All posts in Ministry

  • NT Visits KC

    NT_Wright

    N.T. Wright speaking at Christ Church Anglican (Overland Park, KS)

    Yesterday was (for me) N.T. Wright Day, the long awaited day when I had the opportunity to both meet and listen to N.T. (Tom) Wright lecture live in person. In looking forward to this event I felt like a 14 year-old girl preparing for our One Direction concert. In meeting Tom, I felt like a pastor from the 20th century meeting Karl Barth. I think Tom Wright is important. In a hundred years when the history of theology is written about the early 21st century, I think Tom Wright will stand head a shoulders above the rest as the most influential theologian of our generation.

    I thoroughly enjoyed both the morning and evening lecture. Ellis Brust and the St. Mellitus Theological Centre did a wonderful job hosting the event. Hats off to them and the staff and volunteers of Christ Church Anglican for their hospitality and work in putting together the logistics for this one-day event in such a short time. They announced the event a couple of months ago and it sold out in three weeks.

    While thoughts are still fresh in my mind, I want to share some of the notes I took from both lectures. As all Tom Wright devotees know, he talks fast. He spits forth truth with rapid-fire accuracy. There is no way I can transcribe the entirety of his lectures, but I can share a few notes.

    The evening lecture was a hurried overview of his massive work on Paul’s theology, Paul and The Faithfulness of God. I am finishing the book during Lent. I should be done by Easter Sunday. My goal is to create an extensive outline of the book over the summer and then teach a 10-12 week class on the book in the fall. Tom has interpreted Paul for the church and I want to interpret Tom for you. So if N.T. Wright has left you wanting more, hold on. A class is coming soon to Word of Life Church.

    Here are some of my takeaways from N.T. Wright Day at the St. Mellitus Theological Centre in KC.

    Morning Lecture

    The Gospel is good news. We cannot assume people are asking the questions that make the good news really good news. People in the Western world today are not walking around asking, “How can I know I am saved and am going to heaven when I die.”

    The gospel is a new way of looking at the world.

    The resurrection is like a strange, but beautiful gift that causes us to remodel our house to be shaped by it.

    The gospel is scandalous and foolishness, but to those of us who believe it is the power of God.

    We need to preach the gospel more than prove it. We do not need to prove it according to the values of Western rational enlightenment.

    The word “god” is a question mark in our culture. Often when people say “I don’t believe in god,” we should say “I do not believe in that kind of god either, I believe in the God revealed in Jesus Christ.”

    God is not distant. (Deism/epicureanism are the dominate views of god in our world.)

    There are many tombs to the unknown god in our world.

    Jesus reveals God. Jesus exegetes God for us.

    Many people in our culture have a passion for justice. We can capitalize on this passion as justice is connected with the Gospel.

    Liberal democracy has NOT brought us utopia.

    Western democracy does not have a narrative to do justice. Progress, yes. Justice, no. God is about bringing a new world of justice and peace. (Isaiah 11)

    We need not a happy triumphalism over the other ways of being human, but a travail in prayer with those who suffer. (This is a picture of doing justice.)

    The 18th century dismissed political theology. Religion was to be private, spiritual, and about heaven. The thought was “let us enlightened, reasonable human beings figure out how to run the world.”

    The church is to speak to power. (The cross was the voice of justice to the powers that be.)

    We get our atonement theology in the redefinition of power.

    We have idolized our modern culture. We have become smug and self-serving.

    Christianity is rejected by modernism and postmodernism for different reasons. They both deny the Christian narrative. We say history turned a corner not in the 18th century age of enlightenment, but at the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Postmodernism rejects all meta-narratives. Postmodernism never sees a turn in human history.

    The big story of Christianity is not a power story but a love story.

    Thoughts from the Q&A after the morning session….
    Paul layers the Jewish narrative for us in Romans that we look through in order to see his point.

    Romans 7 is a retelling of Israel’s story/struggle.

    In a strange way, Israel was to be the Isaiah 53 people suffering in order to bear God’s image.

    Evening Lecture

    Everywhere St. Paul went there was a riot. Everywhere I go they serve tea.

    Paul pitched his tent near the fault lines between Jewish culture, Greek philosophy, ancient religion, and Roman politics.

    God’s new creation has launched through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

    In starting communities loyal to Jesus, Paul started a new discipline, what we call Christian theology. This is the central thesis of Paul and the Faithfulness of God.

    Diverse people come together to be a family in Christ, holy and united, and they need to be sustained by something new…new symbols.

    Paul believes unity happens as these communities practiced what we call “theology.”

    Jews did not do theology, not the way Christians did/do.

    Be ignorant of evil, but be mature in your thinking.

    After Paul says everything he has to say in Romans 1-11 about the Gospel, Jesus’ death, justification, the unity between Jews and Gentiles, etc. he then says in Romans 12 “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

    People take doctrinal questions to Paul (and he does in fact have many answers to these questions), but Paul does not simply want to give us a list of answers he wants us to teach people to think Christianly.

    Teach a person to think Christianly and you will build up the church for generations to come.

    Every generation needs to think fresh and new, to face new challenges in the light of Christ.

    Christianity is a new sort of knowing. It is a new epistemology. 2 Corinthians 5 calls this “new creation.”

    Every person in Christ becomes a little model of new creation.

    God is not an object in our universe; we are objects in his universe. He wants us to become thinking objects in his universe, thinking according to a new kind of knowledge.

    What does it mean to be a human being? We reflect God’s love and stewardship to the world, and then we return back the praises of creation.
    God wants people not puppets.

    What is launched in resurrection is transformation.

    Paul’s writing is rooted in Scripture, Paul may quote a line from Hebrew Scripture, but he has the entire context in mind. He was not proof-texting the Old Testament to prove things like justification by faith. Rather, in Romans, he was thinking about the entire Jewish narrative.

    The whole world is to be God’s holy land.

    Genesis 15: Abraham – This is God’s plan to save the world.

    Biblical theology is narrative theology. How does the narrative work? We are invited to participate in it.

    Daniel 9: Daniel’s prayer in exile

    Combine Daniel’s prayer with the expectation of covenant renewal (Deut. 30) and the promise of a new covenant (Jer. 31) and we see the Jewish expectation in Paul’s day. They were expecting liberation and new way of living as the people of God.

    First century Jews were not asking, “How can I know that I will go to heaven and not hell?” They were asking questions about the renewal of the covenant.
    What Israel thought would happen at the end of the age, happened in the middle to one son of Abraham.

    Exodus is retold by Paul, rethought through Jesus and the Spirit.

    Ezekiel 1 is a vision of God’s throne; God taking off (abandoning) the temple.
    Ezekiel 43 speaks of the return of God to the temple.

    Isaiah 40 speaks of the time when the glory will come back.

    First century Jews looked for the return of Yahweh to Zion and none of Israel’s prophets said it has happened yet. It was still a future event. John announces “IT HAS HAPPENED!” John 1. The Word became flesh and tabernacle among us.

    Paul says in him dwelt (this is temple language) the fullness of the God bodily.

    In order to understand Paul, be so soaked in Scripture (Old Testament) that you know where Jesus is going.

    1 Corinthians 8:6: Shema language: The LORD is one. The answer to what to do with eating meat is found in doing theology. God is one. One Lord Jesus.

    Philippians 2: Jewish monotheism and layers of theology

    “Work out your own salvation.” This is not a call to pull yourself up by your bootstraps…rubbish!

    Paul’s task: The new vision of God seen in Jesus and the Spirit.
    Galatians and Romans: A new story of Exodus

    Romans 8: “led by the Spirit” is language from the exodus (pillar of cloud by day / pillar of fire by night)

    Theology is the central task of the church.

    Election: Who are the people of God?
    In Paul, election is renewed. God has ONE family. (Galatians 3) A new people who inherit the promises given to Abraham.

    Justification: not a mechanism for going to heaven

    God’s purpose is to put the world right. This action requires God putting people right.

    Start with God’s people redefined through Jesus and that helps sort out theological problems related to justification.

    Every Christian must learn how to think through:
    MONOTHEISM
    ELECTION
    ESCHATOLOGY

    Eschatology in Paul has little to do with the American fascination with the rapture. A caller to a radio show asked: “How does Mr. Wright think he will get to heaven if he is not raptured?”

    Phil 3: Our citizenship is in heaven, but we are to colonize the world with the culture of heaven.

    Paul redefines monotheism, election, and eschatology around Jesus and the Spirit. This is all political dynamite.

    Power gets redefined around the cross.

    Acts 17: Paul in Athens. He spoke longer than 2 minutes. He probably spoke for 2 hours or more. He navigates between religion and philosophy in order to preach the gospel.

    Theology is joined up for Paul in prayer.

    Romans 9-11 opens with a lament and closes with praise, just like many of the Psalms.

    Paul includes his own prayers in his writing to the Ephesians.

    Our theology does not lead us to know it all, but it leads us to worship.

    Me and Tom, my theological mentor

    Me and Tom, my theological mentor

  • Lent 2014

    It is time to change the mood.Ash Wednesday 2014

    It is time to pull back.

    It is time to rethink, restart, repent.

    It is the season of Lent.

    I am preparing myself for Lent now for the seventh time. I have been practicing Lent since 2008,  when I was growing increasing tired of Christian fads and gimmicks and I was longing for something to connect me to my Christian heritage, something I couldn’t buy for $99.99; I had been looking for a well-trodden path of spiritual formation. I found it in the age-old practice of Lent.

    I blogged on why I practice Lent two years ago. No need to rehash all the details of the great benefits of Lent. It may be sufficient enough to say that Lent is a way to enter into, and connect with, the sufferings of Jesus.

    “I calculate everything as a loss, because knowing King Jesus as my Lord is worth far more than everything else put together!…This means knowing him, knowing the power of his resurrection, and knowing the partnership of his sufferings. It means sharing the form and pattern of his death, so that somehow I may arrive at the final resurrection from the dead.” – Philippians 3:8,10-11 (Kingdom New Testament)

    Any talk of suffering sends waves of rebellion down my spine. I, like most people, resist suffering, choosing the path of comfort and ease if it is up to me. Lent is a particular focus on suffering. You certainly cannot package Lent and sell it in a Christian bookstore. The beauty of the practice of Lent is found in its lack of marketability and it is not up to me! The practice of this season is what the church has done since the early Middle Ages. It is a handed-down tradition. (Well…I do have some say in how I choose to fast during Lent, but the times and season have been set by the church.) The fact is without the historic practice of Lent, I would not fast as often as I should. Lent has helped me form good habits of fasting and repentance.

    Paul and the Faithfulness of God by N.T. Wright

    This year I am fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, which has been traditional fasting days for the church. My plan is not to eat solid food on those days. (I will break my fast after church on Fridays.) In addition to fasting solid food I am taking a break from Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I’m breaking away from social media to devote time to prayer, Scripture, and spiritual reading. I am finishing THE BIG PAUL BOOK (otherwise known as Paul & the Faithfulness of God by N.T. Wright). This two-volume book will be my primary reading during Lent. I started this 1,700-page-reading-marathon on the first Sunday of Advent last December. It been a long process working through both volumes, but it is seriously the most important thing I have read in the last 15 years. In order to devote my time to reading, I will spend less time on social media. I hate to lose contact with people through Facebook and Twitter. I guess I will have to go old-school and depend on email. I will not be checking my Facebook or Twitter accounts during Lent, so if you need me, email me, or contact me through the church website.

    I will blog during Lent.

    A couple of exciting things are happening over the next seven weeks. I will have the chance to meet N.T. Wright in person later this month. He is speaking in Overland Park on March 27 and I feel like a 12 year-old girl getting ready to go to a One Direction concert. No joke. I am beside myself with excitement. I will blog on that event….with pictures….pictures of me and Tom ya know!

    I will also be going on one or two shakedown hikes to test out my gear for the upcoming Georgia section hike on the Appalachian Trail in June. I am equally excited about the hike this summer. After Easter, I will be seven weeks away from the hike. So if you think I am obsessing over hiking now…just wait. I will blog a bit about my Spring hikes with pictures and video.

    I am ready for Lent this year. I have my fasting plan. I have my reading plan. Next up: ashes.

     

    If you are in the St. Joe area, I would invite you to join us for one of our four Ash Wednesday services in the Upper Room at 7AM, noon, 5:30PM, & 7PM. These are identical services, so I encourage you to join us for one of them. 

  • So what do I tell a new Christian to do? (Cyprian’s 120 Instructions)

    “The grace of God ought to be gratuitous.”
    – Cyprian
     (third-century Christian bishop)

    I am a Discipleship Pastor, which means I am a Pastor Pastor, because the entire pastoral vocation consists in guiding people in the way of faithful Christian discipleship. I have often wondered what other churches do. I have talked to other church leaders in other churches and other denominations about how they do discipleship (which they may call “adult education,” “spiritual formation,” or “catechesis.”) I enjoy learning from other Christians.

    But I wonder how they did discipleship in the early church, that is, in the first couple hundred years of the church? Surely pastors living in the 200s and 300s had similar questions to mine. We know we are called to make disciples, but how do we go about doing it? What am I, as as a disciple-making pastor, supposed to tell a new Christian to do?

    Cyprian, third-century bishop of Carthage

    A few weeks ago I had the privilege of meeting, and listening to a few lectures from, Alan Kreider, a retired Professor of Church History and Mission from Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary. He introduced me to an interesting, and often overlooked, bit of church history from Cyprian, a third-century North African bishop (think local church pastor) in Carthage. During his life as a bishop Cyprian wrote a number of essays and letters instructing people in the way of Jesus. One of these essay/letters was written to a man named Quirinus, a man Cyprian was mentoring in the faith. The letter (formally called  Ad Quirinum Book Three) was written to Quirinus in request for a summary of the main instructions and teachings of the Christian faith. Kreider said this letter was an example of how the church in one area of the world carried out discipleship (what Kreider calls “habitus formation,” forming people in Christian habits).

    Cyprian organized his remarks into 120 instructions, or precepts, concerning what to embrace and what to forsake in following Jesus. He counseled his young disciple to memorize and follow this in order to live as a Christian. Each instruction was followed by a few verses of Scripture, which were to be memorized as well. The 120 instructions are not necessarily organized by exact topics, but I agree with Andy Alexis-Baker, there is “some discernible order” in what Cyprian has to say. I have created general subheadings to make it easier to read through the list. (See the complete list below.)

    The value in listening to voices from the past, like Cyprian, is first and foremost to learn. What were the points of emphasis in this church, at this time in history, in this geographical location? What am I missing in how I teach and train new disciples in my day? What issues were Christians then facing 1700 years ago? How is it similar or different to what we are facing now? Learning from the ancients is an acknowledgment that we living in the present day do not have it all figured out. I was surprised to note how many of these instructions (precepts) seemed so applicable today. Here, for example, are some that stood out to me:

    # 26 That it is of small account to be baptized and to receive the Eucharist, unless one profits by it both in deeds and works.
    (It seems like their church struggled with people “going through the motions” of worship and not necessarily living it out just like ours.)

    # 32 Of the benefit of virginity and of sexual restraint.
    (I continue to say sexual ethics may be the most difficult part of Christian discipleship in our generation. Maybe we are not alone in the struggle of leading people to rethink/reform their sexuality in the light of Christ.)

    #35 That God is patient for this end, that we may repent of our sin and be reformed.
    (The patience of God, the necessity of repentance, and the centrality of Christian formation…all dominate themes in how I do discipleship.)

    #39 That the example of living is given to us in Christ.
    (The essence of Christian discipleship is we follow Jesus by doing what he does. We find our life in his life. The Spirit is at work reforming us so our life looks like his life.)

    #49 That even our enemies are to be loved.
    (“Enemy-love” which is the cornerstone of Christian nonviolence was carried on in the church two centuries after Christ. Jesus loved his enemies from the cross, choosing not to retaliate. We are to do the same.)

    # 58 That no one should be made sad by death, since in living is labor and peril, in dying peace and the certainty of resurrection.
    (No reference to “going to heaven” and “avoiding hell” anywhere in Cyprian’s instructions. The great hope after death is the expectation of bodily resurrection.)

    #84 That the beard must not be plucked.
    (Ok, so some of the instructions seem rather cultural than deeply theological…although I am pro-beard!)

    #94 That the Eucharist is to be received with fear and honor.
    (The only worship-related or sacramental elements mentioned by Cyprian are baptism and communion. Here holy communion was held in high esteem.)

    # 100 That the grace of God ought to be gratuitous.
    (We cannot say enough about grace. This line would make a great T-shirt by the way.)

    Some of the instructions touch on controversial issue today like the necessity of baptism and the born again experience (#25), losing the grace of salvation (#27), women’s fashion (#36), free will (#27), baptismal regeneration (#65), church discipline (#77), church splits (#86), the Holy Spirit’s fire (#101), and the antichrist (#118).

    Below is the complete list. I have added the subheadings to help you navigate through the text. This list is based on the English translation by Ernest Wallis, Ph.D. I have changed some of the English text for fluency. I also added a few parenthetical statements to make some of the statements more clear. Read over this list and ask yourself:

    What can I learn about the Jesus way by reading this list of 120 instructions?  

    What confirms what I already believe about Christian discipleship?

    What challenges me?

    What have I been missing as I attempt to faithfully follow Jesus?

    Cyprian’s 120 Instructions
    from Ad Quirinum Book Three

    Giving to Those in Need
    1. Of the benefit of good works and mercy.

    2. In works and alms, even if by smallness of powerless be done, that the will itself is enough.

    3. That charity and brotherly love must be religiously and steadfastly practiced.

    4. That we must boast in nothing, since nothing is our own.

    Nonviolence
    5. That humility and quietness is to be maintained in all things.

    6. That all good and righteous men suffer more, but ought to endure because they are proved.

    7. That we must not grieve the Holy Spirit whom we have received.

    8. That anger must be overcome, lest it constrain us to sin.

    Community Life
    9. That brethren ought to sustain one another.

    10. That we must trust in God only, and in Him we must glory.

    11. That he who has attained to faith, having put off the former man, ought to regard only celestial and spiritual things, and to give no heed to the world which he has already renounced.

    12. That we must not swear.

    13. That we are not to curse.

    14. That we must never murmur, but bless God concerning all things that happen.

    15. That men are tried by God for this purpose, that they may be proved.

    Martyrdom, Suffering, & Nonviolence (Revisisted)
    16. Of the benefit of martyrdom.

    17. That what we suffer in this world is of less account than is the reward which is promised.

    18. That nothing must be preferred to the love of God and of Christ.

    19. That we must not obey our own will, but that of God.

    20. That the foundation and strength of hope and faith is fear.

    21. That we must not rashly judge of another.

    22. That when we have received a wrong, we must remit and forgive it.

    23. That evil is not to be returned for evil.

    Salvation through Jesus
    24. That it is impossible to attain to the Father but by Christ.

    25. That unless a man have been baptized and born again, he cannot attain to the kingdom of God.

    26. That it is of small account to be baptized and to receive the Eucharist, unless one profits by it both in deeds and works.

    27. That even a baptized person loses the grace which he has attained, unless he keep innocence.

    28. That remission cannot in the Church be granted unto him who has sinned against God (i.e. God the Holy Spirit).

    29. That it was before predicted concerning the hatred of the Name.

    Judgment & Christian Morality
    30. That what any one has vowed to God, he must quickly pay.

    31. That he who does not believe is judged already.

    32. Of the benefit of virginity and of sexual restraint.

    33. That the Father judges nothing, but the Son; and the Father is not honored by him by whom the Son is not honored.

    34. That the believer ought not to live like the Gentiles.

    35. That God is patient for this end, that we may repent of our sin and be reformed.

    36. That a woman ought not to be adorned in a worldly manner.

    37. That the believer ought not to be punished for other offences but for the name he bears only.

    38. That the servant of God ought to be innocent, lest he fall into secular punishment.

    39. That the example of living is given to us in Christ.

    40. That we must not labor boastfully or noisily.

    41. That we must not speak foolishly and offensively.

    Faith
    42. That faith is of advantage altogether, and that we can do as much as we believe.

    43. That he who truly believes can immediately obtain (e.g. obtain pardon and peace).

    44. That the believers who differ among themselves ought not to refer to a Gentile judge.

    45. That hope is of future things, and therefore that faith concerning those things which are promised ought to be patient.

    Not-Really-Sure-How-to-Categorize-This-One
    46. That a woman ought to be silent in the church.

    Sin & Christian Morality (Revisited)
    47. That (sin) arises from our fault and our desert that we suffer, and do not perceive God’s help in everything.

    48. That we must not take usury (i.e. exorbitant interest on money loaned to another).

    49. That even our enemies are to be loved.

    50. That the sacrament of the faith must not be profaned.

    51. That no one should be uplifted in his doing.

    Human Responsibility & Hope
    52. That the liberty of believing or of not believing is placed in free choice.

    53. That the secrets of God cannot be seen through, and therefore that our faith ought to be simple.

    54. That none is without filth and without sin.

    55. That we must not please men, but God.

    56. That nothing that is done is hidden from God.

    57. That the believer is amended (i.e. punished for sin) and reserved (i.e. preserved in mercy).

    58. That no one should be made sad by death, since in living is labor and peril, in dying peace and the certainty of resurrection.

    Idolatry & Sin (Revisited)
    59. Of the idols which the Gentiles think are gods (turn from them).

    60. That too great lust of food is not to be desired.

    61. That the lust of possessing, and money, are not to be desired.

    62. That marriage is not to be contracted with Gentiles.

    63. That the sin of fornication is grievous.

    64. What are those carnal things which beget death, and what are the spiritual things which lead to life.

    65. That all sins are put away in baptism.

    Discipline
    66. That the discipline of God is to be observed in Church precepts.

    67. That it was foretold that men would despise sound discipline.

    68. That we must depart from him who lives irregularly and contrary to discipline.

    69. That the kingdom of God is not in the wisdom of the world, nor in eloquence, but in the faith of the cross and in virtue of conversation.

    Family & Work Life
    70. That we must obey parents.

    71. And that fathers ought not to be bitter against their children.

    72. That servants, when they believe, ought the more to be obedient to their fleshly masters.

    73. Likewise that masters ought to be more gentle.

    74. That every widow that is approved ought to be honored.

    75. That every person ought to have care rather of his own people, and especially of believers.

    76. That one who is older must not rashly be accused.

    Social Relationships
    77. That the sinner is to be publicly reproved.

    78. That we must not speak with heretics.

    79. That innocence asks with confidence, and obtains (from God).

    80. That the devil has no power against man unless God have allowed it.

    81. That wages be quickly paid to the hireling.

    82. That divination must not be used.

    Moral Codes Regarding Men’s Hair
    83. That a tuft of hair is not to be worn on the head.

    84. That the beard must not be plucked.

    Church Life
    85. That we must rise when a bishop or a presbyter comes.

    86. That a schism must not be made, even although he who withdraws should remain in one faith and in the same tradition.

    87. That believers ought to be simple with prudence.

    88. That a brother must not be deceived.

    Eschatology
    89. That the end of the world comes suddenly.

    More Moral Codes
    90. That a wife must not depart from her husband; or if she departs, she must remain unmarried.

    91. That every one is tempted so much as he is able to bear.

    92. That not everything is to be done which is lawful.

    93. That it was foretold that heresies would arise.

    94. That the Eucharist is to be received with fear and honor.

    95. That we are to live with the good, but to avoid the evil.

    96. That we must labor with deeds, not with words.

    97. That we must hasten to faith and to attainment.

    98. That the catechumen (i.e. the one preparing for baptism) ought to sin no more.

    99. That judgment will be in accordance with the terms, before the law, of equity; after Moses, of the law.

    Grace!
    100. That the grace of God ought to be gratuitous.

    Strange Fire?
    101. That the Holy Spirit has often appeared in fire.

    Serving, Correcting, Building Up One Another
    102. That all good men ought willingly to hear rebuke.

    103. That we must abstain from much speaking.

    104. That we must not lie.

    105. That they (i.e. children) are frequently to be corrected who do wrong in domestic service.

    106. That when a wrong is received, patience is to be maintained, and that vengeance is to be left to God.

    107. That we must not use detraction (i.e. in our love for one another).

    108. That we must not lay snares against our neighbor.

    109. That the sick are to be visited.

    110. That tale-bearers are accursed.

    111. That the sacrifices of evil men are not acceptable.

    112. That those are more severely judged who in this world have more power.

    113. That widows and orphans ought to be protected.

    114. That while one is in the flesh, he ought to make confession.

    115. That flattery is pernicious.

    Love for God
    116. That God is more loved by him who has had many sins forgiven in baptism.

    Conquering the devil
    117. That there is a strong conflict to be waged against the devil, and that therefore we ought to stand bravely, that we may be able to conquer.

    Eschatology (Revisited)
    118. Of Antichrist, that he will come as a man.

    Following Jesus & Prayer
    119. That the yoke of the law was heavy, which is cast off by us; and that the Lord’s yoke is light, which is taken up by us.

    120. That we are to be urgent in prayers.

  • A Eucharistic People

    The heart of Christian worship is the celebration of communion, otherwise known as “the Lord’s Supper” or “the Eucharist.” All other elements of Christian worship are tangential to eating the bread and drinking from the cup in a proclamation of Jesus’ death. Jesus’ body was broken and his blood was shed for the salvation of the world. He did rise from the dead and ascend to the right hand of the Father. Jesus will come again, but before his return, ascension, and resurrection…there was a death, a redemptive death, the death of God’s Son. While I did not grow up in a church that emphasized the importance of the Eucharist, I am happy to be serving today in a church where communion is the highlight of our Sunday morning worship service. We find the eucharistic template in the Upper Room with Jesus celebrating the Passover with his disciples:

    Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” – Matthew 26:26 ESV

    “Eucharist,” from the Greek word meaning “to give thanks,” is the oldest title for this event at the heart of Christian worship. Nearly all Christian denominations practice some form of the Eucharist and there are differing opinions on how exactly the bread and wine are the body and blood of Christ. I have been most satisfied with viewing the practice of the Eucharist as a way to connect with the “real presence of Christ.” I believe Jesus is present, by the Holy Spirit, at the communion table. The Eucharist is therefore more than a symbol, but it is not less than that. The bread and the wine certainly represent, in the form of a living metaphor, the body and blood of Jesus, but I see more. I see another symbol. In the broken bread, I see not only his body broken for the world, but I also see the church, the people of God.

    We are a eucharistic people.
    We are blessed.
    We are broken.
    We are given.

    We are blessed. We experience God’s blessing (even through hardship) and give him thanks for taking care of us. We have been invited by him to be his people, his alternative society on the earth, demonstrating and proclaiming the Kingdom of God. We are blessed, no doubt.

    We are broken. We are broken by sin and corruption; we admit this fact. We are also broken in that we choose to “break” ourselves open to one another. In other words, we choose vulnerability as the pathway of love. We are broken, at least we strive towards brokenness.

    We are given. As God’s covenant people we are not blessed and broken ultimately for our well-being. We are blessing and broken that we may be given to the world. Jesus isn’t building his church simply to declare his own superiority over other ways of doing life. He is building his church to be given to the world, for the sake of the world, so that the world may be saved. We are given, at least we work towards being given.

    At the center of this three-part eucharistic action is brokenness, or as I have described above, vulnerability. If we are ultimately to be given to the world, and I would argue that this missional identity is perhaps the most difficult part of church life, then we first have to be broken. We do have to admit we have been broken by a world drunk on the ways and means of death, but we have to also break ourselves open, allowing our true selves to break out of the shell of our false selves. We ultimately cannot love and be loved if we are not vulnerable.

    It works like this:

    To love and to be loved is to trust.
    To trust is to know.
    To know is to be vulnerable.

    I cannot love you and allow you to love me if I do not trust you. I could choose to love you, expecting nothing in return with or without trust, but I cannot enter in a relationship with you whereby I love and am loved unless I can trust you. If I think you mean to do me harm or exploit me, then I cannot allow myself to be loved by you.

    I cannot trust you until I know you, until I really know you. In order to trust you I need to know more than facts about you, I need to have first hand experiences with you whereby trust is built. Once I have gotten to know you over time, then I am ready to trust you.

    And finally, I cannot know you, and you cannot know me, until we both bust through our false selves and reveal who we really are. This is difficult.

    To be vulnerable mean I reveal not only my strengths, but also my fears, hurts, insecurity, anxiety, weakness, struggle, doubt, confusion, ignorance, failure, mistakes, regrets, and pain. Loving begins with vulnerability, but becoming vulnerable is a slow process. I do not reveal all of my true self to you all at once. As I break myself open and expose a part of my true self, I allow you to know me and then after trust is built, I feel free to reveal more. Vulnerability grows over time, but it begins with one crack of the crust.

    As we are broken, then we are given as a eucharistic people.

  • Substance and Evidence

    Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1 KJV)

    Faith is a human attribute. Faith is an essential human attribute. God has no need of faith because nothing is unseen for him, but we earth-bound creatures live with many things out of sight. We exercise faith as a part of our human nature. We all exercise faith and we do so all time. Eating in a restaurant requires faith. I trust the people preparing my food have done so with the highest standards of sanitation. I have heard of the “5 second rule,” but I hope it is not true. You know the rule that says if a cook drops your food on the floor they have five seconds to pick it up! Driving down the road requires faith. I trust nobody will intentionally run a red light and crash into me. I understand that accidents happen and so I wear a seat belt, but I trust the other drivers on the road to obey the traffic laws. Every friendship requires faith. I trust my friends will do me no harm. Friendships cannot exist without faith which is why betrayal, gossip, lying, rumors hurt so bad. Trust is assumed and when it is violated, we experience pain.

    At first glance it does not look like we could tag substance and evidence to our faith. “Substance” and “evidence” are words from here, from earth. They speak of things that are tangible and certain. “Faith,” particularly Christian faith, is a word from heaven. It speaks of things hoped for in the future, things unseen. Our faith is forward-looking. Our faith has always been looking into the future.

    • Abraham was looking for a city.
    • Moses was looking for a promised land.
    • David was looking for a kingdom.
    • Israel was looking for a Messiah.
    • The Church is looking for a resurrection & new creation when Jesus returns.

    Our faith is connected with the future, but words like “substance” and “evidence” are connected to the present so how exactly is faith substance and evidence?

    Let’s start by answering this question with some of the ways faith is NOT substance and evidence.

    First, faith is not a spiritual substance. Some define faith as spiritual power. They speak of the “force of faith,” something we possess and can use, but as a substance, faith cannot be reduced to a power under our control. Faith as spiritual substance is much closer to what you see in science fiction movies like Star Wars were people have superhuman powers. This view is not how we see faith at work in Scripture or in the history of the church. We see ourselves as powerless, dependent beings. Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5 ESV). Faith is not all-powerful, but it is the medium that connects us to the all-powerful One.

    Second, faith is not empirical evidence. The word “empirical” means evidence that has come by clear observation and experimentation. Empirical evidence has its place in the medical community, but not so much in the community of faith. There are reasons behind our faith and you can explore those reasons, but if you are looking for air-tight empirical evidence that will answer every question you will be disappointed. Faith doesn’t work that way. You cannot discover God with a microscope or a telescope. Empiricism sets the rules defining what evidence is and God defies their rules! Faith is evidence, but it is not evidence according to empirical standards, because faith is a matter of the heart and not the five physical senses.

    So how exactly is faith substance and evidence? Faith is substance and evidence as it is confessed and lived out in the life of the Church.

    Faith is communal. It is not my faith, but our faith. This shared nature of faith is why Hebrews 11 goes on to list men and woman of faith who did things by this communal faith. It is not one person doing something great by faith. Hebrews could have just mentioned Abraham, but it provides a list of Israel’s hero who did thing by faith. So Hebrews 11 is not a record of an isolated individual doing something by faith, it is a record of a community of faith doing things by this communal faith.  “Now faith is the assurance (substance) of things hoped for, the conviction (evidence) of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation (Hebrews 11:1-2 ESV). Our faith is not subjective. It is not just something we merely experience in our hearts. The writer of Hebrews says faith is that which is shared by “the people of old,” people like Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, the people of Israel, Rahab, and on the list goes. They are the substance and evidence of our faith. When we exercise personal faith (and we should), we are tapping into a shared faith that is so much bigger than ourselves. It is our shared faith, and not our own personal faith, that is substance and evidence.

    Personal faith happens when we as individuals confess and live out the faith. Our faith is not internal and private. It is by nature external and public. So we confess both our sins and our faith. Confession in the Christian faith means to “say the same thing.” When we confess our faith we are saying the same thing the Church says about the matters of faith. It is not enough to simple think about the faith. It must be confessed and vocalized. We confess: Jesus is Lord. Jesus is God’s son and our Lord. Jesus died. Buried. Descended. Raised. Ascended and coming again. The substance and evidence in our confession is not in the words we speak. The substance and evidence is in act of saying the same thing the church has said for 2,000. Our heritage is the substance and evidence.

    It is not enough merely to confess our faith. We must live it out, because faith without corresponding activity is dead (See James 2:17-18). You know the old adage: easier said than done? That applies to our faith. My oldest son Wesley and I just had a conversation about that phrase. We were asking ourselves, “Isn’t everything easier said than done? Why do we say things like that?” Faith is substance and evidence when we can point to people living it. We believe in Jesus because people have been following Jesus for 2,000. When our faith gets week we look to the Church and find substance for our faith to grow from the confession and lifestyle of others living by faith.

    After Hebrews 11 lists all the people of faith. It goes on to encourage us with these words: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV).

    We run with endurance sustained by, and receiving evidence from, this great cloud of witnesses, the community of faith, who are cheering us on. Not only do we receive substance and evidence by others, but when we are confessing and living out our faith we become the substance and evidence for others. We are the substance of faith. We are the evidence of faith. The degree by which we confess and life out or faith is the degree by which we will be substance and evidence.

    Listen to the sermon version of this blog post here.

  • The Peace Prayer of St. Francis

    This prayer was not written by St. Francis of Assisi. It was not written by Pope Francis. It first began to circulate during World War I. The author is unknown, but early copies of it were on a card in honor of St. Francis, so it has been known as the Peace Prayer of St. Francis.

    This prayer was too long to tweet. (Even too long for a Facebook post.)

    It is short enough to memorize.

    It is deep enough to live in for a while.

    It is Christ-like enough to be prayed.

    The Peace Prayer of St. Francis

    Lord make me an instrument of your peace
    Where there is hatred,
    Let me sow love;
    Where there is injury, pardon;
    Where there is error, truth;
    Where there is doubt, faith;
    Where there is despair, hope;
    Where there is darkness, light;
    And where there is sadness, Joy.

    O Divine Master grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled
    As to console;
    To be understood,as to understand;
    To be loved, as to love.
    For it is in giving that we receive,
    It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
    And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

  • N.T. Wright on the Ordination of Practicing Homosexuals

    The acceptability of homosexuality is becoming one of the defining issues of our day. Gay marriage has become a polarizing cultural issue  with current trends showing a rise in the support for the legalization of same-sex unions. A recent ABC News/Washington Post survey showed 58% of those polls are in favor of gay and lesbian couples legally being allowed to get married. The cultural issue has stirred the conversation with the Church regarding the ordination of practicing homosexual clergy. In 2009 the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church in the US broke from the tradition of the Anglican communion by allowing those in same-sex relationships to receive ordination without condition. This action was followed by an op-ed piece in the London Times, written by N.T. (Tom) Wright.

    I understand some of the complexity of the issue both in the Church and in the wider community. I understand that LGBT people have found themselves at the other end of the hostility and acrimony of professing and practicing followers of Jesus. For that I am deeply sorry. I am a huge advocate for dialogue between homosexual and heterosexual people, so we can begin to understand each other. I am an equally huge advocate for understanding the teachings of Jesus and the Church regarding sexual ethics. In following Jesus, I hear him call us to “lose ourselves” and “die to ourselves,” that is, die to our agendas, dreams, and desires, so we may find ourselves and live in him. As a follower of Jesus, I embrace the Way of Jesus and desire to understand all moral and ethical issues an interpreted by the light of Christ.

    In attempting to understand Jesus and the Jesus Way, I have found N.T. Wright to be helpful and compelling  His op-ed piece in response to the Episcopal Church in the US entitled “The Americans Know this will End in Schism” was particularly helpful in the conversation about homosexuality in the confines of the Church. I believe this article has implications for the larger conversation about same-sex unions in the wider culture, but the context of Wright’s comments are about the issue within the Church.

    I understand that N.T. Wright will not be popular in what he has to say here, but I think he gets to the heart of the teachings of Jesus and the Church on this issue.

    Here is what Wright had to say:

    In the slow-moving train crash of international Anglicanism, a decision taken in California has finally brought a large coach off the rails altogether. The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church (TEC) in the United States has voted decisively to allow in principle the appointment, to all orders of ministry, of persons in active same-sex relationships. This marks a clear break with the rest of the Anglican Communion.

    Both the bishops and deputies (lay and clergy) of TEC knew exactly what they were doing. They were telling the Archbishop of Canterbury and the other “instruments of communion” that they were ignoring their plea for a moratorium on consecrating practising homosexuals as bishops. They were rejecting the two things the Archbishop of Canterbury has named as the pathway to the future — the Windsor Report (2004) and the proposed Covenant (whose aim is to provide a modus operandi for the Anglican Communion). They were formalising the schism they initiated six years ago when they consecrated as bishop a divorced man in an active same-sex relationship, against the Primates’ unanimous statement that this would “tear the fabric of the Communion at its deepest level”. In Windsor’s language, they have chosen to “walk apart”.

    Granted, the TEC resolution indicates a strong willingness to remain within the Anglican Communion. But saying “we want to stay in, but we insist on rewriting the rules” is cynical double-think. We should not be fooled.

    Of course, matters didn’t begin with the consecration of Gene Robinson. The floodgates opened several years before, particularly in 1996 when a church court acquitted a bishop who had ordained active homosexuals. Many in TEC have long embraced a theology in which chastity, as universally understood by the wider Christian tradition, has been optional.

    That wider tradition always was counter-cultural as well as counter-intuitive. Our supposedly selfish genes crave a variety of sexual possibilities. But Jewish, Christian and Muslim teachers have always insisted that lifelong man-plus-woman marriage is the proper context for sexual intercourse. This is not (as is frequently suggested) an arbitrary rule, dualistic in overtone and killjoy in intention. It is a deep structural reflection of the belief in a creator God who has entered into covenant both with his creation and with his people (who carry forward his purposes for that creation).

    Paganism ancient and modern has always found this ethic, and this belief, ridiculous and incredible. But the biblical witness is scarcely confined, as the shrill leader in yesterday’s Times suggests, to a few verses in St Paul. Jesus’s own stern denunciation of sexual immorality would certainly have carried, to his hearers, a clear implied rejection of all sexual behaviour outside heterosexual monogamy. This isn’t a matter of “private response to Scripture” but of the uniform teaching of the whole Bible, of Jesus himself, and of the entire Christian tradition.

    The appeal to justice as a way of cutting the ethical knot in favour of including active homosexuals in Christian ministry simply begs the question. Nobody has a right to be ordained: it is always a gift of sheer and unmerited grace. The appeal also seriously misrepresents the notion of justice itself, not just in the Christian tradition of Augustine, Aquinas and others, but in the wider philosophical discussion from Aristotle to John Rawls. Justice never means “treating everybody the same way”, but “treating people appropriately”, which involves making distinctions between different people and situations. Justice has never meant “the right to give active expression to any and every sexual desire”.

    Such a novel usage would also raise the further question of identity. It is a very recent innovation to consider sexual preferences as a marker of “identity” parallel to, say, being male or female, English or African, rich or poor. Within the “gay community” much postmodern reflection has turned away from “identity” as a modernist fiction. We simply “construct” ourselves from day to day.

    We must insist, too, on the distinction between inclination and desire on the one hand and activity on the other — a distinction regularly obscured by references to “homosexual clergy” and so on. We all have all kinds of deep-rooted inclinations and desires. The question is, what shall we do with them? One of the great Prayer Book collects asks God that we may “love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise”. That is always tough, for all of us. Much easier to ask God to command what we already love, and promise what we already desire. But much less like the challenge of the Gospel.

    The question then presses: who, in the US, is now in communion with the great majority of the Anglican world? It would be too hasty to answer, the newly formed “province” of the “Anglican Church in North America”. One can sympathise with some of the motivations of these breakaway Episcopalians. But we should not forget the Episcopalian bishops, who, doggedly loyal to their own Church, and to the expressed mind of the wider Communion, voted against the current resolution. Nor should we forget the many parishes and worshippers who take the same stance. There are many American Episcopalians, inside and outside the present TEC, who are eager to sign the proposed Covenant. That aspiration must be honoured.

    Contrary to some who have recently adopted the phrase, there is already a “fellowship of confessing Anglicans”. It is called the Anglican Communion. The Episcopal Church is now distancing itself from that fellowship. Ways must be found for all in America who want to be loyal to it, and to scripture, tradition and Jesus, to have that loyalty recognised and affirmed at the highest level.

    Tom Wright in The Times 
    July 14th, 2009

  • Big Piney Trail Hike: March 15-16, 2013

    When searching for the “best trails” in Missouri, I came across a number of blogs and reviews describing the Big Piney Trail, including a write-up in Backpacker Magazine. I was looking for a loop to hike over two days, with one night of back country camping. I wanted to hike a trail with different looks and plenty of spots to explore. The Big Piney Trail (BPT) in the Paddy Creek Wilderness outside of Roby, Missouri did not disappoint. I recently hiked the trail with my friend Ben in preparation for taking some guys from my church to hike the BPT in May. I wanted to have the experience of hiking the trail before leading a small group of others on this hike. And I am glad I did. While the trail is easily recognizable, there are side trails and horse trails that made us stop and check the map and compass. Speaking of maps, do not waste your time on any of the maps on the Internet. Get the Mark Twain National Forest map, a black and white map that has the most details of the trail and terrain. We picked up a copy at the trailhead, but it may be better to call the Forest Service office and order one ahead a time just in case they are out at the trailhead.

    Day One: Friday, March 15, 2013
    We drove to the Roby Lake parking lot just North of Roby, Missouri. We took Hwy 32 from Lebanon to Roby and then turned North on Hwy 17. We went about a half a mile and then turned right (East) on Lake Dr. (Forestry Road 274). Once we parked facing Roby Lake, we crossed the road and walked up the road a bit and went through a gate into a pasture. We started hiking at about 11:40 AM.

    314422_10200160080618436_396795411_n

    We continued for about a half a mile until we arrived at a second gate, where we entered the Big Paddy Wilderness. From here it was a short hike to the actual trailhead where we picked up a map and signed the register.

    64765_10200160081578460_587642263_n

    From where we signed the register we hiked another half mile or so to the first “Y” in the trail. There was a sign at the intersection pointing to the North Loop to the left and the South Loop to the right. I found these titles (“North Loop” & “South Loop”) to be confusing and counter-intuitive. When you look at the map you will see why they are given those titles. If it were me, I would refer to these as the South Trail and the North Trail (which are connected, making both trails a loop. There are two different loop options — a small loop (approximately 8-9 miles) and a large loop (17-18 miles). We choose the large loop and we chose to do it counter clockwise. See the map below. (We started in the lower left-hand corner.)

    photo (1)

    We hiked along the South Loop (South “Trail”) pass hardwoods, pines,  and an occasional pond. Parts are the trail were surrounded by pine trees, reminding me of the Pine Mountain Trail in South Georgia. We stopped at the first scenic overlook which looked towards the South. This was a good spot to take a break and take some pictures. It was easy to see down into the valley below, but it was not the best view of the day.

    We continued on the trail which has the rocks and roots you would expect on a trail through the Ozarks. The BPT is shared by hikers and horses and in places the trail was muddy and torn up by horses, but because we were hiking mid-March the ground had just begun to thaw and was still in good condition for the most part. We could not have asked for better weather. It reached 78 degrees and was sunny. Ben and I both hiked in shorts and short sleeves. We crossed the Little Paddy Creek at some point on the South Loop before getting to the place where the Little Paddy and the Big Paddy meet.

    It took a little navigating to figure out exactly where we were supposed to cross. We saw a “Y” in the trail and choose to go to the left and cross the Little Paddy Creek. Once we crossed, we could see where we thought the trail picked up, but this was NOT the BPT but the Paddy Creek Trail, a short loop for people staying at the Paddy Creek Campground. We went back across the Little Paddy and backtracked to where we turned left at the “Y” in the trail. I laid two sticks in the shape of an “X” on the left trail and built a rock cairn near the V-shaped tree marking the correct way to go.

    426386_10200160094738789_695362833_n

    The trail that veered off to the right was the correct way to go. A sign at this intersection would have been helpful, but signage and blazes where at a minimum on this trail. If you attempt this hike, I would recommend familiarizing yourself with the map, particularly the NE corner of the trail where you cross the Big Paddy Creek.

    I was looking forward to crossing the Big Paddy so I could try out my DIY river shoes. (I did try them out on the Little Paddy Creek crossing (twice!) when we went down the wrong trail.) I made homemade sandals (which I later named “river shoes”) before the trip because I have become fascinated with DIY gear I can make cheap at home. I created these river shoes after learning about “invisible shoes.” I took his idea and fashioned my own shoes out of paracord and $1 flip-flops from Wal-Mart.

     

    After we crossed the creek, we followed the trail with a fairly tall bluff to our left. By looking at the map we could see we were walking east to get around to the backside of the bluff to hike up it. The hike up was the most strenuous part of the hike, but it wasn’t too bad. We made it to the top of the ridge and we checked to see if we could get a cell/data signal on our phones. We lucked out! This was the only spot on the trail where we were able to obtain a signal. With At&T I had two bars.

    525063_10200160096618836_1007094678_n

    We also thought this high point was the scenic overlook mentioned on the map, but we were wrong. We hiked on maybe a quarter mile and off to the left I could see a rock jutting out from the bluff. We had to descend down a side trail to get to the rock outcropping, but it was worth it. This was the scenic overlook marked on the map, overlooking the Big Paddy Creek. This was the best view of the hike.

     

    We wanted to spend more time here, but the sun was setting and we had another half mile or so to get to camp. We could have caught a really good sunset over the western bluff, but it had clouded up, partially covering the setting sun. We hiked on to the “Big Piney Trail Camp” just as it was getting dark. This campground marked on the map was right next to a road and I really wasn’t interested in setting up camp on a Friday night right next to a country road.

    So we turned on our headlamps and did a little night hiking. We hiked for another half mile or so and found the closest thing to a flat spot and made camp. It was close to 9 PM and we had hiked about 9.5 miles. I was excited to use my new Coleman Solo Max cookpot and alcohol stove.

    485922_10200160097058847_643174136_n

    I boiled water and made instant mash potatoes. I sliced up some summer sausage to add to it and dinner was served. The mash potatoes package said it served four, but on that night it served one. We let the fire die down and we got to bed by 11:30 PM. By 11:35 I was fast asleep.

    Day Two: Saturday, March 16, 2013
    I woke up around 7 AM. It was a good night sleep. We started stirring by 7:30. It was a cool, but not cold morning, somewhere in the upper 40s. I started packing up and I snapped this shot of camp.

    480326_10200160097418856_1580699773_n

    We made the mistake of not collecting enough water while we were at Big Paddy Creek. We were unsure how long it would be until we came across a stream, so we decided to down a couple granola bars and wait for the first stream to pump water and have our oatmeal and coffee. We left camp about 8:30 AM.

    We hiked about a mile or so when we came across a fairly large campground. Just on the other side of that campground was a stream where we gathered water and had (second) breakfast. We loaded up on water (more than 2 liters each) and headed down the trail after spending about an hour at the stream.

    As we started down the trail, I recorded this video, recapping day one.

     

    Here is a gear comment for all you gear geeks. (If you could care less about camping gear then skip to the next paragraph.) I have been working the last 6 months or so to lighten my pack weight. I was so happy to get my base weight (minus food and water) down to 19 lbs. for this two-day trip. I received a lightweight sleeping bag for Christmas (Thanks Kit!), and gave up the Jetboil for an alcohol stove. I also went through and eliminated unneeded gear and swapped out heavier gear for lighter gear. For example I traded out a Nalgene bottle for a Platypus bottle. I also gave up my hydration bladder for two .5 liter bottles I carried on my shoulder straps. I got the idea from Stick on his blog here: http://sticksblog.com/2013/01/20/diy-shoulder-strap-water-bottle-holders.  Stick has a lot of gear reviews and a lot of clever DIY gear tips. He used shock cord and mitten hooks to secure his bottles to his shoulder straps, but I saved even more money by using four of my wife’s ponytail holders. Ok, enough gear talk…back to day two…

    We headed on down the trail energized by breakfast. It was cloudy and mild. Perfect hiking weather. We were all set to make it back to the trailhead with plenty of time, but we missed some signs pointing us to stay left on the trail and we went right. We found ourselves on a horse trail thinking we were still on the BPT. We ended up on somebody’s property on Slabtown Road. Apparently the owner of the property offered trail rides and owned a campground. We slowly backtracked trying to figure out where we got off the trail. We chose not to start bushwhacking, opting instead for the backtrack-until-you-know-where-you-are rule of hiking. When we got back on the trail we saw the sign we missed.

    230847_10200160098458882_410309238_n

    This was one of the few intersections on the trail with signage and we missed it. We ended up hiking 1.5 miles off trail (3 miles round trip) and wasting around three hours. We did come up on four horseman (not those “four horseman”) on the side trail. Besides one rabbit, the horses were the only animals we saw on our trip.

    With time running out on us, we double-timed-it down the trail to get back to the parking lot. At this point it was more about the miles than the smiles. We did stop near some rock formations for a quick refueling break and then we stopped at the waterfalls at the end of the loop.

    549975_10200160098978895_475421730_n

    We really could have spent more time here, but it was nearing 4 PM and we had a 4.5-hour drive home. So we completed the loop, returning to the trailhead. We darted across the pasture and back to the parking lot. Overall it was a great hike. I am returning to the trail the first weekend in May and I am glad I hiked it first before leading a group of others. If you are looking for a two-day adventure in the Ozarks, I highly recommend this trail. It is challenging, but if you are in moderate physical condition, you will find it not too difficult. It makes for a perfect two-day hike, but with plenty of places to camp, you could make it a three-day hike.

    Here are some other pictures:

    429632_10200160093618761_1441363513_n

    481226_10200160099938919_529694658_n

    580494_10200160098778890_112582036_n

    1666_10200160094418781_1437249626_n

  • Making Disciples not Just Decisions

    Appalachian Trail in MaineRecently I listened to a representative from an evangelical ministry make a broad appeal to pastors and church leaders to sign up for their next event to introduce non-Christians to Christ. I was familiar with their overall strategy and I was familiar with the specific event he was describing, but something caught my attention in listening to his appeal. He described how their ministry had seen numerous decisions for Christ over the years. (I did not doubt his statistics; this was a well-known ministry that had been around for a long time.) The report of the “success” of their evangelistic endeavors was followed by a bleak picture of American life – increased destructive behavior (crime, violence, abortion, drugs etc.), increased secularism, increased hopelessness, decreased church attendance, and the increase of young adults leaving the church. This picture was then followed by his announcement of another nation-wide event to do something to bring real hope, life, and salvation to those in need. The strategy was somewhat different, but the goal was the same: get people to make a decision for Christ. While listening, I had this thought: If your ministry has seen so many decisions for Christ made across the nation and around the world, then why is there such a decrease in church attendance? I had already seen the material to be used in this ministry event; it (like all their other events) culminated with inviting people to make a decision for Christ. I tried not to become cynical, but I continued to think: Why would I invest time and resources in an event that does not seem to have lasting fruitfulness? After all, our goal is not simply to get people to make a decision for Jesus; our goal is to make disciples of Jesus.

    The seeds of doubt regarding the effectiveness of “making decisions for Christ” go back for me to reading Scot McKnight’s book The King Jesus Gospel where he argues we preach a weak gospel when the emphasis is the plan of salvation (which includes making a decision). This most recent experience only solidifies the conclusion I came to some time ago: a push to make decisions for Christ is ultimately counterproductive to making disciples of Christ.

    The gospel preached in Acts was neither an invitation to make a decision for Christ nor an appeal to invite Jesus in your heart to be your personal Lord and Savior. The gospel preached by the Apostles in Acts was the proclamation that Israel’s long-awaited Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, had arrived and we killed him. While Jesus did enter into death, God raised him from the dead and exalted him to a place of authority. And now “let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). The proper response to the gospel is “repent and be baptized…and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). There is no talk in the sermons preached in the book of Acts about making a decision or asking Jesus into your heart or making Jesus your personal Lord and Savior. The gospel preached in Acts is the announcement that God made Jesus Lord when he raised him from the dead.

    Furthermore, making decisions for Christ reduces the work of salvation down to a simple transaction. People respond to an appeal to make a decision for Christ and they expect to receive…something…forgiveness of sins, a relationship with God, their best life now…something! Then when we talk to them about worship and serving and belonging to the community of faith, many of them become resistant. Why would they subject themselves to the inconvenience of discipleship when their transaction is complete!

    Do not misunderstand my point: repenting, being baptized, and receiving the Holy Spirit certainly do require making a conscious decision. God will not force us into repentance. He will not twist our arm or beat us into submission. We must of our own volition choose to repent, be baptized, and receive the Spirit, but these are not necessarily one-time events.

    We repent and we continue to live a life of repentance.
    We are baptized and we continue to live out of our baptismal identity as people buried and risen with Jesus.
    We receive the Holy Spirit and we continue to allow our lives to be immersed in the life of the Spirit.

    Living out our response to the gospel is a much better picture of discipleship than making a decision for Christ. So how does should this critique shape evangelical methodology?

    We must abandon the invitation for people to make a decision and we must resume the invitation for people to come and follow Jesus. This come-follow-Jesus approach sounds much more like an invitation to a party than a high-pressure sales pitch to purchase a new car. This approach is much more about belonging to a community than making a personal and individual choice. This approach may not appeal to the masses, but we will make disciples from the few who see the power, position, and authority of Jesus.

    I agree that with this approach – inviting people to follow Jesus and be his disciples –we will not see the outward, numeric success seen by other groups going out getting people to make decisions, but I have repented of measuring success by numbers. I have repented of desiring success at all. I have turned away from ambition and success and turned towards faithfulness and fruitfulness. I want to make disciples of Jesus. I want to make more disciples of Jesus. I want to see people following Jesus and allowing the Holy Spirit to conform them into the image of Jesus, but this is a slow, arduous process.

    So instead of making a decisions for Christ in order to get saved, let’s follow Jesus and find ourselves being saved.

  • From Hate to Healing: The Story of Lundan and Eliphan Gomango, IET missionary in India

    IMG_4749Lundan lived deep within the forest, in the village of Kharbana just outside of a highly populated coal mining town. Lundan lived with hate in his heart and he lived with a painful skin disease. “My skin had grown as thick and rough as that of a water buffalo,” said Lundan, “It had become rough and I was itching. I needed to go to the doctor to get some pain relief.” He spent all of his meager savings on the best hospitals in the state. He saw doctor after doctor, but found no relief from his painful condition. He even went to the local tribal magicians looking to relieve his pain. They offered animal sacrifices and chants, but Lundan could not find any relief.

    Read more