Saturday, August 30, 2008

Shifting Residency

Hello all! My guess is that no one is still checking this blog, but I figured if it's still on anyone's RSS feed, I'd make a note about my re-entry into the blogging world. I'm not going overseas; rather, I'm simply opening up an outlet to have theological conversations with friends far and near about any and all items of interest.

So! Feel free to join me over at Resident Theology. Hope to see you there.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Farewell, Comrades

Hullo all. I don't think anyone checks this page for updates anymore, but just in case, a couple things.

First, I am going to Tomsk, Russia, for 8 weeks this upcoming summer (2007) with Heath Newton and my brother Garrett. So that will be another adventure worthy of a new blog, which you can go to here. (My URL betrays a theme, I think. Maybe I'll just make an annual trip to a different continent.) So feel free to head over there and see what's going on with the trip and that part of the world.

Second, I forgot to post the link to our collective report to the Round Rock church when we got back from Jinja, so here you go, if you'd like to listen.

Third, for any who haven't been told -- I am engaged! I proposed to Katelin Calvert on the night of Friday, December 1st, and the wedding will be next December (2007). So that is good news indeed.

I think that's it. I'd love to see you over at the other blog! Thanks for keeping up with me. Blessings.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

All Things Go, All Things Go

Hullo all. No time today, but I did want to say hullo and post a couple thoughts. Hopefully after next Wednesday, which marks a bit of a finale to my 3 weeks of compressed homework madness, I'll be able to have a couple bigger posts.

Heath has written some on the relationship between God and natural disasters. I don't have original thoughts (and I didn't even read the comments yet), but by chance Randy Harris spoke on this subject tonight at church, so I thought I'd share what he had to say. Boiled down, his response to such a difficult topic is found in three H's.

The humility to admit that we don't know what God is doing, we don't have the answers, and we can't see the big picture.

The hallowedness of suffering, which is to say, when others invite us into their personal suffering, we are on holy ground, through which God works -- seen most vividly in Christ's own "obedience" to suffering.

The hope which we cling to in the midst of so much pain and unfathomable suffering -- that God has come near in Christ, that God is working to redeem all of creation and reconcile it to himself, and that there is a larger plan that we cannot see.

-------

I was able to hear a personal story from a Christian who recently had the opportunity to teach former Muslims who are now Arab followers of Christ, and one thing was particularly powerful. This person was teaching on Colossians 2, when Paul describes how God in Christ has taken the written record against us, which lists all of our failings and sins and debts and faults, and has nailed it to the cross in triumph, taking it all away. In the middle of teaching this, the group of former Muslims broke into a chorus of cheers, applause, and celebration -- a riotous outburst which confounded the teacher. Had he missed something? After asking what had caused the outburst, the former Muslims replied by telling him that in Islam, Allah doesn't take away your debts. There is no cross for Allah; your sins aren't nailed to the cross. That is not who Allah is, nor is that what Allah does.

Praise God for such a gracious, loving, selfless, and glorious gift!

Praise God for the cross of Jesus Christ!

Praise God for being a God who does end on a cross, and praise God that he was raised again!

Praise God for being a God who takes everything against us, everything that we hate, everything that is ugly and evil and painful, everything that we wish we could extinguish but can't -- praise God for taking all of that and nailing it to the cross!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Light Gives Heat

Hullo all. I need to be better (like uber-blogger Heath Newton!) about updating more consistently with whatever I am thinking about, or just posting questions that have been raised throughout the course of conversations. So, here are some thoughts.

To start things off, something Heath has written about a few times, or at least referred to. Heath offered that maybe a better term than "unbelievers" or "non-Christians" for people who don't claim Christ as Lord would be "pre-Christians." This got me thinking, especially as I think that it was an on-the-spot consideration of how our terms for people outside the Christian community connotate ideas or feelings, and I appreciate the fact that we should be careful with our terms. However, I think it an unwise distinction to make, particularly for nonbelievers themselves. What if Muslims were to start calling non-Muslims "pre-Muslims"? Wouldn't that be somewhat presumptuous? Not only that, but would it not also entail an aspect of pretentiousness? "We still love you, but we only see you as a person on-the-way-to-where-we-already-are." That, of course, is not what Heath means, but I think that that is what the term implies, especially to someone who is hostile to Christianity (whom, mind you, we are most desperate to seek out and love!).

Even in our attitude devoid of that term, I think we should clarify what we mean. We shouldn't think of people as "not Christians," that is, our job is to "make them Christians." We should think of people who don't claim Christ as Lord as fellow sinners whom God loves and is seeking to redeem. Whether that means we call them "people who don't claim Christ as Lord," nonbelievers, non-Christians -- I'm not sure. But I do think we should be careful about what our terms are conveying, even when used within our own faith community, and we should be very careful with how those terms are shaping our worldview and attitudes.

-------

Heath and I have, as you might have noticed, been wrestling with government (especially war) and the church lately. I was thinking from a different perspective the other day, and was wondering about others' thoughts. Something I have come to be very convinced about is that one of the biggest mistakes of the modern American church is to impose our ethical convictions on others who don't share our faith or worldview. For example, we explicitly and unreservedly condemn abortion, extramarital sex, swearing, pornography, theft, dishonesty, lust, materialism, etc., and anyone involved in such things. And, for the record, these things are sinful and wrong, and God desires for all of humanity to be devoid of such derivations from his intended purpose for creation.

However -- who are we to judge those outside the church? Isn't this what Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 5? Yes, sin remains sin, and the church can and must remain a moral foundation and prophetic voice in the world, but God will be the judge of those who have not chosen to follow Christ -- and we, unequivocally, are not their judge. Ironically (or understandably), as church discipline and accountability has fallen by the wayside, church criticism (with unforeseen moral boldness!) of the secular world has risen a hundredfold. What a perplexing trend! If we are to love those outside the church, we must invite and accept them where they are, and only when they claim Christ as their Lord, teacher, model, and standard, must we hold them accountable to the way of God.

Now -- and I may have to finish this later -- how does this apply to warfare? Heath openly claims himself to be a pacifist, while I still confess to be wrestling with the issue. For argument's sake, though, let's just say that Christian perspective on war is that it is always, no matter what, wrong, and that Christians can have no part in it. What would this mean, then, in the arena of public affairs and government? If I am right that it is not our job to judge those outside the church, does this not extend to the government's right to make war? Paul even says in Romans 13 that the state is ordained by God to keep peace. If government decides to make war to that end, is it our job to disagree, or condemn the decision? My first inclination (and this might be what I leave you with) is that the main (sole?) reason for the church to get involved in protesting a war would be our fundamental commitment to stand up for the overlooked, marginalized, oppressed, poor, and needy of the world, who are always the most negatively affected by international warfare. But what if the government truly sought to engage in "just war"? What if those without a voice were not going to be disproportionately affected? Do we make warfare a moral issue we are allowed to judge or speak to the world about, but not others (that is, telling them what they should do or that what they're doing is wrong, not simply be a "moral voice" or "example of what God intends)?

These are my thoughts, and I expect answers. Adios.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

God and Country (and Links)

Hullo all. Little time to post much -- I'm in the middle of a paper for Church History -- but I thought I'd post a few links and and maybe a couple questions.

Spence's latest post is a great read and I recommend it for anyone interested in a humorous celebration of Busoga's "all-star" ministers. It was awesome to read all those names and know them from personal experience! There were a couple that weren't in Jinja when we were there, or at least I didn't meet them, but I got to know most of them. I actually posted a comment at the end adding my choices for my Fantasy Soga Ministers Team. (By the way, Heath may have to correct me, but I think that it was he and I who coined the phrase "All-Star Ministers" while we were in Jinja. I know that Spencer is prone to claim ownership for anything clever or intelligent, regardless of whether it was him who thought of it, but don't fall for it. It was all us.)

Mike Cope's last few entries have been awesome, and the comments afterwards have been equally engaging to read. I highly recommend taking a look.

Man, I thought I had one more! Either way, enjoy those. And I'll leave you with a couple of small thoughts.

I'm writing on the single greatest contribution of the Eastern Orthodox Church to global Christianity. How often is it that we discount entire faith traditions because they seem odd to us? Or because we "know" they don't have it right? Even if we don't agree with others, isn't it possible that they might have valuable insights into truth that we may not have thought about? Could we at least research or study certain things to see, even if we remain confident in our own correctness?

(Note: "correctness" is a word.)

Heath and I are taking Church History together, which has played a part in continuing our struggle with what the relationship between church and state should be. This was especially prodded this week in our intensive reading of Constantine's conversion and subsequent decisions regarding the church that are still having large repercussions even today. Was it a good thing for Constantine to legalize Christianity? Was it a good thing for him to make it the legal religion of the empire? Was it good for him to call the Council of Nicea together to resolve the problem of Arianism? Realize that it is difficult to imagine with confidence what would have happened if no one in power had called together all of those bishops to settle such a monumental question dividing the church at that time. What precedents did Constantine set that we are still living with today? Should we seek to escape from "Constantinian Christianity"? Has that already happened? What is the church's role in the world if it isn't active in the state and/or government?

These are the questions I'm wondering. I realize I always ask questions, but I thought I'd toss those out there. The next time I have a chance to ponder those questions with thoughts and ideas and answers, I will do it. For now, ponder for me.

Until next time.

P.S. N.T. Wright makes an awesome note in his book What Saint Paul Really Said, that a basic spiritual law is that "humans become like what they worship." I love that.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Right In Two

Hullo all. Sorry for the delay, but thanks for the comments. I have no idea how long I'll spend on here, being as how I am making the conscious choice to ignore my pressing homework demands for the moment, so we'll see what I get to.

We are currently in the middle of Lectureship at ACU, as for the first time it is in September instead of February, and it has been incredible so far. This morning I finished the third part of two different series, one led by Don McLaughlin on fostering development of multicultural churches, and the other a dialogue among panelists about the relationship between the church and government called "Pledging Allegiance." I highly recommend both series to anyone interested in ordering the recordings online (I think they are available on ACU's website).

One small (though remarkable) point worth mentioning from Don McLaughlin's class. He started us in Revelation 7, where the great multitude of God's people -- "from every nation, tribe, people and language" -- are gathered together in heaven in worship of God. He then brought us to Matthew 6, where in the Lord's prayer Jesus models for us to pray for God's kingdom to come "on earth as it is in heaven." Don made the point that if we take God seriously, the vision of heaven is for all people from all places to be united in worship of Him, and that if we take seriously Jesus' command to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth, then our first priority should be the destruction of barriers that previously separated us before Christ. Meaning, unity within the church between those normally segregated by external factors -- such as race, class, gender, socioeconomic status, nationality, denomination, political party, petty doctrine disagreement -- is a supreme priority for God, and if we choose to ignore it, or shy away because "it's hard," we are disobeying a direct command from God. Put another way, remaining docile and complacent about the homogeneity within our churches is disobedience to the One we claim to follow. "Unity where unity is unlikely shows that God is really in it." If we remain in churches with people with whom we would normally be anyway, what testimony is that to God? How can the love, forgiveness, reconciliation, and hope of God preside in a place where it goes unneeded? The cross of Christ shines brightest in places where there is no other explanation than that the power of God is alive and empowering a community to live with and love one another.

The panel on the church and government was awesome as well. I wanted to go because of the topic itself, but as a wonderful bonus, the author of Mere Discipleship, Lee Camp, was here from Lipscomb and part of the panel. (You may or may not remember that Camp's book had a significant impact on both Heath and me this summer in Africa.) My professor and leader of my mentor group, Randy Harris, was in the discussion, as well as Lynn Anderson, former preacher of Highland Church of Christ here in Abilene. The three other guys were from Pepperdine, Garland, and somewhere else I can't remember. The perspectives ranged from full Christian exclusion from national government, and anything that comes close to an "allegiance" or "oath" to a nation-state or constitution (which entails pacifism), to cautious Christian involvement in the government, due mainly to the fact that there should be no area for Christians to not emerse themselves in (and bring with them kingdom values), to active and dynamic Christian engagement of government, including serving in public office as well as in the military, as a public service to one's country. Everyone agreed that nationalism is a rampant and seductive form of idolatry right now in America, but some professed patriotism to be a value worthy of followers of Christ.

The main point of unity among the panelists was that this is a conversation we need to be having in our churches, mainly because it is a conversation we do not want to be having. Should we display a flag in the sanctuary/auditorium? Should we recognize a holiday like Memorial Day? Should we allow or encourage wearing military uniforms in the Christian assembly? Should we thank God for America? Should we pray for our troops in the assembly? What might an Iraqi national, visiting a church in America, hear when he hears a Christian say the phrase "our soldiers"? Do Christians "have soldiers"? What is the appropriate context for Paul's teachings on the government in Romans 13 and 1 Timothy 2? Does following Jesus entail absolute pacifism? Can there be just war? In what situations can war be justified? At what point does "kingdom allegiance" and "national allegiance" conflict, and what do we do when they do? What does God's interaction with Israel in the Old Testament tell us about government, power, nations, and war?

These are the questions. If you have answers, please direct them to my email.

Time is money in America, and I have never felt it more than in the past six weeks. Africa slowed me down so much! I have so much to do, and in so little time, with so many responsibilities, and so many non-negotiables. It's hard coming back with the mindset of intending to slow down, when you are assigned 3-6 hours of homework a night. I find myself moving toward wanting to make "slowness" a fruit of the Spirit, or at least a virtue, that we need to start pursuing. Either way, it would be responsible of me to get back to my homework.

Until next time. Friday I'll be in Dallas helping put on a day retreat for Dallas Christian Middle School, Saturday is my birthday, next Thursday is Derek Webb in Dallas, and next weekend I am going to Mississippi to celebrate my cousin Melanie getting married.

Also: my youngest brother Mitchell has been diagnosed with a disease called Celiac, which is not life-threatening or endangering in a critical way, but will seriously affect his diet, and will entail a great amount of changes over the coming months. Please keep him and my family in your prayers! Thanks.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

With My Own Two Hands

Hullo all. Long time no see!

I have been reading along for the past month as Heath has continued sharing his thoughts with the small community of readers we amassed while in Africa, and I think I would like to (re)join the party. Part of the delay is because I am so swamped with homework! But also, it has been good to try and take a break and process things on my own for a while. Enough of that, however. I'll try to start updating consistently, however randomly, with my thoughts, and while I'll try to stay focused on issues related to jumping back into America after 2 months in Africa, they'll probably be all over the place. (Bwana: "Ah, but what can we do?")

So, we'll give it a try.

Also: I (finally) changed the settings on the blog, so that anyone, not just registered users, can make a comment. And in light of that, if you are in any way interested in continuing to read, I would love to hear from you. I know that bloggers always make that request, and I am always the one who politely (read: silently) declines, but since it has been a full month since anyone has been checking to see if I am updating, it would be nice to know that someone out there is reading!

Anyway, I believe that will be all for now. Between Friday and today (Sunday), I have a total of 274 pages to read. Only 115 more to go! Until next time.

P.S. Go check out Heath's blog; he's had some good thoughts on the assorted difficulties of re-inserting ourselves back into this homebase culture of ours.