Monthly Archives: September 2013

I’m Guilty

mentor

By: Christiana Cha

I’m guilty of depending too much on myself and trying to figure everything out on my own, using my own resources and my own brain.

The past year of my life has not been my easiest, but it has been full of lessons and small blessings along the way. One such blessing has been a woman (we’ll call her M) who has been friend, mentor, sister, prophet, and mother to me. M’s and my meeting in life seems increasingly serendipitous, and we are able to gain encouragement, a sense of not being alone, and words of wisdom from each other.

I was still a teenager the first time someone called me an “old soul,” and growing up I tended to be the one in a friendship who played the part of listener, mentor, and adviser. It wasn’t until I was an upperclassman in college that I had my first real mentor figure, and now a few years later I can confidently say that M is a mentor to me. It’s a relief – a relief to be on the receiving end of a mentoring relationship and a relief to know that no matter what, there’s someone who loves me unconditionally and will gently advise, comfort, or challenge me as the occasion arises.

It’s a relief to know there’s someone on my team, that I don’t have to go it alone.

I spent the first twenty years of my life almost refusing to be on the receiving end of a mentoring relationship, but as I’ve made it a little farther along in my twenties, I’ve realized how important it is to have a mentor. I was hungry for a mentor. I searched for a mentor the first year and a half or so of graduate school with not much to show for it, and just when I was getting discouraged, M and I clicked.

Each day I am thankful for M’s friendship and loyalty, and I eagerly drink in her Spirit-inspired words of encouragement. I let myself be alternately a child and an old woman with M, and we pray together and listen for the still, small voice together on each other’s behalf.

If you don’t already have a mentor figure or someone to mentor in your life, I would encourage you to carefully or prayerfully (whichever one is your thing) seek one out. It is a mutually beneficent relationship I would not trade, and I hope that you can be open to the baring of your soul to another person.

Jesus Can Lead His Own Church

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By: Jordan Bunch

Hello Mr. Reverend-Deacon-Doctor.

Did you know Jesus doesn’t need you to head up HIS Church.  He is fully capable of doing that himself.  In fact, if He’s not the one leading it I have to ask, “Who’s church is that, yours or His?”

“And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.”  ~Colossians 1:18

And yet you claim it is your church.  Your name is carved in stone on the building and on the sign facing the highway.  I’ve seen it there hundreds of times all over the country.

Why do you insist on putting your name on His church?

And another thing… Why do you insist on adding these prefix titles to your name?

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers and sisters.  And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.  Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah.”  ~ Matthew 23:8-10

Do you not know that He is the one who leads all of his people.

Do you not know that he is the one who gives life to the church?

And do you not know that it is him, not you who transforms His people?

Yet you continue to puff yourself up as the one who has built a church and transforms a people, all the while couching everything in a language of humility.  Newsflash: You’re not fooling me, or anyone else my age.

“Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.”  ~Colossians 2:18-19

So please Mr. Reverend-Deacon-Doctor.  If you want to continue what you are doing, at least stop calling it the church.  Call it what it is.  A social club centered around your puffed up personality.

Leave the Church to Jesus.  He can do just fine on his own.

Sincerely,

Audacious in Austin

I am not all out of love for the ’80s, but…

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It is a hard day’s drive to New Orleans from Abilene. I was happy for the comfort of the Town and Country van our boss rented for the staff’s trip to the annual conference of the Christian Community Development Association. I am an anxious flyer, so the long drive was less daunting than security checkpoints and flight delays and airport layovers and bumpy takeoffs and landings and breathing that recycled stale air and fighting over shared arm rests and that constant nagging fear of crashing.

I drive a beat-up Corolla with manual windows and locks – I have to teach kids how to lock the doors and roll down windows when they ride with me – and a cassette tape player. This van was a slight upgrade from my usual means of transportation.  I was particularly cheered to see it was equipped with satellite radio, as nothing passes traveling time like an endless variety of music. Instead I got 12 hours of ’80s music.

Don’t get me wrong, I can still sing along with most top hits of the ’80s, take a stroll up and down memory lane to the beat of Hall and Oates or Air Supply or even Culture Club, but I began to wonder about our fascination with the music of the past. A peek at my playlist on Spotify would reveal diversity, but mostly songs from my past. Songs that remind me of my youth as I sang and listened to folk or country music with my father.  Recordings of hymns from early days as a preacher’s kid whose life was consumed by church attendance. Tracks from those early teen years when I discovered music of my own. Tunes that remind me of my college days. Music from a move to Nashville and a rediscovery of country music enhanced by the flavor of new country.

But sprinkled amidst those tunes would be some songs from Pink, and Fun! that my younger children have hooked me on, and some new bluegrass and folk music from up-and-coming songwriters and musicians my older sons have shared, for which I am most thankful. I’ve heard amazing new voices and freshly inspired words my heart could not ponder otherwise. Someone needs to hear and love and celebrate the sounds of the present decade and the next and the next.

We worship some at the CCDA conference. It is vibrant and exciting and sometimes overwhelming to me, an uncertain worship introvert. It is a rare thing for me to know these songs. Sometimes the words are in Spanish. Or Chinese. Or African.  I long to sing along. I want a familiar hymn. Or even the best devo (lowercase D) hits of the ’80s.  But then I think of the voice of the girl leading worship.  “I wrote this song one day when,” she begins, and she tells her story. This amazing new voice sings freshly inspired truth over me. And I want it on my Spotify list, alongside my old favorites. One day it will be a well-worn word in the midst of more fresh inspiration.

And I will sing along.

PRD

PRD

As a preacher I get a lot of email. Most of the notes are encouraging and uplifting. Some not so much. But today I got a note I want to share because it came from a fellow preacher. My friend and partner in the gospel explained how he wanted to claim a “PRD.”

My friend, like many of us, is on stage constantly.  It doesn’t matter if you are a preacher. If you are in any type of ministry there is unimaginable pressure to perform. As someone much older and wiser has said, “It can be lonely at the top.” Please don’t misunderstand- leadership is not about being at the top of a food chain or hierarchal ladder. But leadership is all about expectations at the “top.” There is a particular pressure when you lead. And it is at the top – in this pressure – where we often lose sight of who we are.
We fail and we want no one to see.
We sin and we cannot tell anyone.

We must be perfect in every way because the pressure and expectations are intense at the top.
Yet tragically we break the hearts of those we love into a million pieces.
And maybe the worst part is you think everyone has deserted you- even God.
But I believe this is the point where God can move in. God is able to do the unimaginable. God is able to speak creative order into chaos. The offer of new life is extended and it is ours for the taking.
Which is why resurrection is the most powerful story for any disciple – especially leaders.

When I first began preaching I was hungry to learn everything I could from more seasoned veterans. (That’s my gentle way of referring to “old” preachers!) So I was at a conference and I found another preacher who had been at his game for 30 years. I purposefully sat next to him so I could pick his brain about the “in’s and out’s” of preaching. This is the question I asked: “If you could go could back and talk to yourself as a 30 year old preacher, what would you say?” He paused. He looked straight into my eyes and simple said, “It’s all true.” Okay… what’s true? “The resurrection. It’s all true and without that it would all be worthless.”

Now that’s a great word. A word from someone who has been at the top, felt the weight of expectation, and known what’s it like to carry the weight of sin.

And it’s all true.

The early church believed it. Paul staked his life on it. And as restoration leaders we must embrace it. We are messy, screwed up, not-so-perfect leaders who face unbelievable pressure to flaunt our “perfection.”

And when we are consumed by these sinful expectations, we need to take a breath and claim a “PRD” for whatever is weighing us down.

Will you join my friend? Will you join me?

Let’s claim a “Personal Resurrection Day.”

A LETTER TO THE AFRICAN AMERICAN CHURCHES OF CHRIST (PART 2)

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By: Steven Brice

My Current Journey

Beloved heritage, I am currently at Abilene Christian University. It too is closely connected to our broader heritage of the Churches of Christ.  To be sure, among the African American heritage, Abilene Christian University had a reputation for being racist (as witnessed in past events); however, today it has a new reputation. It is much more inclusive, but Abilene Christian University is also viewed as a liberal school which has left the faith by a great number of African American Ministers, leaders, and members.   For example, during a lectureship at Southwestern Christian College, I remember discussing with one of our “defenders of the faith” my desire to attend Pepperdine University to complete a Master’s degree in religion.  This preacher informed me “to be very careful with schools like Pepperdine and Abilene Christian University – which have left the faith and whose teaching can persuade you to do the same. These schools have stolen some of our brightest young man, and since you are a bright young man with a promising future, I would hate to see you leave the faith.”[1] I informed him of my commitment to the faith. Subsequently, I decided to attend Abilene Christian University rather than Pepperdine University.

It was the year 2011, when I enrolled as a full time student at Abilene Christian University to work on a Masters of Divinity in Missions. Knowing the reputation of this school as a result of my heritage, I was determined to protect my faith. I held strongly to this endeavor to guard my faith until receiving numerous lectures from various professors during orientation day. At a certain point, a professor said something profound which challenged me to remove the shield buffering my faith. The professor said, “This education will deconstruct you, but one of the benefits of this deconstruction is that it will humble you.”[2] Humility, in my opinion, was rarely taught within my heritage, and I desired to be humble. I wanted to stop acting and believing that I mastered the faith and I had it all together. I desired to grow, to learn more, and I wanted to be a student of the faith. I desired to expose faith to those outside my heritage. After all, if faith is to be proven true, it must be tested.

As I journeyed throughout seminary at Abilene Christian University, I have learned many things which were not taught in my heritage; and perhaps some of these things have been hidden or obfuscated from me by African American Church of Christ preachers.  Perhaps I am being too strong here; nevertheless, I will mention one or two things as examples.  First, as a result of my studies here at Abilene Christian, I realize that the core of Christianity is not focused or centered on ecclesiology (the church). The core of Christianity is the story of God’s love for humanity expressed in the redemptive work of Jesus. The story of Jesus Christ, which was forecasted in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the writings of the New Testament, is the foundation of biblical faith.  In addition, human faith has God himself as the foundation. I have learned that the Bible is not God and God is not the Bible. The Bible shares glimpses of who God is and what He has done, and what He plans to do, but the Bible is not God.

If the above notion proves to be true, then there are countless things which need to be evaluated within our heritage. Still, in order to remain focused on the theme of this letter, I will only discuss the core of Christianity and elaborate how this core identifies us as the church.  In fact, what is this core?  I believe the core of Christianity is the story of God loving sinners to the point that God sacrificed His position in Heaven to dwell among us in a fallen world in order to restore us back to Him. This is the gospel my beloved heritage. This is the gospel we should preach!


[1] A conversation with a seasoned Evangelist preacher within the African American churches of Christ during the Southwestern Christian College lectureship in the year of 2009.

[2] This is a paraphrase quote from Associate Dean of the Graduate School of Theology department at Abilene Christian University, Dr. Mark Hamilton.

God: Flexible then, now and later

flexiblejesus

By: Steve Holt Sr.

How many times have you heard people quote Hebrews 13:8 (“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”) to protest some new idea, a change that is happening in their church or an assault on some long-held doctrine?  I suppose their rationale is that if God said it thousands of years ago, the same still applies today.  It’s like saying, “It was good enough for your grandpappy; it’s good enough for you.”

Well, I’m not so sure.

Sure, it’s true that the basic nature of God (and his son) hasn’t changed.  He was love then; he’ll always be love.  He was justice then; he’ll always be justice.  But I think there’s another side we must consider as we face the cultural tides that ebb and flow creating havoc in our churches today.

Have you considered how changeable God really has been through the millennia?  If you are honest in your interpretation, you’d have to admit that God changed his mind quite often; in fact, if he were running for office, someone might call him a waffler.  A few examples:  Remember how Abraham kept whittling down the number of righteous people necessary for God to spare Sodom?  God was going blast that huge city, but Abraham talked him out of it.  And remember how God was going to kill all the Israelites because of their complaining (Numbers 14), and Moses interceded to beg God to reconsider?  And he did.  And again in Jonah 3 when God repented of the evil he planned to inflict on the Ninevites?  Then there’s the story in 2 Samuel. 24 of God being “grieved” at the plague he sent on Israel for the sins David committed and told the angel of death, “Enough!”

Think about the huge shift in covenants from the Law to the one founded on the blood of his own Son.  And then this Son comes along and turns upside-down the “way things have always been” in order to usher in a new Kingdom.  If you ask me, God is not as static as some have portrayed him.  He is ever-changing.  Just when you think you’ve got him nailed down, he does the unexpected…sometimes the outrageous!

Here’s how I know in my very soul that God is capable of reversing, revising or rethinking even the “firmest” doctrines that you and I have claimed to be unchangeable for so long…I’ve done it for my kids.  There was a time when tattoos, for example, were absolutely forbidden in our family (“You get a tattoo,” I told my younger sons, “and you will never, ever be allowed to drive the family car.”).  The same went for smoking, drugs, and so much more.  These were issues that held no wiggle room; they were firm and the consequences, dire.  And while I still hold to some of the no-no’s from years-gone-by, I can’t imagine anything that would forever alienate me from my sons.  The peace that exists between us now is not because they are perfect sons living up to my ideals for their lives, but because I have changed my heart and mind over the few things that would certainly create distance.

Scripture implies that God’s main purpose for all he did, does and will do is to make sure I (you, too) get to be with him forever one day.  Scripture further reveals that if it’s up to me (you, too), it ain’t gonna happen!  For me to have any hope of being in the very presence of God someday, he’s going to have to overlook a whole lot; he’s going to have to change his mind about some things.  There are flaws in my character that are so deep and so ingrained that I will never flush them out.

Think about that next time you judge someone for having an abortion, or for their sexual attraction,  or personal habits, or their choice of churches, or taste in music or even for their tattoos.  The Kingdom of God is big enough for us all, overseen by a Father who has done what it takes to make sure we make it.  Always has, always will.

The scripture is true:  “Jesus Christ (God) is the same yesterday, today and forever.”  He was flexible then, he’s flexible now, and he’ll be flexible later.  And that alone is enough to endear Him to me forever.

On to Something (Part 2)

housechurch

By: Brent Bailey

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

The “we” there is, again, the house church in which I’ve participated over the last year or so. This particular “time” came late in the spring, after we’d been meeting together consistently for about seven months. By that time, we’d shared many sacred moments with each other, whether we were introducing the important stories from our lives or reading the Scriptures together or erupting, on many occasions, into laughter or tears or increasingly-un-self-conscious dance moves.

On this particular night late in the spring, everyone except Priscilla knew what was coming because Matt had told everyone but her. Matt had decided, you see, that he was going to propose to Priscilla, and our church rejoiced at the thought of how God would use each of these two precious people in marriage with one another. After considering what setting in the city of Abilene would be the most appropriate and meaningful context for them to make this commitment-to-commit to one another, Matt decided he would propose during one of our weekly church gatherings.

The New Testament is rife with language and imagery that describes the church primarily as a family of faith. For those who may have lost relationships when they converted to Christianity, or for those who were geographically distant from their relatives, or for those who merely needed a strong social support system to practice the counter-cultural way of Jesus (i.e., everyone who converted), the local church was a place in which Christians experienced something close to Jesus’ promise of “homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields” (Mark 10:30). I happened to grow up in a family environment that left me with positive connotations for words like “brother” and “mother” and “father,” so I always cherished the idea that church could foster relationships with that kind of trust, familiarity, and mutual I’ve-got-your-back assurance. And to be sure, I experienced brilliant flashes of this reality throughout my years growing up in churches.

Somewhere along the way with this house church, though, I began to recognize that family language was more appropriate for our community than it had ever been with any of my other churches. The people in my house church were the ones I knew and trusted and for whom I felt a joyful obligation, regardless of my mood, to offer my truck to help them move or to cover for a meal or to spend hours at a time listening. (More often, I was on the receiving end of those acts of service.) I discovered parents who could instruct me, siblings who could encourage me, and children I wanted to protect and cherish.

So when Matt decided he would propose at a house church gathering, it felt right, and it felt good. It felt like the kind of sacred moment families share with each other, the kind we eagerly anticipated and cried throughout and will fondly remember for years to come. It’s moments like these that make me grateful God places us into churches, and it’s moments like these that will make it difficult for me to settle for any congregation in the future in which I can’t rightly call my fellow Christians “brother” and “sister” with all the intimate connotations of the terms.

A Letter to the African American Churches of Christ (Part 1)

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Dear African American Churches of Christ,

I extend the warm peace and grace of God through Christ to you all. God has blessed us richly and continues to use us for His glory in this world. I praise God that God has and continues to use us for His glory through our efforts in sharing the gospel of Jesus. Our rich heritage has a reputation of being very diligent and passionate in sharing the good news to those who are not in a reconciled relationship with God.

My beloved heritage, it was you who birthed me into my spiritual journey and it was you who raised me while on the journey. Thank you for teaching me about Jesus. Thank you for being a firm foundation. Thank you for the investment you have made in the lives of many young people like me. You have taught me to study Scripture and have integrity with it. You have taught me in many ways to trust God at any cost. You have taught me to be a defender of truth at any cost. Thank you so much for the foundation that you have laid for me to walk in.

The Early Stage of my Journey

Throughout my journey, I have been in awe of the pulpit icons within our heritage. I have been impressed with the great defenders of truth, as well as the astonishing expositors within our heritage. And since I strongly desire to be a preacher, I have always patterned myself after the great pulpit icons. I remember quite vividly, attending many debates and gospel/tent meetings which were focused on “exposing truth and error, “ while calling those who were in error to leave their denominations and to join the “one true church.”

As a result, I have witnessed many people come to Jesus in response to such strong passionate sermons focused on the one true church.

I remember a few years after I accepted the call to preach.  I attended an event where a popular evangelist was preaching at a well-known African American Church of Christ in Dallas. The preacher was well dressed, covered with jewelry, and had a smooth persona. He spoke with a deep bass voice, words of scripture, and persuasive rhetoric all flowing of his mouth with regard to the churches of Christ. After about an hour and a half of preaching, ten people responded to his invitation and committed their lives to Jesus in baptism.  By the end of the gospel meeting, a total of forty-six people all decided to be followers of Jesus.  As a young man, witnessing such moments deeply impressed me and created a passion which likewise called me to be a strong and persuasive defender of the one true church.

I enjoyed many such remarkable experiences during the early stages of my journey of faith and benefited by sitting at the feet of outstanding expository preachers in churches of Christ. Eventually, I too was baptized and raised in a congregation of the churches of Christ which was led by one of the leading expositors in our heritage. In fact, when I informed him that I wanted to become a preacher, he personally mentored me and introduced me to expository preaching.  Expository preaching, at the time, was thought to be radically different from the style of older preachers who were considered defenders of truth whose style was more topical.  Indeed, these differences—between expository and topical preaching—led to real tensions between stalwart “defenders of truth.”  I entered the fray by accepting expository preaching as the most honest and rigorous approach to Scripture. I still harbor this belief today.

Throughout the earlier parts of my journey, dear churches of Christ, I have observed you carefully. Like a child committed to her or his parents, I have entrusted you to rear me in the ways I should go.  I have watched how you chastised nonbelievers using our interpretative style to send them to hell. I have seen how you invested money, attention, and time into gospel meetings, lectureships, and Southwestern Christian College. I have appreciated how you went door knocking and asked people if they believed in the Bible, if they believed that Christ has built one church, and if they wanted to be added to the church. In these things I witnessed your heart to save people and your courageous defense of the truth.

I also observed how preachers in our heritage fought against one another over worship styles and personal morality. I read letters, unloving letters, written by Preachers and sealed with the closing “said in love”.  Dear Preachers, I even noticed how some of you marginalized preachers’ sins, but magnified other preachers’ sins.  You played the game of favoritism with one another.  You isolated those who did not agree with your beliefs.  Consequently, you encouraged our heritage to speak truth with aggressiveness, conning persuasion, but not primarily in love.  My beloved heritage, I watched you, and I imitated you in so many ways.