Saturday, January 28, 2012

Stewarding Vocational Power, Amy Sherman

I've been working through this new book by Amy Sherman called Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good. Needless to say, I have been blessed immensely. I believe the book is a great gift to the Church to get us to think intentionally about what it means to "steward vocational power," as Sherman likes to say. Think about the following: 1) your knowledge and expertise; 2) your platform/voice; 3) your networks; 4) your influence; 5) position; 6) skills and 7) reputation/fame God has given each of us. How have these "gifts" been given us for service to His Kingdom and for the sake of the common good? Sherman builds her book on a robust theological vision and gets us to think intentionally about the beauty of Proverbs 11:10, "When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices." Well, there will be more to say on Sherman's book as I will be writing a review of the book for the Washington Institute ( in their March newsletter. But here's a small sample from Sherman's book:

As church leaders look out at their flocks, they see many individuals blessed with education, privilege, opportunities and influence. These congregants have much to offer. Some need to be challenged to direct their considerable talents toward the common good, overcoming inclinations toward comfort and affluence. Others are eager to help others but may need to grow in sensitivity in managing their power in the midst of people with less power.

Hopefully, as a result of being inspired and going through intentional discovery processes that have enabled them to clarify the unique talents God has given them to share, many congregants will be itching to get out there and do something. Before unleashing this energy, however, church leaders should work hard to strengthen their members’ “inner self” so that their service in the world truly brings God glory and genuinely helps their neighbors.  Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good, p. 140

More on Beer (this time as Vocation)

A while back I ran a post on the goodness of beer. I recently was pointed to this blogpost by a new Doctor of Ministry program co-participant, Nathan Tutor. Nathan is planting a PCA church in cooperation with the Acts 29 Network in Nashville, TN. Here's a general description of Nathan's heart and ministry:  

The blogpost is found here: and tells the story of Arthur Guinness. It describes both how Guinness saw his work as a brewer to be a calling as well as saw the redemptive possibilities of taking items used by the fallen structures and peoples of this world and turning them for good. Here's an excerpt from the post:

(Arthur) Guinness had a vision for creating something much better than common beer. Writes one Irish author, “You can still get it on the National Health Service prescribed to you when you're pregnant because it's so good for you. My wife drank it throughout her first pregnancy. Guinness is exported from Ireland as a food because it is so full of minerals and natural trace elements. It has incredible qualities to it. So Guinness made men a drink that was good for them. He was an entrepreneur and, believe it or not, people started buying it and drinking it. And now it's the national drink of Ireland. Irish men don't go and drink much whiskey; they go and drink Guinness. And its almost impossible to get drunk on Guinness because its so heavy, so full of iron that you feel so full you can't drink more than a couple of pints. It has a fairly low alcohol level.”

The BBC reported a few years ago that Guinness can be beneficial to the heart. Researchers found that "'antioxidant compounds' in the Guinness, similar to those found in certain fruits and vegetables, are responsible for health benefits because they slow down the deposit of harmful cholesterol on the artery walls.”

…It is reported that the Guinness family quietly poured much of their profit into Protestant missions activity around the world in the 18th and 19th centuries. Today the brewery, in the same location, using the same Irish water source and Irish barley, brings in some two billion pounds per year.

Can we take a lesson from the legacy of Arthur Guinness? Here is a man who took initiative to wean an addicted population away from poison by modifying and using an alcoholic beverage to do it. He changed the culture with faith, initiative, creativity and vision, combining the arts and sciences of brewing.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Spouse, Like Relating to God

“Being married to someone of the opposite sex is scary, risky, unknowable and full, because it causes me to relate to someone who makes requests of me that I don’t often understand, someone who asks much of me.  Relating to my spouse is a lot like relating to God” (something a dear brother shared this last week).

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Garber Prayer for Vocations and Occupations

"God of heaven and earth, we pray for your kingdom to come, for your will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Teach us to see our vocations and occupations as woven into your work in the world this week. For mothers at home who care for children, for those whose labor forms our common life in this city, the nation, and the world, for those who serve the marketplace of ideas and commerce, for those whose creative gifts nourish us all, for those whose callings take them into the academy, for those who long for employment that satisfies their souls and serves you, for each one we pray, asking for your great mercy. Give us eyes to see that our work is holy to you, O Lord, even as our worship this day is holy to you. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen."

Here's Steven Garber's longer article: Finding Our Way to Great Work, Even in Politics

Friday, January 20, 2012

Airports, Nice Cars, Motherhood and Other Misc.

So I've been in Washington DC this week working on my Doctor of Ministry program with Covenant Seminary. The degree program revolves around how faith influences vocation which in turn influences culture, that vocation is very much integral to the Mission of God in the world. I arrived in DC last Monday and was in DC through Friday. Today my flight got delayed because of snowstorms in Chicago, so I am rerouted to Denver, with the plan to get into Lincoln late tonight, instead of at 6pm when I was supposed to arrive :-(.  I guess I'll kiss the kiddos on the head tonight while they are sleeping and see them in the morning.  Well, so I have some time on my hands sitting here in the Denver airport, and I suppose I need to start somewhere by sharing with you an embarrassment of riches I have obtained this week. Where do I begin? I've got the Porsche, the Jaguar, the Ferrari and the Aston Martin. Which one would you like to drive first? Where should we start??? Hmmm...

So here were some of our conversation partners for the week.... Let's begin with Kate Harris' encouraging and thoughtful article on how she understands Motherhood as well as other parts of the fabric of her makeup to define "calling" in her life: Motherhood as Vocation . We'll just refer to her article as "the Porsche": would mothers everywhere be encouraged. Harris gives a beautiful G.K. Chesterton quote by asking, "how can it be a small career to teach one's children about the universe?" However, Harris' article doesn't simply stop there but also enters a kind of tension where Harris states unapologetically that she was also "made to engage certain work and relationships that necessitate time away from my child." There is a wonderful tension Harris brings to mothers, to identify with them and to leave room for the questions they might have about the world and their place of belonging in it.

Well, so here's the Jaguar... I met a dear Korean brother who grew up in Latin America and currently works for the World Bank in DC. Kwang Kim very much believes that working with lending and financing to help build infrastructure in Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the world is a "calling" from God. Also, Kwang feels a compelling call to seek North Korea's renewal: he prays monthly with a group of DC Korean believers for that end. Kwang describes his work with the World Bank in language that doesn't sound too far off from how evangelicals often think of "missionaries"; brother sends out a prayer letter every month. Kwang says that whenever people are praying for him, his work with the WB goes well and when they are not, it doesn't go that well, that the prayers of God's people are that tangible as he engages governments and peoples to seek their flourishing (if this is new stuff to you as a Christian, read Jer. 29 sometime regarding "seeking the peace and prosperity of the city" and meditate on what Jeremiah is saying to the Israelites exiled in Babylon). Take a look at this wonderful article by Kwang: Reflections on the Meaning of a Good Life .

Are you ready to take the Ferrari for a spin? For eight years, Todd Deatherage was the head of Condolezza Rice's foreign policy think tank, under the second Bush administration. More recently, brother Deatherage has given his life to working towards peace between Israelis and Palestinians. In this article, he talks about his Palestinian Christian friend Daoud who has a sign at the entrance of his property, "We Refuse to Be Enemies": Justice, Love and True Grit.

As if that weren't enough? You haven't even seen the lines on the Aston Martin yet (check it out in the picture above). Are you kidding me? Amy Sherman recently came out with her book Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good. You can find her book here at her website: . Where do I even begin to tell you what a gift to the Kingdom this dear sister is. With a heart for mercy and justice, Dr. Sherman lives in an urban neighborhood and gets us to think about: 1) blooming where you are planted by strategically stewarding your current job; 2) donating your vocational skills as a volunteer; 3) launching a new social enterprise and 4) participating in a targeted initiative of our congregation aimed at transforming a particular community or solving a specific social problem (I haven't read the book yet but borrow this from Tom Nelson's "Work Matters" website at Sherman makes the case that the two themes that seem to have been missing for a long time among evangelical Christians, though are integral to the very nature of the Gospel itself, are the themes of: 1) vocation and 2) justice. Of course the times are ripe and stirring for the enlargement of our understanding of the Gospel through ferreting out these themes now. Go ahead, take the Aston Martin for a spin, ... really, don't worry about it, .... go ahead and enjoy: Reconnecting Work and Church.

Alright, we are going to park the sweet rides for now, but the Doctor of Ministry program I'm a part of (also known as a D.Min.- great degree program name for a pastor, eh? If you are concerned, you probably don't want to know that I live on Diablo Dr. and wear Mephisto shoes too), is offered by Covenant Theological Seminary in partnership with The Washington Institute: program mentors are Donald Guthrie of the former and Steven Garber of the latter. Garber's book The Fabric of Faithfulness has been one of the more significant books for me in my 22-year journey as a pilgrim, and Guthrie is a stud. Brother, where have you been the last 18 years since I've been doing ministry in the local church? It's as if I've never learned to communicate and teach effectively until now. 

Well, I am a blessed man. The Porsche, the Jaguar, the Ferrari and the Aston Martin are only the start of my collection acquired this week, but enjoy those for now. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

How Africa Shaped The Christian Mind, by Oden

How was Christianity introduced to Africa? In his book How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western ChristianityThomas Oden argues against the common notion that Christianity was a modern introduction to Africa as a result of Anglo-European colonization. In fact, Oden pushes hard against the notion by saying that the Ango-European world actually is greatly indebted to Africa for its contributions early on helping shape a general ecumenical consensus to what authentic Christianity now is recognized as being, a time-tested, Holy-Spirit-led consensus over time that shapes the very essence of what orthodox belief in fact is ("Mere Christianity" as C.S. Lewis so famously put it). In fact, Oden would say much of the very seedbed of not just Western Christianity, but global Christianity, is greatly indebted to Africa as well:

A demeaning prejudice has crept into historical lore…. The more provincial, the more truly African? The more cosmopolitan, the less African? We do not want to go there. If so, the African continent cannot embrace as its own even Didymus the Blind or the great Desert Mother Sarah or the Tall Brothers of Wadi al-Natrun. Even more ludicrous is the claim that the African continenet cannot include Thebian-born Pachomius or Numidian-born Optatus.

Whether Tertullian and Cyprian and Augustine learned everything from Rome can easily be answered on the basis of impartial textual analysis. These Africans were being seriously read in Rome during their lifetimes when they were living in Africa because they were teaching in a way pertinent and useful to Rome and the awakening wider European ethos. Among the most decisive things Augustine personally learned in Italy, according to his own Confessions (8.6.14), was the impact made upon him from hearing from Pontitianus of the holy life of Antony of the African desert, written by the African patriarch Athanasius.

Look at a map of Egypt and review the geographical range of pastoral responsibility of Athanasius. It was the whole of the lower delta and the middle Nile valley with diocesan responsibilities reaching beyond the first cataracts, with their widely varied subcultures and languages. His responsibility was not just with the Alexandrians who spoke Greek. In any case the ethnographic evidence shows that a large proportion of Alexandrians were themselves Egyptian ethnics, many of whom doubtless spoke several languages (Syriac, proto-Arabic, Aramiac, Nilotic variants, etc.) in order to deal with commercial realities in that greatest of international port cities.

Antony of the desert lived most of his hundred-plus years (c. 251-356!) in a very remote part of the far eastern desert of Egypt, many days journey from any Greek-speaking city. It is inexact to simply identify Antony as an Alexandrian without remembering the mountain cave where he founded anchorite monasticism. Athanasius spent long periods of time in the Egyptian desert, in hiding or in forced exile. Only seated prejudices can blithely charge that these great leaders were not genuinely African.

Almost every turn in African Christian history is misjudged if it lives by the premise that Europeans have a natural advantage built into their intellectual DNA. This bungled premise misread the significance of the inland African struggles of Coptic Christianity for centuries following the Arab conquest. The stereotype also misjudges the dept of the encounter of early African Christianity with indigenous Punic and Berber cultures. It misreads the relation of Christianity to the Nilotic-speaking traditional African religion in the southern part of the Nile, which extends all the way to present day Sudan and Uganda. It considers as negligible the subtle dialectical forms of cultural interaction between Christianity and African cultures that occurred gradually over centuries of shared hazards and mutual learning.

There is an enduring pre-Christian traditional African religious past in the North of Africa during the entire first Christian millennium: Pharaonic, proto-Nubian, Libyan, Capsian and Ghanian, reaching far back into African prehistory. It remains indigeneously African even while being militarily forced to adapt to multiple colonial coercions. Early Christianity had to deal with these deeply engrained traditional African cultures in the isolated villages of the Maghreb and Nile, not only with Greco-Roman civic religion. It was the strength of that traditional African religion transformed by Christianity that stood up to idolatrous Roman civic religion.  How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind, pp. 62-66 

Oden's book is a fascinating read, especially to get us to read Holy Scripture through an "African lens." Here are a few tidbits for consideration that Oden gives to us: a) Jesus and his family flee to Africa before being "called out of Egypt"; b) Simon of Cyrene (Libya) carries Jesus' Cross; c) The Ethiopian Eunuch, treasurer to Queen Candace of Ethiopia, on his return to Africa, converts to Christianity (Acts 8); d) Mark, a cousin of Barnabas, accompanies Barnabas to Antioch (Acts 12:25) and back to Cyprus (Acts 15:39), all cities accessible to seafaring Jewish merchants from ports of Africa: Berenice, Pelusium, Alexandria and Carthage.

Africa has always been a "major player" in recognizing the work of the Spirit and giving voice to the heart of Biblical orthodoxy early on where found. Might it be that we have it backwards when we assume that it is those of us in the West who have brought the Gospel to Africa when in fact much of how the Gospel has come to us has been through Africa? Food for thought, definitely.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Friends, Memories and Elusive Does

I just returned from a 2.5 day deer hunting trip with my good friend Dirk Grenemeier. I had never been hunting before but wanted to go with Dirk for a number of reasons- I knew it was important to Dirk because he had gone with his father-in-law Bill Morse for a number of years before Bill passed away a year ago this last October. Dirk had gone out some last year on his own to Bill's cabin and because Dirk has been a good friend to me for a long time and because Bill was as well, I wanted to go. It was a great time being in God's glorious creation as well as learning how to shoot a high-powered rifle. For the days that we sat looking for deer, we didn't see any, subsequently didn't get a shot on one but the experience was so much more whether getting up early, watching the sun rise, enjoying the goodness of God's creation,... friendship, solitude, meeting the locals out in the Hordville, NE area or enjoying good meals and conversation together. In fact, I've posted to the right on my blog a picture of the sun rising Friday morning- that morning as well as this morning took my breath away. Also, in this post is another picture I took of the moon over Bill's cabin. Bill is part of the great cloud of witnesses spoken of at the beginning of the Hebrews 12 and a brother who now reigns with Christ. We sought to honor Bill's memory these last few days but also know that there is much time we anticipate together in a glorious future as well. In the meantime, we miss Bill but continue to enjoy some of the things he enjoyed. Oh, and by the way, you know how I said we didn't see any deer as we sat out in the cold and waited Thursday and Friday evening as well as Friday and Saturday morning? Well, driving back home this morning, we saw no less than 12 does (Dirk and I had doe permits), 11 that ran in front of our vehicle and one that got spooked and ran back the other way. Are you kidding me? No deer sightings for 2.5 days and all of a sudden as we are packed up, guns stowed away, leaving Bill's property,... 12 deers! I guess they got the best of us this trip. I actually overheard them saying to one another in their native deer language "suckers!" as they so gracefully ran across Nebraska fields.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Hip-Hop Church, by Smith and Jackson

My friend Harry Riggs once said, "books choose you." So recently I was reading James Cone's book The Spirituals and the Blues and a book that is on my list to read next is Thomas Oden's How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity. Well, "in between" reads, an old friend of mine who came to Christ in the late 90s and who was a Hip-Hop DJ for a number of years passed on this book The Hip-Hop Church . I was intrigued, especially given the titles that I was working on, and had a sense that this book had chosen me. I'm about halfway through currently, but I've found myself extremely enlightened to Hip-Hop culture and some of its redeeming benefits. In much of the book Smith and Jackson describe the influence of Hip-Hop not only among black kids and not only among black and white urban kids, but among a huge percentage of youth in general. How often have I seen the middle-class white kid listening to rap and wearing FUBU attire, baggy pants, etc.? This caught my attention to think intentionally about not only my 14-year-old foster son who is African-American and also from the "hood" of Lincoln (as much as there might be a hood in Lincoln) but also of the middle-class kids I've been around over the years. What is it about Hip-Hop through rap that has such a powerful influence among youth?

Well, Smith and Jackson pull no punches going after both the black church and white church and church in general for making certain assumptions about Hip-Hop by simply labeling the music "worldly" and withdrawing from it as a result. The authors challenge the Church to study the music of Hip-Hop much like Paul intently studied the cultural forms of Athens in Acts 17. They challenge us to approach the Hip-Hop world as a missionary might approach a foreign country and culture by seeking to contextualize the message of Christ:

…hip-hop is more than the art of rap; it began to meet core needs of a generation before the generation could articulate the needs they had. Some needs in the lives of the urban African-American community, in fact, are being met only by hip-hop

However, this has not been recognized by many in the Euro-American evangelical community. Thus very few in that community honestly seek to reach this culture or see any redeeming value in hip-hop, let alone any way to use it for the kingdom. This is the tension about Christendom and hip-hop: most Euro-American evangelicals are so separate from “the world” that they don’t really know what issues urban people are facing.

Hip-hop, in fact calls attention to the failures of government, schools, police, preachers and churches, bringing them to light while shaming them at the same time.

Now I am not saying that all rap artists and their music are all righteous. There are serious contradictions within hip-hop and in their messages, lifestyles and overall representations of the culture. These artists need to be held accountable in some ways regarding the content of their raps and its impact in the lives of the most impressionable students they influence.

Still, when people from the dominant culture or a dominant-culture mindset are dissing rap music and hip-hop culture as if they had no redeeming value, in essence they’re saying that those who hip-hop’s messages are coming from, and those they are being sent to, have no redeeming value either.

You yourself may see hip-hop as an unredeemable hindrance to the kingdom. I ask you to open your mind to the truth that God created all things to give him glory but that people who are separated from God take these good things and just mess them up. However, when these things are touched again by God, the content changes; the vessel may remain the same but its content has changed. Isaiah acknowledged that he was “a man of unclean lips” and came from a “people of unclean lips,” but when God touched his mouth he was cleansed. And when God asked, “Who will go for us?” he said, “Send me!” (see Isaiah 6:5-8). Similarly, I come from the hip-hop culture, a people of unclean lips, and I am unclean….  The Hip-Hop Church, p. 81

While this portion of the book speaks to "people of power," Smith and Jackson also have some harsh critiques of the black church as well, that much of their own church has lost connection with the everyday struggles of people, have fallen into an excessive materialism and are filled with hypocritical people and messages. They make the case for how many people in the black church have lost touch with Christ and also have been very defective in teaching and discipling people:

When Boquintella gets pregnant, suddenly the church is all in an uproar. But when did the church talk about sex and help her and others understand sexual pressure and provide a way of escape in order that she could live a sexually pure life?... The church that does not help students to comprehend the life, death and life again of Jesus Christ in a very real and practical way is part of the problem rather than the solution. What an indictment on the church that we have the power of God through his Son Jesus Christ yet fall short…

The lack of teaching (in the African-American Church) about a Christ who understands our needs, who was tempted yet didn’t sin, and who overcame the obstacles we face with authority and power creates a separation between us and God, who understands all that we face. The void of teaching that this Christ was incarnational will continue to keep hope away from those who are seeking to understand God. Tupac sought to express this in his cut “Black Jesuz.” He talks about how this Jesuz hurts like thugs hurt and hangs out with those involved in illegal activity. Even the change of z replacing s is his attempt to help others see Jesus as incarnational. This Jesus is a saint who is not worshiped behind closed doors in the building of a church but is worshiped every day on the block. Tupac’s cut screams out that we need to see, hear and realize that God has not forgotten us, that he cares and understands yet has a better way if we trust him. People who are too busy criticizing Tupac and hip-hop will not see the value in using this as a bridge with someone who is looking for clarity about Jesus.  The Hip-Hop Churchpp. 122-24

So this book is the furthest thing from angry black men railing against white people. As we've said at Grace Chapel before, Smith and Jackson very much appear to be "equal opportunity offenders." But the basis of much of the book is that: a) the Church doesn't speak honestly to the struggles, hardships and difficulties of life, especially life in the hood; b) Hip-Hop does; c) the Church has gotten distracted on many points of its mission; d) so the Church has become "separatist" from cultural forms in many ways and e) is also hypocritical as well. As a result, the Church is generally removed from and disinterested in hip-hop culture 
to its own detriment.

So the challenge Smith and Jackson present is this:

We need to approach hip-hoppers with an awareness that hip-hop is marked by a distinct consciousness and a desire to discuss spiritual issues and to bring this culture to a better place.  We must come not with Euro-evangelical prejudgment but with an open heart and mind to bring to hip-hop culture a better, clearer understanding of what it means to be a follower of Christ. Actually the strongest testimony we can have in the hip-hop culture is not what we say but what we do and how we do it.

“Refuse the awful temptation to scale down your dreams to the level of the event which is your immediate experience.” This call by Howard Thurman aptly expresses our challenge as Christ followers as we seek to create connections with those of this generation whose dreams of a better life are bigger than the temptation to get pregnant, smoke weed or join a gang. Hip-hop through rap makes this connect, even if it can’t fulfill its promise. When will we wake up and flip the script? The Hip-Hop Churchp. 128