Thursday, March 31, 2005

Why should you care what I'm eating for lunch?

I'm eating soy beans for lunch (salted roast soy nuts) and it reminded me of a man I met yesterday who lived ten years in Tennessee's famous "The Farm," an intentional community that supports global development with soy projects and many other services as outgrowths of their community life.

Why should you care what I'm eating for lunch? Because soy and by-products from soy are some of the most useful nutritional foods to help feed people in poor nations. Second, I want to make you aware of this community that is not overtly Christian--or perhaps is not even Christian--but they are an "outwardly-directed community." They care about the environment and people and do something about it. What if our churches started some farms?

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Di-Vine

This morning my eleven-year-old daughter stood her ground in once again teaching our eight-year-old daughter and six-year-old son, despite their perpetual we-know-already 'tudes. The subject was the usage of the plural for leaf. Jacob and Anna insisted it's leafs and proved it by repeating it over and over. Ashley insisted it was leaves and she, without telling me what the dispute was about, asked me a simple question: "Dad, what's the plural of leaf?" I told her.

"See!" she told them with eyes bugged out.

Anna didn't seem impressed. Yet, later she'll try out "leaves" when no one else is looking, perhaps at school or to the mirror.

I've been meditating on foliage this week as well. Interesting to view God as gardener. Seeing him this way is refreshing, particularly in Spring when this is immediate and visual. God is not inactive but attentive, pruning and watering and trimming to trigger new growth and formation.

So I have to ask, "Lord, what in me needs cut and pruned?" The third part of lectio divina that I am following is listening to phrases that surface in re-reading the passage.

As I re-read John 15, many ideas are bubbling up that I'll talk about through the week. Today I'm struck by the way Jesus allowed himself to be pruned by the Father. He said this is the greater love. He said to love as he loved. This is not the golden rule. It is the platinum rule. Loving as we think someone wants to be loved is really not golden, it sometimes can be selfishly executed. Loving as someone else wants to be loved is truly golden and more appropriately what the intent of love is, yet even that love can play to the selfish nature of others. The platinum love of Christ is to love others as he loved them. When we give up our very lives, we demonstrate the love of Christ.

O Lord, cut away my dead leafs.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Parables that keep you up at night

On the way back from the Tulsa workshop I listened to Randy Harris's "Parables that keep you up at night," in an attempt to drive late into the night. With the help of coffee, my wife, and Randy, I stayed awake to drive back to Nashville in the rain.

I'm meditating this week on a parable-like idea of Jesus: the Vine (John 15). The vine is a great metaphor of Christ the roots and main vine, we the branches, and God the gardener. The Spirit of truth, the Counselor--the Holy Spirit--could be considered the one surging through the veins of the branches.

The first thing that Jesus says about the gardener is that he cuts off every branch that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes. Even the fruit bearers get cut.

Spring is here, and some of the pruning is done, but more will be done so that new growth will come. Remember today, that even if you are a fruit-bearer, you and I will get pruned. I'm keeping in mind today that I cannot bear fruit by myself. I must remain in the vine. We all must remain in Christ, receiving from him first, before we can bear good fruit.

This fruit of the Holy Spirit that Paul speaks of in Galatians 5:22-26 is not the fruit one bears alone. The fruit is of the Spirit, produced by Christ, the vine, in us and the Spirit of truth working through us, and God pruning us back for new growth.

I'm enjoying Spring today with this thought of the Vine.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Jacob's Easter Shirt

As I've mentioned before, Jacob is reflective in the mornings . . .

Lying in bed with Jill and me he says, "Do you have a special Easter shirt for me?"

I'm thinking, This kid never ceases to amaze me with his fashion sense. The other day I came down with a shirt on and he said, "Dad, that shirt looks bad."

Jill tells him "No, I don't have an Easter shirt for you, buddy."

Jacob's in thought. "Then I'll wear one that I really love." He points two fingers in the air like a flight attendant. "Oh yeah, gonna wear my skateboard shirt." Another nice touch were his green soccer socks with his dress shoes.

Another reason I really love Jill: she says, "That's perfect, Jacob." She told me later that she wants our kids to grow up knowing that Easter is not about wearing the right thing or having new clothes or even eggs and bunnies but about the resurrection of Christ . . . and perhaps the same lesson could be taught by dressing up in your best to honor Christ, and that's what we heard a lot growing up. Whatever works to return us to true Easter.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

What is authentic faith?

David Hutchens and I are teaching a class at Woodmont this quarter on the question, "What is authentic faith?"

Today David was gone but I told this story.

A few years ago fourteen buddies and I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. We climbed in four stages. The first day we walked through tropical rainforest and could not even see the summit. Incidently, the guys who came with gortex and North Face outfits got just as wet as those of us with cotton socks and tennis shoes, because it rained and we were walking up a path that turned into a river!

Day two we walked through mountain savanna and scrub brush around boulders with fantastic vistas of the summit up ahead, almost laterally ahead of us. It looked light years away, and I wondered how we were going to make it to the top.

Day three, now at nearly 12,000 feet, we walked through alpine desert, a dusty flat slope up to the last place we would sleep before attempting to summit the next morning. We would sleep until midnight at Kibo Hut at about 16,000 feet, wake up, walk in the dark two steps forward and one step back on scree (like fine gravel), trudging up switchbacks for six hours. At dawn we looked back and the sun was coming up, illuminating the path ahead and the expanse below from which we'd come.

Dawn of day four was the most fantastic sunrise I've ever seen. We'd groped up the mountain six hours in the dark and the sun over the Mwenzi Peaks immediately warmed me and I forgot how much my head was hammering and how I was ready to quit. We reached the first peak, about 19,000 feet. A walk along the snow filled crater in the center of the mountain led to the highest point, Uhuru Peak, at 19,300. Eleven of our group went on up, four of us decided to enjoy the success of reaching the first peak. All fifteen of us sang "We shall assemble on the mountain" and shared a moment of communion together to remember our Lord as the brother who held this brotherhood together.

Were we climbing Kilimanjaro the first day, even when we couldn't see the summit? Yes. We were. Were we climbing Kilimanjaro when the summit seemed so far away the second day? Yes. Was alpine desert part of the climb? Absolutely. What about that last day when we were in the dark, slugging our way up ankle deep in fine gravel? Yes. All the stages were climbing and all were important to reaching the summit.

We looked in class at Westerhoff's four stages of faith, which Lynn Anderson detailed in the Jan/Feb 05 ethics issue of Wineskins. Like climbing Kili, we move through the stages of faith and find value in each one. First, we experience faith then affiliate with the faithful, the church. Third, we search, ask questions, move beyond only affiliating with a church but seek to find faith in Christ himself, asking questions like his disciples, sometimes off-based, sometimes angrily, sometimes blindly, other times faithfully. Fourth, we own our faith. We make God's story our story, recognizing that faith is not only experiencing but it does include experience, that faith is more than affiliating with a church but that this affiliation is with Christ himself as we are being shaped by him, not only doing what he does but being as he would be if he were us.

We read from Nehemiah 9, one of the great summaries of God's story, told after Nehemiah returned to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and Israel was returning to worship God. The story is about God's covenant faithfulness, Israel's stiff-necked (like a horse that doesn't want to turn) rebellion, God's discipline, Israel's return to the Lord. It's a cycle: God chooses, Israel accepts but grows stubborn and rejects God and in his compassion he disciplines or punishes them and they return.

The story is messy, and it doesn't progress like Westerhoff's movement from experience to affiliation to searching to owning. Someone might correct me here. I haven't read his book firsthand so he may acknowledge the messiness and cyclical nature of faith and Israel and our own faith, how it will dodge and turn even as it moves not by perfection but in the God direction.

Now, there are a couple of basic ways that people over time have viewed children and faith. The predominant Catholic view for centuries has been we are born lost. We are baptized as infants and move toward faith. In Churches of Christ, we have started from a safe position then at age of accountability we drop off the cliff into the lost position. In John Mark Hicks's and my book on baptism, we discuss a third option, one which affirms that children are maturing participants in faith if they are growing up being taught the gospel. So their faith and baptism becomes more like signposts than a U-turn. I believe we need more of these markers in our children's lives. How can we help put more of these markers in our children's lives?

A friend of mine, Maurie, recently wrote about how handing keys to a sixteen-year-old is not a very fitting entrance into adulthood, yet our society makes this sort of a rite of passage into adult life. Similarly, when we hand keys of the kingdom to newly baptized, it ought to have been through a series of signposts along the way that give them a clear understanding about who they are believing, less about how much they felt they knew but in whom did they have faith when they were baptized? By giving more signposts along the way, we are blessing our children with a movement toward baptism in faith, not baptism as the first step. My children, six, eight, and eleven all express faith in Christ, love for God, devotion to the Lord. But none are baptized yet. When Anna wanted to be baptized on her seventh birthday, we talked more than ever about her faith, how she could express it in many ways before being baptized and we still needed to experience some of these together.

How does a child express faith? I would like to hear more about how you encourage your children to express their faith in signpost ways. What is authentic faith?

Friday, March 18, 2005

Ashley Smith

Ashley Smith's story is amazing. A struggling widow and mother of a five-year-old endured a harrowing ordeal with a man who was the focus of perhaps the largest manhunt in Georgia history, Brian Nichols, who is accused of murdering of a judge and three others in his escape from custody and court appearance for the rape of his former girlfriend.

Smith knew this man was wanted for cold-blooded murder of a judge yet somehow her faith and life-experience and the Holy Spirit calmed her, allowed her to do two amazing things: treat her kidnapper like a human being who needs grace while still realizing he should be caught and held accountable for his alleged crimes. She stayed with him seven hours, was allowed to leave to see her five-year-old daughter, then she called 911.

During those seven hours she read to Nichols. She picked up where she'd left off in her own reading: Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Life, chapter 33: "How Real Servants Act." This after Nichols had held her at gunpoint, entered her apartment in the north part of Atlanta, tied her up then later released her. Before she left to see her daughter she made him pancakes. Nichols was surprised she would act the way she did.

What did motivate her to act this way? Self-preservation? The desire to see her daughter again? Or was it because she was living a kingdom life of a servant in the most extreme situation imaginable? When people are put under pressure, their true colors come out. Ashley Smith showed her faith last Friday.

Her testimony is one we should hear more about. For more, read an article by Charles Colson in today's Wall Street Journal, "The lesson of Brian Nichols's last hostage."

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

If wishes came true

Jacob just turned six March 12. Looking out the window at the rain this morning, he reflected on wishes and sisters.

"Dad?"

"Yep," I said, barely opening my eyes. It was 6:15 a.m.

"If wishes came true and Anna wished she didn't have a brother and I wasn't here, you would look all over the house and not find me," Jacob said.

"Then what?" I asked.

"You would make a wish."

"You know I would, Jacob."

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Mike Cope - Women, Gifts, and the Body of Christ

I want you to hear this important message by my friend, Mike Cope. He preached it January 16, 2005.

women, gifts, body 2005 cope
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Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Ten Commandments Debate

"I bet that ninety percent of the American people believe in the Ten Commandments and eighty-five percent couldn't tell you what they all are."--Justice Antonin Scalia

Two weeks ago I asked my fifth and sixth graders in Wednesday night class to write the Ten Commandments by heart. Most could only get "do not steal" and perhaps one or two others. None named them all. Only a few got more than half of them right.

What we focused on, however, was the prologue: "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt." We started with this in order to teach that the commandments are a response to the gracious acts of God, not merely a checklist for feeling holier than thou. Yet it is a part of the life and ethic of a people who are to reflect the image of their holy God by being holy.

The first four commands center on God, who he is and and we honor him in worship, how to fear his very name and use it with full respect and not flippantly. The last six deal with human relationships through which we continue to honor God and image him. Keeping all the commands is a response to God's leading out, his grace. This part of the commands is often omitted when the commands are posted.

I am not for fighting the battle to keep the granite displays of the commands in public places. I am for fighting the battle for us to live them in public places.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

A Prayer for Spiritual Formation by J.H. Garrison

Occasionally I will post the same as I do on Wineskins. I put this up this morning on Wineskins Blog.

One of my roles as managing editor of Wineskins is to prepare myself for each issue, to research the themes, to ready myself to be a holding tank out of which writers and thought can flow on to readers. That's literal in some sense. Sometimes I hold an article for up to two years till the time is right. I have stacks but you are always welcome to add a few centimeters to the stack. This is a humbling task, for I tell myself with each new issue that I don't know much about "Ethics" or "Spiritual Formation" or whatever the theme is.

In my inquiry into each theme, I focus the telescope on one part of the sky, then I notice another galaxy, then another. This makes laughable the thought that I have occasionally feared we'd run out of original themes to publish.

Living Gods LoveFor this issue I have attended a Spiritual Formation retreat, picked up various prayer books, and I'm reading various works on SF. Two that Leonard Allen gave out to everyone at the prayer retreat are J.H. Garrison's Alone with God and Gary Holloway's and Earl Lavender's Living God's Love.

By the way, Gary Holloway hosted the Spiritual Formation retreat, co-authored one book I've recommended, and edited J.H. Garrison's book. You'd think he was paying me Spiritual kickbacks. Joking aside, Gary is a person who I appreciate and love because he humbly seeks after God and is a genuine presence of God in my life and in lives of students at Lipscomb University in Nashville and beyond.

These are two books I highly recommend to you. We will be offering an excerpt from Living God's Love, a book that brings theology into focus without jargon for college-aged but also for those of us who want to discover God anew and truly "live in that love of God" daily.

Here is a prayer by J.H. Garrison, as we contemplate Spiritual Formation and receive God's invitation into His life:

You gracious Giver of all our gifts, how infinitely great and tender must be your love that has found expresion in the unnumbered mercies that have crowned our lives. Accept the gratitude of my heart, O loving Father, for giving me a place, humble though it may be, in your great family.

aloneHear me, while I plead for the Holy Spirit in larger measure, to enlighten, quicken, comfort and strengthen me in your service. Since we are assured by your well-beloved Son that you are willing to give your Holy Spirit to them that ask you, I would with the more boldness ask this great gift at your hand.

How much I need His presence within me,that I may be strong to resist evil, that the love of God may be shed abroad in my heart, that my life may be like a fruitful garden and that my character may be conformed to your divine will! O may the fruit of the Spirit abound in me, that I may be used of you in bringing others into fellowship with you. Forbid, O God, that I should grieve your Holy Spirit, by impure thoughts, unkind words, unrighteous acts, or by a life of careless indifference to the claims of religion.

Help me to remember that my body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and to keep it pure from all defilement. Through your Spirit transform me, O God, into the image of your Son, and finally fashion this mortal body into the likeness of Christ's glorious body, that where he is there I may be also. And this I ask in his precious name. Amen!

We welcome you to add your prayers here, to make requests for certain coverage on this theme of Spiritual Formation, or to give us resources to share with all of our readers.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

No Child Left Behind - Football Style

I think "No Child Left Behind" is at best well-meaning policy that attempts compassion and responsibility but at worst is the death of good teaching creativity and skill and possibly our education system. It's been making a generation of teachers crazy in Texas, where it's rooted, and will ultimately lead to a national teacher-principal uprising someday.

If you disagree, let me hear it. In trying to think through it, maybe one of us will change our minds.

Here is the football version.

I didn't write this and don't have a source, which is against my policy to post, but I've requested it from the person who sent it and I'll try to track it down and place the source here later.

No Child Left Behind: The Football Version

1. All teams must make the state playoffs, and all will win the
championship. If a team does not win the championship, they will be on
probation until they are the champions, and coaches will be held
accountable.

2. All kids will be expected to have the same football skills at the
same time and in the same conditions. No exceptions will be made for
interest in football, a desire to perform athletically, or genetic
abilities or disabilities, or if they just moved to your school
yesterday from above the Arctic Circle. ALL KIDS WILL PLAY FOOTBALL AT A
PROFICIENT LEVEL.

3. Talented players will be asked to work out on their own without
instruction. This is because the coaches will be using all their
instructional time with the athletes who aren't interested in football,
have limited athletic ability . . .

4. Games will be played year round, but statistics will only be kept in
4th, 8th, and 11th games.

5. This will create a New Age of sports where every school is expected
to have the same level of talent and all teams will reach the same
minimal above average goals.

If no child gets ahead, then no child will be left behind.