Monthly Archives: July 2014

I Love America, but…

By: Steve Holt Sr.

I love America.  But I am, first and foremost, a citizen of a Kingdom that is not built on man-made ideals, is not dependent on any “ism” to thrive, is not vulnerable to a more powerful army, and doesn’t encourage nationalistic arrogance.

I love liberty.  But I love the freedom found in this Kingdom most—a freedom not won through the futility of war. It wasn’t negotiated through the political scheming of men and women. It is granted to each and every person who realizes and accepts the reality that our freedom cost God everything.  This liberty frees us to give all, love unconditionally, grant mercy to all and gratefully receive everything as a gift.

I love the U.S. flag, but let’s face it; it’s just a piece of cloth fashioned by a seamstress.  Thousands upon thousands who died so that we can fly the flag didn’t give their lives for that piece of cloth.  They died for an ideal, a political system, a way of life or some other factor that will never compare in value to even one of those who lost his/her life.

I love independence.  But I love interdependence more.  I dream of a world in which people get along despite their differences because they respect one another, they need one another, they share a loyalty to an ideal that is loftier than party, pleasure, or personal agenda.

I love progress, but not at the expense of exhaustible resources, wildlife, clean air, my sanity and fellowman’s wellbeing.

I love air conditioning, a comfortable home, good food, nice clothes and a reliable car.  But I must learn not to be dependent on any of these things, nor to consider them entitlements.

I love safety.  But I realize safety is never guaranteed.  Stuff happens to good, bad and indifferent people indiscriminately. I have no unalienable right to safety and know that no army, police force, neighborhood, fence, or weapon can fully protect me from personal harm.

I love the church.  But I hate religion.  The only measure of God’s church is the height and weight of a believer.  The effects of church as God intends can’t be seen, only sensed.  Religion boasts, manipulates, condemns, takes, controls, and fights to preserve itself.  I hate religion.  I really do.

I love family.  But I really love kinship formed out of mutual respect, devotion to the Father, and is inclusive, welcoming and nurturing.

I love the USA.  But I love planet Earth more, where, from space, you can’t tell where one nation begins and one ends.

I love Americans.  But I love the family of mankind most.

I love Facebook, texts, Tweets, emails, phone calls and blogs.  But I love seeing you face-to-face more.

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Steve Holt Sr. lives in Abilene, TX.  His new book, Intentional, In Jesus’ Name We Play offers a glimpse into life in a Kingdom not of this world.

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The Most Evangelistic Thing

By: Laura Callarman

“The most evangelistic thing the church can do today is to be the church—to be formed imaginatively by the Holy Spirit through core practices such as worship, forgiveness, hospitality, and economic sharing into a distinctive people in the world, a new social option, the body of Christ. It is the very shape and character of the church as the Spirit’s ‘new creation’ that is the witness to God’s reign in the world and so both the source and aim of Christian evangelism.”  (Bryan Stone, Evangelism After Christendom, 15.)

The most evangelistic thing the church can do is be the church. I don’t know how this claim strikes you at first glance, but let me tell you, when I first read it a few years ago, I was blown away. You see, I was in the midst of a four-year master’s degree focused on learning all the ins and outs of Christian ministry and mission. I’d dedicated years of my life to studying about evangelism, and I intended to devote my life to engaging in it in one way or another. And here was Bryan Stone telling me that the best thing we could do to fulfill Jesus’ instructions to spread the gospel and make disciples was simply to be. Not to have a missional program in place or to go on mission campaigns around the neighborhood or the world. Not to strategize and plan, to plot ideas and measure outcomes. Not even to figure out the most socially acceptable way to share the good news of Jesus with people in their various cultural contexts. But rather to just be. What in the world did Stone mean by that?!? And why, despite their dissonance with much of the other training I’d received (both in school and throughout life), did his words resonate so deeply with me?

Perhaps because of the dissonance and the resonance both, those words stuck with me. I kept turning them over again and again in my mind and in my heart. I pondered their meaning and I considered their application. And I found wisdom in them, particularly when I looked around me at the utter failure of traditional practices of “evangelism,” practices that rarely bring the true good news that they claim to. (“Evangelism” is Greek for “good news,” but more often than not our evangelistic practices are more expressive of judgment, condemnation, and exclusion than any actual good news.) When it came to winning the hearts of people to Christ, there just had to be something more, something better than that which I’d seen taught, modeled, lived—and, all too often, completely (and understandably) rejected by those who did not know Christ. And as I pondered his words, I realized that Bryan Stone was on to something.

Over the years since I first read Stone’s assertion, I’ve become utterly convinced that he’s right. I’ve seen it. Yes, I’ve seen the miserable failure of traditional models of “soul winning,” as I’ve just mentioned. But it’s not just that that’s convinced me. It’s that I’ve seen the kind of evangelism Stone describes work. He says that the best thing we can do to share good news with others is to be people who’ve been transformed by good news and are thus an inviting alternative way of life. And I’ve seen that happen.

I’ve seen the church be all that it was called to be and designed to be, and I’ve seen people be transformed by it. I’ve seen lives permeated by God’s good news in ways that many would consider peculiar or even unnerving, but it’s because as Christians we’re called and enabled by the Spirit to be people who live in such love and trust and forgiveness and grace that we look very different. And I’ve also seen some who had written off or given up on Christianity take a second look because they see the transformed people of God and they’re intrigued and drawn in by the enduring witness that that life-giving transformation is.

In short, I’ve seen a new creation emerge in the lives of both individuals and communities, and I’ve seen that new creation bring new life, new hope, and new joy to all people—Christian and non-Christian alike.

I’ve been re-evangelized with this gospel of love and meaning in deep relationship with God and God’s people, and it’s my hope and prayer that all people can experience this. Because, let me tell you, it’s a lot more uplifting and exciting than anything else I’ve ever experienced in life. It’s true good news: God is love, Jesus is Lord, the Spirit is our trusted companion and guide, and we are people transformed in relationship with this God! And that is worth joining in on. Come along with me for the journey!

the call to NATIONALISM 

By: Brian Scott

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A prophet once said that the one who trusts the Master will be “like a tree planted near water. It spreads out its roots by the river; and it does not even notice when the heat comes. Its foliage is luxuriant; it does not worry during a year of drought, it just keeps on giving fruit.”

For the remainder of the discussion, the tree will be serving us as a sign of Messianic Nationalism. The tree is one plant, composed of various parts. Beginning as a small seed, invisible within the earth, it establishes roots. As the roots feed that seed, it sends forth a shoot which springs up from the still quiet earthy expanse out into a bustling new time and place. The trunk thickens as roots and branches reach further into earth and sky. As the root system keeps drinking from the continual stream this tree becomes mighty and robust with leaves. Thousands of branches of all sizes now engulf the sky thick with a hundred shades of green, yellow, and red. Finally it reaches its goal. During the most hopeless drought it perseveres cleaning the air, producing leaves that heal the nations [a new fruit to harvest at the end of each month], and offering shade to the weary traveler. This towering oak is Messianic Nationalism.

Screen Shot 2014-07-02 at 2.01.07 PMStokely Carmichael is a Trinidadian born Black American who lived from 1941 to 1998. He contributed greatly to the American Civil Rights movement as a community organizer, philosopher, author, and public speaker. Carmichael became involved with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee [SNCC] as an undergraduate attending Howard University at the age of 19. He later went on to serve as the SNCC chairman in the subsequent years. Stokely Carmichael is also credited with coining the term “Black Power” and he filled that phrase with socio-economic and cultural substance, from his study and practice of community organizing, which birthed a movement.

Stokely expressed his deep devotion to the peoplehood of blacks in the U.S. by endorsing,

“a call for Black People to unite, to recognize their heritage, to build a sense of community… to begin defining their own goals, to lead their own organizations and support these organizations.” 

The previous essay addressed how the body of believers was never meant to think of themselves as a collection of individuals, but as a People. Consider the possibility that what Carmichael was suggesting for the benefit of black America is a great template for continuing our discussion on Messianic Nationalism.

This quote begins with a call for a people to unite. It has already been recounted how the Messiah’s dying prayer was for the unity of his people. The remainder of the quote can be read as elaboration and implications of what it would mean for his people to unite. First of all, he says unity means recognizing their heritage [their roots]. Then, he mentions the building of a sense of community. This might also be described as a shared identity [their seed]. Next, Carmichael says they are to “begin defining their own goals.” They must understand their purpose [their trunk]. It cannot be dictated to them by other groups. And then finally, he mentions the need to “lead their own organizations” and “support” those organizations. This can be taken to mean that a nation of people must have a culture, customs, and traditions which organize, structure, and sustain their life together [their foliage and fruit].

These seem to be necessary elements of peoplehood. Every nation and tribe has had to establish these things for themselves, but to the extent that a group outsources the management of their heritage, identity, purpose, culture, and sustenance to the surrounding society, they cease to be a unified people.

 

We Are Not All Peas in a Pod

By: Janet Mendenhall

I am perplexed by my peas. Purple hull peas are my one selfish endeavor in the Valley View Community Garden. I plant most vegetables in the community garden because I know the neighbors will use them, they are hardy enough for the West Texas heat and are easily identified when ready to harvest. I plant purple hull peas because in my opinion, they are the crowning crop of the garden.

The peas were planted 12 inches apart, coinciding with the drip holes on the drip tape that irrigates each row. I planted them at the same time and to the best of my ability at the same depth in the soil. They are all equally exposed to daily sunlight. And so I have been perplexed watching them grow. As I walked through the garden today, a few of the pea plants still look like the bean sprouts in the Dixie cup you planted in first-grade science class. And the largest plant is in full bloom and sporting a pod or two. The other plants fall somewhere in between on the pea-plant-growth spectrum. I am expecting a good crop of peas. I am hopeful for more blooms and eventually more fruit to appear. I am encouraged by the plant whose fruit has already begun to ripen, and resisting the urge to be worried about its immature neighbors. But I do wonder.

I wonder how we think about those around us, as we look up and down our rows. If we see ourselves as fruitful folks stuck amidst Dixie cup seedlings; are we boastful or judgmental?  Are we quick to question, “If I am producing fruit now, shouldn’t you be as well? What is wrong with you? Too lazy to grow? Too stubborn to do your part? We had the same start, after all. We have had the same chances to grow and to thrive, the same access to resources.”

Or so it appears.

I don’t know what is different about my pea plants. But there is something. They appear to have had similar opportunities for growth, yet they are not growing similarly. There could be things that I do not know about these plants and things I cannot see that are affecting their growth.  Maybe there was less nourishment in the specific place in which some found themselves planted. Perhaps something was discarded in their spot that was unhealthy and not supportive of a strong start. Someone might have walked across the soil after planting and that bit of trampling applied enough pressure to make breaking through the surface to the sunlight more difficult. I do not know what has slowed the growth of some, but I do know they are growing. And I am hopeful that with access to nourishing resources, in good time, they will produce fruit.

As I look around, I am reminded of my peas. I see sprouts and blooms and even some pea pods. And I remember that even when it seems each of our places of growth is equally full of opportunities and obstacles, all probably aren’t.  And with cheerful expectation, I nurture and cultivate good fruit in my spot and up and down my row. I can’t wait to share in the bounty of the harvest.