Monday, June 27, 2011

Meaningful Ministry

In a class I am leading at Grace Chapel called "Faith and Vocation," I was asked to define the term "ministry." Put more simply, what is "meaningful ministry"? 

I’d like for us to think about 2Cor. 5:17-19 for a little while, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” Of course, most of us from evangelical backgrounds have used these verses narrowly to say this means that whenever we talk to people about Jesus, i.e. evangelize, then we are “doing ministry.” Yet, if we pause for a second and look at some of the salient features of these verses, we might understand that our redemption is taking place in the context of a larger hope, that of the ultimate restoration of all things.

  1. The “ministry” we have received is the message of forgiveness, that when we give our lives to Christ, we become a “new creation” in Christ.
  2. However, the larger Scriptural context here must not be lost on us.  What does it mean to become a “new creation”? It means that we share in the larger hope of the new heavens and the new earth (Isa. 65:17; 66:22, Rev. 21:1). The redemption of our souls stands in solidarity with a much larger restoration project involving all of creation (read Romans 8:19-21 closely).
  3. Finally, think further with me about Colossians 1:16-20 that makes clear in no uncertain terms that the achievement of the Cross involves the "reconciliation of all things whether things on earth or things in heaven...”  In this 2Cor. 5 passage, we must think of human beings within the larger narrative of the “world” that is being reconciled to Christ.
So the “ministry of reconciliation,” and thus meaningful ministry means participation in making things beautiful once again, whether sharing the Gospel with a friend who needs the restoring power of Jesus or whether preparing tasty barbecue with your neighbors on the 4th of July, mowing the lawn, going to work. All these activities are rightfully defined as "meaningful ministry": indeed, this is the “ministry of reconciliation” entrusted to us. 

"For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen." -Rom. 11:36

Food and Theology, Thoughts by John Perkins

John Perkins discusses some of his thoughts on food and God. Perkins is a member of South City Church in St. Louis led by Jay Simmons. Jay is one of the cohort members walking through the Doctor of Ministry program with me.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Conversation in Deed, by Matthew B. Crawford

(Mike Hsu lovin' life)

I like to fix motorcycles more than I like to wire houses (Matthew Crawford is an electrician as well as a motorcycle mechanic). Both practices have internal goods that engage my attention, but fixing bikes is more meaningful because not only the fixing but also the riding of motorcycles answers to certain intuitions I have about human excellence. People who ride motorcycles have gotten something right, and I want to put myself in the service of it, this thing that we do, this kingly sport that is like war made beautiful.

My job of making motorcycles run right is subservient to the higher good that is achieved when one of my customers leans hard through a corner on the Blue Ridge Parkway, to the point of deliberately dragging his well-armored knee on the inside. This moment of faith, daring, and skill casts a sanctifying light over my work. I try to get his steering head bearings as light and silky as they can be without free play, and his swing arm bushings good and tight, because I want him to fell his tires truly. Only then can he make the road fully his own. If I am riding twenty yards behind him, I want to hear the confidence he has in the chassis I have tuned, expressed by the way he rolls on the throttle, brashly, through the exit of a turn. He is likely to pull away from me; I may find him waiting for me at Cumberland Gap without a verdict that lighter fork oil is called for, to get less damping in the front end.

I try to be a good motorcycle mechanic. This effort connects me to others, in particular to those who exemplify good motorcycling, because it is they who can best judge how well I have realized the functional goods I am aiming at. I wouldn't even know what those goods are if I didn't spend time with people who ride at a much higher level than I, and are therefore more discerning of what is good in a motorcycle. So my work situates me in a particular community. The narrow mechanical things I concern myself with are inscribed within a larger circle of meaning; they are the service of an activity that we recognize as part of a life well lived. The common recognition, which needn't be spoken, is the basis for a friendship that orients by concrete images of excellence.

My point, finally, isn't to recommend motorcycling in particular, nor to idealize the life of a mechanic. It is rather to suggest that if we follow the traces of our own actions to their source, they intimate some understanding of the good life. This understanding may be hard to articulate; bringing it more fully into view is the task of moral inquiry. Such inquiry may be helped along by practical activities in company with others, a sort of conversation in deed. In this conversation lies the potential of work to bring some measure of coherence to our lives.

Shop Class as Soulcraft, pp. 196,197

Shop Class as Soulcraft

I just finished a very interesting book called Shop Class as Soulcraft. Matthew Crawford has a Ph.D. in political philosophy from the University of Chicago and serves as a fellow at the Institute for Advance Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia. However, Crawford spends most of his time operating an independent motorcycle repair shop called Shockoe Moto in Richmond, VA.

Crawford's basic claim is that at some point the "useful arts," i.e. manual work, became demoted to a "place" below that of intellectual thought, that "thinking" became elevated above "doing." One consequence of this way of thinking is that Shop Class has been cut from school curricula and shown to be less important than other disciplines. Another consequence is that for a very long time now, it has been thought that an academic degree is more important than a technical degree. So many of our young people have had it drilled into their heads, "you must go to college to be successful." Still we find that many college graduates now find themselves with a specialized degree in computer science, for example, but also can only find work for $8/hr. at places like Best Buy. On the other hand, because of a vacuum of those who are now able to serve as quality and skilled manual laborers, i.e. plumbers, mechanics and electricians, means that individuals in such trades are able to command $80/hr. or even more as their services have become highly sought after, as a result of this push away from the "useful arts." Of course Crawford's point isn't to elevate manual service above that of "white collar" work, rather to make a case for why the application of knowledge ought to be joined to the knowledge itself and why manual trades provide opportunities for intellectually-challenging and integrated work, the potential for stimulating thought and usefulness to our fellow humans as well. As Crawford says on p. 32, "My purpose in this book is to elaborate the potential for human flourishing in the manual trades- their rich cognitive challenges and psychic nourishment...."

It's definitely a book worth reading. In my next post, though this is rather self-serving I admit, I will share some regarding what Crawford says about the goodness of the "kingly sport" of motorcycle riding.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Jayber's Nunc Dimittis... Forgiveness

... and for the first time I saw him apart from my contempt for him. I saw him clear-eyed.

I saw us both as if from a great distance off in time: two small, craving, suffering creatures, soon to be gone. Troy was a beaten man and knew it, and was trying not to know it. You could see it in his eyes. Now at last he was about to inherit a farm that he had worn out, that he had so encumbered with debt that he could not keep it, that I knew would now be dragged into the suck of speculation and development to be subdivided under some such name as Paradise Estates. This was Troy's last play in what he had sometimes liked to call "the game of farming." What did he have left? Another cut of timber, maybe, if he could wait another hundred or two hundred years.

So there he was, a man who had been given everything and did not know it, who had lost it all and now knew it, and who was boasting and grinning only to pretend for a few hours longer that he did not know it. He was an exhausted man on the way back, not to the nothing that he had when he started out, but to the nothing that everything had been created from- and so, I pray, to mercy.

And there I was, a man losing what I was never given, a man yet rich with love, a man whose knees were weakening against gravity, who needed to go somewhere and lie down. I stood facing that man I had hated for forty years, and I did not hate him. If he had acknowledged then what he finally would not be able to avoid acknowledging, I would have hugged him. If I could have done it, I would have liked to pick him up like a child and carry him to some place of safety and calm.

The time would come (and this was my deliverance, my Nunc Dimittis) when I would be, in the small ways that were possible, his friend. It was a friend, finally that he would need. I would listen to him and talk to him, ignoring his self-pity and his lapses into grandeur and meanness, giving him a good welcome and a pat on the shoulder, because I wanted to. For finally he was redeemed, in my eyes,...

Jayber Crow, pp. 360-61

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Keen Insight into the Human Heart

Troy became a fierce partisan of the army and the government's war policy. The war protestors had started making a stir, and the talk in my shop (Jayber is the Port William town barber) ran pretty much against them (the setting is around the time of the Vietnam War). Troy hated them. As his way was, he loved hearing himself saying bad things about them.

One Saturday evening, while Troy was waiting his turn in the chair, the subject was started and Troy said- it was about the third thing said- "They ought to round up every one of them son of bitches and put them right in front of the damned communists, and then whoever killed who, it would be all to the good."

There was a little pause after that. Nobody wanted to try and top it....

It was hard to do, but I quit cutting hair and looked at Troy. I said, "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you."

Troy jerked his head up and widened his eyes at me. "Where did you get that crap?"

I said, "Jesus Christ."

And Troy said, "Oh."

It would have been a great moment in the history of Christianity, except that I did not love Troy.

Jayber Crow, p. 287

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Saved Liberals?

One of the questions that has persistently pecked at me these last few years is whether those from mainline traditions that have tended to reject the infallibility of the Bible and at least tolerated a rejection of doctrines involving the supernatural, i.e. the virgin birth, miracles of Jesus and resurrection to name a few, might in fact be "saved"?

Well, if I start with the premise that: 1) God saves and that 2) even the rather undeveloped faith of a child is the necessary prerequisite for entrance into the Kingdom God (as Jesus said), then I must conclude that it is certainly possible, right? Well, ... hold on a second.

J. Gresham Machen, Reformed giant and Presbyterian father of the faith wrote in his classic 1946 work, Christianity and Liberalism, that theological liberalism embraces a belief structure that is outside the pale of historical orthodoxy and therefore essentially "nonChristian." So this all confuses the matter somewhat doesn't it? After all, didn't the Apostle Paul himself say that if Christ isn't raised, then our faith is in vain? What if someone doesn't believe that Jesus has indeed been raised? Is their faith therefore in vain? Or what if someone believes it's OK to believe that Jesus hasn't indeed been raised but that he himself believes it? Is that person saved? Maybe that individual is in serious error but still saved? Can people in serious error be saved? I think I'm in serious error much of the time but that God in His graciousness reveals to me these things on His timetable (see the prayer of David in Psalm 139:23,24). Yes, but one can only be in serious error on some things, not the core doctrines though, right (as if in our finitude somehow we believe ourselves to have actually grasped these core doctrines in the present)? Also, what if someone isn't outwardly hostile or seeking to deceive others but simply has a particular question in his mind regarding whether Jesus was indeed raised? Might this guy not necessarily be a false teacher or even in serious error but simply a bit confused? Is he saved? And remember, people grappling in these places still use the Bible and "Jesus language" speaking perhaps of how the story of the resurrection inspires faith, despite not necessarily being historical as far as we can tell (so the argument goes).

So which is it? Saved or not saved?

Well, Richard Lovelace has helped me in his classic 1979 work Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal. In his work Lovelace challenges both the traditional evangelical as well as the traditional liberal and he does so by looking for particular marks of renewal that have always accompanied the authentic work of God in the lives of true believers as well as in the world. The role of sanctification in the life of the believer and Church is the evaluation tool Lovelace uses. Lovelace speaks of being theonomous which simply means being "controlled by God." Lovelace says both Evangelicals as well as non-Evangelicals can exhibit patterns of "dead conformity or angry resistance." What these patterns reveal is the absence of the authentic work of God's Spirit in both cases:

"Thus some Evangelicals are encased in a Spiritless orthodoxy while resisting conviction of their social apathy, and some non-Evangelicals are engaged in Spiritless expressions of social activism while avoiding the sanctification of their minds in theonomous perception of biblical truth" (p. 112).

What Lovelace is getting at here is one can have right belief and doctrine, yet still be missing the authentic work of the Spirit who convicts us deeply of our sin and need for Christ (Rom. 7:14-16, 22-23). Yet others can have right practice and concern but still be missing the authentic work of God who renews the heart and mind ultimately so that the work of concern flows from within the renewed heart of concern. Lovelace continues to write:

"For the Evangelical a breakthrough into theonomous perception of the flesh would involve a Spirit-illuminated insight into the biblical grounding and divine reality of orthodox doctrines previously received only by tradition and advocated out of party spirit. There would also be a humbled recognition that many non-Evangelical thrusts against social injustice and Pharisaism are not meaningless heresy but a prophetic expression of the mind of God" (p. 113)

Wow! Lovelace points out that right belief, without the "control" of the Holy Spirit who brings about God-centered concerns, is a deficient faith. Also, he pushes evangelical people to see the goodness of much work that comes from the hands of non-Evangelical people, goodness that involves a "prophetic expression of the mind of God." But Lovelace doesn't end there rather continues to extend the critique to "non-evangelicals" as well:

"For the non-Evangelical a theonomous perception of the flesh would involve a quickened awareness of the extent to which the theory and motivation behind many initiatives of the social gospel have been graceless echoes of the self-righteous and guilt-motivated concerns of secular humanism, a regrounding of social compassion in God-centered concern for Christ's redemptive mission and an awakening of the fact that the Evangelical call for consistently biblical thinking is also a prophetic voice of God to the church" (p. 113).

Lovelace is preaching repentance to both the Evangelicals and Liberals, ... wow! He concludes this section by saying:

"If a widespread mutual movement toward sanctification in these two sectors would occur, the result would be an immense release of spiritual power within Western Christianity and the recovery of the stature and initiative lost by the church in the division of its forces in the late nineteenth century" (p. 113).

So Lovelace has a concern for both the mainline and the evangelical church and reserves a place within his paradigm to see both brought renewal and strength, to participate in the Missio Dei. He evaluates both "movements" by simply looking at the fruit of a theonomous (God-controlled, Spirit-led) corporate and individual life in the Church. Lovelace also says that if this happens, ... an "immense release of spiritual power within Western Christianity and recovery of the stature and initiative lost by the church..." happens as well: what a humongous hope!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Walthill and Darius

I just returned last night from Walthill where we have a small team of Grace Chapel people serving on the Omaha reservation for the week. Normally I spend the week with the team, but because of my recent travels away from Lincoln and away from my family, I decided to cut the week in half and came back to Lincoln last night. My dear wife Tanya brought up our three kids (Mia, Isaac and Calvin) for the day yesterday (Walthill is only about 2 hours to the north of Lincoln; however, it is always good to remember that you are traveling to another sovereign nation whenever you go to the rez).

In the first picture is my 6-year-old son Calvin in the orange, 7-year-old Isaac in the black and a 9-year-old native boy named Sonny (with the baseball cap). Tanya is in the background. In the second picture, the three boys as well as our 9-year-old daughter Mia, in preparation for painting, are helping to scrape old paint off of the home of a native named Mike Wolfe.

The highlight of the week for me was spending three days on the rez with our 13-year-old foster son Darius Geiser (not pictured). We've been in Darius' life since he was one. Darius helped with the little kids at Vacation Bible School, played basketball for three days with some of the older Omaha boys, helped with painting and even went to Pender with me (12 miles to the west of Walthill) to help Tanya's Great Uncle Leroy and Aunt Joyce (both in their 80s) with computer problems. On Tuesday night, Darius fixed the computer problems at Leroy and Joyce's, got filled with some deer stroganoff and then was able to watch his much loved Miami Heat in the NBA finals (despite their having lost game 4); we had fun together in Pender. I was so proud of Darius at every point during our time together.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Emmanuel Habimana Speaking Initiative

Hi Friends,

Below is an e-mail from Natalia Ledford who is a young woman at the University of Nebraska and who is doing a project with National Geographic. The young man documented in Natalia’s work is Emmanuel Habimana who came to Grace Chapel one morning; later I was able to have some follow-up time with him, including a two-hour coffee where I brought along our 13-year-old foster son Darius. Darius and I were quite impacted and Darius commented afterwards, “I never thought of my life as being blessed until now” (Darius has had a very hard life in his own right).

Emmanuel is a Tutsi and was 9-years-old in 1994 when the Hutu extremists of Rwanda killed nearly 70% (almost a million people) of the Tutsi population in barely three months. As Natalia says in her documentary trailer above, it was the “the most efficient genocide the world has ever seen.” Emmanuel lost both his parents and a number of his siblings in the mass killings. All the while, he hid and shook in the fields nearby wondering when it was going to be “his turn” and what it was going to feel like to be killed. Emmanuel is a remarkable young man in many ways (now 26-years-old) committed to a vision of a world that increases in peace, hope and reconciliation.

I’m hopeful that Emmanuel can return to Lincoln and perhaps there can be involvement among the Grace Chapel community to host or help in ways that could be helpful to Natalia and crew. Also, for those outside of Lincoln, if you know of groups that might be interested in hearing from Emmanuel, please contact Natalia or Education for the World at the contact emails below:

From: Natalia Ledford
Date: Wed, 25 May 2011 16:57:30 -0400 
Subject: FW: Emmanuel Habimana speaking initiative 

Hi everyone, 

I wanted to send out a notification about a new initiative that may take place this fall. National Geographic as well as a handful of universities/human rights groups have expressed interest in having Emmanuel Habimana return to the U.S. to speak about co directing The Children Who Lived, a documentary work-in-progress sponsored by National Geographic, and to continue giving speeches about his experiences surviving the 1994 Tutsi genocide in Rwanda. At this point I am basically just circulating information about it and have Bcc'd all of you on here as individuals who came to mind as people who may have interest in this idea, or would know of people to forward it on to. 

Here is a video compilation of some speeches about his story:

The goal right now is to see how many groups would be interested in extending an invitation for him to speak, and should he get enough, to move forward in organizing a return trip. You may pass on my email to anyone interested in learning more, as well as the email for Education for the World, the University of Nebraska student organization that will help organize his speaking events should he return: Thanks so much.


Natalia Ledford