Friday, February 28, 2014

The New Normal

I have learned a lot the last six months. One of the things that has become more apparent is that a diagnosis of breast cancer not only initiates a woman into a world of medical procedures and a extended web of caregivers, it also initiates women into a sorority of patients and survivors that is more broad and intriguing than most folks would imagine.

Lately, Jennifer has been in a conversation with a woman in our small town who was just diagnosed with breast cancer. Her case of cancer looks more frightening and malignant than anything we faced. Jennifer and Sara, however, also share a lot in common. They are both mothers of toddlers. They are both professionals who are going to have to struggle to balance family and professional lives with treatment.

As Jennifer's husband, and a somewhat observant fellow, I have noticed that as Jen dialogues with Sara, she is working through a lot of the early days of her diagnosis all over again. Jen is remembering how she felt, and she is pondering how she made it through it all to where she is now. If  you follow her blog, you can see how she is doing that through her words of gratitude for the blessings she has received.

As I observe Sara and Jen, I also begin to notice certain stages that people go through on their breast cancer journey. Early on, many folks respond by "taking the fight" to cancer. This is healthy. Defeating breast cancer is quite a battle, and bolstering one's energy and seeking the support of others in the battle against cancer is powerful in one's ability to endure the painful and often humbling realities of chemotherapy.

One thing, that one often misses at this stage of dealing with the breast cancer journey is this: things will never be the same. In the early stage, there is this latent, unspoken hope that one will have a temporary battle to overcome this illness, and then you will get your "normal" life back. The truth is, nothing will ever be the same again. Your relationship with your spouse will be profoundly changed for the rest of your life. Your children's lives' trajectory will also be altered, especially if you are parents of children who are not adults. Your career and your habits will be minimally or greatly altered.

When I was adapting to my family's changing face during the breast cancer, I found myself somehow hoping to survive for a few weeks or months, thinking we would get through everything and then get back on track from where they were. At some point, I came to the conclusion that there was no going back to the way things were ever, and that I needed to face a new normal. In fact, we have had to face several new normals since then. And in case you missed it by now: the old normal is dead, and a new normal is then resurrected from its ashes.

The mystery of this ruthless disease is that, in the middle of its terror and death-seeking horror, it brings new life at the same time. I would never want to go through what we have gone through in the last 6 months ever again, but at the same time, I would have never wanted to miss the journey with Jennifer and the girls.

I would never want things to be back to normal. I would want Jennifer to be healthier again. I would want her to be stronger again. But she is not the same person I married, or even the same person I knew last year at this time. I was in love with the old Jen, and I have fallen in love with the new one too. Our lives together, although at times more stressful and tenuous, has taught us at the same time to treasure moments more fully and helped each of us grow into more of the people the Spirit is making us to be.

What I am saying, if you have not guessed it, is this. The cancer journey, while forcing all of us to face Jen's mortality, has also been, in a small way, a rebirth of sorts. We don't know where all of this new life is taking us. We do know that we will not be the same, and that God, in his unspeakable, mysterious grace, is making the darkness just a seedbed for new light. And what will become, while in His loving hands, in also a result of our choices to fight, to love, to adapt, to adjust, and to grow.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Book Review of Extraordinary, Ordinary People by Condoleezza Rice



Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family
by Condoleezza Rice
ISBN 978-0-307-58787-9
Crown Archetype
Reviewed by Clint Walker

I have read a few autobiographies of well-known leaders. Many of them are good for the first little bit, but then before long they get into discussions of their political career and advocate for their future political goals. In many ways, this book is similar in that regard. It traces the life of Condoleeza Rice from birth all the way through the Bush campaign for the presidency.

What is unique about this book is both its humility, and the way Rice tells her story as a story of family love and family triumph. Telling her story through the lens of a black family in the throws of the civil rights movement, and in the context of a family propelled forward through initiative, education, and a few lucky breaks, she gives her reader a glimpse into how she was formed as a person, and why she grew up to be the person she became.

A fun read, and inspirational in that it reminds us what opportunities are available to those of us here in America.


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Book Review of Matthew: A Fortress Biblical Preaching Commentary by O. Wesley Allen Jr.

 
O. Wesley Allen Jr.
ISBN 978-0-8008-9871-3
Fortress Press
Reviewed by Clint Walker
 
I have several Bible commentaries on Matthew. I like reading what they have to say. Each one has a unique perspective, and something to add to conversation. Having said that, this particular commentary is unique in what it offers and how it communicates. As such, I highly recommend it to mainline preachers who have a discipline of preaching from the Revised Common Lectionary.
 
On my shelf, I have some lectionary preaching guides as well as commentaries and studies that deal directly with the text. This commentary blends the best of both worlds. While dealing with and confronting each text directly, it does especially well at naming, exploring and speaking to its use in the RCL. It identifies where the passage is located in the Christian year, and how the themes of that passage directly relate to its placement in the lectionary. Unlike other preaching helps, Allen's scholarship and exegesis of the text goes much deeper than a standard "preaching guide". I believe that if a teacher of a Sunday School class were wanting to teach an in-depth Bible study in concert with the RCL text selections.
 
Allen also uses charts liberally, both in the main part of the text, as well as some of the helps that the author developed for understanding gospel's place in the Christian year and the preaching task.
 
Another thing I liked about the way Allen arranged the book is that he arranged his understanding of the book not so much around theological themes, or themes of content, but rather by setting. Being as I am deeply interested in a theology of place, this way of organizing the gospel intrigues me, and it will be something I study further.
 
Until then, I will add this to one of the resources I return to frequently for sermon and study preparation. 

 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Book Review of Warfare in the Old Testament by Boyd Seevers

Warfare in the Old Testament: The Organization, Weapons, and Tactics of Ancient Near Eastern Armies
by Boyd Seevers
ISBN 978-0-88254-3655-0
Kregel Academic
Reviewed by Clint Walker

My freshman year of college, I was enrolled in an honors program at the suburban Chicago college I attended. What the program meant was that I took one honors class per semester. Each honors class required an extra project over and above the general requirements for the class.

In our Honors Western Civilization class, we were required to write an 90 page annotated bibliography. My interests did not mesh well with the rest of the class. They chose to study the history of warfare throughout history. I, on the other hand, chose to develop my theme around the topics of love, sex, and marriage in Western Civilization.

I am sure that the three or four people that I shared that class with then might be surprised that I chose to review a book on the history of warfare. However, this book on warfare discusses the Biblical accounts of armed conflict in the Old Testament. So, I am interested in what it says less to understand how battles were fought, and more to come to a deeper understanding of holy writ.

Even for the most casual reader, this book is fascinating. Designed as a textbook, the book profiles different nation-states that are prominent in the Hebrew Scriptures. Beginning with Israel, and then followed by Israel's military rivals, each chapter is full of figures, diagrams, and artistic renderings of soldiers, weapons, maps, and much more.

Not all of the information in the text has direct theological import, but much of it would aid in understanding and explaining what is going on in Scripture. For instance, a lot of the material might be helpful in writing sermons, especially if one is led to approach the preaching task in a more narrative/inductive style.

I am going to love having this book on my shelf and look forward to returning to it again and again. For instance, when preaching on the Exodus, I may return to the section on formations of Egyptian armies. Or when trying to understand the exile and why things happened the way that they did, I will probably return to sections on Assyria and especially Babylon.

Recommended for teachers, students and friends who love biblical history.




 
 
 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Book Review of the One Year Uncomon Life Daily Challenge



The One Year Uncommon Life Daily Challenge
by Tony Dungy and Nathan Whitaker
ISBN 978-1-4143-8248-9
Tyndale Momentum
Reviewed by Clint Walker

I have been using the One Year Uncommon Daily Challenge as my devotional to guide my thoughts and my attitude in the morning, and it has been a great help. Dungy and Whitaker guide their readers with simple reminders of how to live a simple life of faith with uncommon grace.

As one might expect, there are several reflections based upon both Dungy's years in the NFL, as well as other sports stories (this morning I read a reflection on Hoosiers and an anecdote from the Colorado Rockies scouting department for example). However, there are also several reflections guided by experiences as a business leader, a husband and father, and much more.

Each day of the week has a theme, and that theme is returned to each subsequent week. So, for instance, my Sunday devotions always focus on "mission".

I have the imitation leather copy, which I purchased for much less than the Amazon price at Sam's Club. I like this type of binding for my devotional. Engages my sense of touch in a pleasant way, which prepares me in some strange, and perhaps materialistic way to slow down and take everything in. Silly I know.

Anyway, I would recommend this especially for guys who want encouragement on a daily basis for living their faith in their ordinary lives, in order to make their ordinary lives uncommonly good and grace-filled.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Book Review of Incarnational Humanism by Jens Zimmerman



Incarnational Humanism: A Philosophy of Culture for the Church in the World
by Jens Zimmerman
978-0-8308-3903-2
IVP Academic
Reviewed by Clint Walker

In the series Strategic Initiatives in Evangelical Theology, Intervarsity Press has brought together some sharp minds to think through some theological issues that are of vital importance for the church and the world. One of the most thoughtful and challenging books in this series is Incarnational Humanism by Jens Zimmerman.

In this book, Zimmerman writes a theological anthropology of sorts, driven by a passion to see the church both be faithful to its beliefs and mission, and well as be culturally relevant. In order to do this, Zimmerman reminds his readers of the power and relevance of Christian humanism. When he speaks of humanism, he speaks of a humanism born in Christian investment in the culture of the ancient and medieval worlds. The kind of humanism that gave seed to the Renaissance through its commitment to writing, art and the like.

Through the metaphor of the Eucharist, Zimmerman encourages Christians to invest in the humanities, and to engage the world in this way in order to redeem it. Through raising up leaders and innovators in culture making, Christians can once again find a voice in the culture that propels the church and culture forward, and redeems culture and people for Christ in the process.

This book is well-researched and heavily footnoted. As an work of IVP Academic, it won't be a book that is necessarily for the average reader. But for those eager to engage in interdisciplinary and philosophical discussion of Christian witness in culture, this will be a wonderful text to read.




Sunday, February 09, 2014

PEOPLE OF INFLUENCE: A SERMON ON MATTHEW 5:13-16


A People of Influence

In my previous church, I had an older congregation. But in almost four years, I was blessed to only have to preside over the memorial services of four persons. I have not got an official number, but in the first two years and a month that I have served here, I am closing in on 20 services. Or, roughly, a service every six weeks or so. Each person I have led a service for, both here and elsewhere, had a story. And each person I have done a service for, whether they liked it or not, had an influence on the world around them. Whether it was the playful fun stories that people had to share about Ray Huntley, or the long resume of accomplishments that was shared about Eddie Clay, each person that lives on earth has influence on the world around them.

I have done funerals so large that we had to move out of the church to the school gym just to accommodate all of the guests. I have been a part of services where we were lucky if we hit 20 folks that came and remembered their friend or loved one. Nevertheless, each had an influence.

I rarely come home from such a service without being moved, challenged, and renewed in my inner being. This is especially true when the person is a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Some of the services that really get me thinking the most are those that are done for common folks with relatively little notoriety. Folks that have lived long, full lives of quiet commitment to their Lord, their church, and their community. I am moved, you could say, by the power of an authentic, ordinary Christian life that quietly impacts those around them with little fanfare. Men like Walter Mehlhaff, who despite his heroic accomplishments in WWII, spent most of his life working hard, being a good father, loving his wife, serving his church, and being a simple, authentic witness for Jesus to those who were around him. Or Sarah Gordon, with her Bible that smelled like hand lotion, and stories of grandchildren that observed a very real, humble faith that she lived among them. Over and over again, these folks who lived lives of extraordinary ordinariness for the kingdom of God. Who influenced in very simple, and very common ways. An ordinary Christian life, you see, isn’t all that ordinary. And when you see it, it truly is beautiful.


Jesus says that you, if you are his disciple, will be a person of influence. Yes. I said You.

He says this, “YOU ARE the salt of the earth”

And Jesus says this, “YOU ARE the light of world.”

Not….you have the potential to be. Not….if you try really hard you can be.

JUST YOU ARE…..

 

Jesus’ first step, which we talked about last week, is to tell us that we are blessed when we apprentice ourselves to him. His second step is to tell us who we are in him.

To understand what he is saying it is helpful to understand a little bit more about salt and light.



Salt is a preservative. It is, as long as it is not overused, a fertilizer. It is known, in some climates, to melt ice. It also adds flavor to food. It does so often by drawing out the flavor present in the food it is placed upon.

Rarely does one grain of salt get noticed, but when in a small group of grains it can taste great.

Light grows things. It brings heat and sight. It helps us be safe. We cannot see any color, or anything without light. Light helps guide us and lead us in dark places, and helps us to understand, see and perceive. It is a symbol for enlightenment, knowledge and spiritual awakening.

Light is also much more powerful when there is more than one light gathered.



Salt and light are really kind of ordinary things. It is not like you don’t see salt everywhere you go. At Dale’s on the counter. In your kitchen. Perhaps even in your garage as well. And the same with light. The sun comes up every day.

Salt and light have their impact by bringing out things other than themselves. It is with light that we are able to see colors, mountain vistas, a golf ball flying through the air, the smile on a loved one’s face.

Salt makes fried potatoes taste like they were sent from heaven. It draws out the flavor in a good steak. It makes sure Tillamook beef sticks and jerky are tasty and edible when they make their way from the ranches around the Oregon coast out to our local convienence store.

Both salt and light have their value because they empower us to see other things, to experience other things. People don’t usually just start pouring out salt in a bowl and eating it like cheerios. That is not healthy. Neither is staring at the sun.

Both salt and light are valuable because of their influence on other things.


When Jesus says “YOU ARE SALT” and “YOU ARE LIGHT”, he is saying that we are going to have an impact. People are going to see the gospel and have their first taste of the gospel through their experiences with us.

Furthermore, you need to know, and this is very important, that the YOU in the YOU ARE passages are plural. Like Y’all are salt, Y’all are light. They are talking about us as individual believers yes, but believers who are part of a family of believers.

 

You are salt and light through the way you live out your faith in your everyday life. Not through some great mission effort, as important as that is…but rather through the simple, profound ways you live your faith everyday. Salt and light, both ordinary, things we take for granted, but also things we cannot live without. You are that.

As similar as salt and light are, in that they are both ingredients of the world that bring life and enhance many other things in life, salt and light are different in some ways.

Jesus says we are salt of the earth. The earth most likely should be interpreted “the land”. For the early Israelite Christians, that would be right where they lived. When Jesus talks about being salt of the earth he is talking about having an influence right where we are at. That we, United Churches, are going to have an abiding influence as believers right in the communities, the families, the workplaces, the schools, and the places of play that we are involved it. We are going to, much like the saints that have went before us in death that we discussed earlier, have a profound impact in our ordinary faithfulness, our ordinary integrity, our ordinary work ethic, our ordinary compassion, right where we are at doing what we do as believers. We should share our faith in word as well, but you will look like a follower of Jesus to people. Jesus said YOU ARE THE SALT OF THE WORLD.

Jesus says we are the light of the world. The mission here, from the Old Testament context, is the mission that goes out from Israel into all the world. Light starts in one place, but it can be seen from a distance away, and provide guidance and direction for those who are in the distance. Its influence goes out from the source to fill an entire room, an entire skyline, and more. We are not only going to have an influence on those we are in intimate contact with, we will have influence on folks around the region, the state, the world. Our church will have light going to Haiti and the Philippines. It will have light go out as we raise children who we have taught the love and grace of Christ and who then go to new places and give witness through their word and deed to the love and the goodness of God.

As the kingdom of God gets built through a food bank on the other side of town, a child who comes to believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, a teenager who finds a safe and loving place to be for a few hours, then our light shines out.



YOU ARE THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD.

You may have your doubts about this. You may not believe that you are the light of the world. You may not believe that you are the salt of the world. But Jesus does. He has entrusted you with HIS gospel. You are his one and only plan to build his kingdom, to share his word. You are his disciples.

YOU ARE THE SALT OF THE EARTH. YOU ARE THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD.

I know you probably have all sorts of questions about why Jesus would place this label on you, this moniker, this definition.

And I have to tell you, the fact of the matter is, we become what we are told we are. I have a friend who was told that he was a mistake by his mother over and over again. He was bi-racial, and called all sorts of racial epithets by his white mother. He heard the names over and over again. He believed what he was told. And by the time he was in his mid twenties, he took his own life.

In my life, two of my high school coaches passed away recently. One of them, named Steve Wolfe, came along side me and supported me. He believed in me. He showed me that belief with his time and his words. He identified how I was improving in wrestling. He told me I would become a good wrestler. And I did become a good wrestler. But he also spoke into my life an ability to overcome hardship and difficulty And that is something that I didn’t just take with me as a kid wrestling, that is something I took with me the rest of my life.

This is the kind of thing Jesus is doing when he says YOU ARE SALT, and YOU ARE LIGHT. He is speaking that truth into our lives. By naming us with those characteristics, he is also speaking that character into existence among his followers. This is the power of a blessing. Especially his blessing.

James Bryan Smith tells a story of a young boy who both demonstrates what it is to be salt and light as a person, and what it is to be salt and light as a community of believers. It is a story from the local church he attended.

The story is about Kevin. Kevin was in his late 20s, and at one point the pastor asked Kevin to come forward and share his testimony. This was a challenge because, well, Kevin could not speak. He was profoundly disabled. He had Down’s Syndrome, as well as a number of other complicating developmental disabilities, including a reconstructed palate. As a result he let out grunts and groans that his mother could interpret, but few others.

The pastor, therefore, had to speak for Kevin, asking him yes and no questions, and occasionally there would also be smiles.

“So Kevin, you just got back from the Special Olympics, was that fun?”

Kevin smiled, nodded furiously, grunted, and held his medal high.

The pastor explained he might have won more medals, but he stopped in every race to help other runners who had fallen or who were lagging behind.

“Isn’t that true Kevin,” the pastor asked.

Kevin nodded again, this time with a little bit more apprehension, shyness, and humility.

Then the pastor said, “Kevin, you are about the happiest person I know, to what do you attribute the joy in your life?”

Kevin pointed up.

“God?” the pastor asked

Kevin nodded several times. Then he raised his hand, as if to ask to say something else.

“Something else,” the pastor asked.

Then Kevin stretched out his arms as if it were Jesus dying on the cross.

“Do you mean Jesus dying for you?”

Kevin not only nodded but with great excitement started jumping up and down . He used sign language that Jesus loves us all, and that he Kevin, loved each person there as well.” He gave the pastor a huge hug. The congregation members were either crying, or dutifully working very hard to restrain themselves from doing so.

This story is just one example of a young man who was salt and light in his world. Despite being profoundly disabled, he was living the gospel in how he ran in the Special Olympics, and how he eagerly shared about the love of Christ.

But he was a part of a congregation that was salt and light. That disciple him to love God and neighbor. That valued his voice in worship. That taught him about love and grace and God’s acceptance.

So here is what we are going to do. In the next week, I want us to open our eyes. To how God is using us personally as salt and light in the world. To how God is using believers in our church to be influencers for the kingdom of God in our lives and in our community. And how God is using the people of God all around us to be salt and light in our town for his glory. Be careful to pay attention. And try and see more what God is doing through people…giving glory to him. And then during prayer time, we are going to share what we have seen and heard.

Go and see the truth of the gospel in the world around us. YOU ARE THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD. YOU ARE THE SALT OF THE EARTH. You are God’s influencers in the world. You are God’s hands and feet to build his kingdom values and influence here in Hot Springs.

 

Monday, February 03, 2014

Some personal goals in 2014



Yeah, it has been that kind of time in our lives. Instead of considering my goals at the beginning of the new year, I am just now getting to it at the beginning of February. So here are some things that I am thinking about.

1. Couch to 5k to 10k
I know, this is a fat person's cliché. I'll own that. But I am going to run in a race with my sister in late June or early July. Then I am going to push to a 10k by the end of the summer. Training day starts today, if I can get to the point where I don't feel sick anytime I drink anything or move very fast.

2. Apply to a D.Min program or two
Not sure how this is going to work. Don't think I can afford to go. Don't know if my family concerns will allow me to be gone when I need to be gone to do it. But, I am going to put in a few applications by faith and see what happens.

3. Develop a support network for my ministry
One of the things that helped develop me as a minister throughout my career is to develop support people and/or a network of support. In Montana we prayed together as pastors, and I had a couple of pastors that offered me support and encouragement as a church leader other than my senior pastor. In Fowler, I had a group of ministers that helped keep me sane and gave me a lot of support, encouragement and occasionally guidance. I feel very isolated in Hot Springs. Very disconnected from my denomination, from other folks in ministry, and from much of the rest of he world in ministry. I need to change that.

4. Extrovert myself
I lean toward introversion. I need to find ways, for my personal mental health as well as for my ministerial success, to find social outlets in our community. I have thought about bowling, a golf league, or something similar. Need to figure this out...

5. Develop some structures for my daily disciplines
Disciplines of reading and prayer, exercise and study, organization and financial management all need to be revisited and addressed. I need to not just have good intentions, but find ways to develop habits that facilitate discipline.

What are your goals for 2014? What are your thoughts or insights on these?