Friday, December 11, 2009
Tuesday, December 01, 2009
I'm having a debate with myself - to tweet or not to tweet?
Twitter is an absolute phenomenon. All kinds of people from Rob Bell to Ocho Sinco are on Twitter. I've read Shane Hipp's book "Flickering Pixels," and agree with his Anabaptist tendencies to be counter cultural in this way (as I write this my wife and I are taking a week long fast of Television).
What do you all think? To tweet or not to tweet?
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
What If Jesus Meant All That Stuff?
Posted using ShareThis
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Sorry for the blog delay. I am still getting used to transition from a student-pastor to a full-time pastor in Mertens. I hope that I will be able to blog more in the days to come.
It has become cliche to bang on the church today. Part of that is that we bang on each other within the church and fight over minutia of doctrine in our schools and churches. Part of it is that the church has often aligned itself with some type of politics or politician. I'm not just talking about the Religious Right, but it has been the church's history since Constantine to do so. The church will always have problems. Sometimes (maybe more than sometimes) we focus on the wrong aspects of what it means to be church (such as attendance and building assets). We are full of people who are in the process of being transformed and discipled. We are not on this side of eternity yet.
Yet as I have been more and more immersed in the local church, I have fallen more and more in love with it and more and more convinced that the church of Jesus Christ is the hope of the world, or maybe better said a partner in the healing of the world. The church is a place where you can come and experience resurrection, reconciliation and healing. It's our job, our definition. That is the kingdom vision that Jesus "bought with his blood." But here's the catch, it's not us doing the work. The good news of the church is that we are a people being formed for partnership in God's Mission in the world. God is always at work in the world He created. God is at work reconciling, healing, forgiving, and saving the world He loves through Jesus Christ. The church is invited to participate with God in his work. God forms us for this. The cycle of how healthy church with a kingdom vision works is that God works in us, we work out what God works in, and that cycle continues over and over again. Why church? Because we in the church are continuing to be formed and transformed into Christ's image and to participate in God's mission in the world. What could be more exciting than that?
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
The Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
where there is hatred let me sow love,
where there is injury let me sow pardon,
where there is doubt let me sow faith,
where there is despair let me sow hope
where there is darkness let me give light
where there is sadness let me give joy.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in forgiving that we are forgiven,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Monday, August 31, 2009
Moving out to Mertens has reaped benefits for me both spiritually and for the food that Sarah and I eat. We live among farmers who grow all this incredible food. They all not only grow food for profit, but they all have personal gardens which grow the best onions and tomatoes I have ever had. When talking to these farmers about their farming and their gardens, I am struck by how much they do and how much they cannot control. Each year the farmer worries about whether or not it is going to rain or if the sun will scorch the crops. Or they worry if a late freeze that is unexpected will ruin a pasture of freshly planted crops. They worry about animals or insects. What they have told me is that they create the conditions for the growth of crops, but they cannot cause growth.
I do not think it was a mistake that the author of Genesis tells us that the world that God created at peace with him was a garden. A garden is something that you work hard at maintaing. A garden is something that you constantly pull weeds, water, till the ground, prune the plants, and plant seeds. At the same time a garden takes incredible faith. No matter how hard you work, you cannot control whether or not you will have good crops or a beatiful bloom.
The kingdom of God and his church is like a garden. We do have work to do. We have seeds to plant, plants to water, the hungry to feed, and a message of new life in the midst of death. However, we cannot control the result. We are not a repair shop. We are a garden. God is the only one who controls the results of the garden. What do we do in the mean time? Keep working, keep praying, keep becoming his people, and most of all keep loving and proclaiming the Christ story with our lives. God will produce the results. Sometimes they may not be what we think or what we hope for, but this is God's world, God's Kingdom, and God's church. God started the world in a garden, and God resurrected Jesus in a garden. God, may your church be your garden where new life is found.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
While we were in Colorado, we stopped by an incredible book store in Denver called the Tattered Cover. If you are ever in Denver, you need to check this place out! I picked up a book there called The New Monasticism by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, who is an associate pastor at St. John's Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina and a leader within the New Monasticism movement. I've only read the first chapter so far, and already he is controversial but challenging at the same time. His thesis that it is hard to be a Christian in America rings true in my ears. I leave you with a quote from his introductory chapter:
"The sign that marks the life of the church in the world is God's victory over death through death - the ultimate winning by losing. Any church that remembers its identity in the transition from Good Friday to Easter morning has reason to hope, even in the darkest night. Yes, it's hard to be a Christian in America. Indeed, the church we know is fraught with contradictions. But God is able to restore life, giving warmth to limbs that were frozen in death. Even if the church is the dead and broken body of Christ, God can resurrect it."
Friday, July 17, 2009
My whole life I've stared poverty in the face and either did not know it or did nothing about it. The city I grew up in is notorious for its homeless and poverty-ridden citizens, especially children under sixteen. When I went off to college, I worked at a church and an organization filled with kids living in trailer parks and government housing. While I wrestled through issues in scripture, Greek, Hebrew, and history, 33% of children in the city I lived in knew nothing but absolute poverty. Then I moved onto seminary in one of the most glaringly obvious city's in the world that is divided into haves and have-nots. Every-once in a while growing up I would see a homeless or poverty stricken person come talk to me about how much they love Jesus (always a good way to butter up a person of the church) and how they needed gas money or money for food or rent money. Sometimes I believe them, and sometimes I think they play me for a fool. I live with the tension of wanting to be the hands and feet of Jesus, but at the same time I want to really help and not give money to feed an addiction.
This past week I had my first experience at Mertens with someone coming to my door because I am the pastor and asking for help. She told my wife and I her story brilliantly, and complained about other pastors not helping her out and how wrong that was. I immediately did not believe her. Well, not all of it at least. I do think that some of the story was true, and that she and her husband truly needed help, but she did not have to insult other pastors to feed my ego. Most pastors I know are very generous men and women despite the way we get portreyed sometimes. (In the end we did help her financially. Sarah wisely said that we are called to serve; the people we serve have to decide what to do with it.)
Stories like the lady who visited me this week muddy theology with real life. I believe that Jesus calls us to serve the marginalized and the least of these. I take the verse where Jesus says, "the poor will always be with you," to mean that the poor will always be around you because that is what we are in the business of doing: serving those who are marginalized. Yet here is this woman at my door asking for help and I do not believe her. Muddied. Messy. That's what happens when theology and real life collide. Forgiveness is a great concept to talk about until you have to forgive someone who wronged you. Serving the least of these is heart warming and emotionally captivating until someone shows up at your door asking for help. A living theology is muddy, but somehow I think God is there in the middle of the mud getting his hands dirtied in the messiness of our fallen world.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Sorry for the blog hiatus. Since graduation, there has been much I have wanted to share with you including some thoughts I've recently had on prayer, our 125th Anniversary celebration at FBC Mertens, and the ordination service of my friend and our music minister John Lassitter. I will post on those in the near future, but right now I have something else pressing in my mind.
My wife and I recently made another technological advance to catch up to the rest of the world and subscribed to NetFlix. Last night after receiving our package in the mail, we watch one of the most depressing movies I have ever scene: Rachel Gettting Married. The plot is about a woman named Kim (played brilliantly by Anne Hathaway) who is a recovering addict getting to leave her rehabiliation facility to attend her sister Rachel's wedding. Kim was in a horrible car accident while she was high, killing her little brother. This devastatingly emotional event drove a wedge in her family, strainging relationships, causing a divorce, and Kim's own tumble into addiction. I will not give away the whole movie (you can watch it if you want to be depressed), but being around her family sober forces Kim to face what she has done instead of hiding behind her addictions. In one scene, Kim is at an AA meeting, and she said something that has caused me to wrestle in my spirit. One of the steps to AA is recognizing there is a power (God) greater than addiction who can remove the shortcomings of an addict. It is a fancy way of saying what the Bible says about forgiveness. At this meeting Kim, who is finally coming to terms with what she has done to her brother and family, says, "I really want to believe in this God who forgives. But I do not know if I can believe in a God who can forgive me."
There it is. The scandal of grace. The scandal of the cross. A God who forgives the worst. It's amazing to me how much we want justice in the world, even when it is ourselves who need punishment. Perhaps that is our way of dealing with the fallen world: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, justice for the drug addict who killed her brother because of her stupidity. The scandal of the cross says that grace extends to even the worst of people. The thief on the cross. The man who sought to persecute and kill Christians. The man who denied Jesus three times when Jesus needed him the most. The woman in rehab. The President caught in a sex scandal. The murderer awaiting his own death. Even the terrorist hiding out in a cave. The scandal of grace reaches to every one of them. It's hard to believe in a God with that kind of forgiveness when there is so much wrong in the world, so much wrong with me. God, open our eyes so that we can see your grace poured out on the cross. Open our arms to receive the scandal of grace resurrected from the dead.
(the sculpture is titled "God's Grace Flows Forth")
Monday, June 01, 2009
In two weeks, my church will celebrate 125 years of ministry in the Lord Jesus within the community of Mertens, Tx. For any church to make it 125 years in ministry is incredible, and the fact that FBC is the only church left in Mertens is extraordinary. The last couple of weeks, I have reviewed the past twenty-five year business meeting records. It is about as much fun as it sounds. There are some things that were happening twenty-five years ago that are still happening today. For instance, the same lady that motions that we adjurn the business meeting everytime we meet today did the same twenty-five years ago.
Coupled with reading business meeting notes was studying the end of Colossians. Colossians has been a fun letter to walk through with my church the last 14 weeks. The situation of Colossae is so similar to that of Mertens: a once prominent town now dwindled in size, looking dead from the outside. But Paul says there is something alive there because the Gospel is there, just like Mertens. But he ends the letter with a list. A list? Come on Paul, couldn't you end with something better than that? A list of greetings? Really? Who cares about Aristarchus, or Nympha (or whether or not she is a male or female), or Tychicus? Then I began to study the list a little more. There are Jews there, Greeks, males, females, slaves, and free. The list is more than a list. It is a picture of the church and the mission of God to reconcile the world back to himself. On the list was Onesimus and Mark, who both had to forgive and be forgiven by Philemon and Paul. Then I thought about the business meeting notes. I thought about the basketball court that was built for the kids to have somewhere to play. I thought about the new parsonage that Sarah and I enjoy Show allso much. I thought about the new wing to our building that will serve to disciple people for years to come. I thought about the family who we took care of during Hurricane Katrina thanks to the new building. Or the family that we bought bus tickets even and food even though the church was strapped for cash. I thought about the ten kids living in a trailor home that we provided over fifty Christmas presents for because they could not afford Christmas. I thought about the "friend-in-need" that required $6000 worth of classes to help with rehabilitation. I thought about providing the money for a funeral of a man who could not afford it. The business meeting lists and notes maybe boring reading, but the stories behind it show a picture of the movement and mission of God in Mertens. A list? Don't call it a list. There's a story there!
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
I graduate seminary on Friday. I loved my time at Truett, and will miss it greatly. One of the many pleasures of Truett is its historical theology program which introduces its students to the great thinkers, writers, and shapers that have handed our faith down for nearly 2000 years. One writer in particular stands out to me as I leave seminary: John Crystostrom. A philosopher before converting to faith, Crystostrom lived out an intelligent faith and wrote sermons on nearly every topic. As I was studying for my sermon Sunday from Colossians 4:2-6, which speaks of speaking with grace, Crystostrom writes this to preachers:
"If a preacher despises praise yet does not produce the kind of teaching which is 'with grace, seasoned with salt,' he is despised by the people, and his sublime words accomplish nothing. And if he is eloquent but is a slave to the sound of applause, again an equal damage threatens both him and the people, because through his passion for praise he aims to speak more for hte pleasure than the profit of his hearers."
Monday, May 04, 2009
Monday, April 13, 2009
Sorry for the blogging hiatus. School and church have been swamping me lately, and I promise I will do better. Plus, I am only four weeks from graduation (and three papers, but who's counting?)
This past Thursday, I participated in my first Maundy Thursday service. My music minister and I dreamed of this service being a reflective service about the night Jesus was betrayed. Our choir sang two somber pieces about the cross. We read the beautiful account of John 13 where Jesus washed his disciple's feet. We took the Lord's Supper together.
But what we did not take into account were kids. Not just kids. Noisy kids. I don't blame them. It's 7:00 on a Thursday night and they are at church instead of at home watching tv, playing outside, or getting ready for bed. It was not their routine. They did not understand that you are supposed to be quiet and think deeply and theologically about the night that Jesus was betrayed. At first it was really frustrating because I thought how distracting and how rude these kids were being. And what were the parents doing? It was absolutely chaotic. But then as I was thinking, a thought hit me, and it had to be the Holy Spirit. I began to think about the night Jesus was betrayed. Surely that night Jesus was betrayed was anything but somber and quiet. It had to be chaotic. Jesus was praying in the garden so intensely that sweat beads of blood were rolling down his face. It had to be chaotic when Jesus bent down to wash his disciples feet, with Simon Peter protesting and Judas contemplating whether or not to betray Jesus. It had to be chaotic when Jesus knowing that this would be last time broke bread and drank wine with his disciples on earth. The crying children, the noisy children, the chaotic atmosphere really made it just like the Thursday of Jesus' betrayal.
Then something amazing happened. We gave each person a blank notecard and a pen. We asked each person to write something they are struggling with and that they need God to take away. At the front there was a wooden cross with some hammers and nails. We asked each person to take what they are struggling with, and nail it to the cross. All of a sudden the kids grew silent, and the only sound you could hear were nails being hammered into the cross. Even some of the kids wrote stuff down and nailed it to the cross. It was a beautiful picture of peace being brought into the chaos. The children and the Holy Spirit taught me alot that night, and made Sunday's celebration that much sweeter. I hope your Holy Week and Easter celebrations were full of Joy, Grace, and Peace! He is Risen!
Tuesday, March 03, 2009
I just finished Imitating Jesus by Richard Burridge, who is dean of King's College in London. It is a New Testament Ethics book that begins with the historical Jesus and moves through the works of Paul and the Gospels with the narrative background of Jesus' words and deeds in dialogue with ethics in his test case of South Africa. I enjoyed it very much, although I did not agree with everything he said as he never addressed officially the "elephant in the room" in regards to women in ministry and homosexuality. I am looking forward to comparing it with Hays' Moral Vision of the New Testament, as Burridge is critical of Hays several times. I leave you with an excerpt from the conclusion:
"Thus we cannot ignore the Bible, or tame the wolf (he uses the metaphor of an untamed wolf for scripture), or revisit the canon to remove the 'texts of terror' as some suggest among teh so-called 'liberal mainline denominations' - even if we wanted to. Nor am I prepared to do so. Speaking personally, this book is the word of life, which changed everything around for me when I was an undergraduate and which ahs directed my personal life, ministry and academic career ever since. So I want to grapple with it, read it and try ever to get a better understanding of it, so that I can make sense of it, and yes, apply it to my life and the life of the world in these complext and perplexing times. I am simply not prepared to let the fundamentalist lobby, or even the so-called conservatives, have the monopoly on what it means to be 'biblical' any more than I am willing to all so-called 'liberals' to dismiss it."(407).
Thursday, February 19, 2009
My church and I are going through Acts for a Wednesday night Bible study. The first four chapters of Acts give this incredible retelling of the earliest life of the church. God is at work, and he is healing people in the temple, tongues of fire are coming down, and the church is completely unified and are taking care of each others needs. God's mission is evident to everybody who comes into contact with it, and it is having a powerful effect on all those who it comes into contact with. I love those four chapters. God is at work. His church is being the church and are participating in what God is up to. But then comes chapter five. I could live in chapters 1-4. Tell me to be a witness. Tell me to heal the lame. Tell me to be empowered by the Holy Spirit. Tell me to be as one mind with those in my church. Don't tell me about Ananias and Sapphira. Don't tell me about the human struggles and the consequences that come with them. Don't tell me that there were those in the early church were selfish. Keep me in chapters 1-4. Don't tell me about God judging quickly these two just like Achan. There is this tension in this new community, a tension that exists today. A tension between holiness and grace. The tension is there when I read Jesus. Richard Buridge writes about the tension in his book Imitating Jesus. He writes that the ethics that Jesus taught were incredibly conservative and radical for that day. Jesus teaches us to love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us. He teaches us that divorce is unacceptable (except for marital infedelity). Yet at the same time, Jesus is the friend of sinners. When everyone else was going to condemn a woman caught in adultry, Jesus doesn't. When no one else would talk to the Samaritan Woman with five husbands at the well, Jesus does. He heals the blind, the lame, and sets the prisoner free. Jesus not only lived the tension, he is the tension. The question I asked my church last night, and the question that I am still wrestling is how do we live the tension?
Thursday, February 05, 2009
One of my favorite stories in the Bible occurs on the eve on which Jacob, who had run away from his past, was about to come face to face with his brother, the one who he cheated years earlier. Jacob, sitting alone on the banks of the Jabok, wrestles with a mysterious figure all night long. This mysterious man overcomes Jacob, but Jacob never lets go. At day break, the figure asks Jacob his name (which has all kinds of psychological implications when you read Jacob in context since the first time he was asked that question in scripture, he said he was someone else), and then changes Jacob's name to Israel, one who struggles and is ruled by God. It is a great picture of what it means to journey with God, what it means to struggle with a God who is interactive in his creation.
This past weekend I attended a Pastor's Conference at my seminary, Truett Seminary. The speaker was well-known Christian author and philosopher Dallas Willard. His books, especially Renovation of the Heart, have impacted my life and thought greatly, and so I was already looking forward to the conference before it starts. He argued at the conference that knowledge is more important and is the basis of faith (not surprising coming from a philosopher). That goes against much of what I have been taught. We are often taught to seperate knowledge and faith. Willard says that is where the church went wrong. Now, he does not use knowledge in a Fundamentalist sort of way, or legalistic sort of way. Rather, Willard defines knowledge as interactive relationship. In other words knowledge of God is an interactive relationship with God. It is not a statement of faith, or a leap of faith into the unknown. Rather, faith is rooted in the knowledge of an interactive relationship with an interactive God. In other words, we need to wrestle with God so that we can have an interactive relationship with God. That is what discipleship is all about. It is about interacting with the God who is interacting in the world so that we can get to know who God is and where God is in mission in the world. The scary part of this is maybe we will come away with a limp like Jacob.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
I've been doing a series on forgiveness to start out this year with my church. I've talked what forgiveness is, why we should forgive, praying for forgiveness and of course Christ's sacrifice to forgive. One thing I have not addressed, but am going to this Sunday is forgiveness within the context of a church community. I came across these powerful words penned by Henry Nouwen:
"When we have been wounded by the Church, our temptation is to reject it. But when we reject the Church it becomes very hard for us to keep in touch with the living Christ. When we say, "I love Jesus, but I hate the Church," we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too.
The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the Church seldom asks us for forgiveness, at least not officially. But the Church as an often fallible human organization needs our forgiveness, while the Church as the living Christ among us continues to offer us forgiveness.
It is important to think about the Church not as "over there" but as a community of struggling, weak people of whom we are part and in whom we meet our Lord and Redeemer."
(The picture is Rembrant's depiction of the return of the Prodigal Son)
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
I do not know what you feel about our current President. I do not agree with everything he has done, but I find him hilarious (I do not know if that is something I want or need in a President, but it is endearing). In his last news conference he was asked what he was going to do now that his presidency is over. Bush replied, "I do not see myself in an Hawiaan shirt on a beach staring at an Ocean. Particularly since I stopped drinking!" I'm going to miss those one-liners! Maybe I can hang out with him in Waco.
Saturday, January 10, 2009
I know it is a little late to do a reflection on the past year since the New Year is now 10 days old. However, I think that it will take me much longer than 10 days to process, adjust, and learn from the year 2008, which Sarah and I have dubbed the year of change. 2008 was a year that I definitely will look back on as a watershed year as the events of this past year have shaped my life for years to come. This past year
- Sarah and I got married! A great change if I do say so myself. I love my wife, I loved our wedding, and I love that we get to wake up every day together and do life together.
- I'm going to be an uncle! My sister-in-law, Jenny, is pregnant with baby Anistan Cate Simmons! Seeing as how we will be the only family in Texas, I have a feeling that Sarah and will be close to our niece.
- My parents moved from Beaumont to Texas City. No longer when I go "home," do I go to my hometown. It's sad because the church that first gave me my shot in ministry I am no longer a part of, or have much connection there. I am very happy for my parents as they followed what they felt like God was telling them to do. However, a month after they moved, Hurricane Ike came through Texas City (Texas City is 12 miles from Galveston). The house was ok, but many people in their church and surrounding community suffered great damage.
- Sarah's parents moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico to co-pastor a Disciples of Christ church. They previously lived in Red Oak, which is only 40 minutes from where Sarah and I live now. This will be a big change in our relationship as we will go from seeing them once or twice a month and knowing they are close, to seeing them maybe 3-4 times a year, and them being 12 hours away.
- Sarah and I moved to Mertens, Tx as I accepted the pastor of FBC Mertens. I love our church. We had to pack up our house that we had just moved into in Waco and move out here during the middle of the semester. We went from being five minutes away from school to 40 minutes of backcountry farm road driving from school. The church is great, but has been an adjustment for us.
- Sarah has decided to take a leave of absence from graduate school. She is selling Premier Design jewlery this semester, so if you are interested in having a show, let me know!
Thursday, January 08, 2009
Two words stand out in this passage. One is that God remembered Noah. God always remembers his faithful. The whole earth was destroyed, but God remembered Noah. There was nothing left, but God remembered Noah. God remembers you as well. Though it may not feel like it sometimes, God remembers you. The second word that stands out to me is God's grace. Even though we deserve death from birth, God gives us the grace to live, and ultimately the grace to live forever with God through Jesus Christ.
God, help us to live by your grace and the knowledge that you promised you would never forget us. Amen