we have people who want to have a food pantry and who enjoy working in it. We need to provide that opportunity for them so we can retain them. Also, if people see that we have a benevolence program, they will find that attractive and want to be a part of it.

We may need to revive the food pantry, or we may not. If we do, it should be in partnership with our community to address a need in our community - not to provide a program to make our members happy or to be attractive to the neighborhood. The missional mindset has not yet become the norm...

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Jesus Story

From the first century to the twenty-first century, stories have been a God-ordained medium for communicating truth. We would have been wiser to see the whole of Scripture as narrative carrying a single story of divine love, intervention, and redemptive work than as a law book. We would have grasped the gospel more naturally and communicated it more effectively.

More and more, I am reading and writing and telling The Jesus Story without syllogisms. Without argument. Without nuanced theology. Without mental gymnastics. It is dawning on me that a clear, compelling account of the heart, life, and words of Jesus creates a singular passion. People ache to get into the picture with him. - Rubel Shelley

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Screwtape Redux

In C. S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, a high-ranking official in the beaurocracy of Hell named Screwtape gives his nephew Wormwood detailed advice on various methods of undermining the faith of Christians, interspersed with observations on human nature and Christian doctrine. Patrick Mead has written a contemporary letter from Screwtape and posted it on his blog. Here is a sampling of it...

Full churches can mean that we are winning! If those churches are full of people there for the health, wealth, family benefits, friendship, minister, programs, worship… we win. Those kind of believers want the crown without the cross, not realizing that that isn’t the way it works.
There IS a church member who is dangerous to us. That is the one who is there because of their love for Jesus.

You can read the entire letter here.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Quote for the Day

We need to forget the imaginary Christ who has been ours too long and to rediscover the real Christ, the Christ of the prophets and the martyrs and the confessors, the Christ who is not only the lover of souls but also master, a monarch with demands to make in industry, in finance, in education, in the arts, in marriage, in the home; the Christ who is teacher of a social ideology which has eternal validity; the Christ who cries aloud with convincing force, "He who would save his life will lose it; only he who is willing to lose his life, can find it."... Bernard Iddings Bell

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Priority of God

We have adopted a new committee structure at Skillman - from my perspective it is an effort to move administrative tasks off the Elders' agenda to allow us to focus on more important things a la Acts 6. It will likely take some time and some adjustment, but there is hope...

One of the committees I am assigned to is the Worship Committee. As I run across articles and other resources to share with the committee, I will post some excerpts here. The following is the final paragraph from a 1998 article in Worship Leader...

The great need of the church today is neither to cling to the old or to create the new forms and formats. Our greatest need today is to recover the priority of God in our worship and in the whole of life. The wineskin issues are totally secondary to the more pressing need for the new wine of the Spirit. The crisis in worship today is not a crisis of form but of spirituality. When worship renewal comes, the congregation pursues God Himself as its ultimate objective. God Himself is treasured above any experience, any feeling or any result of worship. Love to God will be the dominant affection expressed through the various forms of worship. Fresh commitment to God is the common response of the entire worshiping community. Worship becomes an end in itself rather than the means to some other end. Worship will be experienced as a relationship with God being dynamically acted out rather than merely being a function of the church. - Bruce H. Leafblad, Worship 101: Recovering the Priority of God

Monday, July 09, 2007

Barbara Brown Taylor on Leaving Church...

One of the writers that Dwight occasionally quotes from is Barbara Brown Taylor . The following is from her latest book Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith...

"Gradually I remembered what I had known all along, which is that church is not a stopping place but a starting place for discerning God's presence in this world. By offering people a place where they engage the steady practice of listening to divine words and celebrating divine sacraments, church can help people gain a feel for how God shows up--not only in Holy Bibles and Holy Communion but also in near neighbors, mysterious strangers, sliced bread, and grocery store wine. That way, when they leave church, they no more leave God than God leaves them."

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The World We Live In

If there was a village of 100 people representing the earth's more than 6 billion people, in the existing human ratios as they are in the world today, it would look something like the following:

61 would be from Asia
13 would be from Africa
12 would be from Europe
9 would be from Latin America & the Caribbean
5 would be from North America

52 would be female
48 would be male

70 would be non-white
30 would be white

31 would be Christian
21 would be Muslim
14 would be Hindu
6 would be Buddhist
12 would believe in other religions
16 would not be religious or identify themselvesas being aligned with a particular faith

82 would be able to read and write
18 would not
1 would have a college education
1 would own a computer

6 people would possess 59% of the entire world's wealth and all 6 would be from the United States.

80 would live in substandard housing
70 would be unable to read
50 would suffer from malnutrition

1 would be near death; 1 would be near birth

~~~~~~~~~~~~~
I woke up this morning with more health than illness...I am more blessed than the million who will not survive this week.

I have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture, or the pangs of starvation...I am more blessed than 500 million people in the world.

I can attend a church meeting without fear of harassment, arrest, torture, or death...I am more blessed than three billion people in the world.

I have food in the refrigerator, clothes on my back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep...I am richer than 75% of this world.

I have been given much; much is expected of me.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Authentic Worship

I thought this excerpt on worship from Leadership Journal was worth passing on...

Authenticity and integrity in worship means expressing both lament and praise. Each element completes the other. Without lament, praise is little more than shallow sentimentality and a denial of life's struggles and sin. Without praise, lament is a denial of hope and grace, both of which are central to our life of faith and to God's promises.

To value one over the other is like suggesting that breathing in is more important than breathing out.

This is not only an issue of authenticity and integrity. It cuts to the heart of hospitality and pastoral sensitivity. For those coming to a worship service immersed in pain, celebratory praise takes on a mocking tone that excludes them. They are unable to join honestly in these choruses.

By incorporating expressions of sorrow, pain, and grief into our worship, as the psalms do, the hurting are ushered into God's presence with honesty. At the same time, the rest of the congregation is reminded of the suffering community gathered in their midst. They are invited to weep with those who are weeping. By honoring their pain, we acknowledge those who are suffering and affirm them in their grief.

Yet worship is not complete without turning to praise. When pain has been acknowledged, those who suffer are invited beyond their pain to consider God's faithfulness in the midst of suffering and even to rejoice with those who are rejoicing.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

I Got Mine - There's Not Enough For You...

An article in the Morning News this week described the plight of two recent college graduates who are unable to legally work in the U.S. because their parents brought them across the border as infants without going through the legal immigration process. The families have been hard-working, productive members of their respective communities for twenty years. This is the only home these two girls have ever known. They have excelled in the classroom and been model student/citizens all the way from kindergarten through graduation from college. Both have teaching degrees in subject areas that are in high demand, but neither are eligible to be hired by any public school system.

Since the article ran, there have been numerous letters to the editor, almost all with a similar theme - let them go back to their own country and teach. There is a profound scarcity mentality reflected in most comments; that there is not enough America to share, and that as more immigrants come there less there is for us. The prevailing sentiment seems to be 'we got here first, we get to make the rules.'

I don't begin to claim to be able to understand, much less propose a solution for all of the issues involved with immigration and protecting our borders, but most of what I read in these letters has very little to do with those real issues and very much to do with not wanting to provide a fair opportunity to those who are different. I don't see anything that resembles these words, found at the base of the Statue of Liberty:

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Learning to Partner

One of the adaptive challenges we are recognizing in the PMC project is getting to know and serve our community. This excerpt from a Leadership Journal article offers some insight into some of the learnings of a small historic church in Virginia...

As people outside our church realized we were really interested in the community, they opened up to us, and viewed us in a different light. An elementary school teacher has visited our church several times. She is involved in the music program and told me recently, "You know, attending your church isn't as bad as I thought it would be."

We laughed at her comment, but both of us understood what she meant: folks were seeing our church with new eyes. We were building bridges.

Fourth, we learned that when you partner with others, you give up some control. You collaborate. We collaborated with teachers, local politicians, business leaders, and artists as equal partners.

A media representative said to me one day, "It's good to see a church involved with real life." An African-American pastor expressed it this way: "Before," she said, "there were us things and them things. This is the first time we have worked together on our thing."

Finally, we had to drop our hidden agendas. We weren't doing good in our community only to get people to join our church. True, our worship attendance is up about 20 percent. New members have joined, and we have first-time visitors almost every Sunday. Not all are a result of our partnerships, but some come because they have seen what we are doing.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Wright and Newton

"The early Christians, like their Jewish contemporaries, saw heaven and earth as the overlapping and interlocking spheres of God’s good creation, with the point being that heaven is the control room from which earth is run. To say that Jesus is now in heaven is to say three things. First, that he is present with his people everywhere, no longer confined to one space-time location within earth, but certainly not absent. Second, that he is now the managing director of this strange show called ‘earth’, though like many incoming chief executives he has quite a lot to do to sort it out and turn it around. Third, that he will one day bring heaven and earth together as one, becoming therefore personally present to us once more within God’s new creation. The Bible doesn’t say much about our going to heaven. It says a lot about heaven, and particularly heaven’s chief inhabitant, coming back to earth." -- N.T. Wright

~~~~~~~~~~~~~
I am not what I ought to be. I am not what I want to be. I am not what I hope to be. But still, I am not what I used to be. And by the grace of God, I am what I am. ... John Newton

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Barclay on the Gospels...

The Gospels are not primarily historical documents. They are not intended to be regarded as biographies of Jesus. They are in fact the preaching material of the early church . . . They are attempts to show the mind and heart and the character of Jesus, and they make this attempt, not simply as a matter of interest, and not simply as a contribution to history, but so that those who read may see the mind of God in Jesus. The Gospels are not simply descriptions of Jesus -- they are invitations to believe in him as the Son of God.
WILLIAM BARCLAY: Introducing the Bible

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Random Thoughts and Quotes

The loving service which God sends His people into the world to render includes both evangelism and social action, for each is in itself an authentic expression of love, and neither needs the other to justify it. ... John R. W. Stott
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
There are three types of drivers out there - the idiots, the maniacs, and me. The ones who drive slowly along, "deliberately" hindering me on my important journey - those are the idiots; The ones who speed by me, disregarding my superb judgement about what is safe and my proper respect to 10 miles per hour above the speed limit - those are the maniacs; and then there is me. Unfortunately, I often view fellow travelers on the road of life the same way...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~
50% of all teachers leave the profession within the first three years. - Opening screen from the terrific movie Chalk, a mockumentary following 3 teachers and a first-year assistant principal through the course of a school year. I will be recommending that this be required viewing for all of our alternative certification candidates...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~
We have forgotten the gracious hand which has preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and have vainly imagined in the deceitfulness of our hearts that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving Grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us. ... Abraham Lincoln

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Missional: Possible

The winter edition of Leadership Journal had a series of articles under the heading Going Missional. One of those, Missional Possible: Steps to Transform from a Consumer Church into a Missional Church, was distributed to the elders from each congregation at last week's PMC cluster meeting to take home, read, and discuss as a group. We haven't met to discuss it yet, but I look forward to the conversation.

This 2-page article gives one of the clearest definitions of missional that I have read. I'll let it speak for itself...

Missio Dei stems from the Triune God: the Father sends the Son, the Father and the Son send the Spirit, and the Father and Son and the Spirit send the church into the world...

A missional church lives out the church's three-dimensional calling: to be upwardly focused on God in worship that is passionate; to be inwardly focused on community among believers that is demonstrated in relationships of love and compassion; and to be outwardly focused on a world that does not yet know God...

Two main distractions often block a congregation's missional expression. The first is Self-Preservation...the church began to exist for the sake of the church...the point is not whether we can build churches that last, but whether churches can touch the world with God's love...

The other primary distraction is Church Growth. When the emphasis is on bringing the world to the church, the church's mission of going to the world can get lost...

Attracting people to the church is not necessarily wrong. In fact, it's important not to view missional as the opposite of attractional...the problem arises when attracting people becomes the mission...

Becoming missional means redirecting resources toward the world. This means that church leaders take a hard look at how money, time, and energy are allocated. Is it for the sole benefit of those in the church, or invested in God's mission to the world?

Friday, June 08, 2007

The Wisdom of Crowds

This month's book for Central Dallas Ministries' Urban Engagement Book Club was James Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds. I haven't quite finished it yet, but he makes a compelling argument that collectively, we are smarter than any of us individually. Like much of what I read these days, I see implications for a missional church.

He begins with a historical illustration from a 19th century county fair in England. 800 people entered a contest to guess what the weight of an ox would be when it was butchered. While some of the contestants were familiar with livestock, most were essentially ignorant. When all of the guesses were averaged together, the collective guess was that the ox would weight 1197 lbs. It's actual weight was 1198 lbs. None of the individual guesses were close.

He gives examples from a variety of fields, including the stock market, the gaming industry, google, and politics, and concludes that, given the proper conditions, the collective wisdom can generally be counted on to be better than that of individuals. Those conditions include diversity, independence, and decentralization.

The first year of the Partnership for Missional Church process is spent in learning to listen. Another way of saying that is that we have been learning to practice collective discernment. This book seems to underscore the value in the process, if the group has enough diversity and independence.

A couple of specific passages caught my attention. The first, in an illustration on the ignorance of voters (the context is that despite individual ignorance, democracy works exveptionally well)...
Polls show that Americans think that the United States spends 24% of its annual budget on foreign aid. The reality is that it spends less than 1%. (p. 266)

The second passage that caught my attention explains a little bit why diversity is critical...
If you think about intelligence as a kind of toolbox of skills, the list of skills that are the "best" is relatively small, so that people who have them tend to be alike. This is normally a good thing, but it means that as a whole the group knows less than it otherwise might. Adding a few people who know less, but have different skills, actually improves the performance of the group. (p. 30)

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Missional Theology of the Blues Brothers

In the movie The Blues Brothers, Elwood proclaimed throughout the movie in his exaggerated Chicago accent, "We're on a mission from God." Jake and Elwood were on a mission to raise enough money to save the orphanage where they had grown up. Through all their escapades, as they reunited the members of their band, as they evaded police, klansmen, and women scorned, as they performed on stage, they continually came back to "We're on a mission from God."

One might not exactly agree with their methodology, and one might even question whether their sense of mission was of God (although I seem to recall James saying something about caring for widows and orphans), but one would have a hard time denying that they remained motivated by their mission.

There is a lesson there for us as we seek to become missional. If we become convinced and convicted that we are on a mission from God, we might take a few risks and we might step outside our comfort zones. That may be what a missional church is - one who says, "We're on a mission from God."

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Missional Reflections

Random, possibly related thoughts on PMC and evangelism....

In 1900, 80 percent of the world's Christians lived in Europe and North America. Today, more than 60 percent of the world's Christians live outside those lands. Patrick Mead recently used a hyphothetical illustration of a Yugoslavian goatherd who came across a Bible and read it with no prior exposure to religion of any kind, and asked whether some of the issues that have historically divided us would even occur to the goatherd. As more and more people from other parts of the world, particular the southern hemisphere - Africa, India, Asia - are exposed to the Bible the illustration becomes less hypothetical and more reflective of reality. If we are willing to listen, hearing a fresh perspective can be a healthy thing....

One of the findings from the interview process of the Discovery phase was that among all the churches in our cluster fewer than 5% of the interviewees used God as the subject in a sentance with an active verb. Pat Kiefert described this as functional athieism. While I'm not convinced that description actually applies to 95% of the members of our congregations, I'm also not convinced that it doesn't apply to a sizeable number. To be a Christian means far more than merely to believe in God—as if the Christian faith were reducible to a system of beliefs—it means to be united with Jesus in and through the Holy Spirit, and to live a life that reflects his image....

Speaking of belief, Larry James recounted in a recent post an occasion while he was running with a friend and they encountered a homeless man and stopped to talk with him...

As we finished our run, Dan said, "I've noticed that you never 'hammer' people with the Jesus speech. You don't lead with 'Do you believe in Jesus?'"Reflecting on his comment as we continued our run, it hit me, in spite of my oxygen deprivation, that the most important question is not, "Does John believe in Jesus?" The real question is, "Does Larry believe in Jesus?"

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Last weekend one of the ministers at a congregation in Midland was returning from a wedding in the Dallas area with his family. His 16 year old son was driving and fell asleep; their suburban rolled, their 13 year old son was killed and their 18 year old daughter was seriously injured. In addition to praying for this family, and especially for their 16 year old, read this post by Brian Mashburn.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Hip Hop and LeBron

Barbara and I usually attempt to see the movies each year that receive Oscar nominations for Best Picture along with at least some of the ones with actors/actresses who are nominated. One of those that we did not get around to this past year was Blood Diamond. A few days ago Taylor rented it, and he and I watched it one night. There were a few themes that ran through the movie - the self-centered mercenary who in the end sacrificed himself for a friend; the father desperate to reunite and save his family; the oppressive violence wielded by the parties in power; the desperation of African refugees trying to escape unthinkable violence and violation.

But the thing that caught my attention more than anything was the Hip-Hop music that was constantly present among among the young men and boys who were taken from there families, and forced to either become soldiers or die a torturous death. Through the course of the movie they transformed into the same violent bullies that they had been abducted by, and a constant in almost all of their scenes was loud Hip-Hop music.

I have fairly eclectic tastes in the music that I enjoy listening to, but have to admit that from a personal enjoyment perspective, Hip-Hop is just not real high on my list. And I have a real problem with the violence and degradation towards women and others that exists in some of the gangsta lyrics. But, I also have an admiration for the art form, and even more so after reading this article in National Geographic that Larry James referenced in a recent post.

My initial assumption while watching the movie was that the Hip-Hop had been imported from America, but realize after reading the article that the music may have been locally produced. It is a style that is pervasive around the world, and is a language of a culture or cultures that I might understand better if I didn't automatically tune it out.

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As I write this I am witnessing one of the most incredible individual performances in NBA playoff history. LeBron James received quite a bit of criticism for not making a spectacular play at the end of both games 1 and 2 of the series between Cleveland and Detroit. Detroit won both of those games by 2 points, and in both games, LeBron had a final opportunity to score but did not. Tonight he has just taken the ball forcefully and definitively to the hole for dunks twice within the last 40 seconds of the game and has gotten his team to overtime. He has scored all of his teams points through the first overtime period and is carrying them through the second as well....

He just took the ball to the hole again for a layup with 2 seconds left to win game five for the Cavaliers. Nearly fifty points for the night, including the last 25 points consecutively for his team, as he willed them to a win. I don't believe that even his will and talent will be enough to overcome San Antonio in the finals, but tonight was a performance that will not be soon forgotten.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Gasoline - A Little Perspective

Like most people with email accounts, I occasionally get forwarded emails from friends, relatives, and/or complete strangers. Depending on the source I may or may not read them, but I never forward them on. I am making a semi-exception by posting this one because 1) it came from my parents, and 2) I just spent $75 filling up my tank. $3 per gallon gas has me seriously considering getting rid of my 11 year old, trouble-free, very comfortable, and long ago paid for Tahoe and replacing it with something more fuel efficient. One side of me says that I can buy an awful lot of gas for the cost of payments on a new vehicle...

At any rate, all of these examples do NOT imply that gasoline is cheap...

Compared with Gasoline......
Lipton Ice Tea 16 oz $1.19.....$9.52 per gallon
Diet Snapple 16 oz $1.29.....$10.32 per gallon
Gatorade 20 oz $1.59 .... $10.17 per gallon
Ocean Spray 16 oz $1.25 .... $10.00 per gallon
Brake Fluid 12 oz $3.15 .... $33.60 per gallon
Scope 1.5 oz $0.99 .... $84.48 per gallon
Vick's Nyquil 6 oz $8.35 .... $178.13 per gallon
Pepto Bismol 4 oz $3.85 .... $123.20 per gallon
Whiteout 7 oz $1.39 .... $2542 per gallon

And this is the REAL KICKER...Evian water 9 oz $1.49....$21.19 per gallon!
$21.19 for WATER And the buyers don't even know the source. (Evian spelled backwards is Naive.)

Monday, May 28, 2007

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Proverbs...and Joe Paterno

Reading through Proverbs in Eugene Peterson's The Message, I was struck by the way he worded some that I've read numerous times before...

Start with God - the first step in learning is bowing down to God; only fools thumb their noses at such wisdom and learning. 1:7

So - join the company of good men and women, keep your feet on the tried and true paths. It's the men who walk straight who will settle this land, the women with integrity who will last here. The corrupt will lose their lives, the dishonest will be gone for good. 2:20-22

Never walk away from someone who deserves help; your hand is God's hand for that person. Don't tell your neighbor, "Maybe some other time," or "Try me tomorrow," when the money's right there in your pocket. Don't figure out ways of taking advantage of your neighbor when he's sitting there trusting and unsuspecting. 3:27-29

Keep vigilant watch over your heart, that's where life starts. Don't talk out of both sides of your mouth; avoid careless banter, white lies, and gossip. 4:23-24

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I have long been an admirer of Joe Paterno and the Penn State football program. It seems entirely appropriate to me, in a post on proverbs, to include a link to this article about Paterno. There is a good side to college athletics...

Monday, May 21, 2007

Singing: The Way to Heaven's Door

One of the books in my stack to get to is Darryl Tippens' book on spiritual formation, Pilgrim Heart. The 12th chapter addresses singing, and was distributed in booklet form at the Pepperdine lectureship. Here are a couple of excerpts to ponder...
Christian hymns invite us to delight in God's presence, not merely think about him. Music awakens us to God's matchless power, beauty, and transcendence – his sheer otherness. Music can simultaneously make us feel God's grandeur and our smallness compared to him. This is why, whenever a worshiper approaches God – as seen in Isaiah 6:1-5 or throughout the Book of Revelation – the worshiper invariably resorts to symbolic language, image, and song to describe the uncanny experience. These are the "tools" of the worshiper to suggest the unsearchable, ineffable nature of God. "O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!" (Romans 11:33). p147

It is possible that the quest for the ideal hymn perfectly performed could obscure the goal of meeting God in worship. George Ives was a church musician and the father of the great American composer Charles Ives. The father taught his son to respect the power of vernacular music. Concerning a stone-mason who sang irritatingly off key, the father instructed Charles: Watch him closely and reverently, look into his face and hear the music of the ages. Don't pay too much attention to the sounds–for if you do, you may miss the music. You won't get a wild, heroic ride to heaven on pretty little sounds.

In the so-called "worship wars" too many people, trapped in futile debates about the "pretty little sounds," have sadly missed "the wild, heroic ride to heaven." If we would be but more patient and flexible, recognizing that our singing is our gift to God (and therefore not primarily about our tastes or what we like), then it would matter less whether the song selection matches our personal preferences. Christian music is first and foremost a simultaneous offering of our voices to God, a receiving of God's word to us, and a statement of our faith proffered to the world. If we must err in one direction, a missional attitude is prudent. In the spirit of Luther we should advocate music that wins the hearts of the young and the untaught. p154

Saturday, May 19, 2007

60 Minutes Segment on Homeless Patients

I'm passing this post along to you at Larry James' request...

Plan now to tune in to 60 MINUTES tomorrow evening on CBS televison. A segment of the program is entitled "Dumped on Skid Row."

Here is an advance publicity piece that we received from CBS television describing the segment:

Are some Los Angeles hospitals simply throwing homeless patients out on the street after discharging them, literally dumping them on Skid Row --even if they come from other places in Los Angeles and are in no condition to fend for themselves?

While there have been allegations of hospital dumping for years, people only started paying attention recently, after several shelters installed special cameras on the street to try to capture the practice.

Anderson Cooper’s investigation will air this Sunday, May 20, on 60 MINUTES (7PM ET/PT on CBS).

For more details you can check out the CBS News website at:

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/1998/07/08/60minutes/main13502.shtml.

If you have any further questions, please contact Robin Sanders at sandersr@cbsnews.com.

I continue to be amazed at just how expendible the poor have become in this country.

I hope you'll watch the report.


Please pass this post on to your friends, family and associates.

Friday, May 18, 2007

More Missional Vision...

The remainder of Edward Fudge's comment on missional vision...

In an "attractional" church, success is usually measured by the number of people in attendance, the size of the offering and (using those calculators) the growth of the institution itself. In a "missional" church, success will not be measured by counting heads or dollars but by faithfulness to God's mission, deepening faith and the development of Christ-like disciples. Obviously these intangible indicators are much harder to assess than those borrowed from the business world. That does not bother missional people, however, because their focus is not on the institutional church to begin with. It is rather on the kingdom and mission of God.

Missional people understand that the church is called to be an expression of God's kingdom during the interim between Christ's first coming and his final appearing. God has planted the church in the world as a model community, an advance demonstration of the redeemed society of the new heavens and earth to come. But they understand that even at its best the church is always a flawed and incomplete expression of God's kingdom. They confess that sometimes the church scarcely resembles God's kingdom at all. To the extent that the church does express God's kingdom now, its presence in this world is a sign of God's kingdom that has come and is yet to come. And to the extent the church aligns itself with the mission of God, it is also an agent of God's kingdom to which that mission is surely leading.

This vision of a missional church is old truth in new clothes. It is the vision of discipleship we hear in all the parables and teachings of Jesus. It is the sort of Christianity we discover throughout the Book of Acts, the kind of church the Epistles all call us to become. Consider, for example, the following missional goals which in reality are New Testament values: * Using God's mission as the standard for determining priorities and allocating resources (Matt. 6:33; 2 Cor. 8:1-5; 9:8-15). * Measuring success by sacrifice and self-giving (Mark 12:41-44). * Placing kingdom concerns ahead of any particular congregation or denomination (Acts 13:1-3). * Expecting believers to meet high standards (Rom. 12:1-2; Col. 1:28). * Participatory worship meetings open to the fresh leading of the Spirit (1 Cor. 14:26). * Learning truth to obey it and not merely to know it (Eph. 4:20-24; 1 Tim. 1:5-7). * Every believer a missionary on God's mission (Phil. 2:13; Eph. 2:10). * Being honest, authentic and real (1 Thes. 2:3-10; Eph. 4:25). * Changing the world in keeping with principles of God's kingdom (Titus 2:11-14; 3:8). The list could go on and on.

Those who wish to be missional people, God's fellow-workers on behalf of his kingdom, must cultivate a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as living members of his spiritual body the church. We must become a people of prayer, a people fed by the Word, a people totally dependent on God and not on ourselves, a people guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Such a prescription holds little attraction to a fleshly-oriented, self-centered or worldly-minded church. On the other hand, nothing less than this prescription will enable us effectively to become God's fellow-workers through whom his mission is carried out in this world.
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Copyright 2007 by Edward Fudge. Permission hereby granted to reprint this gracEmail in its entirety without change, with credit given and not for financial profit.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Division

This from Patrick Mead's Tentpegs - you can read the entire post here...


...Pretend with me for a moment. Pretend that you are a goat herder in Yugoslavia (that’s right. You are so far off the beaten track that you don’t even know there isn’t a Yugoslavia anymore). A Bible falls out of the sky right in front of you, in your language. Let’s stretch this a bit and assume you are literate, so you sit and read the thing — perhaps several times. While these questions are primarily directed at my own religious tribe, I think we could come up with some interesting questions for a variety of religions.

1. Would you come up with the idea that the Lord’s Supper was commanded once a week, day, month or year? Would you assume the elements are holy and shouldn’t be touched except by a priest? Would you assume that it was all right to fight the other goat herders about this?

2. Would you assume that instrumental music was wrong? Would you assume that God only liked certain kinds of music? Would you think God cared whether the words were memorized, chanted, read from a book, or projected on a screen, downloaded to an iPod…..?

3. Would you assume that you needed to build a building and start Women’s Day programs, Senior Suppers, Youth Pizza Night…?

4. When you told others about what you’d read, would you insist that they dress up first? And sit in rows facing you while remaining silent?

This list could go on and on and the answer would always be the same: no. Then why are all of these — and hundreds more — issues that cause people to leave churches, call for debates, proclaim this person or that congregation out of fellowship, and enforce that division by fiat, shunning, papers, and seminars?...

A Missional Vision

The following is the second of a multipart gracemail from Edward Fudge.

THE 'MISSIONAL' VISION:Old Truths in New Clothes (2)

If the church is to have a future in the countries that once composed "Christendom," missional church advocates tell us, we who constitute the church must undergo what the Apostle Paul calls a "renewal of the mind." That means that we must re-imagine the ideal which God calls the church to become. We must rethink the church's character and reformulate its purpose and goals. This call to think in a new way does not suggest that we think other than biblically about what it means to be the church. It means that we return to a biblical way of thinking, a way of thinking that changed considerably after Constantine and Theodosius changed the church from a radical and persecuted counter-culture to the official institutional religious establishment of the Roman Empire.

The very word "missional" is crucial to this new understanding in several respects. It reminds us that Christian "mission" is not something for special people who go overseas to foreign lands. It is the work of every Christian wherever each one already lives. It says that the church is not intended to be a comfortable religious "club" for which we occasionally recruit new members. It is rather a group of people who are themselves called and assigned a mission by God. The adjective "missional" sometimes stands in to "attractional" -- a word that describes the kind of church with which we already are most familiar.

The "attractional" church expects to fulfil its mission by attracting outsiders to special events at the church building. The "missional" church will emphasize meeting people where they normally live and work and play. Meeting people this way is not merely social. It is purposeful, a way for us to join in God's own mission. This is how we form genuine human relationships that bridge the worlds of faith and unbelief. This is "incarnational" Christianity, meaning that it requires us to get involved as real people with real people -- and not just people like us -- even when that is hard, tough and dirty.