Tuesday, May 31, 2011

My Right Foot

Some people are said to have two left feet. I suppose that means that maybe they can't dance or are clumsy or maybe it means something I haven't yet figured out.

I can't dance. I have a clumsy heart and myopic vision of life so much of the time. There is so much I haven't yet figured out. However, I do know this: I have a right foot,... but it's not on my body, at least not literally. So you have two left feet Mike? No, I have one left foot AND a right foot that is integral to my walking through life,... but resides at a different address in Lincoln. What? You're not making any sense. I know. I don't much of the time... but keep reading. 

My right foot is my good friend for whom I have given endless thanks in my prayers this morning: Dr. Brad Riddle who is a trained counselor here in Lincoln, but for a long time before that he was an Assemblies of God pastor and continues to be ordained and licensed as an AG pastor. Brad and I have a friendship that began through a local pastors' prayer group a number of years ago when he was in the pastorate and our friendship continues to deepen and grow.

Now, what some of you may find odd is that I am a "noncharismatic" PCA pastor whose doctrinal standard the Westminster Confession of Faith comes right out and says in chapter 1 that "the former ways" of God revealing himself (through his prophets and writers of Scripture) have now "ceased." In fact, I remember a story that was told a number of years ago at a PCA church-planting conference by Joseph "Skip" Ryan (someone I admire a lot by the way): when Skip was younger, he told his mentor Dr. Kennedy Smartt (one of the founding fathers of the PCA) that he had met a few people who might be interested in helping him plant a church (long before the rigorous tools and blessings of personality inventories and church-planting assessment centers had been established in the PCA). Well, Dr. Smartt had one question for Skip, "son, are there any 'charismats' in your group?" Skip responded, "no Dr. Smartt, there are not." Dr. Smartt responded by saying, "Well, then, go to it boy!"

So PCA folks have always tended to an uneasy relationship with charismatic folks, to say the least (and probably vice versa as I would imagine). Yet, God in His infinite mercy and grace has given to me a trusted friend and co-laborer in the Kingdom: Brad. Brad is my right foot. I think you'll get what I am clumsily saying as I quote some from Richard Lovelace and his classic 1979 work, Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal:

"The interrelationship between reformation of doctrine and structures and spiritual revitalization in the church is important and complex. While these two factors can at times occur separately, they are alternate moves like the footsteps of a walking man. Reformation grows out of awakened spiritual interest, and spiritual renewal seldom persists long without continuing reformation. This suggests that God has chosen to bless his church with the fulness of the Holy Spirit on the condition of its moving towards certain vital norms of health and witness" (Lovelace, p. 52).

"We need a 'unified field theory' which conserves and consolidates all the values in the different groups and parties while avoiding their errors and imbalances, which enables the pentecostal and nonpentecostal to affirm one another as Spirit-filled Christians with valid but differing spiritual gifts and which unites socially concerned Christians with those burdened for the destinies of individuals on a common basis in the redemptive work of Christ" (Lovelace, pp. 58-59).

Brad is my good friend who sometimes visits us on Sunday mornings, almost always with his dear wife Judy. Brad always "endures and receives" from my long-winded sermons, often about the vital importance of a Calvinistic understanding of the Scriptures- this is much of what he receives from me. So if this is my "gift" to Brad, what do I receive from him? Well, "mainly" wisdom and encouragement in the Lord. I give him doctrine; he gives me wisdom- not exactly a fair trade, huh? Following my sermons, there's almost always the e-mail a day or two later along these lines, "good job pastor, was truly blessed, thanks for the time of worship, etc." And then whenever I am with him, Brad usually opens a story of the Bible in a way I had not thought about but needed greatly in that moment. 

I'm pretty sure my right foot slows down to keep pace with the clumsy left foot, but as they move together in harmony, there seems to open the marvelous hope of a pathway to genuine reformation, renewal and revival in the church and world.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day Meditation, by Steven Garber

"A daddy and his daughter"

A daddy and his daughter, on Memorial Day—I awaken this morning remembering. The son and the grandson of men who served in the first wars of the 20th-century, now my son is in the Army of the 21st-century, deployed for a year to the Sinai Peninsula. A captain and a veterinarian, his work is to make sure that the food the troops eat is healthy; he has a master’s in public health too. And his baby daughter is here in Washington, just today moving out of their Capitol Hill condominium with her mommy. On Saturday she will make her first flight, joining her daddy in the Middle East for a couple of weeks—and then he will come back in July, be here for a month, and then the three of them will move to Sicily, for another tour but all together finally. So I sigh for them, am glad for them, and am proud of him.

The Vision of Wendell Berry, by Sean Lucas

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Makoto Fujimura: The function of art

"The church needs the arts, not so there will be opportunities for more artists in the churches, but for the sake of the gospel."  -Makoto Fujimura

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Back from St. Louis

I turned forty last Sunday and then left for St. Louis for my D.Min. co-hort meeting the next morning on Monday May 23rd to return to Lincoln yesterday on Friday May 27th. There were six D.Min. students, two instructors and multiple conversation partners we participated with throughout the week.

The students were Warren Mayer who is an I.T. guy who works at the journalism department at the University of Missouri; Jay Simmons who is a pastor of a downtown church in St. Louis called South City Church; Richard Vise who has been on staff with Reformed University Ministries at the University of Auburn for over ten years; Cristano DeSousa who is a Navy Chaplain; Don Johnson who is a pastor of Hanna City Presbyterian Church in rural Illinois, just outside Peoria (also not the 80s icon you probably are thinking about at this point) and, finally, yours truly.

Our instructors were Steven Garber of the Washington Institute and Donald Guthrie of Covenant Seminary, the institution from which I am pursuing my degree.

Some of our conversation partners, often over skype and teleconference calling, were: Tom Nelson of Christ Community Church in Kansas City; Michael Williams of Covenant Seminary, author of Far as the Curse is Found; Amy Sherman, author, who works for a think tank called Center on Faith in Communities; Sean Lucas who is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Hattiesburg, Mississsippi; Ryan Laughlin of Covenant Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, partner with the Fellows Program that seeks to give college graduates a nine-month internship helping them to integrate faith and vocation; and a few others as well.

Basically we spent five days from 9am-5pm in conversation with one other, our instructors and our conversation partners; the reading we did served as material through which we interacted.

I'm going to try and articulate something that words may not be able to capture: perhaps only the imagination, perhaps your intuition as you read and as I try to explain.

If you have been a Christian for a long-time now (I've been one for over 21 years), I have a question. Have you ever walked through a moment when you felt like you were converted again, that you really hadn't understood the Gospel or the Holy Scriptures until that point (despite the fact that there is much that you HAD understood to that point about the love of God, the Gospel of Christ, Jesus and the Bible)? Have you ever walked through that moment understanding that God had "held" you for a very long time (in my case for the last 21 years tracing back to my conversion, ... from the vantage point of eternity, from "before the creation of the world"- Eph. 1:4), ... but that perhaps you were still unable to "see" a huge part of the Christian faith to that point in your life?

I walked through that moment as I walked into my 40s last week.

What do you know about John Newton? Perhaps that he penned the famous and much-loved hymn Amazing Grace? that he was a friend of William Wilberforce who worked hard for the abolition of slavery in Great Britain? that he was a slave owner converted to Christ? Steven Garber shared that from the best of his research, that it took Newton nearly 25 years following his conversion to Christ to come to the deep conviction that slavery was wrong. I wonder what that moment of "conversion" was like for Newton.... oh the patience and mercy of God.

Steven Garber asks this basic question in his book The Fabric of Faithfulness, what will give you a moral vision for life that is large enough to make sense of life? What does it mean to live as a responsible participant in a universe that God made? Garber uses the language that we live in a covenantal cosmos, one that God made with all sorts of opportunities and freedoms to participate in a way that acknowledges that God is God and that we are not. Think with me on the original instruction given to our first parents; they were free to eat of any tree in the Garden, save one and the reason they could not partake in that one tree was simple: because God is God and we are not. The mercy and grace of God was such that they could participate in any and every tree otherwise; however, they chose to shrug off the responsibility to live faithfully to what they knew to be true and everything descended into chaos and brokenness from that point forward. The early church father St. Augustine said that in Christ we are once again able not to sin, so the question that is before each of us as those who bear the image of God and especially for those who are now in Christ is this: what are you going to do with what you know? In the world that God made, how will you live responsibly towards Him, towards your neighbor and towards His creation?

Steven Garber talks about the crabs in Chesapeake Bay "crying out" after generations of overfishing. Now, there are certain days when crab-catching is not allowed, and those in other places like Denver, Co., who once upon a time could have crab anytime all the time, assuming willingness to pay the fair market value, now no longer can do so as the crabs have "cried out." You see, the wisdom that comes from the Great Economy (that which Wendell Berry calls the "Kingdom of God," the deepest of all realities, the world that really is there) now calls the "Lesser Economy" of the fishing industry in the Bay to account; this is how the world that God made... works.

I turned forty this last week- in some ways, I've passed the "formative years" Garber speaks of in his book as I am 18 years removed from the University years; however, in many other ways I'm like John Newton only now beginning to see a comprehensive vision of the moral fabric of my life and heart that is integrally connected to the warp and woof of the universe; and, not only am I so aware of how I am connected to the brokenness of it all, but I also hold forth the hope that as I await the restoration of all things, I very well might be a part of what is right about the coming of the Great Economy too- are you kidding me? I've cried a lot this week thinking about the size of that hope. Who I am in my heart matters- it matters to my wife, my children, my church, my community- it matters to the world and above all it matters to the One who made all things in the first place to matter.

No more pulling life apart and putting parts of it into little boxes friends. No more. Oh Lord have mercy on us. Have mercy.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Done... for Now

My reading list completed, roughly 80 pages of journal notes, ... as I like to say, now I sit around "popping bon bons and drinking cokes" :-). Actually, I travel to St. Louis in a couple of weeks and spend a week getting introduced to the various doctoral program participants, expectations of the program, what I will be doing from May until January 2012 when our co-hort gathers again; in SL, I will get a better sense of what we will be doing next with all this reading- life is often an adventure, isn't it? Oh, ... some have requested to see my reading list I have been working through, so here it is:

Berry, Wendell. That Distant Land. New York: Counterpoint, 2005.

Carson, D.A. Christ & Culture Revisted.  Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008.

Cosden, Darrell. The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006.

Garber, Steven. The Fabric of Faithfulness. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007.

Hall, Douglas John. Imaging God: Dominion as Stewardship. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Scott, 2004.

Volf, Miroslav. Work in the Spirit: Toward a Theology of Work. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1991.

Wright, Christopher. The Mission of God’s People. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010.

Placher, William. Callings: 20 Centuries of Christian Wisdom About Vocation. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005.

Smith, James K.A. Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009.

Thanks for those who have followed the Bloggy Blog so far- prayers are appreciated. If I come up with something to say from now until late May, I'll let you know. Otherwise, let me sign off (for a little while) with one of my favorite quotes from Al Wolters in his book Creation Regained: "God doesn't create junk and He doesn't junk what He creates."

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Missional Challenge, Wright p. 286

... the challenge remains of peoples as yet unreached by any form of gospel message, of languages with no portion of the Bible in them yet, of millions of oral communicators who need to hear the Word in a form that does not rely on the written Word, of peoples whose only exposure to the Christian message has come along with horrendous violence done to them by nations they have been told are "Christian", or with a lurid immorality they cannot help but associate with the same Western cultures.

The missional challenge of reaching the ends of the earth with the gospel, so that the whole earth may be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God, faces us still with all its diversity and complexity. The evangelization of the world, in the fullest sense of both the words in that phrase, remains as urgent a priority for the church as it was when Jesus laid it as a mandate on his disciples before his ascension.

The earth, of course, is a globe that has no "ends". From a missional perspective, the "ends of the earth" are as likely to be found in your own street as far across the sea. The missional task of the church, in ... sending, going and supporting- is as necessary for local as for international mission.

The Great Commission Beyond Evangelism, Wright p. 284

The version of the Great Commission at the end of Matthew's gospel tends to have pride of place. It has certainly functioned as a driving text in the modern missionary movement. Unfortunately it has not always been read for all its content.

In another of those sad dichotomies,... the Great Commission has sometimes been portrayed exclusively as evangelistic mandate to go and preach the gospel everywhere, when actually the single and central imperative verb in the text is "make disciples". Now of course, making disciples requires evangelism, and the first added instruction, or step in the process of making disciples is "baptizing them". Baptism presupposes the preaching of the gospel and a response to it of repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. But the second added instruction- the Great Commission Line Three, as we might call it- is "teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you". And such teaching is of the essence of discipling. 

Basically, the New Testament was written by disciples, for disciples, to make disciples. Yet our emphasis has often been on getting decisions, claiming converts, making Christians. Actually the word Christian occurs three times in the New Testament, whereas the word "disciple" occurs 269 times. 

The Great Commission, along with all the practice of the New Testament church, tells us there is mission beyond evangelism....

We should not treat the Great Commission as a ticking clock, just waiting for the last people group to "hear" the gospel before the Lord is, as it were, permitted to return. That kind of thinking has transformed it into a "job to complete", "an unfinished task". But with its command to disciples to make disciples, it is a self-replicating mandate that will never "complete"- not in the sense that we can never reach all the nations (we can and we should), but in the sense that the making of disciples, and the rediscipling of those who have formerly been evangelized, are tasks that go on through multiple lives and generations.

Cosmic Dimensions of the Gospel, Wright p. 273

We have tended to separate the individual from the cosmic and corporate dimensions of the gospel, and then we tend to prioritize the first. That is, we put individual salvation and personal evangelism at the centre of all our efforts (and, of course, personal evangelism is an essential part of our commitment). But Paul's order of the gospel message in Ephesians and Colossians 1:15-26 is creation (all things in heaven and earth), created by Christ, sustain by Christ and redeemed by Christ); then, church (with Christ as head); then individual Gentile believers- "and you also".

All of this, says Paul, has been "reconciled through the blood of Christ shed on the cross". So we are not saved out of creation, but as a part of creation that God has redeemed through Christ. The church is not just a container for souls until they get to heaven, but the living demonstration of the unity that is God's intention for the whole creation.

The bad result of breaking up this "whole" is that Christians who are evangelized by truncated versions of the biblical gospel have little interest in the world, the public square, God's plan for society and the nations, and even less understanding of God's intention for creation itself. The scale of our mission efforts, therefore, is in danger of being a lot smaller than the scope of the mission of God.

Creation Care and Justice, Wright p. 270

We must exercise justice, because environmental action is a form of defending the weak against the strong, the defenceless against the powerful, the violated against the attacker, the voiceless against the stridency of the greedy. These too are features of the character of God as expressed in his exercise of justice. Psalm 145 includes God's provision for all his creatures in its definition of his righteousness as well as his love (Ps. 145:13-17). In fact, it places God's care for creation in precise parallel with his liberating and vindicating acts of justice for his people- thus bringing the creational and redemptive traditions of the Old Testament together in beautiful harmony.

So it is not surprising, then, that when the Old Testament comes to define the marks of the righteous person, it does not stop at a practical concern for poor and needy humans (though that is, of course, the dominant note). It is true that "the righteous care about justice for the poor" (Prov. 29:7). But the sage also makes the warmhearted observation that the "righteous care for the needs of their animals" (12:10). Biblical mission is as holistic as biblical righteousness.

Creation Care and Obedience, Wright p. 269

"Love the Lord your God" is the first and greatest commandment. Now in human experience, to love someone means that you care for what belongs to them. To trash someone else's property is incompatible with any claim to love that other person.... how emphatically the Bible affirms that the earth is God's property, and more specifically, that it belongs to Christ, who made it, redeemed it and is heir to it. To take good care of the earth, for Christ's sake, is surely a fundamental dimension of the calling on all God's people to love him. It seems inexplicable to me that there are some Christians who claim to love and worship God, to be disciples of Jesus, and yet have no concern for the earth that bears his stamp of ownership. They do not care about the abuse of the earth and indeed, by their wasteful and overconsumptive lifestyles, they contribute to it.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Redeemed Work

"Do you see your work as nothing more than a necessary evil, or only as the context for evangelistic opportunity? Or do you see it as a means of glorifying God through participating in his purposes for creation and therefore having intrinsic value? How do you relate what you do in your daily work to the Bible's teaching about human responsibility in creation and society" (The Mission of God's People, p. 224)?

The Scope of Redemption, pp. 226-7 of Wright

A common Christian assumption is that all that happens here on earth is nothing more than temporary and transient. Human history is nothing more than the vestibule for eternity, so it doesn't really matter very much. To this negative comparison is added the idea, drawn from a mistaken interpretation of the language of 2 Peter 2, that we are headed for total obliteration of the whole earth and indeed of all the physical creation. With such a prospect, what eternal value can possible attach to the work we do in the local or globalized public square here and now? But the Bible presents a different prospect. God plans to redeem all that he has made ...

Of course the Bible presents the public square, human life lived in society and the marketplace, as riddled with sin, corruption, greed, injustice and violence. That can be seen at local and global dimensions, from sharp practices at the market stall or corner shop, to the massive distortions and inequalities of international trade. As Christians, we need a radical understanding of sin in its public dimensions, and we need to see part of our mission as being called to confront that prophetically in the name of Christ. But for God, the corruption of the public square is not a reason to vaporize it, but to purge and reform it.

Isaiah 65:17-25 is a glorious portrayal of the new creation- a new heavens and a new earth. It looks forward to human life that is no longer subject to weariness and decay, in which there will be fulfillment in the family and work, in which the curses of frustration and injustice will be gone forever, in which there will be close and joyful fellowship with God, and in which there will be environmental harmony and safety. The whole life- personal life, family life, public life, animal life- will be redeemed and restored to God-glorifying productiveness and human-fulfilling enjoyment.

The New Testament carries this vision forward in the light of the redemption achieved by Christ through the cross, and especially in light of the resurrection. Paul comprehensively and repeatedly includes "all things" not only in what God created through Christ, but what he plans to redeem through Christ. It is clear in this text that "all things" means the whole created order in both descriptions of the work of Christ (Col. 1:16-20). Because of that plan of cosmic redemption, the whole of creation can look forward to the future as a time of liberation and freedom from frustration (Rom. 8:19-21)....

And the final vision of the whole Bible is not of our escaping from the world to some ethereal paradise, but rather of God coming down to live with us once again in a purged and restored creation, in which all the fruit of human civilization will be brought to the city of God (Rev. 21:24-27, building on Isa. 60).