Thursday, April 29, 2010

Yep, love still wins

I just received this email from Pastor Andy regarding his Love Wins team. He actually would rather I not talk about a lot of stuff (that's why I removed an earlier blog post) so as to not give the wrong impression. But he was okay with me sharing this email.


Good Afternoon, Ya’ll!

I wanted to take a moment first and foremost to thank you for your prayers on Sunday evening as I went to dinner with my friend and secondly to fill you in on the events of that evening.

I met her around 5 and we went to a salad buffet. Almost immediately after she got into the car and we started driving, she shifted the conversation to more spiritual matters by telling me of her journey in faith (raised in a Christian home, good Christian parents- backslidden for a while and then a recommitment to Christ- AMEN, GO GOD!)

When we got to the restaurant- we got our food and ate- the conversation was a great one as about 4 hours later we realized it was time to go and we were the last people in there! Throughout the evening, she told me more of her journey and some of the struggles she faced about forgiveness, belief in grace and the doubt of living perfectly up to God’s standard…

THIS is the moment where your prayers came in and God’s Spirit moved and directed the conversation. You see, I am not one who has had much experience or comfort when it comes to death and preparation in the final days. I was able to share the truth with her- that we serve a God of grace who will forgive us our sins when we confess and purify us from all unrighteousness! Through your prayers, I was able to be a tool to communicate God’s Grace to her, His love, forgiveness and desire to be in relationship with her.

Hope was something in her life that seemed out of reach until Sunday night. But after the talk that evening, another friend ran into her and later told me that she was talking in more hopeful terms about the days she has here on earth.

This side of eternity, I may never fully know the impact of this conversation, but I am fully convinced it was a divine opportunity and appointment. She has been such a friend and blessing to me in the time I have known her- I see a great gentleness in her spirit and I know that as long as she’s here on this earth, God is at work and there is an amazing threshold of grace.

Thank you for your prayers. Many times people may think it’s the least they can do- but I want to challenge you to think of it as the Most you can do- it is powerful and it really does work.

Blessings and Joy.

Respectfully Submitted,

A Love Wins Member

And then another person just told the author of this note that she'd better keep hanging out because she sees "a hope in your eyes I haven't seen for awhile."

Really, really amazing stuff. And there are a whole lot of other amazing conversations happening, but just can't share them all.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Pleasant Surprise

As I was wandering the halls of Wescoe on the campus of the University of Kansas today, looking for the offices of the French/Italian division today, I was quite nervous about my upcoming meeting with Dr. Allan Pascoe - my new academic advisor for KU's French program. I'd never been up on "the hill," had lucked into a parking lot and was wandering quite overwhelmed by the immensity of everything. Of course, my choice of a black and gold Hawkeye shirt made the 31 year old man look even more conspicious. All of that put me a little off-edge, then there was the nervousness of wondering how a professor at a major school like KU would treat a non-traditional student like myself, one who isn't even sure what academic course to pursue. Dr. Pascoe had seemed nice during our email correspondence, but I was still a bit nervous.

Well, it all changed pretty quickly when he asked about Trinity Family. He'd obviously checked out our website via my email signature. He asked how old the church was and how things were going presently, to which I gave my standard answer these days, "we're 5 years old and it's been a very difficult year." He then proceeded to tell me about things he'd been through as an elder and parishioner.

At his former university, he was an elder in the Lutheran church. Some people wanted the pastor to leave and they were eventually able to frame him on bogus sexual abuse charges; he'd accidentally brushed a female student in an inappropriate place while trying to do crowd control. I don't mean to minimize sexual abuse and I don't know the whole story, but Dr. Pascoe is convinced of the high moral character of his former pastor and that the leaders who wanted him gone twisted the situation to their own selfish means. This event split the church in half. The pastor ended up entering the counseling field and, according to Dr. Pascoe had a fruitful ministry the rest of his life.

Dr. Pascoe was very, very angry over this entire situation and he desperately wanted to leave the church and run away from everything. But God wouldn't let him. "He forced me to stay, to work through my anger and learn how to forgive. It was hard, I couldn't understand how those SOB's were allowed to take communion." Dr. Pascoe was eventually able to forgive and he's very glad he stayed in that difficult situation and allowed God to mature him, cause him to grow up and enable him to learn about forgiveness.

When Dr. Pascoe moved to Lawrence to teach at KU, he got involved in a church that was about 5 years old at the time. The church was growing and doing good things, when a staff member's underground attempts to split the church and start a "new ministry" were exposed. This caused the church to lose a lot of people and to go through a very difficult time. While Dr. Pascoe wasn't an elder during this split, he still felt the pain of all that happened. Over the past five years, however the church has healed and regained it's previous level of health.

All of this was in the context of him wanting to encourage me, allow me to grieve that things haven't happened the way I'd hoped they would, that pastoring is a very difficult and very essential calling and that God will bring good out of times of difficulty and pain.

I went to KU hoping to figure out some direction for my french studies and was hoping not to be embarrassed and came away encouraged and a bit wiser from the counsel of an older soul.

And I learned why they call KU's campus "the hill." I am NOT looking forward to climbing up that thing every day for class.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Great Hypothetical

The terrifying scenario of an armed person breaking into your house and threatening the life of your family is often brought up in any discussion on the morality of taking another person's life. I find myself often referring to section on this idea from a book entitled Choosing Against War: A Christian View by the Mennonite theologian John D. Roth. This from pages 145-148.

It's going to be a bit of a pain to copy all of this but for the sake of simpler reference in the future, I'm going to post his writing below. By the way, I'm going off the assumption it's not plagiarism if you link to the book on Amazon. So here's the link.

I'm posting this because some facebook friends are having a discussion about this very topic and I thought this is an interesting view - certainly outside of mainstream thought in our culture. While I track with this author on a lot of things, I don't follow his logic throughout all of this. I do think he makes some great points, though. So read it and contemplate it. And consider that the way of Jesus 1) is completely countercultural and 2) means that a sacrificial death for our enemies is transformed through resurrection.

You may be thinking at this point that perhaps Christians should indeed be more cautious about embracing the symbols and rituals of patriotism, that perhaps it would be best if Christians looked to the church more than the nation as the primary focus of God's presence in the world, that perhaps followers of Christ should be hesitant about following the call of the nation to war. But all of these affirmations raise many other vexing questions.

For example, even if you are willing to renounce violence in self-defense, don't Christians still have the responsibility for the welfare and protection of their fellow human beings? Aren't there times when the quest for moral purity can actually become selfish, especially if it means that innocent people might suffer because of your convictions? Might there be circumstances in which the truly loving response would be to renounce your abstract principles, no matter how high-minded, so that the lives of real people could be saved? In the end, some people have argued, pacifism seems less heroic than egotistical - an evasion of social obligations in the interest of maintaining some Olympian standard of moral purity.

These are important questions, ones that Christian pacifists have not always taken as seriously as they should. No pacifist, least of all a Christian pacifist, should turn her or his back on human suffering in the face of violence. Indeed, as I will suggest in Chapter 6, Christian pacifists are called by their vision of Shalom to engage the fallen world actively and creatively, not to run from it. But in our hast to defend circumstances in which violence seems to be the only acceptable recourse, we can very easily rationalize our impulse to power and control in ways that are really closer to a Nitzschean than a Christian worldview.

Let us consider some of the questions that are frequently posed to Christian pacifists and, in spite of humility outlined in Chapter 4, offer a response and a counter-challenge in defense of Christ's way of peace.

What would you do if..."
Probably no question is put to Christian pacifists more frequently, or with more imaginative detail, than some variation of the classic query: "What would you do if someone was threatening to kill you wife and children and the only way to stop him was to shoot him - to use lethal violence?"

The energy behind the question usually comes from a strong suspicion that pacifists arrive at their convictions in the comfort of some secure setting and in the safe realm of idealistic abstractions. But if pacifists were actually put into dangerous circumstances in which they had a highly personal interest at stake, then their lofty principles would quickly evaporate into thin air and common sense would prevail. The details of the hypothetical question may vary, but the essential elements are always the same: unless you eventually are willing to kill, you will be morally responsible for the suffering - maybe even death - of innocent people.

Christian pacifists will undoubtedly answer this question in various ways. As I have reflected on the question in casual conversations on airplanes, in focused debates with colleagues, and in some discussions at home and at church, my response usually includes elements of the following.

A) I don't know how I would respond. The truth of the matters is that none of us can know with absolute certainty how we would react in the face of a sudden, dramatic threat to our own lives or the lives of those we love. But this honest confession of uncertainty simply underscores the importance of giving careful thought to our response in advance of the moment, and to preparing ourselves as best we can to do what is right rather than merely what our natural impulse might be.
Just as we teach teenagers that they should give careful thought to matters of sexual morality before they find themselves in the back seat of a car with their hormones racing, so too Christians ought to reflect carefully on questions of personal violence in anticipation of a moment of crisis. In the end, we don't know exactly how we will respond. But we do have a framework in the life and teachings of Christ for knowing how we should answer the question, and as Christians we should commit ourselves in advance to shaping our response around Christ's example.
B) The question's direct appeal to human nature - to our natural impulse to self-defense and the bonds of affection that connect us with our families - heightens the drama of the moral decision. But few Christians would regard appeals to human nature as an adequate foundation for discerning God's will in matters of ethical decision-making. Simply because our instincts are to kill the attacker does not in any way make that choice obviously Christian. Again, consider the example of sexual morality. It is possible that despite all proactive teachings and careful modeling our children will make wrong choices in the heat of sexual desire. But that possibility - understandable though it may be as a natural, human impulse - should not imply that God intended men and women to be sexually intimate apart from marriage.
After all, it is precisely the realities of human nature that make ethical discernment necessary in the first place. Certainly the impulse to use lethal violence is understandable; human nature would urge us to defend ourselves and our loved ones at all costs. But Christians are called to a higher standard of morality than simply conforming to our natural impulses.

C) The rhetorical question that begins "what would you do if..." is riddled with numerous hidden assumptions about unknown factors that make the question almost empty of meaning. In the way it is usually posed, the question imagines only two possible outcomes: either you kill the attacker or the attacker kills your loved ones. Yet in real life, the scenario actually could play itself out in many other variations that are almost never considered in the standard framing of the story.
If, for example, you had the right training and fast reflexes, perhaps you could disarm the attacker without killing him. If you were psychologically astute and sufficiently empathetic and gifted in speech, perhaps you could persuade the attacker to give up peacefully. If you had sufficient faith, perhaps God would intervene miraculously. If you shot and missed, perhaps the attacker would end up killing both you and your loved ones. If you shot and killed the attacker, perhaps you would be filled with so much remorse that you would renounce your faith, become an alcoholic, and live the rest of your life in misery. If your loved ones are Christian believers, then you know that they would enjoy eternity in heaven; by killing the attacker (who is presumably not a Christian) you would foreclose forever the possibility that this person would come to know Christ.
The point in laying out these many alternative scenarios is not to argue that any one is more likely to occur than another. But it does suggest that the hypothetical question so frequently posed to pacifists turns out to be far less straightforward than it initially may appear. In general, the question seems designed from the outset to direct the correct answer away from costly forms of discipleship toward a defense of our natural instincts.

D) In the end, I - like all Christian pacifists - am committed not to take the life of another human being, regardless of the consequences. If someone were to attack me or a loved one, I trust that God would give me the courage to find creative, non-lethal ways of resisting that attack. But in the end, I am willing to allow the attacker to kill me and the people I love rather than to shed another person's blood to defend my interests. As an undeserving recipient of God's gracious love, I am called to bear witness to that same love in everything I do, trusting in the power of the resurrection and the hope of eternal life.

Aren't Christians pacifists socially irresponsible?
Some people have argued that pacifists have abandoned all sense of social responsibility. By abstaining from the messy compromises of violence and the rough-and-tumble realities of national defense, Christian pacifists are simply conceding power to those who are truly immoral, or at least to those who care only about advancing their own self-interests. To do this - to allow evil to fill the vacuum of power left by the pacifist - is socially irresponsible.

The charges is a serious one and worthy of closer reflection. The rejection of pacifism on the grounds of social responsibility generally assumes that a responsible action will always keep open the option of choosing violence. On closer inspection, however, it would seem that both of these assumptions are flawed.

In the first place, the argument for social responsibility is deceptive in that it suggests from the outset that acting 'responsibly', that is using violence to defend the innocent, will inevitably resolve the problem, whereas a commitment to nonviolence will inevitably lead to greater suffering. In some instances this logic may indeed be true. It is possible that a pacifist response to violence could result in the death of innocent people.

But Christian pacifism does not claim to be a political strategy offering any guarantees about the outcome of a given encounter. Its primary goal is not effectiveness in terms of a rationally calculated outcome, but rather faithfulness to the witness of Christ and God's restoration of Shalom.

That said, however, the death of innocent people is by no means an inevitable or self-evident outcome of nonviolent action. Certainly the examples in recent history of the solidarity movement in Poland, the so-called Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia (1989), People Power in the Philippines (1986) or the largely nonviolent resistance to communism in East Germany and the other eastern bloc countries, all of which offer evidence that pacifism in those circumstances - even in the face of grave injustice and powerful military threats - was actually a more socially responsible approach to political transformation than the violent impulses of the reactionary or the revolutionary.

Second, the implication that the truly responsible option in social ethics is inherently clear simply does not square with the reality. All people, and perhaps especially Christians, have a deep sense of responsibility to fulfill their various duties as parents, workers, citizens, and believers. But the exact nature of these responsibilities is often shaped by the context and circumstances within which they emerge. Responsibilities are never crystal clear or self-evident. And precisely because we have multiple responsibilities (to our children, our bosses, our communities, our churches, etc.), we are constantly faced with the challenge of balancing and choosing priorities among the competing demands these obligations place on our time, money and energy.

Any parent will immediately recognize the tension involved when our responsibility for providing for our families conflicts with our responsibility for spending time with our children, or our responsibility for nurturing our marriage relationship, or for being actively involved in civic affairs, or for supporting the work of the church. These struggles between competing obligations are a given in modern life. Every day we are forced to make difficult choices - ideally in accordance with our principles and convictions - about the meaning and nature of our responsibilities. So we ask ourselves such questions as: responsible to whom (my family? the state? the world? God?), and responsible for what (to ensure security? to make money? to preserve life? to be faithful to the teachings of Christ?)?

Our political or social responsibilities to the country are no different. Here, just as in many other areas of life, we choose among alternative possibilities in ways that reflect our deepest commitments. If one begins with a clear commitment to Shalom and a conviction that ultimately God is the guarantor of our security, then nonviolence may actually be the most responsible course of action.

In any event, the apparent dilemmas of social responsibility are no different for us than for Jesus himself. At the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus faced powerful forces within the Jewish community that tried to push him into a quite specific understanding of his responsibilities as a Jews. The Zealots, for example, had a clear vision of a restored Israel based on a military insurrection and their political liberation from the Roman oppressors. The Pharisees were deeply offended that Jesus did not adopt a responsible attitude towards a strict observance of the Law. The Sadduccees found his agitation among lower class Jews socially irresponsible in light of the conservative order they were trying to preserve. And the Essenes understood the only responsible option to be a retreat from the whole scene into the monastic purity of the desert.

Like Jesus, Christians will inevitable face competing definitions of social responsibility. And, like Jesus, the Christian pacifist's choice of an upside-down approach to security, one based on the vulnerable power of love, will likely offend some and leave others deeply disappointed.

Yet in the end, Jesus refused to allow his own sense of mission and purpose to be defined by conventional understandings of what was socially responsible. His pursuit of a higher calling and purpose, always in service to Shalom, disrupted standard assumptions and challenged those who followed him to consider a new understanding of social responsibility as well.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Letter to Diognetus

I'm stealing this from the blog of a friend of mine, Shane Ash.
Here's how Shane sets it up:
Yesterday in our “Theology Forum” we focused on Romans 12-15 with Dr. Mark Hayse as our presenter (you can re-listen to his presentation here.) During the benediction, Mark read a letter from an early church apologetic work called the Letter to Diognetus. As he read these words, I was struck with the clarity and simplicity of this description of the Christian life. I want to be accused of living this way. And as a community devoted to living out Christ-likeness, this is a great picture for all of us to live.

“Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.

And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives.

They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they, rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred.

To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body. As the soul is present in every part of the body, while remaining distinct from it, so Christians are found in all the cities of the world, but cannot be identified with the world. As the visible body contains the invisible soul, so Christians are seen living in the world, but their religious life remains unseen. The body hates the soul and wars against it, not because of any injury the soul has done it, but because of the restriction the soul places on its pleasures. Similarly, the world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its enjoyments.

Christians love those who hate them just as the soul loves the body and all its members despite the body’s hatred. It is by the soul, enclosed within the body, that the body is held together, and similarly, it is by the Christians, detained in the world as in a prison, that the world is held together. The soul, though immortal, has a mortal dwelling place; and Christians also live for a time amidst perishable things, while awaiting the freedom from change and decay that will be theirs in heaven. As the soul benefits from the deprivation of food and drink, so Christians flourish under persecution. Such is the Christian’s lofty and divinely appointed function, from which he is not permitted to excuse himself.”

From a letter to Diognetus (Nn. 5-6; Funk, 397-401)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Perseverance - the whole story

Here's the entire post of what I shared here. I didn't want to open myself up completely, but oh well - here it goes.

I'm not real comfortable sharing my deepest thoughts, fear, frustrations, etc. in such a public manner, so just know that the sentence I'm about to type is backed up by tears, sleepless nights, painful goodbyes, bitter goodbyes, massive self-doubt, feelings of hopelessness, a mild depression, almost written resignation letters and an attempt to lead a church while lacking any compelling vision. And now, the icing on the cake, an almost 40% reduction in salary and a new early morning package-handling job at FedEx in Lenexa.

This past year has been one of, if not the, most difficult years in my life.

I was talking with my dad about this a few weeks ago and he told me he'd had an intense time of prayer for me just the day before. He knows how I've been feeling and his heart was breaking for me. He told me, "you'll never understand how much I love you." I actually tell Dawson that all the time, so I understand the fatherly emotion. In that time of prayer, Dad sensed God's reassurance that as much as my dad loves me, God loves me even more and is going to sustain me. Dad sensed this idea from God, "I'm not going to kill Donnie, he's going to survive. However, I've got a few things still to teach him." So Dad counseled me to stay sensitive to God's voice and to stay teachable. I don't remember if it was from Dad or my own thoughts, but the idea of "don't waste this time of trial" was discussed between us.

Dad also called a former pastor of ours, a guy my dad respects as much as anyone he knows and whom he still thinks of as "pastor." This pastor told dad, "Donnie seems to be going through what every pastor goes through sometime between year 2 and year 10 of pastoring. A time in which they question everything and wonder whether it's all worth it. We all go through it."

That discussion was a few weeks ago. Just this morning, I was reading a sermon delivered by Reuben Welch in a student chapel at Point Loma Nazarene University in 1976. The sermon was from a series Welch did on the book of Hebrews and the book is appropriately titled, When You Run Out Of Fantastic, Persevere. There's a lot of great stuff in this book that has been speaking directly to me; mourning the loss of dreams and aspirations, following Christ for his own sake even when it feels like it could cost you everything, throwing off the sin that entangles us as we're running the journey. The quote I'm about to write here is commentary Hebrews 12:3-11, specifically verses 11, "No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening - it's painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way."

Here's what Reuben Welch had to say:

A part of that different attitude that I need to take toward my troubles and trials is not only that God is present in them, and is doing something in my life, but that purpose for which God is working is nothing less than my sharing the likeness of His character, and being a partaker of His holiness.
That's an awesome thing.
What is God's motive? What is the direction of the love motive that moves me in discipline? It is that I may be a partaker of His holiness.
I wonder then:
is it true that there really is no authentic sharing of the character of God without suffering? Is there no way for us to become truly holy person, without discipline?

And I guess when it comes right down to it, sometimes trouble comes to us, and I don't understand all about it, but I know that a part of what we need to do is back off,
and pour it out to God, and expose to God the depths of our lives and say, "Lord, what are you trying to say to me? What changes need to take place in me?"
Well, I'm convinced of this, that God has something to say to us, that He is not uninvolved in all of these things that confront us, and that what He is saying to us, what he is confronting us with, is the call to share His holiness, which manifests itself in righteousness as its fruit.
We need to take a different attitude toward our troubles. God is at work in them, is present in them, and what He is doing is conforming us to the image of His Son - to share in His holiness.

Our Father, so often our troubles separate us from Thee. Your discipline makes us sometimes restive and rebellious. Teas us to look to Jesus - to consider Him and so to respond to Thee in our hard times that we will be more Christlike, more holy. Cleanse our hearts of the attitudes that would frustrate Thy healing and unifying work in us.

Thanks to Pastor Andy for giving me this book. In his usually cheerful way, he said "y'all need to read this book!"

Please pray for me. Pray that I stay open and obedient to God during this difficult time.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Man, it feels good to preach

Easter Sunday's worship gathering was incredible. One of those days in which the congregation is filled with both tears and smiles, often on the same faces. It was an emotionally intense celebration of the world-altering reality of the Resurrection.

Personally, it was a great day because I was able to return to preaching. Over the past 6 months, our church has been going through the Emotionally Healthy Spirituality series. Those 6 months were wonderful for our church, a time of necessary growth for myself and the church. During those 6 months, however I didn't really get to preach much. I was using a lot of material from the author of EHS and the scripture references were more of a jumping off point than the main point (as is typical with topical preaching). Again, it was necessary and wonderful, but man did it feel good to be back in 'preaching-mode.'

My sermon Sunday was the result of hours studying various scholars, letting God work on me through the text, the thrill of finding the surprise insight upon which the sermon turns (in this case, the Father taking the son's shame upon himself) and a passion for delivering the message that makes me go hoarse. There is nothing like leading a group of people through an exploration of a passage with humor and tears. As I was wrapping up the message, I was choking up myself from both what I was saying and the quivering lips I saw on several chins. It was really, really good to be using my gift again.

And based upon the conversations, emails and text-messages I've received since Sunday, the main point of the sermon - The Father represents God and God's love is scandalous - really hit home for a lot of people.

Man, it feels good to preach again.

Oh, if you'd like, you can listen to Sunday's message here. link

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Worth thinking about...

"What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty and democracy?" Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi