Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Book Review on Lessons from the East by Bob Roberts

Lessons from the East: Finding the Future of Western Christianity in the Global Church
by Bob Roberts
ISBN 978-0-7814-1376-3
David C. Cook
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Bob Roberts is a fascinating Christian leader.  A country boy from East Texas, he seems at home in the environs of suburban Dallas, where he leads a megachurch of fellow Texans, At the same time, his missionary heart, his love for Jesus, and his passion for gospel ministry have led him to become a sophisticated global leader, engaging leaders from around the globe. Eager to bring his faith into the public sphere, he has formed friendships with pastors and politicians, most notably of late religious leaders in the Muslim world. Yet, as he has engaged churches and non-believers in many different cultural environments, he has not simply went to offer something to them, but rather has sought to learn and grow from what his friends around the world had to teach him. Some of these lessons are encapsulated in Lessons from the East.

At the risk of oversimplifying this very thoughtful and engaging work, I would say that Lessons from the East is part "The World Is Flat" for the church, and part Leslie Newbigin's missional theology, with some down-to-earth practical hooks that anyone can grab on to and apply to their church. Roberts book challenges its readers from the beginning to focus their efforts on taking the church into the world. He says, "The primary benefit we can offer our communities is creative, selfless, tenacious service....we build credibility in our communities by serving people outside our walls with no strings attached. (p. 14)." This book is focused on helping churches do that not just around the world, but also in their own back yards.  If the church takes Roberts' challenge seriously, it means radical changes in how churches function and the roles people take in local congregations. He delineates a number of transitions for churches to make, with practices for leaders in congregations as well as persons in the pew.

This is a great book. Now to figure out how to share it with others in a way that connects with them the way it connects with me.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Thoughts on Orlando

Thoughts on Orlando

I have a confession to make. While many other pastors may wake up at 4:30am and shout, “This is the day that the Lord has made!”. I wake up and say “Is it morning already?” Sunday is the only day I set my alarm. Usually the kids wake me up at around 6am. Last Sunday, as I turned the alarm off on my cell phone I was greeted with a number of notifications on my cell phone that there was a shooting, and that there was 50 dead. As the day went on, I learned that the victims were people congregating at a night club that catered primarily to homosexual men, and that the killer was inspired by the evil vitriol from a group that calls themselves ISIS.
I know quite a few gay folks, and there are probably more LGBT folks that I know for whom I am unaware of their sexual orientation because not everyone puts who they are attracted to up on a billboard for everyone to read. I know fewer Muslim folks. I have spent the last several years in the Rockies and the Black Hills, where the Islamic faith has made few inroads.

My belief system leans toward the more conservative side of the Christian faith, at least for the denominations I represent. As I read Scripture, it says that the most biblical pattern for marriage is one man and one woman joining together for a lifetime of committed love. Having said that, I also believe that Scripture has a lot of things to say about God’s standards, and picking out one particular issue or group of people, labeling them, and then grouping them with a label such as “good people” or “bad people” is never helpful. My Bible says that we have all fallen short of the glory of God, and so I realize each person I know comes with challenges, quirks, sins, and strengths that are peculiar to them. If we are choosing to love our neighbor, and love our enemies, we should not lump them into categories. We should know them as people,

When I was a young assistant pastor, I had a man come to me for counseling. He had beat down the senior pastor’s door, and I think my boss was glad I could offer him some relief. I listened to him speak about his marriage and the problems in it. Many of the problems he labeled as demonically influenced, when to me it was clear he was using this as a way of not taking responsibility for his own actions. He described some scenes from a popular fiction book on the topic at the time. After trying to help him, rather unsuccessfully, I went to my supervisor. I labeled his theology by the book he read, saying I had a hard time with it. My supervisor corrected me forthrightly, “His beliefs (he named the person) are his beliefs. They are not beliefs of the title of the book.” I tried to protest, but he was right. I have not forgotten this lesson.

The shootings in Orlando continue to be used for all sorts of political and social agendas, both on the left and the right of the political spectrum. Some of this cannot be helped, because we are dealing with communities of people facing deadly violence. Maybe political action does need to be taken at some point in the future. 

Right now, though, it also helps to remember that each person involved is a person that God made and God loves. It helps to remember that acts of hate give us opportunity to be reminded to love one another as human beings.

God loves people in the LGBT community. So do I. I have former students in my youth group, friends, children of friends, and people I am related to who either experience same sex attraction, are in sexual relationships with persons of the same gender or both. And many of them are good people that I would trust to watch my kids or teach in our schools. I don’t think of them first as “gay”, I think of them first as Jenny or Jake or Gina. I think if shooters knew people’s names and stories they might be less likely to go on killing sprees, shooting nameless faces that fit a label. And, as I process through what happened, I think about specific people that if they lived in Orlando could have been in that club, and it breaks my heart that someone would want to hurt them because they disagree with one part of their life.

God also loves terrorists and Muslims. I don’t know a terrorist per se, but I do know kids and adults, some with profound mental health concerns, that I fear may hurt groups of people in violent outbursts. They don’t have the label “nut-job” or “potential shooter” to me. They have personal names as well. I seek to love them. I pray for them, their families, safety, I hope for them to get well.

I do know people with different religious beliefs and different national and ethnic backgrounds than myself. And I believe it is important to know those people for who they are, appreciate their gifts, and love them.

Get involved politically with issues brought up by the Orlando shooting if you must. But also, begin to respond to this terrible tragedy by also seeking to know a stranger, getting to know a neighbor, and loving those who are like you and are completely different than you as well. Perhaps if we knew each other more, and love each other more devotedly, it would be harder for these mass shootings to keep happening.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Book Review of A Commentary on the Psalms: Volune 3 (90-150

A Commentary on the Psalms: Volume 3 (90-150)
by Allen P. Ross
ISBN 978-0-8254-2666-7
Kregel Academic
Review by Clint Walker

I have just recently concluded a sermon series on the Book of the Psalms. It was rather surface level, but helpful for our congregation. Focusing on praying our emotions, we brought together the Psalms, emotional health, and the movie Inside Out. People enjoyed it quite a bit. I wished now that I had this commentary to further round out the depth of my knowledge of specific Psalms. Ross's commentary on the Psalms is nothing if not deep.

A Commentary on the Psalms begins each Psalm with a translation of the Psalm. The translation is rife with footnotes, often point out insights that are brought forward as the author compares the textual variants between the Hebrew translation (which are in the original language, but have later extant manuscripts), and the Greek translation of the Psalms (for which we have translations that are centuries closer to the time the text was written, but not in its original language). Ross's work here is thorough and well-done.

The next section in the study of each Psalm is explaining the literary, social, and historical context of each Psalm. There are times when this section can be especially enlightening.

After this, the Dr. Ross gathers an exegetical summary with an outline of how the specific Psalm is structured. This helps the reader get the big picture of the Psalm they are studying

Then, A Commentary on the Psalms moves forward with a traditional exposition of the text, taking each word seriously. This moves verse by verse, and sentence by sentence. Here Dr. Ross carefully teases out the essential details to know about what has been written.

Finally. the author includes some helpful hints for ministers and teachers seeking to both instruct about the Psalm, and teach people how to live the truth that each Psalm presents.

I recommend this book strongly for every pastor's library. It is really well done!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Preaching as Book Report

My mom and I occasionally talk about her experiences of churches. She has bounced around a lot in finding a church home since she became an empty nest parent. These days she is living in Phoenix, and attending a nationally known non-denominational mega church. It seems to work well for her and her boyfriend, who recently made a commitment to Christ followed by being baptized in this church.

Mom and Hal go to church on Saturday nights most of the time. Then they go out and socialize after church. I giggle when they say they show up late on purpose so they don't have to listen to the "rock concert" style of musical worship.

They really enjoy the messages of this nationally renowned preacher and leader. When they first began attending this church, the church was working through "The Story", which is a large-scale campaign based out of what used to be Max Lucado's church in Texas and a mainstream publisher. My mom's boyfriend especially enjoyed becoming grounded in the basics of the Bible's narrative arc.

A couple of months ago, mom told me about another sermon series that they were concluding. They were excited because the author of the book that the pastor was preaching on was attending their worship service. I asked, "Mom, does this guy basically preach book reports?" She laughed.

"I suppose," she said, "well, not always," she went on, "I really enjoy the way he speaks and what he has to say, I think you would too."

I have mixed feelings about book report sermons. I have done sermons, generally one or two short series' a year, based upon the content of a book. This is most common with our stewardship campaign. This year I also borrowed from a book for Advent. However, mostly when I do this, I just borrow a few chapter titles, and maybe one or two good stories from the book in a two week span.

Good reading informs preaching, but should not be the foundation of it. That is my opinion anyway. What is yours?

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Sympathy for the Pharisees

I lead two bible studies on Wednesday afternoon. The first place I lead Bible Study is at the Brookside Apartments. They are a part of the Hot Springs Housing Authority, and that organization receives funding to rent to tenants on a sliding scale based upon their income. The second place I teach at is at Pine Hills Retirement Community, which is a little less than two miles away, up on top of the hill overlooking the town. Pine Hills is privately owned, and provides independent living and assisted living apartments for seniors, as well as housing an Alzheimer's unit. They are both fun groups, although the Pine Hills group has been more exciting for me the last few months. Both groups are now in different stages of studying the gospel of John.

One of the unique characteristics I have noticed among my Pine Hills group is that as we have studied the gospel of John, they have developed a sympathy for the Pharisees. The Pharisees were the religious leaders of their day. They were at one time, leaders of the church and political leaders of the Ancient Israelites, who were at the time occupied by the Roman army. They were the Moral Majority leaders of their days, calling the people to a renewal of holiness in the private and public spheres.

This sympathy began to develop in John 6, where after feeding the 5000, when Jesus begins to engage in a series of confrontations with the Pharisees regarding Jesus' moral authority. Jesus says things like "I am the Bread from Heaven" (John 6:52) and later goes on to say, "before Abraham was, I am" (John 8:58). The ladies assure me that their faith is not in doubt, but also assert that if they had heard what the Pharisees had heard from some fellow claiming to be the Messiah, they would have had their reservations about believing in his claims as well.

This Wednesday we discussed John 9. In John 9, a man born blind is healed. The Pharisees are still threatened by Jesus, this time by his healing on the Sabbath, They are also concerned in making sense of what Jesus is doing. What are the implications of a healing of a man born blind? Does this demand our opposition of him, or our support of his ministry? It is a fascinating chapter in Scripture.

We discussed for a while why the Pharisees might be concerned about this fellow that was healed. I explained that the Pharisees had put a lot of time and effort in organizing and controlling the behavior of the Israelites, and that Jesus, both by his teaching and his miracles, was beginning to unravel that sense of forward direction and control of religious practices and authority.

Then it was time for me to confess my sympathy for the Pharisees.

I told them this story. "It is like this in a way, " I said, "there was this gentleman that visited our church on Easter...."

William was the name of our visitor. He had first visited our Bible Study that meets before church. Then, he made his way into the sanctuary. I was setting up on the platform before the service. William called to me. We spoke. It was about 20 minutes before the service started. He engaged me in an empassioned, franetic, and difficult to track conversation for about 10 minutes. He used to live here in town nearly 20 years ago he told me. He was up at the VA Hospital in Sturgis, and after running several tests on him, they sought to admit him to the psych ward. He refused to go. "I am just full of the Holy Spirit," he said jumping up and down, shaking, a bandage over his head, and wires attached to monitors on his body. "I am pastor of the Universal Church of (something), I am a shepherd of about 2 million souls."

I smiled and visited and attempted to disengage from the conversation several time. Eventually I got him comfortably seated, and then went to the back of the sanctuary. "Jerry, we have an adventure for you today," I said to our usher for the day, "there is a rather interesting fellow sitting up front that appears to mentally ill. I may need your help with him."

"What do you want me to do?," Jerry asked.

"I don't know. You guys will know how to handle the situation right if it comes to needing to ministering with him in other ways. Just wanted to give you a heads up."


My anxiety level was pretty high by the time the service started. We began with singing. No problem. We had a responsive call to worship. He began to shout out the "leader" portion after the leader, instead of reading the response in the responsive reading. All the while, I am at one time trying to lead with enthusiasm, but also saying to myself, "How am I going to manage this problem?"

I like to love people as unique people made by God, and brought into my life for a reason. This man was beginning to be a "problem to be managed." I don't like that attitude. But I wanted to have at least a few people return after their annual Easter visit. I had sympathy for the Pharisees.

Somehow, as he began to shout out his need for an apartment during announcements, I had to move along to the next song, and then sit down behind him, and tell him that I could introduce him to people in the rental business after the service. "Thank you. And ok, preacher, I will try and be quieter." I felt bad. But I was doing what I had to do.

Later in the service he threw bread at my object lesson with the children, among other things. I tried to be understand and tried to be open to how the Spirit was working among us with this curveball that had been sent our way. But I was not about to let go of control of the service. I had an event to manage, constituents to serve, a sermon to preach. Instead of leaving the 99 sheep for the one lost sheep, I had sympathy for the Pharisees. I did my religious duty, I managed the problem.

But that does not mean I don't wonder whether I did the wrong thing or the right one.....

New Beginnings: A little devotional YouTube I do for our church

Friday, April 01, 2016

Lost and Found: A Poem

It is in the confusion
of a lost moment
where your habits
are stripped
like threads from a screw
that you might find the new you
that went missing
in the chaos
of the human zoo

It is in the dark room
of fumbling confusion
where the beautiful
glimmers of light
begin to form a picture
that can shape
the rest of your life
reborn in the
everyday world
of light

Despise not the dark
or the lost times
that may
bring you home
or beyond home
to that place
you are determined
destined to go
a mystery made
for you to abide in

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Therefore, Run: An Easter Sermon

Therefore, Run
When Jennifer and I were dating, there would be moments, when she was wanting me to hurry up or stop being distracted in the office supply section in the store, where she would urge me to hurry up and move along. And, at some point, putting on my best Forrest Gump voice, I would yell at her from down the aisle, in an embarrassingly loud voice, “I am running Jenny” and then I would awkwardly run to catch up with her. I have made a habit of doing this kind of thing as we have went along in our marriage, even when I was training for my 5k last year and the year before. Why not? Making a fool of myself is one of my most endearing qualities.

The act of running has an interesting story in Biblical history. I did a word study on the concept this week. For the average Jewish person, running was not behavior that was engaged in for sport or to maintain or build physical health. Sometimes running was done to flee temptation (Joseph), and was often engaged in with military conflict. Running was often used metaphorically for something that was done in haste.
One of my favorite Scriptures says that young men will be able to “run and no be weary”. (Isaiah 40)

Yet, there was a sense, especially by the time of Jesus, that running was often considered undignified. You see, you would be wearing a robe, and in order to run and not trip you would have to pull up your robe and expose your legs, which was considered a little shameful, a little embarrassing. This is one of the things that makes the parable of the Prodigal Son so powerful. At that point in history, if a son was discovered to have squandered his inheritance among the Gentiles, he would be drug in front of the leaders of the community, they would grab a bowl, break it, and tell the young man that he was now cut off from his people for his shameful behavior. Public humiliation. Yet, with the Father’s running to the prodigal, the Father short circuits the shaming of the Son by taking the shame upon himself.

In Christ, God has come running to us. Stooping to us. Taking our shame upon himself, so that we can have a new life, a renewed hope, through placing our faith in him, trusting him with our lives by surrendering our lives to his authority.

Anyway, all of this is helpful to know when we get to resurrection accounts in the Gospel of John. Why? Because everyone is running with the accounts of the resurrection. John 20:2 says that Mary Madgalene runs from the empty tomb to find Peter and John. She tells the men about the empty tomb, and they run as well. John tells us that he got there first, but tells us that Simon Peter goes barreling into the tomb as soon as he gets to the scene. Then they leave. The grave clothes are there, but the body is not? What are they to make of this?

We are left to wonder that too. And part of what we are to make of this event has to do with the response of those first three witnesses of the resurrection: Mary, Peter, and John. When they hear of the open tomb, they cannot help but run. They run from the grave, and they run to it.

Are we to believe that this running would have been shameful? I don’t know. I think what we are to hear is that they simply did not care. This news that Jesus’s tomb was empty, that he may have been risen from the dead, that God has turned the world rightside-up through raising Christ from the dead, this was worth running to, even if they looked goofy, embarrassed or shamed themselves.

Two thousand years from that first Resurrection morning, to empty tomb, my friends, is still worth running to. It is the pivot point in history. The message of new life, of hope, of life after death, of the victory of our conquering King Jesus is still urgent for you, for me, for our friends and our family, and for our world. It still has the power to set prisoners free, to make the broken whole, to reconcile enemies and to bring joy from ashes, and hope from despair. The empty tomb still has the power to change lives. I know, as imperfect as I am, it has and is changing my life.

During Lent, we have been studying Hebrews to immerse ourselves in understand the greatness of Jesus Christ. We have learned over and over again, our need for the Jesus who loved us enough to come to us in human form, to live a perfect life, to die on a cross, to rise again in victory, and to ascend to sit at the right hand of God.
We have contemplated all of this, and now on Easter morning, we are confronted with Hebrews 12, and the “now what?” in light of the resurrection. Jesus has died and risen. He has suffered for us. He has offered us new life. Now what?

The author of Hebrews invites us to get running!

Now, Hebrews is written to Hellenistic Jews. Jews that were not native to all of the national history and customs of the Land of Israel, but folks who had tried to follow the Scriptures in exile spread out all around the ancient world. In the Greek world, athletic competition was common. And one of those competitions had to do with running. Running competitions has ties to military in ancient Greece and Rome.

Marathon, for example, was a messenger who ran from the battle field to announce the victory of the Athenians over the Persians. He came bringing good news. There were no phones or television then of course, so news of battle news was passed on through messengers that relayed the news, running from place to place. These messengers were called evangels when they had positive reports. Thus to be an evangelist is a person relaying good news about a victory that has been won. And evangelical is one who is a person who believes in the good news of victory in Christ, and lives in faith about that good news.

He compares the story of faith among God’s people to a relay race run in full view of all of the people of history. In Hebrews 11, as we looked at last week, the preacher who preached the content of the book of Hebrews gets on a roll. He begins to recount the history of the people of God. They have followed God in faith. Seth. Moses. Abraham. Noah. Isaiah. David. The prophets. The judges. Each ran the race. The lived by faith. Like relay racers, they passed the baton to the next generation. And each generation, one way or another, lived carried on that faith and passed it on to the next generation. Sometimes better. Sometimes worse.

And now, having the benefit of knowing about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the baton is passed to us. And all of the saints that have come before us make up a cloud of witnesses. And that cloud of witnesses shouts to us, in light of the good news we have to live and to share about Jesus Christ, they shout RUN!

How are we to run?
The author of Hebrews gives us some very helpful advice of how we are to live, of how we are to run the race, in light of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

1.    Fix our eyes on Jesus
The resurrection reminds us that our faith is not in religion, or an organization, it is in the leadership of our Lord Jesus Christ. In light of the resurrection we run to him! We fix our eyes upon who Jesus is. We say, because Jesus died for me, I am going to live for him. Our life becomes about loving the way Jesus loved, being strong and bold for truth the way Jesus was, and remembering that Jesus is the standard that we hold everything against. His resurrection proves he is greater than anyone. His resurrection shows that he has power over sin, death, and the evil one. So our focus should be on what he wants us to do, and where he wants us to go. Get focused on Jesus and what is going on around him.

2.   Throw off sin
Jesus died so that you can be victorious. Not so that you could wallow around in sin, and have it tie you up and tie you down. If we have faith that Jesus is risen, that trust then spurs us on to living with a trust that God’s way is better than our way, and that the wisdom of the Word is greater than the wisdom of the world.
If you truly trust, believe in, and love Jesus, your life will be marked by eliminating the self-centered, destructive, sinful life you have left behind. You will begin to trust that God knows what is best for you better than you think you do, and you will begin to eliminate from your life those things that stand in opposition to Christ and your soul.
3.    Throw off anything that gets in the way

In the movie UP!, there is this endearing dog that is devoted to the main characters in the story. Unfortunately, what happens is that the dog is easily distracted. He is puttering along, doing good things, and then he sees a squirrel. And he goes chasing after that squirrel and gets distracted from the things he is meant to do.
In light of the resurrection of Christ, your life is about one thing. Sometimes sin gets in the way. Both other times we are just so easily distracted with a million different things that we are impeded from being the transforming, world-changing, neighbor-reaching, community building people Christ has called us to be. We can be like the dog, that lets the squirrels around us get in the way of truly living a victorious life in Christ.

We get stuck doing things in our lives that keep us from private devotion or worship, or public worship here. We get distracted from the needs of our neighbors with our own business and our cell phones. Sin is always gets in our way of running the race well. But there are good things that can steal our focus too.

4.   Persevere

A life lived trusting God means that we need to persevere. There are times when walking with Christ is just difficult. Maybe we experience a dark night of the soul. Or maybe circumstances steal our motivation to stay faithful to Christ. Remember, at this point, that we are running a race. There are moments that we may want to quit. It is imperitive we don’t. We have a great cloud of witnesses cheering for us. We know through the resurrection that victory is ours. Let us not abandon trusting the Way of Jesus because of temporary discomfort. Persevere!

5.    Endure opposition and hardship
Both from the evil one, and from others around us, running the race of faith is difficult. You will be attacked for doing what Jesus tells you to do. They attacked him too, the author of Hebrews says here, but stand strong. You will endure suffering for doing the right thing. Your kindness will not always be returned. You will be pushed aside. Keep pushing. Keep running. If you are doing anything important, there will be people who will oppose you, who will stand against you, who will seek to drag you down. RUN. KEEP RUNNING.

6.   Consider who you are running to
Run to Jesus. Consider what he went through to win you, and how little you endure in comparison. Consider what Christ did for you, and how much loved you. And then remain faithful, remain loyal to him by believing, trusting, and living for him, under his authority, in obedience to him

7.    Run!
Run to Jesus. Easter shows us the war is won. We still face battles, obstacles, and challenges. But Jesus is our champion. Run with him. Run to him. Run for him. Run to Jesus and live victoriously.