Thursday, May 24, 2018

Fleeting Thought: Giving to and Investing In.

I was in a conversation with a peer in ministry today. I was describing the nature of missional efforts in ministry and I said this sentence without really thinking about it. "There is a difference between giving and investing in ministry. Missional ministry that works is more about investing in that giving to.."

As I am unpacking this reflexive statement in my head, I like it more and more. My peers understood what I meant, but I am not sure every church person will.

Giving is a good thing. God commands it. We should do it. A lot. But giving is more transactional. You have a need. I help you with that need. I am homeless and hungry. You take your turn serving at the Salvation Army. You need gas, and our deacon helps fill up your tank. I need help moving my mother to a nursing home and I don't know where to turn so I come to a church for help, and the youth group reaches out in service by helping load my mother's belongings into a storage unit. This kind of service is generous and compassionate. It is an important in expressing God's compassion and grace to the world. However, because of its easy detachment from ongoing relationship and its limited opportunity for partnership and mutuality, and its inability to be highly formational in the spiritual life of both the giver and reciever, it is not truly missional in any sense of truly being contextual, or in equpping churches for the growth and transformation as a community that they need.

The most effective missional ministries both give to and invest in people and communities. When I was a pastor in Colorado, we did a project called a Backyard Mission Project. We thought our primary impact was going to be in serving needs in the community. We started by "giving to" in a powerful way. The larger impact though, came through investing in the community for its own benefit. Six months of interviews and planning allowed us to invest time with our city council and staff, the chamber of commerce, school clubs and the fire department as well as businesses that we eager to make their community a better place and make a difference in people's lives. The church began to attract folks that wanted to be a part of a church that was eager to be active in their faith and not just talk about faith as an idea.

How that exactly will manifest itself in our ministries going forward in North Platte is still to be revealed. But now I have a little better language for the journey.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Book Review of Commentary on Hebrew, James Volume of Reformation Commentary on Scripture

Hebrews, James

Hebrews, James
New TestamentVolume XIII
Reformation Commentary on Scripture
ed. by Ronald K. Rittgers
ISBN 978-0-8308-2976-7
Published by IVP Academic
Reviewed by Clint Walker

As readers of this blog know, I have been blogging on the Reformation Commentary on Scripture since its release began several years back. Recently, I recieved a new volume in this stellar series to review, and this particular volume is not a volume that you want to miss!

This particular volume of the series is collated and edited by Dr. Ronald K. Rittgers. Dr. Rittgers is both a theologian and a history scholar. His historical work specializes in studies late medieval and early modern European history, with a special emphasis on the Reformation. There are few better choices to introduce us to the Reformers approach to James and Hebrews.

This volume is enjoyable because there are some issues that the Reformers had to work through, that many Christians also have to consider in our time. For instance, there is a variety of opinions regarding the authorship of Hebrews. Some people think it was Pauline, including Zwingli. Others, such as Luther and Calvin, did not think the writing in Hebrews was Pauline, and had some good arguments to present for that view.

As far as the book of James goes, most people familiar with any Biblical studies during the Reformation have heard about Luther's dislike of the book as a "straw epistle" (p. 200). For me, it was interesting to see this comment sourced, and the quote put into a little bit deeper context. Also fascinating for me was the quickness that the Reformers had in connecting the teaching on faith and works in James 2 with the teaching on love in I Corinthians 13 (pp. 202 (Zwingli), p. 230 (Erasmus), p. 232 (Calvin))

Hebrews and James are two of the most lively books in the New Testament in their theology and call to living the faith boldly as a believer. Reading the Reformers in this volume will at once help the reader step outside of their own cultural context, and yet at the same time see that many of the same challenges that were presented to them interpreting and living the Scripture then are still with us today. Pick this up, and add it to your library, especially if you are one who teaches or preaches the Word!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Book Review of Faithful by Adam Hamilton

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Faithful: Christmas through the Eyes of Joseph
by Adam Hamilton
ISBN 978-1-5018-1408-2
Abingdon Press
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Abingdon Press puts out a handful of Advent studies every year for their Methodist constituency and other folks who want to have a special study during the Advent season. Each year, Adam Hamilton is contracted to do one of these studies. In 2018, the study that they came up with has to do with looking at the events of Advent through the eyes of Joseph.

Much of this study has what you would expect from such a study: reflections on raising a child that is not biologically yours, the leadership Joseph provided as a husband and a father and more. But Hamilton does a good job at throwing some other things in such as the importance of fathers in faith development, and the correlation between absent fathers and the rise of the "nones", among other things.

Book Review of Short-Term Mission by Brian M. Howell

Short-Term Mission: An Ethnography of Christian Travel Narrative and Experience
by Brian M. Howell
ISBN 978-0-8308-3973
IVP Academic
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Short-term missions is a fairly recent phenomenon in the history of the church. A number of factors play into the development of this phenomenon, most notably, the proliferation and relative affordability of persons in more affluent countries to travel to more and more distant and culturally diverse places. At the beginning of the modern missions movement, people left to the mission field, and they were lucky to return to their sending churches once or twice in a lifetime. Today, people can fly across the world in less than 24 hours.

Brian Howell is an anthropologist by trade, and has put his knowledge to work studying short-term mission trips, their effects, and the narratives that they create among those that participate. He concludes that short-term missions are "not exactly tourism, pilgrimage, or mission, but a hybrid of all three" (p.229). Through his study, he uncovers narratives that emerge from these short term mission trips. While a few narratives that come out of these experiences are healthy, there are many others that are not.

The book exposes the narratives that are often created by short-term missions, and seeks to find ways to modify or tweak the short-term mission, training, and debriefing so that people can have an experience that is meaningful, and brings HEALTHY transformation for participants and is also a positive experience for those served.

When this book was released several years ago, it created quite a splash in Christian evangelical circles. Half a decade later, this text needs to be considered and reconsidered by churches and missions organizations, and integrated not only into how we do short term missions, but how we engage our local communities.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Book Review of Political Church: The Local Assembly as Embassy of Christ's Rule

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Political Church: The Local Assembly as Embassy of Christ's Rule
by Jonathan Leeman
IVP Academic
Reviewed by Clint Walker

As soon as I received Political Church, I knew two things. First, with endorsements as diverse as Hauerwas and Albert Moeller, I knew that this was a book full of powerful ideas worthy of thinking deeply about.
Second, after beginning to read through this book, I realized that it was rightly classified in the academic line of IVP. This book is dense, thought-provoking, and intellectually weighty.

Many people want to separate the church from the public sphere of life, or to define it "organically", and in doing so, they seek redefine the church as apolitical. Jonathan Leeman confronts this view of the church. As much as the church tries to get away from being an "institution", it is by nature institutional. And, because it has a role in the public life of society and communities, it is by definition political.

Leeman puts it this way: The church is to "represent the king's name before the nations and their governors as an ambassador" (p. 24) of Christ and his kingdom. This may call the church to be separate from the political concerns of the day in that it is not beholden to a national political party. However, because we are an outpost of the kingdom of God, our actions, positions, and beliefs should have a political impact in whatever nation or culture we are a part of.

There is much more to read, be debated, and discuss with Leeman's wonderfully well-considered work. Today, it is sufficed to say that I am challenged as a person that waivers between Anabaptist and Reformed sentiments and convictions.

Monday, February 26, 2018

The Blame Game

UPDATE: After I wrote this, the person in the office with Kids Klub did go back to work, call the school, and the food company, and tracked down how the mistake happened. She then offered to work with them to transfer the money from the lunch account, but that would leave us owing nearly as much to the school to pay for kids lunches. I am keeping this up because I think it something good to think about in human relations and business practices, as well as just the way our world is going.  I also want to say that the Kids Klub gal really proved herself to be top notch.

I just got off the phone with a gal working for Kids Klub with the school district. She insisted we were owing them nearly two hundred dollars. In the end she was right. We do owe her two hundred dollars. We owe the money because our payment of the bill was applied to the wrong account.

Each month we are given a little copied and printed 1/4 page voucher with our kids' names and how much we owe Kids Klub, and after school program of our school district. We are told to bring payment into the office at the school, or hand it in to the staff person when we pick the kids up. Last year they provided us with a yellow envelope to insert our payment into. This year, we have had no envelope. This fact will be important to understand later.

So we have brought our money into the office, stated it was for Kids Klub. It has Kids Klub on the check. However, some of the checks, having cleared the bank, did not show up in the accounting for the Kids Klub with their Quick Books. What happened to the money we gave them? Was it embezzled by the twentysomethings that lead the group. Was it lost in space?

Finally, an idea came to me. Our kids have been getting a lot of hot lunches lately. (The wife is a hot lunch fan. I prefer the kids eat cold lunches. So the kids choose what they want instead). Perhaps, when the secretary got the money, even with kids klub on the front of the check, it got applied into the wrong account. The accountant for Kids Club suggested I look at the stamps on the back of the envelopes placed there by school district accounting when they deposited the checks. Sure enough, the money was applied to the "cafeteria fund" by the school district instead. I had to spend $4 chasing down old checks to figure this out, and looking six lines down the endorsement stamp for which fund it went to. 

What was frustrating was at the end the woman in the office told us that we needed to go into the office and tell them to give us the yellow payment envelopes for their fund. It became very obvious that they were working to shift blame to us for the problem. I said we would be glad to use the envelopes, as we had done last year, but they were not provided. (I was countering that they need to accept the blame and correct their accounting system.) I was told two more times that the yellow envelopes should solve our problem. The conversation ended amicably enough.

Now, I have been in the shoes of the woman on the phone, and I am not upset with her. She is doing her job. But perhaps she could have said something like, "We want to do things better for you, and it would really help us out if you went to the office and requested the yellow envelopes." instead of putting all of the responsibility and blame on me for their misallocation of funds.

I think in our overly contentious and litigious society we scared to take responsibility and shoulder some of the blame when problems come up. We are afraid we are going to be taken advantage of. So, instead of saying that the district accounting made an error, that they can't correct the error at this point, and we are going to have to pay what we owe their particular fund, they try and shift all the blame for finding the fund, and forcing their staff into procedural compliance to me. Again, not uncommon. But, perhaps in a lot of different areas of life we need to do better.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Returning to what strengthens me

It has been a while since I really invested myself in the discipline of blogging. Too long.

There were several reasons that I began this blog over 13 years ago. One was that I had a bunch of thoughts and ideas that would creep in my head, and then make their way out from my conscious memory. I needed a place to journal insights, thoughts, and such.

Another was that I wanted to write. Ever since I was little I have wanted to write. I have dreamed of publishing something for decades. Although I had some minor forays into published writing, this blog has been the venue where I have done the most work in this regard. As I wrote before, I saw that my communication skills and my writing skills both improved. Now, after not writing for a while, I feel they have atrophied a bit.

So, I am going to start this blogging journey again. It is a different world that in was back in 2004, but I think I still have a lot to say.

Please join me, visit with me, and help refine me as a writer, communicator, pastor and leader.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Book Review of the Radical Pursuit of Rest by John Koessler

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The Radical Pursuit of Rest: Escaping the Productivity Trap
by John Koessler
ISBN 978-0-8308-4444-9
IVP Books
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Often, among circles of recovering workaholics you hear the phrase, "I am not a human doing, I am a human being". While most of time when I hear quips like this I think the person has spent too much time in therapy or reading self-help books, this particular phrase has a ring of truth to it.

There is a certain percentage of our congregations and our society who are literally working themselves to death, trying to do everything they can, and not taking time to rest, to have Sabbath, and to remember that our lives are about relationships and not what we produce.

It is to this group of people that John Koessler brings his book The Radical Pursuit of Rest. He argues that the church has uncritically adopted a culture of productivity, anxiety, and activity that runs counter to God's message of grace, peace and rest. He addresses some of the roadblocks to the healthy rhythm of rest and work head on. If you read this book you will discover how you often deceive yourself, thinking you are resting when you are really continuing to hurry and hustle. You will also see that Koessler addresses some of the impediments to rest head on, and with sage wisdom. He will show you how the theme of rest runs through Scripture, and how it is part of God's promise for his people. Radical Pursuit of Rest speaks directly to our hurried, frazzled souls, and seeks to show us another way.

I recommend reading this book highly, both on your own, and perhaps in a book club you are a part of .