Thursday, June 18, 2020

Saying What Needs to Be Said JUNE NEWSLETTER COVER ARTICLE

Saying What Needs to be Said, But Should Go Without Saying

          Racism is wrong. Violence based on racial prejudice is wrong. Christians should stand for justice and equality of all persons. These values not only define what it means to be American, these American values were derived from Scripture.

          God is the creator of all persons, and longs that they all experience his love and grace. God longs to create a multi-cultural family of believers that then go out into the world as peacemakers, reconcilers, and seekers of justice.

          God is working against bigoted, prejudicial behavior through all of Scripture. God punishes Aaron and Miriam for their bigotry against Moses’ wife Zipporah for her skin tone (Numbers 12). God calls his people to welcome the stranger. He places persons with different nationalities in Jesus’ bloodline, like Ruth.

          When Jesus describes a “good neighbor” in the New Testament, he describes someone from a rival ethnic group to good Israelites (a “good Samaritan). He tells his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations. Jesus places justice for the poor as the centerpiece of his ministerial call (Luke 4).

          In Acts, we see God challenging mistreatment of widows of different backgrounds, and the apostles creating a system to protect the minority group that was being mistreated. We see God breaking through in challenging the church to welcome Gentiles into the family of God.

          Paul calls the church to be reconciled, places peace and cooperation of persons of different ethnic groups as the centerpiece of the books of Romans and Galatians. He calls for tolerance and acceptance of different social, racial, and cultural mores, as long as the behaviors are not directly contradictory to Biblical teaching. He says regardless of gender, race, or economic background we are all united as equal members of the body of Christ (Galatians 3:28).

          The history of our nation, however, bears with it a long history of racism and racial violence—often while simultaneously claiming to be acting on Christian principles. Americans fought a war over slavery, and careful students of history will know that much of the Nebraska territory was as divided on the issue as well. North Platte had a race riot in 1929. Very few places have been immune to racial or cultural conflict.

          The United States military, in a series of conflicts lasting over 100 years, slowly killed off a large portion of the Native American population after stealing their land. They forced the rest onto reservations even though many of the people lived in a nomadic culture. These wounds continue to reverberate.

          American racism has not been limited to blacks and Native Americans. Our treatment, both through legislation of law and acts to protect American security, has been less than stellar in how we treat Asian Americans and Latin Americans as well. And, too often, churches and Christians were either silent or complicit in all these forms of racism.

          And so it needs to be said, that when a man named George Floyd, an outspoken Christian believer by the way, gets killed by a police officer on the street, that we need to say that this is wrong. This needs to be recognized as part of a systemic issue of violence against vulnerable people of color that includes lychings, cross burnings, and more. The same is true with a group of white men in a pick-up truck hunting down and shooting a black young man in Georgia in broad daylight. This is wrong as well. As are many other examples that have become too numerous for me to remember every name.

It is also wrong is the way we often treat and speak of persons who speak Spanish as their first language, the way many of us make broad sweeping generalizations about Native Americans. Again, the examples are lengthy.

All of this, this biblical teaching that racial prejudice and violence is wrong, needs to be said. It needs to be stated and restated by believers and clergy alike. And so I am doing so, in a church newsletter, at a timely moment in our national life.

At the same time, I feel frustrated, because I think understanding this truth and being sensitive to this issue should go without saying. You know, I think loving our neighbors, and doing justice for the mistreated is like Following Jesus 101. Actually, it is like “Common Human Decency 101”. But, over and over again, it needs to be restated.

Its as simple as this. Choose not to be a jerk. And when you are a jerk, repent and ask for forgiveness, and try and make things right. Love your neighbor. Love your enemy. Turn the other cheek. Don’t hate those that are different than you. Stand up for those that don’t have the power or the ability to stand up for themselves. Help those in need. Be a person of justice. Be a person of mercy. Be a person that has a passion to break down walls of ignorance, prejudice, and hate.

.


Church Newsletter: June 18


I Never Thought I Was Going to Be a TV Preacher
          There is a meme going around in pastor circles with a picture of a pastor doing a live stream a few months ago. It had a pastor standing in front of an iPhone and said, “Every pastor is a televangelist now”. I laughed out loud, both because it had a ring of truth to it, and because being a TV preacher was never high on my list of goals.
I remember one time some of my African-American ministerial collegues jokingly tried to push and friend of mine and I in that direction. In that moment at the ABC Minister’s Council Senate about 11 years ago some of the pastors were talking about their “anniversary” gifts and their “pastor appreciation” gifts that were given from the congregation. They included an all expenses paid trip to Hawaii and a time share with an extra week of vacation, or $25,000 in a Christmas bonus. I told them (truthfully) that my cash salary at that time was not $25,000 a year. They jokingly made plans for my friend Tim and I to set up our own studios, make videos, and broadcast them across the nation to supplement our incomes. I tried to tell them I had a face for radio, and a voice to pair with water boarding in interrogating terrorist suspects, but they would have none of it. We laughed for what seemed like hours.
Look at me now! I have devotions and sermons broadcast around the world each week via the internet. It makes me as uncomfortable now as it did then, but in a worldwide crisis, you do what you are going to do!
And, of course, streaming our services on line, and sending recordings to folks who could not be here has been a blessing. It has kept us connected, and challenged us to grow. Wes, Jen, Wayne, Todd, Jim, and others have done great in getting our services put together with sound and video, and broadcast to the parking lot and the world.
Early in the COVID epidemic we received funds to set up a livestream broadcast that will be a little higher tech. It took some planning and shopping, and the supplies are almost all here (Sony shut down its video camera factory during COVID-19 restrictions in Japan, so we are waiting on that). Soon we will have the ability to stream a nice video feed with a high-quality camera on a more permanent basis. We will also be able to develop other video materials. This will be a blessing for folks that are homebound, for several of our people that do shift work that keeps them from attending, and for many others. Some believe that live streaming can be a gateway to invite people into our fellowship. I am excited that we can share our ministry in all these ways.
In all of this, I do have one concern. Online worship should never be a full-time, permanent replacement for gathering in person. I am concerned that there are several of us that are perfectly comfortable watching worship in our jammies with our coffee in one hand and our bagel in the other. There is a reason the Scripture says, “Do not forsake the gathering of yourselves together” (Hebrews 10:25). We need to be present to and connected with one another. It is hard to “one another” watching a screen. Now, many of you are caring for your health and being safe. That is good and right. But slowly we will need to get out, connect, care for one other, gather, worship, and pray with our church family. When that time comes, use our live stream as helpful supplement, not as a permanent plan for spiritual nourishment.


Dealing with Difficulty (FBCNP Newsletter June 11)


Dealing with Difficulty
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. (Romans 5: 1-5)

            I got caught complaining the other day. I administrate our Doctor of Ministry cohort Facebook Group. I also facilitate our Zoom calls. This is all as a way of participating in a helpful way, and adding something of value since I am one of the slower and more dimwitted in our group. I was reading one of the books, which everybody is finding challenging, and put up a little post saying I did not like the book because it was too dense and “rambly” (how is that for a doctoral word?). The professor for the forthcoming class left a comment on my post. His input was basically that we needed books to challenge us and stretch our limits of understanding if our coursework was going to have any value. Of course he is right (I still hate the book).
            Sometimes we are so pain averse that we avoid challenges that are set before us that God can use to help us to grow and thrive as a believer in Christ and as a church community. We avoid the difficult thinking, the difficult conversations, and the work of processing through challenging stuff because it is a lot easier to stay where we are. We can be like the Israelites, afraid to enter the promised land because there might be giants in the land.
            The last few months have been challenging. They can, if we let them, also be profoundly formational for us as persons and congregations. We can learn in the midst of this time, new practices for worship, new ways of reaching out, and deeper ways of connecting and caring for one another. But, we have to be intentional about facing the difficulties that change presents, suffer through those difficulties, and grow through them with deeper roots and stronger character on the other side.
            As we continue to adapt to a world dealing with a pandemic (these adaptations will take varied form and be with us for a while), let us begin to think about how God may be helping us “be the church” in a deeper or newer way. I know one person in our congregation who checks in on another member more frequently than they had before. Another person I know who has difficulty attending in person due to distance from FBC hasn’t missed a Sunday service online. And, a pastor I know is working really hard to preach shorter, pithier sermons. We can all continue to grow through hardship, if we are willing to receive God’s grace to do so.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

The Ken Mills Principle

No photo description available.
No photo description available.
No photo description available.

I started as the youth pastor in October of 1998, the fall after graduating from seminary, in Belgrade, Montana. The church was then called Belgrade Community Church, and I was the youth pastor in growing community located 10 miles from the college city of Bozeman, MT.

Ken Mills (along with Pat Ramler) were the Sunday School teachers for the high school class. We had a Friday night hike to the M in Bozeman planned. I think we billed it as a "midnight hike". We would leave about 9:30, get to the trailhead a little after 10, get organized, and start hiking until we got to the top of the trail, and overlook the city in the middle of the night. We would have a few songs and a brief devotion, and enjoy God's creation as we looked over the Gallatin Valley.

I was keeping my eye on the weather. A possible thunderstorm was forecast for the evening. I wondered if we should continue to hike. I called Ken.

"Well, I suppose you can call off the hike on the account of a potential storm, but if you cancel activities based on potential bad weather around here, you will not really ever get much done," Ken said, "If a storm comes during the hike, we can always change plans then."

I came to the conclusion that Ken was right. He knew the kids. He knew the land. I trusted him that evening. The storm didn't come. It was a great night.

As I have went along in ministry and in life, I have found that the Ken Mills principle is a good way to approach not just weather concerns in ministry, but ministry and life more generally.

If you scuttle your plans because of potential complications that may arise, you might as well sit on your rear end, never do anything, and wait to die.

This week our family has been talking about plans. What should we do regarding summer vacation? Do we plan for the kids to be in school full-time in the fall or not? Should I officiate a wedding next spring? The questions go on and on. There is so much uncertainty. And the kids are wondering, should we just stay in a holding pattern? It is like planning a midnight hike with a 50 percent chance of rain.

And Ken Mills principle keeps running through my mind. If you hold off on plans based on a potential storm, you will probably never really get very much done. So, we have to move forward. Use precautions when necessary, yes. Consider back up plans, of course. But you can't just hide from a possibility of a storm that may never come.

The Ken Mills principle applies to how we approach congregational leadership as pastors, and how congregations approach their ministries as a congregation. This is especially true in 2020. We have taken time as a society to hunker down to protect ourselves and others from a disease. Might even have to do that again. However, we can't plan our ministries based upon worse-case scenarios. We have to live. We have to step up and step out, even if that means we might have to make changes later.

Fleeting thoughts I needed to write out before they escaped my mind. Maybe I will develop them better at a later date.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Book Review of Reformation Commentary on Scripture: New Testament Volume XII 1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, and Titus, and Philemon


1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon (Reformation ...


Reformation Commentary on Scripture: New Testament 
Volume XII
1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, and Titus, and Philemon
ISBN 978-0-8308-2975-0
edited by Lee Gattis and Bradley Green
IVP Academic
Reviewed by Clint Walker

This is a book is that is a part of a larger study called the Reformation Commentary on Scripture. In each of these studies the editors attempt to go back to original source material of the Reformation, and then put different Reformation ministers and theologians side by side in their take on a specific passage of Scripture. 

The Reformation Commentary on Scripture has four goals:

  • Renewing contemporary Biblical interpretation by bringing to light Reformation era interpretation
  • Strengthening contemporary preaching through exposure to biblical insights of Reformation writers
  • Deepening understanding of the Reformation and the breadth of perspectives represented within it
  • Advancing Christian scholarship in the fields of historical, biblical, theological, and pastoral studies (xix-xxi)

The Reformation, although deeply committed to the full witness of Scripture, brings the epistles of Paul to the forefront in understanding the good news of Jesus Christ. So, in their introduction, they spend a considerable amount of time discussing the Pauline corpus of the New Testament as a whole, and then delve deeper into the specific books that they are studying. My favorite quote of the book is in the introduction. As these authors work to put the work that they have done in historical context, they found a "money quote" from B.B. Warfield. It says, "The Reformation, inwardly considered, was just the ultimate triumph of Augustine’s doctrine of grace over Augustine’s doctrine of the Church" (xliv).

This commentary traces how different Reformers approached key passages. For instance, how strictly did they believe the church of Jesus should adhere to the nomenclature and structure for church leadership in the pastoral epistles. How did they deal with these things in light of their experience with the Roman Catholic Church, and their attempts to organize church structures post-Reformation to mitagate against some of the abuses they had seen? Unexpectedly, Reformers put a lot of attention on 2 Thessalonians 2 as well, working through the issues of lawlessness, faithfulness, and authority.

Of this series of commentaries, this may be my favorite so far. The authors are humble yet well read, they bring Reformation issues into conversation with 21st century issues in a unique way, and they bring in voices from the Reformation that others may have ignored, especially in relation to these epistles.

Great job IVP Academic!









Friday, June 12, 2020

Book Review of Still Evangelical edited by Mark Labberton

Still Evangelical?: Insiders Reconsider Political, Social, and ...
Still Evangelical?: Insiders Reconsider Political, Cultural, and Theological Meaning
edited by Mark Labberton
ISBN 978-0-8308-4537-8
IVP Books
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Written after the 2016 election, a number of persons from varied backgrounds were asked, in light of the election of Donald Trump and his overwhelming support among persons who identified themselves and evangelicals, if they could still adopt the label evangelical and consider themselves a part of the evangelical community. The eleven contributers come to different conclusions, approach the question differently, while each of them educate along the way.

The contributors are seminary presidents, activists, scholars, and members of the Christian media. They are Asian, Latinx, African-American, and European-American. Although I would have liked to see more African-American authors, this is a diverse group of authors.

I started reading this book over two years ago when I began a small group studying the text. I was not enthusiastic about it. I am kind of a lone-wolf and an introvert. I had a hard time understanding how someone could change their theological spots, so to speak, because some racist idiot got elected President. I guess I would consider myself an evangelical, but I am not a big fan of labels and cliques anyway.

So, I started reading these authors. Some feel like they need to defend evangelicalism. Some feel like they need to criticize evangelicalism. Others just feel like they need to testify about their experiences and the experiences of their community. Through the process, I learned a lot. Specifically I was afforded the possibility of thinking deeper about the following:


  • The difference between compassion and justice
  • How the history of how the marriage of conservative politics' intimate relationship with evangelicalism is historically grounded in institutional racism
  • The history of anti-Latino/a sentiment in America
  • How for many minority communities, silence by evangelicals is seen as complicity with racrist practices
  • How the default of defining ourselves by theology and belief instead of practice in Christian circles leads to complicity in evil at best and guilty participation in poltical evil at worst.
There is much more here than this. Christians need to read more and think more about these issues. Not just because there are Black Lives Matters rallies each day, but rather because racial dialogue and reconcilation is going to be a huge part of our societal and ecclesial future. If we don't address this issues now in empathetic yet reasoned ways, there will be a price to pay in the future. 


Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Thoughtful articles regarding race and current events

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote this thoughtful piece for the Los Angeles Times:

Don't Understand the Protests?

Phil Vischer (of Veggie Tales fame) wrote this on remembering his story differently

Racial Injustice has Benefited Me

Cornel West

A boot is crushing the neck of American democracy






Thursday, May 07, 2020

Chaising Rabbits: Who has heard of the Plague of Cyprian?

I just discovered an article called, "Christianity has been handling epidemics for 2000 years" by Lyman Stone at foriegnpolicy.com. 

Did you know that:

There was a plague, possibly related to Ebola, that hit the ancient world in the third century.

That this plague was named after a preacher that encouaged his congregation to care for those afflicted with this plague "heedless of danger". His name was Cyprian.

That non-believers took notice of this compassion, and that this compassion led to a widespread growth of the Christian message

Anyway...thought that was interesting...

Sunday, May 03, 2020

Shepherd Sunday and the Contextualization of the Faith

I saw someone write the other day that they appreciated that a speaker did not use the pastoral, rural imagery of a shepherd when he described meaningful ministry. Instead, he described something more modern and urban. Most of us don't live in rural places where we take care of animals anymore he said, and so we needed to update our language when we speak about God and the Bible.

I did not like this perspective very much. First of all, it left me wondering if people like this pastor back east thought of everything between the Eastern Time Zone and the West Coast as a desolate part of the world that you flew over but never engaged with. It also left me disappointed because the writer and the speaker that he wrote about lost the opportunity to understand a metaphor in light of the bible world, and its missional focus.

You see, much of the world of the Bible prior to the death of Jesus took place in more rural environment. There were exceptions of course. Egypt seems rather populous. As does Babylon. These places where the Israelites were broken down and beat up don't bring back the best memories however. Then there is Jerusalem. The city on a hill! But often, even those that make it to Jerusalem do so after starting out mucking stalls and chasing around sheep.

The language of shepherd was a powerful image in the Hebrew mind because it mixed rural sensibilities of pastoral life with the blue-collar training it took to be a good leader. Moses was a shepherd. David was a shepherd. Abraham was a shepherd. Shepherding was at once a plain job that rural folks often engaged in, and an imagery of care and protection that people projected upon their leaders, and upon God himself.

God guided in wilderness. God led us through difficult terrain. God provided. God protected. We can move on to similar extra-biblical metaphors. Maybe that helps, But, perhaps, maybe we miss something when we run away from the ancient rural sensitvities of Scripture into modern concrete terrain with invisible waves carrying messages through the air.

Furthermore, if you want to see someone contextualize the gospel from a pastoral setting to a more urban one, all you need to do is look at the Apostle Paul. He, like Jesus and the biblical writers of old, communicated the gospel into his context. He did a mashup of Greek philosophy and Christian theology in Athens. He spoke to principalities and powers in Ephesus.

Other new testament writers do this as well. Perhaps most clearly, the book of Revelation contextualizes the language of heaven for urban folks. Although there is much discussion of the Lamb at the beginning of the book, by the end of the Apocolypse we see a new city, a new Jerusalem as an image of heaven. This is quite different from the language of Isaiah who talked about all sorts of created animals and people lying down together in a relatively unpopulated pastoral landscape.

Maybe I overreacted. Maybe I did not. Either way, before we run to contextualize the language of Scripture, let us examine the truth and beauty the original image conveys.

Saturday, May 02, 2020

Very Brief Review of He is Enough by Asheritah Ciucui

Amazon.com: He is Enough: Living in the Fullness of Jesus (A Study ...

He is Enough: Living in the Fullness of Jesus
by Asheritah Ciuciu
ISBN 978-0-8024-1686-5
Moody Publishers
Reviewed by Clint Walker

This is a daily, verse by verse study of the book of Colossians. Although it could be used in groups, it appears to have its primary focus in guiding personal study through this book on a daily basis.  The author uses the FEAST method of digging into the Word, a method she developed herself after years of leading and participating in Bible Study. Although it is marketed as a women's study, much of the book is appropriate for either gender.

Full of appendices and other helps, it is a weighty resource for a 6-week study. Although I would use other resources than the bibliography indicates, I think this is a study I would hand to someone in my church who really wanted to go deeper in studying God's Word.


Book Review of The Healing Gout Cookbook by Lisa Cicciarello Andrews



The Healing Gout Cookbook: Anti-Inflammatory Recipes to Lower Uric Acid Levels and Reduce Flares
by Lisa Cicciarello Andrews
ISBN 978-1-64611-446-7
Rockridge Press
Reviewed by Clint Walker

My doctor suspects I have gout. She has not tested me for gout, because I only come in when I have flare ups. Gout is pretty painful. What is worse than the pain, for me, is that it limits my range of motion and ability to be active. Also, the wife walking around behind me singing Adam Sandler's "Lunch Lady Land" is not all that pleasant either.

This cookbook is designed to help persons with gout eat in a way that lowers their uric acid levels, thus reducing or eliminating gout symptoms from a persons life. Who, who has suffered from gout, would not want that?

The early chapters educate readers on what gout is, levels of gout, and how gout is treated, and how dietary practices contribute to gout's development and treatment.

This cookbook is detailed, with clear notes on prep time, whether or not something is vegan, diabetic-friendly, gluten-free and more. Many of the recipes sound tasty. I will most likely use a few of these recipes.

My only concern with this recipe book, as is with every recipe book, is that it often requires me to purchase items that are in the grocery store, but I have never really seen or considered purchasing. This is not without reason. I am not an experienced scratch cooker, and I do need more nuts and seeds in my diet. But we don't just have chia seeds or orange extract just hanging around the house. Perhaps if I would clear off my BBQ sauce shelf we might have room for such things!







Friday, May 01, 2020

Book Review of "He Lifts My Head High" by Jasena S'vani

He Lifts My Head High: 3-Minute Daily Affirmations for Christians
He Lifts My Head High: 3-Minute Daily Affirmations for Christians
by Jasena S'vani
ISBN 978-1-64152-501-5
Althea Press
Reviewed by Clint Walker

I recieved this book for review from the Amazon Vine Program. It is a pretty interesting little book. Written by a younger gal that appears to be from Atlanta, she has organized a book that has daily affirmations of faith for the whole year. In addition to this, she also has a slightly lengthier monthly devotional that sets the tone for that month's thoughts.

Each affirmation has a verse or an inspirational quote, and a little encouragement to stay in the battle of faith and keep on going through life with your head up. I'm not sure I will use it for a regular devotional, it is a little too simplistic for that. But I will keep it somewhere near my desk and take a quick peek at it when I feel I need some Christ-centered positive encouragement.





Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Pet Peeve regarding COVID restrictions

A lot of people don't get their vocabulary right regarding the kind of guidelines and restrictions they are subject to with COVID-19. Here is a helpful reminder.

If you are in one of about six states that are simply enforcing the CDC guidelines, you are not under quarantine. You are under social distancing guidelines, or laws. You are able to get out. You are able to drive through the drive-thru for meals. You are able to order from Walmart online, and then run to town to pick up your order.

If you are on a stay-at-home order your life may truly suck. But you can still interact with your family. You can go for a walk. You can move freely about your property. You are simply not to congregate with others, and stay home as much as possible.

If you are quarantined, you are generally a COVID positive or a potentially COVID positive person. You are most likely banished to one room of your house, or if you have a big house perhaps the entire basement. You have restrictions on using the restroom, on how you touch door handles, etc. etc. This really sucks.

My pet peeve is persons who get frustrated about not going to church, or being able to congregate in a bar, and then say they are under quarantine. They are not. Quarantine is a much different thing.

End of rant.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Book Reveiw of The Church of Us vs. Them by David E. Fitch

Image result for churches of us vs them

The Church of Us vs. Them: Freedom from a Faith that Feeds on Making Enemies
by David E. Fitch
ISBN 978-1-58743-414-3
Brazos Press
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Stanley Haurwas is quoted as saying, "I say I’m a pacifist because I am a violent son of a bitch." It is one of my favorite quotes from the highly quotable Hauerwas, and it is even better if it is quoted in its larger context. What he is saying, as I read it, is that the strongest core of his theological convictions are the truths that challenge and convict him the most, and call him into a deeper journey of Christlikeness.

I think if a person caught David Fitch in a candid moment, perhaps while drinking some wine and smoking cigars and swapping stories about fellow practicioners in the missional church movement, he might say something similar to Haurwas as it pertains to the content of The Church of Us vs. Them. Having spent his formative years in the Canadian industrial town of Hamilton, Ontario, Fitch's earthy vocabulary paired with his wiry physique reflect the scrappy nature of that blue-collar town. This book is a more accessible explanation of his thesis in The End of Evangelicalism? where Fitch challenges his readers to not get drawn in to the ideological antagonism that permeates both our political lives and our ecclesiastical enclaves. In both teaching and living these truths, it becomes easy to see how Fitch's naturally contentious temprament is mitigated by his conviction that God calls us to reconciliation and to embody God's gracious presence. 

The Church of Us vs. Them calls us to a place beyond making enemies by making its readers aware of how ideology functions. Drawing closely upon the philosophical work of Slavoj Zizek, he presents examples of how groups of people lift up symbols, place upon those symbols their tribalistic ideology in such a way to where the object being argued over becomes emptied of its original meaning through how it is weaponized in social discourse. 

One example Fitch used to make his point about enemy making and moving beyond enemy making is how we use the language of being "biblical". For most of church history, with some notable exceptions, the authority of Scripture could be assumed. As our culture has changed, and people's assumptions about truth have changed, Christian leaders have weaponized their understanding of Scripture of authority to create groups of "insiders" and "outsiders". 

This is not the only way that the church resorts to idealogical tribalism. There are a number of practices and symbols that should unite believers that have been transformed by Christians, especially those seeking power, to create an "us" vs. "them" divisions among neighbors, friends, and siblings in Christ. 

The position of this book is that we need to step aside from the antagonisms that divide Christian believers and neighbors by getting to know each other, listen to each other, and love one another by being present with each other and truly listening and understanding God and each other together. It is a lot harder to call someone an enemy when you have shared your table with them, and they have helped you reconstruct your deck after last windstorm blew over part of your tree on it. 

I recommend this book highly. Even though it is a "dumbed down" version of another book, it is still challenging to both understand and apply the call that The Church of Us vs Them sets before us. It is not an easy promting from Fitch toward a deeper journey of discipleship, but it is an important one.





Book Review of A Life Without Lack by Dallas Willard



A Life Without Lack: Living in the Fullness of Psalm 23
by Dallas Willard
ISBN 978-0-7180-9185-9
Published by Nelson Books (Thomas Nelson Publishing)
Review by Clint Walker

This book is a collection of the teachings of Dallas Willard on Psalm 23. It has been published posthumously, and edited by a friend and a family member in order to present the material as a book.
This book shares some themes with many of Willard's earlier books, but with a focus on this classic Psalm as a guide for the abundant life that comes from faith in Jesus.

Perhaps because this book is drawn from a series of talks, it has the feel of a more intimate and personal conversation than many of his other books. It is also immensely practical, challenging his readers to engage in some practices to walk daily with God, the Good Shepherd.

I highly recommend this book!

Saturday, April 04, 2020

Ministry life in the COVID days

Ministry is different these days. We are under COVID restrictions. We cannot gather in groups (mostly), and we we need to stay 6 feet away from one another. Yet, here at First Baptist Church we are soldiering on, trying to keep people connected to God and to one another in love the best we can.

These restrictions mean that most churches, including ours, are suspending our weekly gatherings in the sanctuary. We have been keeping our office open, although this week we did have a person who was potentially COVID positive in our office space--which made things a little nerve wracking for a moment or two. Thankfully that person was negative, and the moment has passed.

There are a few things, as I reflect on ministry right now, that COVID has brought to mind.

  1. Ministry is about presence--I know this truth as a pastor, until you can't be present with one another. Then you realize how important being present, praying face to face, hearing one another's voices, and sharing embraces with one another really is.
  2. Ministry is about touch--I never realized how much I touched people until I could not touch them any longer. On March 15, we had a service together that was very restricted in touch and in movement. It was so hard not to shake hands, give hugs, put hands on shoulders, and have conversations that were socially distanced.
  3. Ministry is about rhythym--I don't mean that ministry has to have a good bass line in its worship sets. I think it does, and most Christian music fails in that regard, but that is another post. What it means is that most of us, despite the interuptions find a rhthym to how we do ministry. We get certain things done at certain times. We have part of our schedule routinized. We have time for study and prayer, and time for visits, time for community involvement, and time for leading meetings, studies, events, etc. And time to prepare for all of that. When COVID came, our rhythm changed. It forces us to be adaptable, which is good. But at times it feels like without a regular structure and rhythym, that my productivity and life-flow is messed up. My wife and I have been sharing, even with both of us working, that each week seems like a month or two when we are social distancing.
  4. Ministry is about relationships--This is so much harder when you can't have your breakfast together as a men's group, or when you can't visit the homebound. 
  5. Ministry is about Jesus--One of the things to begin to consider, and it is hard in a traditional church like mine, is just how much of our experience in faith is grounded in tradition and an attractional business model, and what we should take the opportunity to change to be more about knowing Jesus and making him known in honest meaningful relationships and personal connections. 
I still have hope that we will come out of COVID stronger. But it is, right now, a strange new world.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Ideology, Socialism, and American political landscape

The supervisor of my doctoral program, Dr. David Fitch, wrote a book that I plan on reviewing sometime very soon, that details how ideologies can and often do develop into enemy-making machines. It is a thought-provoking, brilliant book. I have been thinking a lot of it in relationship to the label "socialist", and the difference in policies between more conservative, moderate and more liberal persons in the political arena.

First of all, it is probably appropriate to share where I am coming from in the American poltical landscape. I was a registered Republican until 3 years ago. In truth, I am probably more independent, but I want a voice in the primary process so I chose the the Republican party. My ties with conservatism are fairly straight forward. I am pro-life and anti-abortion. Often I am for lower taxes and smaller government. In my time I voted for Republican candidates and Democratic ones. Where I grew up, Republican was synonymous with populist, and democrat with elitist. I changed my party affiliation a few years ago, reluctantly, because I felt the Republican party had drifted too far to the right, being driven by the racist and xenophobic leadership of Donald Trump.

Anywho, that is just so you know I have a point of view.

So, let me restart, I want to talk about the intersection of ideology and politics. Particularly as it relates to the term socialism. Because language meaning is fluid, socialism has come to have multiple meanings. Because of the nature of ideology, socialism has become a master signifier that has been stripped of a lot of its meaning as persons seek to villify others with the term.

Very few in our political world are completely against integrating elements of socialism into our government and society. Most Americans support social security, medicare, and many support medicaid. Most farmers support farm subsidies. Many businesses are beneficiaries of taxation and financial benefits that support corperations and businesses that could be labeled socialist. Other programs such as food stamps, unemployment insurance, subsidized housing, and help for those with disabilities are not as universally supported, but still offer some element of socialism through providind a safety net for the most vulnerable members of our society.

A majority of our citizenry also remembers Communism, and its toxic effect of nations and the economic engines of societies. Communism, as we know it, is an effort to make a governement purely socialist, with the government controlling the entire economy. As we have seen in the twentieth century in the USSR, China, and Cuba, it tends to breed oligarchical totalitarian regimes. Many conflate Facism and Communism in their totalitiarian nature. Communism, at least as a concept, tried be about making all of the people equal owners of societies resources. Facism was more boldly totalitarian, without a need to have a leveling effect of the citizenry.

In the American political process, socialism is a term that has been bandied about for most of the 20th and 21st century. Since the era of McCarthism, it has been used in every attempt to scare people away from any movement toward equal opportunity, justice, or any government program that attempts to help address issues of poverty.

Racial integration was labeled as socialist. The Civil Rights movement and their leaders were shamed with the label as well. As was the union movement was called socialist (ok, in part because they were infiltrated by socialist activists at times). The list goes on and on.

Here is the rub. Labeling every government program as socialist, which is then communist, which is then totalitarian, which is then Nazi, is unproductive to dialogue on both the conservative and liberal sides of social discourse. And it makes it so that we don't understand really dangerous, destructive socialism when it is right in front of us.

Enter the 2020 presidential election. Conservatives has successfully labeled every possible progressive program as socialist. In doing so, they have blinded a large part of the electorate to the danger of pure socialism by rendering the meaning of the term empty, especially for persons under the age of 40. So, when a socialist named Bernie Sanders comes on the scene, and he promises to nationalize health care, post-secondary education, and over-regulate industry to the point to where we are truly moving in a dangerously socialist, and approaching communist direction, the term has lost its meaning.

MORE LATER....

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Models of Education

My doctoral program is a different model of education than my Masters and Bachelors degrees. That is as it should be I suppose, but it still, in some ways, took me by surprise.

Both my classes are segmented into three phases. The homework we do before we arrive in class. the work we do during our hour intensives, and the work that we do after class. This is new to me because it is my first experience with any sort of distance learning. It is a change, but not the most challenging change.

What is challenging about classes is how loosely the material before, during, and after class fit in with one another. For instance, in my most recent class we have reading that we did, and then we develioped discussion questions about the text we read based on what we read. Yet, we did very little with discussing the context of our readings once we got to class.

Then, after class we have a large project. While the project relates the previous class content, it has really been, in both classes, a whole different animal. Expectations are communicated (length, some basic expectations), but there are portions of what we do later than we figure out on our own, and are not necessarily clearly communicated or understood. It is more of an art crafting your paper, expanding on what you have learned, and yet in many ways moving in different directions as well.

No complaints in any of this. Except maybe that I like more clarity than what I am often recieving.

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