Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Baptism and the Unity of Christians

This article was too good not to mention. It should be of special interest to those of us in the Stone-Campbell movement, as it deals with the two things that most defined our movement in its inception: our understanding of baptism and the desire for unity.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Praise & Harmony -- Glorious God

Keith Lancaster is well-known in COC circles and in the world of a capella recording. His groups have won numerous awards for their tight harmonies and clean sounds. He has done a lot to influence the musical ministries of the Churches of Christ for decades. In fact, like many "born and raised" COCers my age, I have wonderful memories of going to Acapella and AVB concerts. Truly, Acapella played a large part in my early spiritual formation. Their popularity seems to have waned a bit in recent years. In my view, this probably has something to do with the increasing ambivalence towards a capella worship in our fellowship. While our former dogmatism on this issue is regrettable, I would personally also hate to see us lose that as a part of our tradition.

For all of the innovative a capella arrangements that Lancaster's various groups sang through the years, few of them were conducive to congregational use. By design, they were for professional singing groups to perform before an audience. For all of these reasons, I was greatly pleased when I heard in 2005 of plans by Lancaster's The Acapella Company to begin the Praise & Harmony project designed to benefit congregational singing. Upon its release, I purchased the Awesome God album and accompanying songbook. I have now purchased their second album in this series, Glorious God and will likely purchase the songbook for it as well.

I had the same reaction to both albums. Its a little bit hard to get used to the sound of congregational singing through the radio. We're simply not used to that many voices at once. For that reason, it "feels" different when you begin to listen to the album. However, once you get used to the different feel, its actually quite enjoyable. There are 25 tracks on the album, which is a plus. They are mostly contemporary "praise" songs and hymns, many of them rearranged by Lancaster. For someone who loves to sing and harmonize the way I do, it really becomes fun to listen. On several occasions, I know the people in the car next to me have enjoyed the stop-light entertainment of me singing at the top of my lungs inside my car.

Another great feature of these albums is the accompanying CD that teaches the harmonies. While I have personally not used this feature very much, I can see a great benefit to praise teams and groups of untrained singers to learn these arrangements. The training CD has all of the same songs as the regular album. But if you put the speaker balance all the way to the left speakers, you only hear bass and alto; to the right you hear only soprano and tenor (It might be the other way around, I'm not sure). What an innovative tool to put in the hands of worship leaders and song leaders in our churches!

I only have two complaints about the albums. The first is that there are a couple of songs on each that would not work for congregational singing because a good portion of the melody is a Lancaster solo with the "congregation" oooo-ing in the background. I can't picture a congregation actually doing that. I suppose these songs are done with a praise team in mind, and for that purpose they would be much more fitting.

My other complaint is with the seemingly random cranking up of Lancaster's mic in the recordings. He will be singing an alternative, seemingly improvised harmony, but for only a few notes before he can no longer be heard. It makes for an awkward listen at best. At worst, it sounds like an attempt to keep a bit of the spotlight as an ego trip on what is otherwise a wonderful congregational (i.e. equally shared) worship experience.

Overall, I would give the album a B+. While the sound of recorded congregational singing will certainly not have a popular appeal as an entertainment medium, it certainly creates a much more worshipful environment on my morning commute that would, say, CCM or even one of the Acapella albums. I am excited about the potential to introduce some of these songs into the worship repertoire during my worship gatherings, too.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Becoming Missional

Next Wednesday will begin an adventure unlike any that I have yet experienced. We at Pond Springs will begin the process of becoming missional. Most churches are wonderfully tight-knit families that love the Lord and want to reach the world. However, most churches have also become accustomed thinking of ourselves as a magnet rather than an explosion. We have thought that if we "flavor" things properly (i.e. style of worship, building ambiance, preaching style, programs, etc.) then people will eventually just be attracted to us. We have internalized the "If you build it they will come" mentality as if it were true. When they come, we love and welcome them. The problem: they're not coming!! We're not converting anyone. In fact, we're losing people by the droves.

At Pond Springs, the elders have recognized this deficiency in modern American Christianity, and have committed themselves to stemming the tide. A group of 13 members of the Pond Springs family will begin a month-long period of serious spiritual preparation for the task of becoming missionaries in our own community (i.e. missional). Rather than waiting for the lost to come to us, we will begin to explore ways to heed Jesus' call to "Go" to them. We will not just be looking for new ideas and strategies. We will spend the month of August inviting God to challenge even our fundamental assumptions about what the church is and how it should approach its mission. We will be disciplining ourselves to maintain a posture of submission so that, when God challenges our traditions and assumptions, we won't cave into our gut's inborn desire to preserve comfort. We will accept discomfort for the cause of Christ, as He sought us out through every kind of discomfort.

We will embrace the fact that we, the church, are Christ to the World. We don't merely represent Him or emulate Him. We are His Body; we do His work; we speak His words; we bring His salvation. We are anointed, chosen, called, and declared righteous by the Spirit. And we are told to "Go."

So we will go into the community, where the people are whom we are called to reach. We will go to the mall, the coffee shops, and the grocery stores to meet them on their own ground. We will go bearing an expression of love and acceptance that is discernible and tangible. We will go, leaving our judgmental spirit behind. We will go with patience, realizing that God will draw them in His own time. We will go with strength and direction from the Spirit.

He came to us. We will go to them.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Gender Roles (2) -- The Creation Account (Gen. 1-2)

Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought has good. Luckily this is not difficult. ~Charlotte Whitton

The different positions on gender roles have been given different labels. I will primarily be considering the egalitarian and complimentarian viewpoints in this study, as they seem to be the most exegetically sound. Radical feminism and Paternalism both seem to draw their conclusions before consulting the text of Scripture (eisegesis). Egalitarians see equal value and equal roles for men and women in the church and in society. Complimentarians see equal value but different roles for men and women.

The Creation account (Gen. 1-3) provides the foundational material for all Christian theology, including gender studies. When we look at the creation account, the following observations seem applicable.

  1. Humanity (both genders, Heb. adam) was made in God's image.

  2. Humanity was given rule over creation.

  3. Humanity was made as male and female.

  4. Humanity was given the responsibility of populating the earth.

  5. God created man from the dust of the ground.

  6. God commanded the man not to eat of the tree prior to the creation of the woman.

  7. God created woman as a response to man's need for companionship.

  8. Man named the animals.

  9. Woman was made from man's rib.

  10. Adam named the woman.

  11. Neither man nor woman felt any shame prior to the Fall.

  12. Satan approached the woman to tempt her.

  13. The Woman is described as being deceived, but it was with the man present.

  14. The eating of the fruit seems to be virtually simultaneous.

  15. Both man and woman were equally ashamed after sinning.

  16. The man was first questioned by God.

  17. The woman's curse includes the "he shall rule over you" clause (3:16)
Once again, these are simply observations from the text. I have purposely tried to leave interpretation out of the above observation. All would agree with the above statements, as they are plainly stated (#14 may be an exception). The way these facts are interpreted is the substance of the debate.

Winning Arguments for Egalitarians

  1. Mutuality. Woman's creation "for" and "from" man is best understood as describing mutuality rather than role differentiation. Woman was created because man was incomplete without her. Men and women complete each other in relationships. In the Garden, man had God's presence in a much more tangible way than we do, even walking with God. But God's companionship is not what man needed, for He is man's Superior. Man also had the companionship of animals, an equally inadequate relationship since man is superior. Man needed an equal to be his companion. In response to this need, God created woman, prompting man to recognize that "she is bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh." As we often say at weddings, Eve was not made from Adam's head, as if to rule over him, nor from his feet, as if to be in subjection to him, but from his side, as his equal. This is more than just a cute line that fits well in a wedding; it is actually a significant interpretation of the text.

    The creation of woman from man requires the man to recognize his wife as a part of himself. Man could rule all of creation, but the woman was not within his domain, for she was a part of him. In a very real way, she was him. In this way, the "one flesh" relationship can be viewed as a deterrent to male authoritarianism.

    In my view, the text makes the best sense theologically when understood as God's provision in response to man's need, not some kind of pre-ordained hierarchy or order which was meant to be normative.

  2. Woman as "helper." In their decision to create woman, God declared "I will make a helper suitable for him." This passage has often been understood as an indication of male authority. This understanding is the unfortunate result of the translation process, for the Hebrew word 'ezer ("helper") did not carry such a meaning. In fact, the same word is used repeatedly in the OT to speak of God's relationship to his people (see Jay Guin, Buried Talents, pp. 32-35). Clearly, this does not mean that the people were authorities over God! Rather, Eve's designation as "helper"indicates that she was to compliment, or complete, the man. There is no indication of subordination inherent in this word.

Winning Arguments for Complimentarians

The complimentarians, however, also make good points. Their best points, in my view, are:

  1. Man names woman. Several scholars have noted that, in the Semitic world, the act of giving a name was a statement of authority (see Mary Kassian, Women, Creation and the Fall, pp. 16-20). Therefore, Adam's naming of Eve would have been viewed by the original readers of Genesis as a clear statement of authority.

  2. Primogeniture. Man was created first. To the Semitic mind that would have originally read the book of Genesis, this was significant. The first born male of a Jewish family was in a position of authority, for on him falls accountability and responsibility for the whole family. He was viewed as "first among equals." In the same way, complimentarians argue, the man is "first among equals" in relation to the woman, due in part to his chronological priority.

I must admit that I have no solid response to either of these arguments, and I have not yet come across one from the egalitarian writings I have consulted. However, it must be taken into account that both of these arguments are based on understandings of authority that developed in later Semitic cultures. Only a week had passed in this account and there were no cultural understandings. Adam and Eve would not have seen his naming of her or his being created first as a necessary indication of authority. Nevertheless, the author and earliest readers of Genesis would have most definitely made these connections. So is the normative value given to the narrative itself, or to the historical context in which it was written? I'm not sure.

Summary: After looking at the creation account, I see a slightly stronger argument coming from the egalitarian camp, although it is certainly not a clear victory. Complimentarianism's arguments are strong, but the difficulties raised in the above paragraph weaken them considerably in my mind. Of course, the consideration of creation is not complete until we look at Paul's appeal to creation in a discussion of male "headship" in 1 Cor. 11 and 1 Tim. 2. We will look at these together in due time.

Next time: The Fall (Genesis 3)

I'm Rich!!

According to the Global Rich List, I am the 58,252,719th richest person in the world. I'm in the top 0.97% richest people in the world! That's pretty high! Maybe I should complain less and donate more to the 99.03% of the world that is worse off than me. How'd you do?

Monkeys always make a blog more fun!

Study: Multiple Stab Wounds May Be Harmful To Monkeys

Here's a funny spoof of the Nooma videos by Rob Bell. (I love those video's by the way, but this is funny.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The War

I used to support the war in Iraq. I wasn't for war in general, but I agreed with the rhetoric of the White House and Congress. "If we don't take the battle to them, they'll bring it here." "They hate us and want to destroy us." "9/11 changed everything." "If we leave, then they'll all die." You've heard them all.

While I was never 100% sold on any one of these arguments alone, I felt like they together made a decent case for war.
I no longer feel that way, and the reason isn't some kind of viceral hatred for Bush (although I've been pretty disappointed with him). Rather, I've started thinking about foreign policy and the best approach to it. My conclusion in a nutshell: we need to butt out of things that aren't our business, and pay better attention to the things that are.
Basically, the framers of our constitutional republic never intended for us to go on the OFFENSIVE when it comes to military action. In other words, preemptive war was not a part of what they envisioned. Rather, the military's place was to PROTECT the nation by DEFENDING it against attacks.
Does this mean that we have to wait until we've been hit to hit back? No. It means we have to know that there is an imminent danger of being hit. In that case, we prevent the enemy from hitting us. Knowing that a country hates us and would hit us if they could doesn't justify a war! They have to have three things: capability, desire, and intent.
Our military is not supposed to be used to "spread democracy." If democracy is forced on a conquered people, is it really democracy?

In my view, the military should rarely (if ever) be used in "humanitarian" missions. As much as my heart goes out to the people of Darfur, for instance, and as much as I think our nation can make moves to encourage the violence to end, I do not believe it is within the scope of the military's purpose to solve the problems of other nations, even if those problems are severe. The purpose of the military is strictly to DEFEND the nation. The constitution gives the government no authority to send the military into another country to enforce what we think their policy should be.

So how can we protect our foreign interests and address humanitarian needs in the global community? Diplomacy, trade policies, travel etc. can do wonders. Will those things fix the problems in places like Darfur? Maybe, maybe not. But we must come to the realization in this country that just because we have the ability to force people into submission at the end of a gun doesn't mean we should. When seeing tragdy in the world, our first reaction should NOT be, "Well, let's send our military in there to fix it." It's that kind of thinking that leads to quagmires like Vietnam and Iraq.

Most Americans don't realize that we currently have our military stationed in 130 different countries! And military leaders complain that we don't have enough troops to do everything they have been tasked to do. What if we were only asking the military to do what the military is supposed to do? We would have more than enough troops and we would probably do a better job of defending this nation.


Monday, July 23, 2007

Latest Addiction: Man vs. Wild

So Alissa and I have suddenly become strangely addicted to the Discovery channel's show Man vs. Wild. If you've never watched it, it stars a guy named Bear (ironic) Grylls who is a UK Special Forces trained uber-outdoorsman. The premise of the show is that they abandon him in remote uninhabited (and uninhabitable) areas with nothing but a canteen, knife (sometimes) and flint (sometimes). He has five days to find his way to civilization. He's been in the Rockies, Andes, Alps, several rain forests, the Mojave desert, etc. The dude is amazing! He literally does everything possible in the name of survival. Really ... everything. Think of the most horrendous thing you can imagine doing in the interest of your own survival. He's probably done worse on this show.

Need proof? Prepare yourself and then watch this ...

Did you think that was bad? Try this:

I now have a new way of imagining hell.

Another interesting tidbit from his bio: he seems to have a Christian faith as a driving force in his life, too, although I'm not sure I should advertise that after posting the above clips.

Friday, July 20, 2007

I'm now anti-independence

We have a pool in our new neighborhood that Abbie has gone to several times. Prior to our move, she rarely went swimming because there was no convenient place to take her. But now its more frequent. The first time I took her to the pool, she clung to me tightly the entire time, even when we were in a place where she could touch. If I tried to loosen her grip on me, she would freak out. She loved being in the water, but she had to have me as her security.

Well, after taking her swimming a couple of times, we went and bought her some floaties and a little boogie board with the Disney princesses (her latest fave) on it. Our next trip to the pool was drastically difference. She wouldn't let me get anywhere near her. In face, anytime I tried, she would say in an insistent and perturbed voice, "I CAN DO IT MYSELF." So I would stand away from her watching as she kicked herself around the pool. The fact that her swimming took her from one place to another at a pace that makes glacial movement seem like warp speed didn't matter to her. The above water portion of her would look over at me with a huge smile and bright eyes and proudly proclaim, "Look, Daddy! I'm doing it! I'm swimming!" while the underwater portion of her was kicking frantically.

I say all of that to say that I'm not too crazy about my daughter getting more independence. I know, she's only four (almost), but swimming is now just one more thing for which I am not needed (at least not in the way I was previously). When she was latched to me in the water, I kept wishing she would let go. Now that she has, I want it back. Those were just long, wet, hugs.

Before long, she'll be riding a bike, spending the night at friends' houses, driving, and ... gulp ... dating. Pardon me while I go cry uncontrollably ...

... Ok, I'm back. My conclusion: independence is bad. I'm not in favor of it. It means that my baby will grow up and need me less. So I tried to set a rule in my house the other day. I said, "Abbie, you cannot grow up any more." She just laughed and said, "Daddy, I'm going to grow up." See, I can't even instruct her anymore. ~sigh~

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Does what's in your pants determine who wears the pants?

Today begins a study of gender roles and the Bible that will continue for several weeks.

Why do I feel the need to re-examine this very sensitive issue? Several reasons:
  1. Beliefs should always be subject to challenge and re-examination. That's the only way growth happens.
  2. I have come to the realization over the past few years that many of the things I was taught about the Bible were either wrong or grossly oversimplified.
  3. I see this a an issue of utmost importance for Christianity in modern times.

What makes this issue so important?

  1. If the Scriptures do, in fact, place limitations on the role of women in the life of the church, then Christians need to prepare for an increasingly intense reaction to standing by this teaching. To be sure, this reaction has been growing in intensity since the advent of the women's rights movement and will continue to do so. Fear of the reaction should never determine our conclusions, but when our conclusions will elicit intense reactions, we must prepare ourselves.
  2. If the Scriptures do NOT place limitations on the role of women, or if we place stricter limits on women than do the Scriptures, then we are crippling God's work in the world. Women have always been more involved than men in church-going. Yet we only allow the men to have full participation, thereby only using less than half of God's workforce to do God's work!
  3. Our world, including professed believers, is increasingly uninterested in participating in church life. If our restriction of women is biblically unnecessary, then we place an unnecessary hurdle before those who may otherwise entertain the idea of participating in church life,
  4. Women are leaving the COC over this issue.
  5. Women in the COC feel unable to answer God's call if it is not a call homemaking, women's ministry, or children's ministry.

Let me be clear that reasons 2-5 are irrelevant if the Bible clearly imposes limitations on women. Let me also be clear that I have NOT yet reached a conclusion on the issue. Therefore, this series will be unlike most posts, as I will be reflecting on my study even when that study has not been concluded. Hopefully your comments will add to the discussion.

Where I'm Coming From

Also, in the interest of full disclosure, allow me to place my comments in a fuller context. I was raised to believe that women were to have no part in leading the church. They certainly could not be ministers, elders, or deacons. The only sound made by women in public worship was in congregational singing. I even remember one church debating whether women should be allowed to speak up from their seat in order to correct or update an announcement! Even in private settings, women could not start songs or lead prayers in the presence of men. Women could not baptize. It was debatable whether Christian women could teach non-Christian men in an evangelistic study. Even chain prayers in youth groups would skip over the women. Women were welcome to teach other women and children. However, the definition of children became ambiguous when 10-12 year olds were baptized. In those situations, the church's male leadership would usually simply either ask a male to teach the class or send the baptized students into a class with a male teacher. Of course, we just wanted to "be safe." But when a more "liberal" church down the would hire a woman to serve as a "Children's Minister," we felt uneasy. We would never do that; it just didn't SOUND right. And, of course, we wanted to "be safe."

I see inconsistencies with our practice, though. A woman could read a scripture in Bible class if the male teacher called on her, but couldn't read a scripture in the service even if a male asked her to. A woman could stand up, walk down her pew to hand a communion tray to someone at the other end of the pew, but she could not stand up and walk down the aisles to hand the tray to someone on a different pew. In a small church with no men capable of leading singing, a man would stand at the front and inaudibly mumble the lyrics to a hymn while a woman sat in the pew and carried the congregation, but if that woman dared stand and face the congregation, she was viewed as stepping out of her role.

Clearly, even if our biblical position was correct, our practice was illogical and inconsistent. So either our position needs to change or our practice needs to. What will it be?

The Plan

I plan to discuss this issue in 6 posts. However, more may be added if there is a specific passage or area of research that I think warrants an individual post.

  1. The Creation Account
  2. The Old Testament
  3. Jesus's teachings
  4. Paul and the restof the New Testament
  5. The Voice of Church History
  6. Conclusions and Suggestions

As always, I hope that you will join me in this discussion. I will simply be starting the conversation. This study will be most effective when many of us are willing to comment.

So, to begin the discussion, what are your experiences both positive and negative with women's roles in the church. Also, for any female readers, how do you feel about your role in church life?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Great Websites You May Not Have Heard Of

There are a few websites that I never hear any buzz about but that are truly enjoyable because they offer something unique. Today, I list some of my favorite non-blog websites that you may not have heard of before. I'll be posting some of my favorite blogs in the future (although you can look at my blogroll to see many of them.) Keep in mind, as much as I like YouTube, Drudge Report, etc. I am not including them because everyone knows about them.

  1. Digg.com -- Digg is a website that brings together a bunch of links to news and videos. Sure, there are a million of those sites available, but what makes Digg so interesting is that the links are listed as they are ranked by users. In other words, the stories/videos that show up first are the ones that other people like you have found interesting. There are always some stories that never show up on the more generic sites.

  2. Pandora.com -- Pandora is a web radio website that lets you determine your own content. Say you're a big fan of Sarah McLachlan. You type her name in, and Pandora plays songs by Sarah and other with a similar musical sound. They do this by using what they call the "Music Genome Project," wherein millions of songs are given labels. The artists with similar labels to Sarah McLachlan get put in the playlist. If a song gets played that you don't like, you just click a button to remove it from the list.

  3. Texags.com -- OK, this one might not interest everyone, but its MY blog. Texags is the definitive site for all things A&M, especially athletics. It is a daily stop for me, if for nothing else than to brouse the headlines on the homepage. During football season, the trash talking can get fun in the forums, and the moderators do a good job of keeping it clean.

  4. TV Links -- Watch all kinds of recent movies and TV shows online. I suspect there's probably some kind of copywright violation in the things they offer, including some movies still in theaters. But you're not downloading them, they stream to you.

  5. Stage 6 -- This is an interesting alternative toYouTube. The big difference is that the videos are MUCH higher quality.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Man Who Should Be President

I was raised to be a Republican. It was just a part of who we were. I remember in 5th grade giving a speech in front of my school endorsing George Bush, Sr. over Michael Dukakis. Being a Republican was part of my DNA.

In my adult life, I no longer see in the Republican party the things that I was taught to love about them. Small government, lower taxes, emphasis on personal responsibility, financial responsibility, etc. None of these exist in today's Republican Party.

I have also discovered some issues which I have only considered important as an adult. Non-interventionist foreign policy and maintaining national sovereignty are two more conservative principles that the Republicans utterly fail on.

But the problem isn't one of political philosophy. The politicians and the talking heads on TV try to explain it as such, but its not. I'm convinced that neither party sets policies or introduces legislation based on a core political philosophy. Rather, both parties operate based entirely on two things.

First, the Republicrats operate according to the desires of the special interests which fund them. The Dems are owned by socialist-leaning environmental, human rights, unions, etc. The Republicans are owned by corporate interests and fundamentalist Christian interests, among others.

The second factor that determines the activities of the Republicans and Democrats is the Republicans and Democrats. No matter the issue, if one party makes a proposal or takes a position on an issue, it is without exception opposed by the other party. It would stand to reason that, if these groups that were divided only along philosophical grounds, there would be occasional overlapping of conclusions, since different philosophies overlap on occasion. But agreement is NEVER present, thus indicating that political philosophy has nothing at all t0 do with American politics.

In the midst of this jaded cynicism, I see a ray of hope. Although Ron Paul is running for President as a Republican, he doesn't resemble one -- and for all the right reasons! He opposes the war and has from the beginning, opposes amnesty for illegal immigrants, wants to eliminate the current tax and monetary systems and drastically shrink the size of government. He also holds membership int he Libertarian Party and was their nominee for President in 1988. He is rarely even approached by special interest lobbyists because he has proven that he can't be bought. He actually operates according to a philosophy which is never compromised -- constitutionalism. In other words, he operates by principle, making him unique in Washington. His approach to legislation is to take the proposed legislation and actually consult the Constitution to see if it allows the federal government to act in such a way. If the Constitution gives permission, he votes Yes; if it doesn't, he votes No. What a novel idea!

I'll probably have more to say about him as time goes by, but for now let me just leave a few points from his website.

Brief Overview of Congressman Paul’s Record:

  • He has never voted to raise taxes.

  • He has never voted for an unbalanced budget.

  • He has never voted for a federal restriction on gun ownership.

  • He has never voted to raise congressional pay.

  • He has never taken a government-paid junket.

  • He has never voted to increase the power of the executive branch.

  • He voted against the Patriot Act.

  • He voted against regulating the Internet.

  • He voted against the Iraq war.

  • He does not participate in the lucrative congressional pension program.

  • He returns a portion of his annual congressional office budget to the U.S.
    treasury every year.

  • Congressman Paul introduces numerous pieces of substantive legislation each
    year, probably more than any single member of Congress.

So what do you think? Who's your pick for Pres and why?

Monday, July 16, 2007

Feel Good Music

Ever had one of those days where you just feel like crap for no reason? If you're like me, those days call for a special blend of music that reminds me that life is actually good. Here are a few songs from some of my favorite artists that will help lift you up on bad days. They'll also make a good day even better!

  • Brett Dennen -- "Blessed" (Click here to listen). Listen to this song twice. I defy you to not sing along the second time.

  • U2 -- "Beautiful Day." One of the greatest songs from the greatest rock band ever.

  • Patty Griffin -- "Heavenly Day" No one sings like this woman. No one writes songs like this woman. No one.

Now don't you feel better? I know I do.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Storm that Brought A Family

Life is good when you have it all figured out, and I did. I understood God and His desires both for myself and for others. I understood the Bible and the intricate method that God expected everyone to go through in order to interpret it properly. While I would occasionally feel an uneasiness about some of my conclusions, I dismissed that uneasiness as Satan's effort to draw me away from the Truth which I possessed. So I didn't doubt or question, and I saw no need to do so since doubting the truth was irrational.

But then my "truth" started falling in on me. I started to realize the validity of viewpoints that differed from what I considered to be "truth." I met people who disagreed with my understanding of "truth" who were not dishonest. In fact, they were just as honest, studious, faithful, and devout as was I, if not more so. Eventually, my study and meditation led me away from the "truth" that I formerly held to. This caused me to wonder, "Have I become irrational or, worse yet, heretical?" On top of all that, I began seeing failures of character in those who were supposed to be my spiritual mentors, guides, and shepherds.

Before long, a monumental storm had arisen in my life of faith. The safety that I formerly felt in previous storms was no longer there. My faith, while ever present, was being tossed about by the wind and waves around me.

I now realize that He created that storm as a way to make my need for his increasing presence known. In times past, He whispered and I often ignored. He nudged and I resisted. So He sent a storm. He sent a storm in order to bring a previously unknown calm. In the midst of the storm, I looked up and out to see his calm, confident presence walking towards me. He invited me to leave my vessel of perceived safety, as it was also doomed to destruction in the storm. Having been brought to a point of desperation, I took a step towards him.

In taking that step, discovered that He wanted me to have an opportunity to re-examine my theology. He wanted me to minister with a congregation of grace-centered, unity-motivated Christians. He wanted me to minister with my long-time friend, supporter, and brother. I had plans for myself, but in the storm, He made it clear that He had other plans for me.

In looking to and following Him, the storm around me was no longer threatening. He wanted us to step back and get a broader view of His world than was possible in the over-protective, stifling little fish bowl that had been our home for most of our lives, so He took us out of that fish-bowl. He wanted to remove the self-doubt and heal the wounds that had been suffered in the storm, so He provided us a family that loved, accepted, and affirmed us from the beginning. He wanted us to re-examine our theology, thereby re-discovering grace and freedom, so he placed us in a family that gave us room to grow. He wanted me to see a different side of the world, the side most in need of seeing God's grace extended, so he put me to work with underprivileged and disadvantaged kids in Austin and Central Texas.

Having given us a chance to see Him and His world more broadly and accurately, He called us back into ministry by opening two doors almost simultaneously. One position would enable us to reclaim our autonomy as a family. The other would enable us to reclaim our autonomy autonomy in faith.

So here we stand, doing our best to simply follow His lead. He has brought us to a new family at the Pond Springs church, reuniting us with our friends who have traveled with us on our faith's journey for many years. He has put us in a community of people who is truly like-minded in their pursuit of unity and in their enjoyment of the freedom that Christ offers.

This Sunday we officially become a part of the Pond Springs family. In many ways, we feel like we have already been adopted. Their support extends all the way back to our difficulties in San Marcos. At that time one of their shepherds, motivated by his pastoral heart, called to offer support and prayers to a young minister that he hardly knew, an offer that I had never received from my own elders. How blessed we are to have found such a unique and special group of Christ-followers to grow with!

God sent a storm and it brought us a family! Only in Him ...

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Theology Thursday

I want to start a theological series. The problem is, I haven't decided what I want to discuss. It will be a sort of on-going virtual Bible study/discussion involving anyone who is willing to comment and engage the discussion. I want feedback on subjects/issues/passages that would benefit you. Here are a few possibilities. They are topics that have been on my mind lately that I would like to study (in no particular order):

  1. Gender roles -- I have this feeling in my gut that Christianity has for many years crippled itself by limiting the ministry opportunities of at least half of its members. In a very real way, we have been trying win the battle for the world with one hand tied behind our backs. But are there legitimate gender roles mandated by God? Is there a limit to how much more involved God would want women to be in the life of the church?
  2. Eternal punishment -- Is Hell really a place of eternal torture with no hope of relief? How is this consistent with a loving, gracious God?
  3. Worship -- I have heard much discussion over the years about the pros and cons of traditional and contemporary worship styles. I believe legitimate points can be made on either side. However, I want to look deeper in to the battle between those churches who follow a well-thought-out and strictly-adhered-to liturgy and those who opt for a more extemporaneous approach. What value can be found in each method? What can Christians learn about worship from those on the other side? What dangers are there in each method?
  4. Outreach -- This word means a lot of different things to different people. Since Christianity seems to be doing a poor job of "turn[ing] the world upside down," something must be wrong with our approach to outreach. I would like to look at some of the factors involved in modern views of outreach and propose some alternatives ways of looking at outreach.

These are just a few that come to mind. Any suggestions? What topic(s) have been on your mind lately?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Re-entering the Blogosphere

Well, I'm back!

Having taken the past 2 1/2 months or so to transition into a new job, a new house, a new town, and a new ministry, I am ready to re-enter the Land of Blog. If I have retained any readers in my absence, I thank you for your patience!

I re-enter with a new approach to this blog. As before, I will attempt to be thought-provoking, entertaining, and informative. But my greatest desire is simply to be the catalyst for discussion that can benefit everyone that visits here. In other words, I want you to comment! I will interact with the comments. I envision the comments being just as thought-provoking, entertaining, and informative as the posts themselves, if not moreso.

I am also going to try to blog in a generally organized way. I repeat ... I will TRY. I will try to post according to the following general pattern:
  • Mondays -- Media (Music, Movies, TV, Books, etc.)
  • Tuesdays -- Politics/Current Events (Politics and I have a love/hate relationship. I hate it, but I'm fascinated by it. I'll probably do a lot of venting on Tuesdays)
  • Wednesdays -- The Web (I think I'm addicted to web surfing. So until I conquer that addiction, I will try to prevent others from becoming addicts like me. I will do this by pointing you only to the best that I have come across in my surfing. I weed out all the crap, you just enjoy the gold.)
  • Thursdays -- Theology & Churchy Things. I admit it, this subject will probably be the most frequent encroacher on the appointed topics of other days. But come on, its pretty much my life, so what do you expect.

  • Fridays -- Family (Stuff about my two families: the one I sleep with and the one I worship with)
Remember, this is a GENERAL pattern. I don't want to go on an extended hiatus again, and I though predetermining the content areas like this would help guide me in thinking about what I want to post. I will from time to time talk about Theology on a Monday, or post a funny video on a Friday. But, you see, I can do that because its my blog!

So welcome back, me! And thanks for sticking around, you! Tell your friends, proclaim it from on high, Planned Spontaneity is back! We can all smile again!

Now, let me catch you up with ten random things from my hiatus:

10. Remember the baby on the cover of Nirvana's Nevermind album? He's 17 now. Yep, you're THAT old.

9. I have now been working for three weeks in Customer Service at the Wells Branch MUD.8. I now live in Leander.

8. This guy should be the next President. You'll be hearing more about him in the future. 7. Still working on my thesis. You may notice a preoccupation with Walter Scott and the Stone-Campbell movement.

6. I bought a piano! That might not mean much to you, but its a big deal for me.

5. I'm late to get on the bandwagon, but I'm now a big fan of Craigslist. So far I have a piano and an entertainment center courtesy of Mr. Craig and his list.

4. I am about to begin a new ministry and join a new family at the Pond Springs Church of Christ in Northwest Austin. I will be handling a lot of their outreach efforts. I have never been more excited about joining a church before!

3. During my hiatus, I experienced my first instrumental worship services and my first liturgical service (Episcopal). Both services were a blessing in their own ways. I hate it that I was alienated from the good that they have to offer for so long.

2. I'm famous now ... kinda. I got quoted!

1. I honestly believe that, in spite of myself, I have the best family that anyone could dream of.