Monthly Archives: July 2013

The Life We’ve Been Called Into

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This is the kind of life you’ve been invited into, the kind of life Christ lived. He suffered everything that came his way so you would know that it could be done, and also know how to do it, step-by-step.

He never did one thing wrong,
Not once said anything amiss.

They called him every name in the book and he said nothing back. He suffered in silence, content to let God set things right. He used his servant body to carry our sins to the Cross so we could be rid of sin, free to live the right way. His wounds became your healing. You were lost sheep with no idea who you were or where you were going. Now you’re named and kept for good by the Shepherd of your souls.

1 Peter 2:21-25

I Love Science

By: Christiana Cha

“I love science,” I said. 
“You mean creation?” my friend responded.

I like to call it “the science of creation.” Yes, I believe in a creator God, and yes, I believe in science (you may read that the way Steven says it in Nacho Libre). I don’t think they are mutually exclusive. I think sometimes people get overly protective of their territory and try to rule out one or the other, but for me, it’s like a beautiful symbiotic relationship; science only convinces me more that a Creator God exists.

I could – and do – spend hours upon hours just sitting outside and watching the birds, the bees, and the plants around me (even though there seem to be less here in Texas than in Oregon!). It’s something that I find to be fascinating – how something as small as a bee can be so intricate is beyond me! Reading and knowing all the science behind bees only makes me more in awe that a Creator could have made something so detailed. They have pollen baskets, cute little antennae, long pointy tongues, little hairs all over their bodies, joints in their legs…and they eat nectar and puke it up as honey! I bet you really want some honey now that you know it’s bee puke…perhaps the tastiest vomit on earth!

I have been carefully tending a small garden and am constantly intrigued by the way that all I have to do is water them and they grow. Sunlight hits their leaves, chlorophyll does its work, I pour a few pitchers of water, and my plants – I call them my babies – produce more leaves and in some cases, flowers which will eventually become peppers and squash. Plants don’t go anywhere; they don’t forage, and they don’t hunt, and yet, they thrive in their native environments. One could say they were designed that way and be done with it, but I like to learn the science behind how it all ticks because then I can really appreciate the complexity of something seemingly as simple and ordinary as a leaf.

Science and Creation are, in my assessment, not the only non-mutually-exclusive things that we as people treat as incompatible. We have our biases, our preferences, our prejudices; a hundred years ago, interracial marriage was inconceivable, not to mention even using the same restroom as someone of a different ethnicity! Some of our prejudices are as weighty as questions of humanity and some more lighthearted like the combination of sweet and salty flavors (something I had to acquire with effort). It seems to me that all we need is a good smack to the back of our heads and a little open-mindedness or shift in perspective, and we can find how things work well together rather than bullheadedly assuming they could never exist on the same plane. Seeing science and creation as symbiotic partners has given me a greater appreciation for both individually; perhaps recognizing the beauty of the interwoven fabric of our lives can help us appreciate each other and the world around us better.

A Love for Preaching

By: Pat Bills

Love is a strong word. It’s a word that can be raw with emotion or empty of meaning. And it’s also a word that gets thrown around a lot. I use the word to describe how I feel about my wife’s homemade pie. I also use the word to tell my children how much they mean to me. So when I tell people that I love preaching, most wait for the punchline to this absurd (and obvious) joke. . Seriously? How many preachers have you talked to that honestly “love” their job? I’m not sure about you but when I have conversations with other preachers “love” is not the operative word. The words that usually surface carry WAY more baggage and deep hurt. When talking shop preachers typically use words like “tired,” “burned,” “frustrated,” and… well I can’t even repeat some of the words! So, what I’d like to offer to this conversation may be completely and totally naive. Even more, it’s worth noting that I don’t hold a grudge against my faith tradition or current context. In fact, I don’t even wake up each Monday wanting to quit my job. Are there difficult aspects of my job? Of course! Do

I get frustrated with unfair expectations placed upon me and my family? Sure. But I want to confess that I honestly and totally love my work as preacher. It is the most tiring, exhilarating, and wonderfully exhausting work I have ever done. (By the way- you should also know that I am married to a preacher’s daughter and she loves that I love to preach.) So am I just a young whipper-snapper who hasn’t experienced the real world of church work yet? Maybe. But what if I don’t have to hate preaching? I think love is the word I’d like to use. Let me give you a few reasons why.

First, I love preaching because I deeply love people. When I entered ministry some 18 years ago at a tiny little church in Bradford AR, I wasn’t on a journey to climb some corporate ladder from youth ministry to the “big show.” I entered into ministry because I loved people; students just happened to be the ones I picked to love intentionally at the beginning. And now that my calling has expanded to a church context including five generations, there are all kinds of people to love! And one thing I love most about people is they are absolutely and wonderfully weird. But I have come to appreciate weird. I love getting a bear hug from my friend Kerry who once took his Harley-Davidson embossed prosthetic leg and let me “hold it.” I love walking through our worship center and being embraced by Mrs. Gail who cannot wait to tell me what God has told her in a dream. I love how one of our children in a 4 year old class was asked to lead his favorite “church song”- and he chose Gangnam Style. I love to watch the twinkle in the eyes of Ms. Wanda when she asks me if I want to wear her scarf covering her bald chemo-ridden head. Weird huh? But as John Ortberg has so rightly said, “Everyone is normal until you get to know them.” And I consider getting to know my church as one of the greatest privileges I have ever received. Because I believe God created weird and it erupts within community – my community – and we get to be weird together. I once heard a preacher joke, “I’d love my job if not for the people.” I didn’t laugh at his joke. For me, people are not a joke- they are at the heart of my job; and I love them deeply.

Second, I love preaching because it allows a space where humility is not a choice; it is a requirement. What I mean is the preaching event, the space where I announce the good news on a weekly basis, is the place where I discover there is something WAY bigger going on than what I could ever plan or orchestrate. I realized this my very first Sunday to preach (full time). Before I spoke that morning I was given a very generous introduction (actually it was over the top ) and my mother and father were there to hear the wonderful promotion of the “new preacher.” I knew the pressure was on to perform but I felt my father’s hand on the back of my shoulder because he had something he wanted to say before I stepped into the pulpit to speak. I was glad he had something to say because I was about to wet my pants- I needed some serious affirmation and encouragement. But this is what he said: “I’ve been praying all morning that you recognize that this is not about you.” Boom. Not exactly what I wanted to hear but it was the very thing I needed to hear. And that word of encouragement sits with me every Sunday, every funeral, every wedding, every Easter, and at every hospital visit. And I love that space because it doesn’t have to be about me. It is the space that God does his best work in spite of my inadequacy, brokenness, and sin. I love to think that God is using me the same way he used Rahab, Moses, Jeremiah, Mary, and Saul (who became Paul). Because God does some pretty incredible stuff through people who are willing to admit and recognize “It’s not about me.” As the great Thomas Merton said, “Our lives should be about a simple and natural awareness of our dependence on God.” And that is why I love to space preaching affords- it gives me the opportunity to be dependent on something greater that is within me.

Finally, I love preaching because it allows me to tell a story that is true and filled with hope. Several years ago I was attending a conference and was able to pick a seat for a dinner conversation. I surveyed the room and found the wisest preacher I could. I was looking for some advice as I began my preaching career. The brother I sat next to had been preaching for well over 30 years and had been in one church for over 25. I think he had a knack for this preaching gig. So I asked, “If could go back and tell yourself something when you first started preaching what would you say?” He didn’t hesitate. I don’t even think he had to think much at all. He looked at me and his eyes began to moisten. And he said with deep wisdom: “It’s all true. The story of resurrection is true. And when I stand before my church each Sunday I get to tell them that the story is still true.” I was so shocked by the simplicity and profound wisdom of this statement I was undone. I couldn’t get my emotions together because I felt like the apostle Paul himself had spoken to me over a chicken dinner. But that conversation has forever changed me. The story is true and worth telling. And I get to be the one to tell that story in the most creative God-honoring way that I can. I love standing before a couple on their wedding day and lead them in repeating their vows- because the story is true. I love weeping with a man who has finally committed his wife of 71 years to Alzheimer’s care- because the story is true. I love the honor of standing before a broken family who has lost their father and “Papa”- because the story is true. And I love the challenge of walking with a man who struggles with his life-long attraction to other men- because the story is true. Thank God for Easter. And I thank God that I get to proclaim a story that is most certainly true.

As one of mentors likes to say, “As preachers we are to invite our listeners into a world imagined in scripture.” And the world for my church, as I imagine it, deserves every ounce of love that I can muster. May those who have ears to hear, hear the love from their preacher.

Church Practices and Relearning to Walk

By: Amanda Pittman

I spent my last birthday nursing the foot I broke two days before, not exactly how I planned to ring in my 26th year or spend my first semester in a doctoral program. My only comfort was the doctor’s confidence that it would be mostly healed in 6-8 weeks. To make a long story short, after four and a half months on crutches the doctors concluded that the fracture wasn’t healing and prescribed an orthopedic boot  – that plastic monstrosity that lets you walk but immobilizes your lower leg – instead. Three other specialists confirmed the diagnosis of delayed healing, but no one could explain exactly why. It was another two months before I could begin walking carefully in tennis shoes.

I’d been joking for months that I would need to relearn how to walk, it had been so long. Which was funny, I guess, except that it turned out to be true.

I could still walk in a manner of speaking; I could get from point A to point B. But something was off. I could feel it, my husband could see it, but we couldn’t figure out what was wrong. A physical therapist pin-pointed the problem immediately – I was still walking as if I was in the boot.

Once I loss muscle and all the muscle memory in it, I mal-adapted to a gait that was awkward and restricted butavoided putting pressure on parts of my foot that were healed but still achy. I became habituated to a way of moving that was wrong but that escaped my notice because it became second nature. It has taken months of painstaking practice to see improvement – a slow, sometimes embarrassing set of exercises designed to retrain my muscles, tendons, and bones to move in the way they were intended. Even still, nine months later, I have to consciously think about my gait or I start walking as if I was wearing the boot again.

Why tell you all of this? Because I think this happens to all of us.

Over time, whether due to negligence or disruption, we can become mal-adapted. In other words, we develop habits, become habituated, to ways of being and moving in the world that are awkward and counter-productive but second nature nonetheless. And it takes slowing that mal-formed practice down, paying attention to each small movement, learning again the way it was intended to go and learning over time to mimic it again. In short, it requires a new muscle memory.

I think our Christian communities of all kinds and sizes have places where our practices deserve the same careful attention and meticulous exercise that my gait has received over the last several months. A good deal rides on the ways that our practices as the Body of Christ – our ways of being and moving in the world – form us as certain kinds of people and communicate our identity to the world. Over the next several posts, I’d like to explore together a practice at a time, slowing it down, analyzing its moves, and thinking about how that practice could be more fully faithful.

Ancestral Mask

By: Brian Scott

A Thoroughly Gospeled Life

By: Laura Callarman

A few short months ago I sort of haphazardly stumbled upon what I might venture to call a sketch of my life’s mission and purpose statement. I remember the moment clearly. I was sitting in the school cafeteria (five dollar all-you-can-eat lunches being the staple of a grad student, after all), weighed down by the multitude of assignments demanding my attention as my master’s degree drew to its long-awaited close, and I was vehemently bemoaning the severe case of writer’s block that seemed to have settled into my life for what I could only imagine would be at least through the end of my graduate career if not longer. Yet knowing that I had dozens of pages to write in the immediate future, even if I had no earthly idea of what the content of those pages would be, I settled into a solution: I would stop caring about the quality of my writing and I would simply write. Get it done. Be finished, once and for all. (This attempt at apathy was, as you can probably guess, essentially a delusion on my part. An impossibility. But that’s a subject better left for another time.)

So I began to write, or rather, I began to rant. This was a reflection on my ministerial identity that I was so frustratedly trying to compose. And in this meandering tirade of a reflection somehow one worthwhile sentence emerged. (The rant was seven pages long, mind you.) In venting my bewilderment about a path forward and whether or not that might include doctoral studies, I wrote that “choosing a program and an academic focus proves a bit difficult, for there’s not exactly a box to check on PhD applications for ‘garden-growing, bread-baking, sustainable-food-eating theologically trained thinker, writer, and conversation partner who believes her passionate, balanced, God-inspired life is her witness and therefore is her ministry.’”

And there it was—my ministerial identity in a nutshell. A little rough around the edges, perhaps, and far from exhaustive, to be sure, but the fundamentals were suddenly there right in front of me. “Garden-growing, bread-baking, sustainable-food-eating theologically trained thinker, writer, and conversation partner who believes her passionate, balanced, God-inspired life is her witness and therefore is her ministry.” No wonder I couldn’t easily name my own path forward. Granted, my brain badly needed rest from a four-year journey through grad school, but at the moment all the respectable options I could conceive of felt far too constrained. Too narrowly defined. They would allow part of me to flourish but not all of me, for, they implied, I was too scattered in my focus.

Yet as I lay here in my front porch swing, letting the cool breeze (okay, coolish breeze —I am in Texas in the summer, after all) and the sound of rustling leaves roll over me, as I breathe deeply of the tantalizing scent of chicken stock bubbling away in the crockpot inside, I can’t help but wonder… Perhaps there is a path forward for me that will allow me to be all of these things at once and in somewhat equal measure. If not a position to fill, then perhaps a life to lead. A thoroughly gospeled life. A life in which my chicken stock and my squash plants and my reflections on identity, vocation, and the good news of God are all inextricably intertwined. And if not a box to check, then perhaps blog posts to write.

And that is where you, my friends, come in. You here at Neo-Restorationists are some of my fellow journeyers. You have your own ways of pursuing a thoroughly gospeled life, just as I have mine. And what better way to experience the gospel than to share that? Over the course of our time together, then, you will hear me share from my own stumbling attempts to pursue a life that is permeated by the good news of God. I am not perfect, that is the one thing I can promise you. But I will share with you my successes and failures, my insights and intuitions, and, above all, the work that God is doing in and around me, at least as I can perceive it with imperfect vision. You are welcome to share the same with me. I pray that God blesses our journey together and that we are more thoroughly gospeled as a result of it.

[Husband’s note:  Wife wrote this Thursday night.  It is now Saturday night.  After a couple of days of cooking down all of the chicken stock, wife just walked through our bedroom and said, “I’m tired of our house smelling like chicken.”] Like I said, I’m not perfect.

The Liberation (Free CD Download)

The Liberation Cover2By:  Javan “Ki’Shon” Furlow

As I am excited for my first blog as a neo-restorationist, I feel the need to start by acknowledging my brokenness, incapability and imperfection as a human. If anything that I post is felt as offensive or if someone simply disagrees, I apologize in advance, and I understand that my view isn’t equal to the King’s view. As for this post,  I feel the need to direct readers to my author bio for background information on myself, and a reference for this post. As my bio mentions, I am a hip hop artist, but most people are probably unfamiliar with what that consists of. As a person who considers himself a Christ follower and who is surrounded by a majority of middle-class, white Americans, when people around me hear the terms “Hip-hop” and “Rap,” they usually they think on a spectrum starting from the “Champagne bottle-popping, woman insulting, pants-sagging, gangster from the hood” to those who are more familiar with the Christian rap genre of “bible verses in rhyme.” While I believe there are variables from each end of the spectrum that can be valued, I’d like to believe that my music falls somewhere in the middle. A full breakdown of what hip-hop means to me is most likely coming in the future, but for now I’d like to use this specific post to discuss a project that I have recently released, titled “The Liberation EP.”

Growing up as a smart kid in the inner-city, I was able to see a large spectrum of life. I’ve grown up in mostly monetarily poor, high crime-rated areas , but I’ve also been able to attend schools and make friends with people who are monetarily rich and live in low crime-rated areas. Although our worlds are miles apart, the one thing that is universal is that our cultural societies bind us from being able to truly experience freedom. Whether it  is gang-influence or consumerism, Jesus is the liberator who brings freedom in the hearts of men and women. This five song EP provides social commentary on a small aspect of this bondage,  from my perspective as a kid who has experienced my spectrum of life events. It’s my thoughts on life as I have lived it.

This is an urban art form, filled with creativity, musicianship, and the natural coolness granted to urban arts (probably biased). The amazing thing about the body of Christ is that our diversity only superimposes our harmony when each instrument can be heard. I encourage people (even those who don’t consider themselves hip-hop fans) to take a listen. I guarantee it’ll defy most stereotypes and preconceived notions. The page link is at the bottom, where you can either stream or download it (or both), and if I didn’t mention this before, IT’S FREE. I hope you enjoy “The Liberation EP” as it is filled with passion, creativity, authenticity, and the instrumentation that was produced by Joshua B, Ross.

Download “The Liberation EP” CD for free.

Shut up about Jesus will you?

By: Steve Holt Sr.

Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him. (Mark 8:30)

Evidently, bunches of people haven’t gotten the memo. Jesus said not to tell anyone about him. And yet, every day on Facebook, Twitter and a host of other social media sites, there it is…a scripture, a prayer, praise to God, thanks to Jesus and more.
I don’t know about God, but I, for one, am pretty tired of it.
Don’t get me wrong; I love God. I believe Jesus is his only son. I believe in the inspiration of scripture and most of the rest. But all this talk about God and all this pious language are starting to get to me.
What if we all just shut up? What if we all just let our works speak for us? What if we did such amazing, stupendous things for God every day that people were compelled to ask? What if every day, we lived in such a way that people knew exactly why we are the way we are? And Whose we are!
I think that’s what Jesus had in mind when he told all those people back in the book of Mark to shut up about him. I think he was saying, “Just let my actions speak for me. Le the people see what I do and then make up their minds about me. You Jesus-talkers will just mess it up!” And boy, have we!
Face it; from the poll numbers, it seems there are lots and lots of folks on earth who are like me—they’re tired of all this God-talk. In fact, in many places on this planet, his name is not welcomed at all. In some places, speaking his name is against the law—doing so will get you killed or worse.
So, in those places and everywhere else on earth, what if believers just did the work of God without using the name of God or, for that fact, any of what’s-His-name’s words?
I think if we knew we couldn’t use his name or his words, we would actually become more diligent about how we acted. Our love for him has to emerge in some way, right? So instead of it coming out in language, let it come out in actions…good deeds…sacrificial loving…random acts of kindness… genuine expressions of love. For example, rather than verbally praising God, what if we directed our praise toward a neighbor. Or teacher. Or cop. Or enemy! The next time we’re tempted to use a scripture on someone, let’s do what Jesus did: praise, encourage, teach (appropriately), commend, guide, defend.
Actually, I think that’s the way God intended it all along. My own personal theory is that God probably never intended his words to be written down and idolized in the first place. I think he meant for them to be handed down from generation to generation and internalized, coming out in action, not just more words.
So, please! Shut up about your Jesus, will you?
Start acting like him.
Blessings…

For Whom the Bell Tolls

By: Janet Mendenhall

He is a hard worker, and no task is too menial. He would lend a hand with whatever is needed.  He is compassionate and loyal and deeply concerned for his friends. He is also, ironically, a good beggar, and no donation is too small. Just enough for a breakfast burrito or some Church’s chicken. He is quick tempered, and sometimes lashes out when his request is refused. He is quite possibly the dirtiest human being I have ever seen or smelled. He is my neighbor. I have worked side by side with him on neighborhood cleanups, listened to his prayer requests for friends who are sick, and driven him to deliver food he had gotten from a church luncheon he had technically crashed, to a friend who had been shot the night before. He has walked me to my car when I have been out in the neighborhood so that no harm would befall me. He knows about community, sitting often at the corner of my street at the house behind the convenience store, where folks gather to drink beer and share the day’s stories and often some pretty decent theology. And take care of one another.

I remember one of my early visits with him when I was new to the neighborhood. We sat on a bench and talked. He was frustrated with his landlord, hungry as usual, out of his monthly allowance, but telling me about some folks who were struggling, and telling me about where he had been working and helping out.

The church bells from a large downtown church began to ring.  It was strange. I felt miles away from that downtown deposit of churches, yet here I was sitting in my neighborhood hearing them ring. Comforting, perhaps?  I am not as isolated as I supposed. Encouraging?  They are practically right here with me. A reminder of their interest and connection to my neighbors.

But here sat my neighbor. And I suspected he wasn’t having those thoughts as they rang. I wasn’t really sure he was even hearing them. The disconnect between these large, wealthy bodies of believers in fancy buildings with these glorious bells and my neighbor seemed a louder proclamation to me. Were the bells tolling for him, too?

Why are they ringing? What is the message they are bringing? Who are they calling and to what are they being beckoned?

Church bells traced back to medieval times were a means of communicating with the church’s community. A call to worship. An alarm when danger was present. A call to morning, noon and evening prayers. The tolling of the funeral bell. The sounds of community.

But why are they ringing today? For whom are they ringing? If the folks within earshot don’t feel called to a common purpose nor a sense of connectedness to each other or to God’s people (his church), are the bells melodious, or a clanging gong or a noisy cymbal?

In John Donne’s Meditation XVII, he writes, “therefore never send to know for who the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”

That line is preceded by these words: “No man is an island, entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind …”

Earlier in the meditation, Donne talks more about the universality of the church. How whatever the church does belongs to all. Baptisms, burials, worship, prayers. Because we are all members of that same body. We are all called to the same purpose.  All of us.

I have recently had opportunities to meet with leaders from some of those downtown congregations, who are thinking of their community and neighbors differently, and I am encouraged by that. There are folks inside those walls who want to come out. There is some good talk about loving their neighbors –especially the ones who don’t look like them or think like them or even smell like them.  Or worship like them. That makes me listen. And when that talk becomes action even in the smallest ways, it makes me hopeful. That kind of love makes the peeling of the church bells indeed glorious.  It is music to my ears.  And I think it will then be music to my neighbor’s ears.

On to Something

By: Brent Bailey

I remember the first time I knew we were on to something.

The “we” in that sentence was a house church with whom I’d been meeting for about three months. The “time” happened once we’d developed a fairly consistent rhythm for our weekly gatherings, which included eating together, encouraging one another, listening to God, and sharing communion. As was our custom, we passed the bread and the juice around the circle, each of us extending words of blessing along with the elements: “The body of Christ, broken for you. The blood of Christ that sets you free.” On this particular night, I was seated next to Natalia, the youngest child in our community, who took her turn in the order and spoke directly to me with delicate, quiet grace: “The body of Christ. The blood of Christ.”

I grew up participating in churches that treasured the practice of communion, enacting it weekly and often structuring entire worship services in such a way as to make it the climactic moment of the assembly.  I learned that sharing in this feast we identified as a remembrance was inextricably connected to who we were as a body and what we wanted to be about when we gathered. The care and solemnity that accompanied the sacrament taught me more powerfully than any sermon could that sharing the body and blood of Christ was a momentous event.

Because of how much we treasured the practice, those churches had long conversations about how to do it properly: what kind of food comprised the elements, who should or shouldn’t distribute the trays of bread and juice, what we should say and when we should say it. When I transitioned from a large church into a house church, those logistical questions started to feel mostly irrelevant; but even as the form in which I took communion shifted, the weightiness of the practice remained for me. Sharing in this feast was still inextricably connected to who we were as a body, small as we were, and what we wanted to be about when we gathered.

So when this young girl served me communion and spoke the words of blessing to me—something that wouldn’t have happened in the churches where I grew up—I recognized immediately how powerful and extraordinary the moment was. I caught a glimpse, if only fleeting, of what it might mean to “be one in Christ Jesus,” to be part of a community in which there’s “neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, [neither] male nor female.” I heard the voice of Jesus in the timbre of Natalia’s soprano and saw his gentleness in her careful attempts to keep the cup from spilling on the carpet. It was entirely ordinary—as ordinary as a family dinner—but it was wondrous and supernatural and glorious, as life in the church ought to be.

That was the moment I knew we were approaching something holy and when I found myself compelled, maybe more than I’d ever felt, to continue pursuing tangible expressions of the body of Christ.