Monday, December 19, 2005

Toby Packer

We have a new addition to the family. Toby, our little "baby" dog, has now been added. He is a maltese puppy and only weighs 1 1/2 pounds. I'm learning many things about myself with the addition of a new family member. My patience needs to grow and I need to learn to communicate better because that puppy understands everything Holly has to say and nothing I have to say. I guess it is because my voice is two octaves too low.

Holly and I also graduated on December 9th. I should be so pleased to graduate, but with three years of graduate school ahead, there is little time to rest. I can't wait to see and spend time with our families. Holly and I are so blessed to have families that take care of us and love to spend time with us.

And again I am thankful for Holly and her love in this, our second Christmas. Holly, you are the love of my life and I pray you are able to find a job soon to get me through grad school. So many things to be thankful for. I love you and Merry Christmas.

But most of all I am thankful to my God who sent Jesus who is the reason for this season. Though there is great debate over whether Jesus is being taken out of Christmas this year, this is all meaningless. Jesus will be celebrated in my house and in our family. To force him on the world is worthless. There will always be those who will not believe and that is ok, but there is no doubt that Jesus is the reason for the season and is worthy of all praise.

Praise God!

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Preaching With Vision

Sorry blogworld, however big or small you might be, for my lack of writing lately. It is hard to balance blogging and schoolwork. But I still want to continue the conversation with those of you out there.

I am looking forward to the Missional Church Conference coming up in a few weeks. For one weekend, I will get to spend time with many from Churches of Christ and outside, as well as my dad, discussing a model for church for this century. And this leads me to my current quandary.

Right now, I am thinking a lot about the church. Many around me do not have much hope for the church. My generation has seen the corruption and poor focus of the many churches and have lost all hope for the institution, but I refuse to do this. Sure, the church is made up of humans that distort what it was intended for and the media will continue to highlight these excesses, but I will continue to hold out and hope that God will use the church in the future.

Many my age our putting hope in planting house churches and doing missions. These are important things and need to be done; However, if we forget about the current church and do not think about how to make the bride of Christ more faithful, we are jettisoning an important avenue that God has worked through for so many years. I have a vision for the church and I am excited to think more about this vision as I begin grad school in the spring. These are formative years and I look forward to dreaming and praying that God will continue to give me a vision for the church.

But as I think about this I wonder, whose job is it to set a vision for the church? Is it right for me to dream of a vision for the church and come in and institute that vision in the life of a church? Should that task be for the preacher to decide, the elders, or the congregation? I don't want to be presumptuous and think I am the only one in a church God can speak to, but I am excited about this part of preaching. I see a church in the future that can be used by God as he furthers his kingdom. I see a church in the future more concerned about the lost than internal matters. I see a church in the future that is less homogeneous. I see a church in the future that is less concerned with meeting felt needs and more concerned with meeting real needs of people.

This is an exciting time for me and I look forward to working with a community to make these things happen.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

A Tale of Two Journeys

This morning I went to Cisco. Sounds mundane to many, but when I say this morning I mean this morning. At 2:50 A.M. I went with 3 students and 4 professors to meet evacuees of Katrina in Cisco, Texas.

As I rode with strangers from ACU on the way to this new home for several people from Louisiana, I wondered what I would see. As I was in a van silently pondering what the campsite would be like and unsure of what my task would be, I could only imagine how different my life would be if I were an evacuee on a bus with strangers to an unknown place I would call home for months. To evacuees without a map, Cisco, TX, must be just as foreign as another country. They were in a bus with people who they didn't know trusting that they were going some place where they would be taken care of.

This was truly a tale of two journeys. I came knowing I would go home to see my wife hours later, while these evacuees went with their families to a new home with every unknown imaginable.

When I got there, one busload had already gotten there and the people were already sent off to bed. An hour later another busload of about 30 got out. These were the faces of a tragedy I had seen on tv. TV never does justice. Their eyes were yellow and red, they smelled terrible and their stories were amazingly vivid.

One family I spent time with was made up of a husband, wife and 7 kids who were all under the age of 14. As we talked to these people we heard their amazing stories. This family was from New Orleans and was evacuated Tuesday of this week. They had spent over a week in the second story of their flooded house. Halfway through the week, the roof collapsed on them. After a week, finally they were airlifted to Baton Rouge and shipped off to Cisco. What a journey it had been? They were not bitter. They were not desiring to loot as many of the television stations might portray them. Rather, they were thankful people who needed people to talk with and share their amazing stories.

Now, I have faces to go with this tragedy. I will go back, you can be sure of that. Money is a good thing to give, but I believe this morning was the first time I actually gave a cup of cold water to a thirsty man and his son. This morning was the first time I had ever personally given clothes to the near naked. This morning was the first time I was able to give shelter to a family who had none. It feels good to give people hope and give in the name of Jesus.

Is social justice important? Just ask this family who thanked us over and over again for just water, sweaters, blankets, and a roof. You could tell clearly from the looks on their faces that they would say, "Yes, it does matter!"

As I came back to Abilene, I realized how blessed I truly am. I was able to go back to my warm shelter, comfortable clothes and cold water, but these people remain all over the United States. Get involved in the lives of these evacuees because I can tell you that Jesus is waiting to be fed and clothed!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The Trinity

Yesterday in Church History we discussed the topic of heresies and the Trinity. Today in Systematic Theology we are discussing the Trinity. I don't have any idea what the Trinity is after reading page after page. Sure, I know the church answer. We believe in the Trinity. That's easy enough to say, but what does it really mean to belive in the Trinity and how does that affect our lives as Christians? Does it really matter?

It's easy to throw out easy analogies to help us understand it. Several of these have been easy ways to understand heresies. For example, the Trinity is like an egg. There are three parts: the yolk, the egg white, and the shell. We tend to use these analogies to help us understand the incomprehensible, but this example only explains a heresy of the early church. I know some of this is important. I realize that theology shapes our worldview and every church needs a trained theologian to help get through its tough times and questions, but it's easy to say it doesn't matter that much.

I'm struggling and the Trinity will not be the end of my struggle. Theology is difficult mostly because no one knows the right answer. Let me end with this statement. I'm struggling to figure out these matters, but I continue in this quest because I hear that it does matter.

If anyone else out there can sympathize with me. Help me out. Or if you have an answer for the Trinity let me know. Until then, let us live in the faith of Jesus Christ, the Son of God who was fully divine and fully human and who has given us eternal life. That sounds good but what does it really mean? Wow, I really am confused!

Thursday, September 01, 2005

War In Our Backyard

I can't believe the scenes on the news! I cannot believe them! If I didn't know about Hurricane Katrina, I would swear the scenes all over our news channels are scenes from the Middle East or Africa. As I hear of looting, raping, and setting fires in a time of great need, I cannot imagine that we are talking about a city about 600 miles from where I sit. It is a war zone. Survival of the Fittest. It is a modern day city of Atlantis hanging in the balance. I ask myself, how can people be so callous to need the military to come in and settle things down?

I am taking Systematic Theology right now, which you may think has nothing to do with Katrina, but in a sense, it has everything to do with Katrina. Now is the time more than any other when people are asking ministers to do theology through questions of why and how that are directed at God. So, I ask the question like so many others, "Why, God? Surely if you didn't cause this disaster, you didn't prevent it, which I believe you have the power to do. Why did you not just put your thumb over the broken levees to stop this disaster from growing worse and damaging lives?" And creation moans together in unison, "How long, Oh Lord?"

How can people be so callous that they would loot, rape and pillage a city? But then I say to myself, "Collin, surely you aren't asking this question. Surely, you are much the same when you call yourself and Christian and fail to live up to that name much of the time." I think we only have to look within ourselves to see that we are fallen creatures who seek after things that make God moan in the same way we do about this situation. As David says in Psalm 51, "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me." We are all sinners in our inmost being.

Fortunately, we serve a God who offers grace if we only confess our sins and let Jesus' blood cover over them.

God work in your ways that we cannot understand. Work to make good out of something we couldn't dream to make good out of even if we tried. Be with those who will hurt for years and for those who will never recover. Give them your grace as only you can and mourn with us as we mourn for those who need comforting, for you will surely give it to them.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Ah! The History of the Church

For some reason I get really excited about Church History. In fact, my favorite class thus far in school has been Restoration History. Currently, I am in Church History and it is once again exciting. It's hard not to be excited with a teacher like Doug Foster.

So many students try to opt out of Church History because it is hard or seemingly boring. This is definitely a mistake. We must learn from our pasts and learn why we do what we do today. Too many youngsters don't know the reasons why we do the things we do and this can only lead to bad things. Either we will drop our valuable traditions or we will continue on in needless traditions for the sake of tradition alone. History is a vital study and a needed spiritual discipline in our lives.

You can expect to hear quite a bit about this subject this semester because I know it will get me excited and frustrated with our past. However, it is exciting that despite the good and bad in our past, God continues to use the church, his beloved, as his hands and feet in the world. I agree with Hybels, "The local church is the hope of the world," and this can only be so if we let Jesus be the head of it. Our conversation toward a post-modern, post-Christian church must not just look to the future. It must take into account our shameful and rich past. May our memories serve as springboards to our bright future!

Monday, August 22, 2005

Back To School

I am of a rare breed today. I am a senior college student excited to get back to school. Sure, there are many who look forward to getting back to see friends and that is exciting. But many seniors at ACU started today with a fear of today.

There are several reasons why a normal senior might be frightened with their last first day of school.

First, in the marriage factory called ACU, many are without the mates they came to school in order to find. I, however, have found the perfect mate and love every minute of my time with her. Thanks again Holly!

Second, many fear leaving school. That may sound silly at first, but it is true. It sounds great to get out of a situation that has hassled you for 16 years of your life. No more homework. No more getting ready for the future. The future is here and in your face. But at a closer glance, many seniors dread that step into the unknown mostly because it is.....the unknown. However, I have delayed this fear by committing to three more years of grad school. Even more incredibly, I have a wife who not only secured fear number one, but is going to help me get through grad school by getting a job. Thanks again Holly!

Third, most college seniors love the college environment and friendships but despise school. However, I once again am an anomaly. I love school and learning and dreaming about the church. Grad school is a bit exciting and scary but this semester is exciting.

Fourth, many college seniors have no idea what they want to do in life still after three years of preparing for something. I believe God has called me to the ministry of preaching. I pray that God will use me to help churches engage the world in dynamic ways in the future. It is all so exciting.

I am a rare breed. You may thank I'm strange. But I'm happy to be a college senior today in my last first day of undergraduate schooling. Back to school!

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Hope You Haven't Missed Me

I don't like it at all when my favorite bloggers fail to blog for days at a time. I am not a daily blogger, but I try to do it as much as possible. I have to say I understand and need breaks myself. This past week I went with Holly and the rest of my family to Disney World. What a needed time of rest before school gets started! Hope you haven't missed my thoughts too much. The seeming lack of comments must account for the lack of readers. Oh well. One day I will have a captive audience who will have to listen. Thank God for direct communication. Until then thanks for reading and thanks for allowing me time off.

By the way, thanks for the prayers for the funeral. No funeral is a good funeral. However, I did experience the peace that passes all understanding in this time of mourning. Continue to pray for the family. Thank you Lord for doing through me what I couldn't do myself.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Asking For Prayer

Today I am doing my first funeral. It's not the most fun one. No one minds doing the funeral of a great man or woman of God who has lived a full life of faith with a great expectation of heaven. That's somewhat easy, but God had other plans for my first and I need your prayers.

I am doing the funeral of a 9-day old baby today. Christian's parents are unmarried and unchurched and they are hurting. What do you say to a family who doesn't know about the hope of eternity? What makes them feel better? How can I help?

As I went over to their apartment earlier this week, it was tough. Here I am, a 21-year old minister without kids trying to comfort a family who has seen things I have rarely even thought about. Yet in this scary situation, God was faithful. People were praying for me and God gave me that peace that passes all understanding. I am pretty arrogant to think I can do many things, but this time I knew I had no business being there. It humbles you to know you are doing something you otherwise couldn't do without God. The young couple expressed a desire to make their spiritual life more of a priority after this. I was blown away. I was expecting questions about why God would do this, but instead they said, with a faith most churched people don't have, "I think God is trying to focus our priorities. We want to go to your church this Sunday." I'm pretty sure the Holy Spirit was working on this one way before I came to the doorstep.

Please pray for this family and for me. The service is at one o'clock this afternoon. God will be faithful.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

My Experience at Lakewood

I have to admit I have been conditioned through my experiences to be against most things at the Lakewood Church in Houston. Many in our churches are spending much of their time putting down churches like Lakewood for their megachurch theology and systems. I went to Lakewood this past Saturday with 1/3 of me looking to criticize, 1/3 trying to figure out what works to bring so many people into one church, and the last 1/3 praying that God would open me up to the see what he is doing at this church.

Through this summer, I have been in many conversations concerning Lakewood and most of them have been negative. Many are upset that Lakewood would spend so much on a building. Others disagree with Joel's gospel of positive thinking and abundance. There are so many things that can be critiqued at every church and it seems like even more at the big churches because there is so much more going on.

As I entered the building, I was greeted by so many people. But the most amazing moment came when I walked out of the lobby and into the arena. Thousands of people were already there and it was 20 minutes early. By the time the service started there were probably over 8,000 people. I really enjoyed the worship. It was energizing and exciting to worship with so many others in a former basketball arena. I expected more of a concert atmosphere with more people watching the performers on stage, but most of the people seemed to be deep in worship praising God. I came out of the service uplifted not for what I got out of it, but because the name of God was praised. Actually, I didn't come out of the service feeling like I had received as much as I felt like God was praised as Lord. Their prayer time was also very effective.

Then, Joel got up and he was positive to the core. There has been a lot of controversy over his interview with Larry King. Joel didn't come out very strongly on the issues of how one is saved in the interview. In fact, Larry King asked him point blank some important questions that he seemed to dodge. I don't agree with all of what Joel says. I don't think it addresses people who may never receive physical healing or success in a worldly kind of sense. However, despite my difference in theology, there is no reason for me to come out and condemn him. Luckily for me as well as Joel, God does not judge us on the basis of correct doctrine for who could stand? Our salvation never rests on what we do, but on what Christ has done. As long as Joel Osteen and Lakewood hold up Christ Jesus as Lord and proclaim that, I will not condemn and speak harshly about their ministry. If the amount of time that some have spent arguing over Lakewood's ministry had been used to spend time in the mission of God rather than bickering over correct theology and practice, God might would be more pleased with us. I will not accept anyone's message who denies Christ as Lord and our only hope of salvation. There is absolute truth when it comes to this, but I will not condemn others for a difference of opinion on theology.

May God bless the Lakewood Church. May he bring more people to a saving relationship through Joel Osteen. And may I begin to recognize that he is not the enemy that many make him out to be. The megachurch is not the enemy. Satan is.

Allow me to use a ridiculous analogy. I can assure you that we would work with terrorists and they would be happy to work with us if aliens from space tried to invade earth. We would do this because we could look past our differences in order to fight with those who share this planet in common. In churches, we must see the same thing. Though there are many differences in churches, we are all Christians if we proclaim Christ as Lord and Savior. Let's not forget who the enemy is and let us never forget the reason for our salvation. It is not in how perfect we work out our theology and practice. It is only found in the perfect Passover Lamb who was slaughtered in order that we might have forgiveness. Blessed be the name of the Lord!

Monday, August 01, 2005

An Impressionable Young Man

I don't know about you, but I am a passionate young man. I believe God has given me passion as a spiritual gift. I'm passionate about my family, preaching, the church and God's kingdom, sports, and so many other things. It seems like every new experience I have and every book I read gives me a bigger vision of the world. But the problem is that every well written book and impressive experience is difficult for me to critique. Everything makes a huge impression on me and my vision for the world.

This is hard for some of you to believe. Mom and dad, you probably wonder who is writing this post because this doesn't sound like the same senior in high school who argued over and over again about what was wrong with everything with your parenting, with the church, and everything else in the world. I once had an eye that found what was wrong with everything. I could debate anything from either side of every issue just for the cause of argument.

I can also remember that during my senior year in Bible class at Dallas Christian, I argued with the Baptists in the class every day about doctrinal issues. We would argue about "Once saved always saved," the necessity of baptism, and other "crucial" issues. It's amazing to think now of how off based that was. But fortunately God is in the process of changing me. I'm still very critical of myself and my own work, but I have dropped many debates and arguments with others because they seem so illogical and harmful to me now. But now I wonder if I have gone too far the other way.

Maybe I have just read great books with nothing wrong in them, but it seems to me that I accept and get excited about every book about the church that I read. Every new book gives me more ideas about the church I will one day lead.

During my sophomore year, I became passionate about unity in the church. I saw the problem with our division and God gave me a passion for seeing how churches can come together despite their diversity under the name of Jesus Christ. We must seek to bind broken ties and seek the unity that Christ prayed for us. What a vision for the church!

But then came a new passion and vision. During my junior year, I began reading books from the Gospel and Our Culture Network about the missional church. This became a passion. We need more churches who see mission not just as another facet of the church, but as its lifeblood and purpose. What a vision for the church!

This summer God has given me yet another passion and vision. I've already talked about The Church of Irresistible Influence. It has made an impact on my vision. Now I see a church that works not for the name on the outside of its building, but to further the name of God in the corner of the world that church is in. The church should not build walls, rather the church must build bridges to the world. What a vision for the church!

Which is right? What does God call the church to? How does a church seek to do all of these wonderful things? All of these books have made impressions on me.

I've also had experiences that have been hard to critique. This past Saturday night, I went to a service at Lakewood Church here in Houston where Joel Osteen preaches. This church is the biggest church in America. They just moved into the old Compaq center and they average about 30,000 in attendance a week. Lakewood and Joel have received a lot of criticism for many things and I had many questions about some of the church's theology and ideas. I went into the experience asking God to open my heart and to help me understand what He is doing there. The church made an impression on me and it was difficult for me to critique. (I'll talk more about this tomorrow.)

Now I am passionate about everything and more confused than ever about what God wants for the church. I see many good ideas and discuss them with people wherever I can, but I don't know what God wants. Every experience and book makes an impression on me that will stay with me throughout my life. What is worth being passionate about? What kind of vision is worth putting a passion behind?

I come into my last semester of undergrad influenced by many good things, but unsure of everything. I have grown so much. I want to seek discussion, not argument; unity, not legalism; love, not pharisaical truth; mission, not programs; and kingdom, not the small vision of just "doing church." But in all of these things there are so many more questions I have. Where does God want me? What is the purpose of the church? How do we help God as He builds and furthers his kingdom? How does theology impact practical ministry? How do we stay truthful yet relevant in a post-modern, post-Christian, post-denominational world? Basically, how can the most people's lives be changed to live into a relationship with Christ in this world? These are some of my many questions I hope grad school can help with, but I know at the end of my masters, there will be more questions I can't even conceive of now.

How do I, a young man that God has given vision and passion for the church, fulfill God's purpose for the future? Everything makes an impression on me, but not everything is beneficial.

God give me a vision for your church bigger than ever before. Maybe not bigger in numbers. Maybe not bigger in budget. Maybe not even bigger as I conceive it now. But grant me passion for things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and admirable. Shape me into the man you need for the future through whatever that takes. In Jesus' Name, Amen!

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Are there wrinkles on my face that I'm not seeing?

Yesterday was my first taste of being seen as old. It is so fun to be young. When you hit a golf ball 300 yards right down the middle of the fairway as a 12-year old, people seem to notice and think you're the next Tiger Woods. Actually come to think of it, I guess it was Jack Nicklaus at that time. But when you're 21, people don't proclaim you as the next golf champion. Many things are this way.

Yesterday, I was looking at several of my friend's blogs and there was a young girl up at the office who said to me, and I quote, "I didn't know OLD PEOPLE had blogs." I couldn't believe what she said. Am I really considered old?

Then last night, I went skating with Holly at a kids' skating event with the church. As we were skating the Macarena, the theme song of 1993, came on. Holly, Ashley (the other children's intern), and I were excited, but all of the other kids had never heard the song. In fact after thinking about it, they were not even born when the Macarena was in its prime. As I skated, I had a flashback to when I once skated as a young lad. I remembered skating around many old people and wondering why they were so slow and awkward. Well, last night I felt like the old man wondering why these kids were skating so well and so fast around me.

I'm not sure how I feel about all of this. Kind of old I guess. Things move and you get older. My question is when do you stop with the spiked hair and T-shirts. There comes a time when this all must change. Hopefully yesterday was not the first sign that these things must change. We shall see!

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

A Church Built For More Than Itself

Lately in my thoughts about unity, I have thought a lot about what the church is for. What is the purpose of the church? What should its impact be?

I am looking forward to Thursday night because at the FC college devo we are going to talk about the church. Some of the questions I hope to pose to the college students are: Is the church relevant today?, Why do your friends not continue to go to church?, Why do you continue to go to church?, In a post-denominational age, do you find any significance in your background in Churches of Christ or would you be excited to worship anywhere?, What is the purpose of the church?, and How is our generation of Christians going to make an impact in our post-modern world? These are questions that I think of often that I am excited to discuss with others my age who may not think so often of these things.

There are many purposes of the church. Many today find successful churches to be those in which their numbers are growing and budgets skyrocketing. I guess this is a way of judging things. Others have tried to chart their growth by the spiritual transformation of their membership. This has to be one goal of the church to make disciples of all who are regular attenders.

However, I believe there is a significant problem with many ideas of the church's purpose. Most churches are trying to further the name on the sign in front of their building than the kingdom of God. This aim is subtle, yet real. No one verbally states their purpose as this, but the actions prove otherwise at times. There is no sin in wanting to grow, but the purpose is not to further a certain church or denomination. The purpose is to lead more people on the journey of the Christian life. The purpose of a church is not to gain numbers or notoriety, it is to partner with God and others in adding people to the kingdom.

Worship is all about re-envisioning the world as it should, and as it truly can be. Then, worship must lead to a mission led by the ambassadors who have been apart of the worship experience. Worship leads us to action wherever we are whether it be our jobs, at the supermarket, or at our kids' ballgames. The church is not sent out for the sake of the church. The church is sent out of church for the sake of the world. We don't share our message in a selfish effort to have more members. We share our message to make an impact in the corner of the world God has placed us.

This is why partnering with other faith communities is so important. Every community should have a group of churches, despite their background, working together in the name of Christ not in order to boost attendance at their particular location, but in order to further God's kingdom. This is the subtle difference. Do we evangelize under the name of Christ or under the name "Anywhere USA Church of Christ?" Is this about a numbers game in our churches or is it about a real desire to be sent out as Christ has called us for the sake of the world? This means we are not in competition with other churches to the point of not talking and working with them. We are partners with others who share the name Christian because it's about more than bringing others to our church.

I hope I have communicated this clearly. Simply put, are we looking to bring people to saving relationship with Christ even if they don't attend our church or denomination? Even if it doesn't benefit the numbers of our buildings, any real missional church will work for God, not for its own name.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Is Jesus' Prayer a Possibility?

In John 17, Jesus prays that we may be one as he is one with the Father and Holy Spirit. I believe this prayer is an essential part of a missional church. Is this prayer for us to be one a possibility and how do we go about it? And what does it really mean to be one?

In our age of denominations, it is hard to imagine the body of Christ as one. Some people, including some from our tradition, have claimed unity by naming all denominations as lost and separate from "the true church." I specifically remember reading a document written by Moses Lard in which he said "the true church" cannot divide. He claimed that every other group did not divide from the church but were never a part of the church. This seems a bit insane.

Is the unity Christ calls for an organizational unity or just a loose unity in Christ? What does it mean to be one? Some ecumenical organizations have aimed at bringing denominations into fellowship with one another. Other groups have tried to have unity without having to formally unite in any way.

All I know is that Christ calls us to unity. Unity does not mean uniformity. Unity can be done amid the diversity of many religious backgrounds. I believe our fundamental questions are the reason for our division in the past. We have always asked what we have to do to in order to be united, but a better question might be how can we work with other faith communities in our area to bring the good news of God to the city we find ourselves in?

Our focus should not be to help our churches be in better unity. It should be to further God's kingdom and bring him glory through our mission of the gospel to the lost. If we can work together on that, we can be in unity. A missional church must be about bringing the message of God to the lost community surrounding its building, not furthering its own name. We must unite with as many other churches as we can to make a greater impact in the world. A cord of one strand will break, but a cord of three strands is not easily broken.

Evangelism is not always easy amongst many denominations. We have many different ideas about being saved and being right with God. It's not easy to evangelize with other churches when you can't come to an agreement on how to evangelize, but working together even in our diversity can bring a great harvest. When people come together amongst great differences, that in itself is great evangelism. We cannot drop our understandings of what we believe for the sake of unity, but if the core of our message, Jesus Christ, is held up, then God will be pleased. Let us be about the sake of bringing people to Christ among others who are different than us.

Is Jesus' prayer a possibility in our day? With optimism, I say yes, but it will take some work. The best I can hope to do is make unity happen wherever I find myself. To partner with others despite their religious banner under the banner of Christ. Let Christ be our head, not the name Churches of Christ.

Friday, July 22, 2005

To my beautiful bride of one year...

This Sunday is my first anniversary so I thought I would take some time to write some special notes to the woman of my dreams.


What a year it has been! It's hard to believe that it was eight years ago that I first saw you and were struck by your beauty. And now, a year into our marriage, I get to share life with you daily. God has placed such a blessing in my life through you. Your smile penetrates every room you walk into and your love has pierced my heart. I am the luckiest man in the world. And though I can never know what is ahead, I pledge my love again to you a year after making the same vow that I will be faithful to you in whatever circumstances we find each other.

It seems Scripture desribes you better than I can in Proverbs 31:

10"A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. 11Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. 12She bring him good, not harm, all the days of her life. 17She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. 20She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. 23Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders. 25She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. 26She speaks wisdom, and faithful instuction is on her tongue. 27She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. 28Her children (will) arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: 29'Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.' 30Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. 31Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate."

What a legacy you will leave and have already left with me. If God gives us kids in the future, they will be blessed to have a mother who loves them like you will. You are the love of my life. You are beautiful, but mostly you are a Godly woman who is loyal to me like few people in my life have been. That is what I find so attractive and lovely about you.

Holly, I look forward to this weekend of celebration, but even more I look forward to every day in our future, however many that may be, that God will bless me with through your love, laughter and joy. I love you Holly!!

Thursday, July 21, 2005

How's the lock on your door?

John 20:19-23 recounts the story of the disciples encountering Jesus for the first time since the crucifixion. The disciples are huddled behind a locked door fearful of the Jews when Jesus comes to greet them and bless them with words of peace. After Jesus grants them peace, he gives them an apostolic or missional calling. Jesus says (paraphrased), "Be at peace and unlock the doors. God has sent me and now you are to continue this mission." Then, Jesus breathed on them and gave them the gift of the Holy Spirit.

It seems that we are due for such an encounter. We, who lock our doors and huddle on the inside of our buildings, need an encounter with Jesus and words that implore us to unlock the doors once again and be at peace. We are good at locking the doors. In fact, our lock is beginning to wear out from its continual use.

I am included in this. I love church. I love Christians. I love fellowship. I love Bible studies. I love small groups. I love accountability groups. I love staff meetings. I love all of these things, but I rarely love to unlock the doors. I've got the inreach and upreach, but the outreach side of my spiritual life is malnourished and unused. I think we've had enough of throwing money at the problem and stiff arming the lost by hiring missionaries and community outreach ministers to ease our worn consciences. Short term mission trips are good, but do they really help people or do they make us feel better about ourselves. All of these things are good, but if they are the focus of our outreach our locks are still on the doors. We need to build relationships with the lost more than help them on a short term basis.

The church is meant for more. The church is meant to be a bridge to the community. The church meets as a means to an end. The assembly is not the end of the Christian faith. Eternal assurance through baptism is not the end to faith. The end to faith is furthering God's kingdom in whatever way allows us to enter into his reign. We go to church in order to be commissioned again with the rest of the body to make an impact outside of the locked doors.

In your church, are you more comfortable sitting with Peter and the rest of the disciples in fear? God is telling you to be at peace, to receive his Spirit, and to be sent out as he was sent out. This is what it's all about. So go ahead, unlock that worn lock. Give it a rest from protecting you from whatever fears you have and step into a life on mission for God.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

A Lesson Learned

God has taught me a lesson this past week I thought I would share with you.

Let's face it. I'm a control freak. I want to know everything that has happened, is happening, and will happen in the future whether it deals with school, family, the church, or life in general. I also have a tough time giving up control to God. So, I guess God thought it was time to teach me a lesson. I generally think God is not as involved in the world as many believe. For instance, I don't believe God answers prayers for parking spots, etc., but this week he had his hand in my life.

Holly and I are house sitting for a family in Houston and last week I lost the key to the house. Then, as I was looking for a CD, I found out that 24 of my CD's were gone from my car. I never lose things, but this week I was losing everything. Then, my car got sick and wouldn't turn on. Everything was going wrong and I began to get angry with myself about my lack of control in these areas. Finally, my mom and Holly talked some sense into me and got me to see that I need to give up control and ask God to help me in these areas.

And, of course, in God's perfect timing, a week later I found out the key was left at a house where I had been at a Bible study the previous week. Then yesterday, I had to use our host family's car because mine wasn't working and guess what I found. My CD's. I would have never found them had it not been for my car not working. Do you think God was trying to tell me something? I came home hoping God had fixed my car too, but so far that has not been the case. I guess he has to punish me sometimes for my lack of submission.

God, thanks for the lesson I hope to have grown from. You have done your part. May your Spirit work in me to give up the control I so desperately want to hang onto. Thanks for putting people in my life who are willing to tell me when I mess up. Thank you for your provision. In Jesus' Name I pray, Amen!

Monday, July 18, 2005

The Booming Church?

I sense a growing restlessness with the status quo in churches. We hear that our numbers are decreasing even though many of our larger churches do not sense this decline yet. Just this past week here in Houston, Joel Osteen moved Lakewood Church into a former basketball arena. They probably had about 50,000 people attend in one weekend.

We also hear that the evangelical America is influencing the political scene in numerous ways. Many in the "religious right" demand that George Bush push a religious agenda because it is them who put him in office.

Are we really losing our influence in culture? Is the church dying or thriving?

I think the answer has to be some of both. This is a moment of crisis. In fact, the church is always in a moment of crisis. Every generation is another chance at losing the faith forever. I think it is obvious that though we have influence in some areas, non-Christians have never been more turned off to Christianity than now. Why do we continue to build walls between "us" and "them?"

I think the answer to this post-Christian world is not to build bigger arenas and continue to invite "them" to come to "us." Rather, the church must change its language and direction. It is no longer "we" versus "them." It has to be us. The church is not to be set up against the world, but set up for the world. The church cannot be a city with a wall and a moat. It has to be a light among the world, a bridge to the world. People are not going to continue to come to church, the church is going to have to go to the lost. We cannot keep up our Constantinian model with the church at the center of culture because our world will not allow it. Disestablishment is not pretty but it is needed. We must become the church that seeks not power and prestige, but a marginal existence. Our steeples in the town square must not turn into arenas in the suburbs. We must become a growing influence in our city wherever we find ourselves.

I dream of a church moving in this direction and I sense a church ready for the task ahead. It's a church not so concerned about numbers and budgets, but a church focused on the mission of bringing the gospel to a broken and hurting world. A church that seeks the stranger and doesn't accept a homogeneous body. A church that accepts its position at the margin of importance and making a difference among the disenfranchised. That is a booming church!

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Strange World of Proverbs

I've spent the last month working through Proverbs one chapter a day and it has been interesting to hear these tidbits of wisdom. As wisdom literature, these are not foolproof promises but general truths about how the world works. But I struggle with differentiating these with other parts of Scripture because they are a part of God's living Word.

As I've been reading I've found four main themes throughout Proverbs:

1) True wisdom accepts discipline from our earthly parents and heavenly father rather than choosing to ignore it.

2) The wise man or woman keeps their steps far from sexual immorality or even the appearance of it. The world celebrates impurity, but the wise man keeps his steps far from the house of the wayward, seductive woman.

3) The wise man keeps his tongue from any trouble. Many gossip, slander, and say all kinds of harmful things, but the wise man keeps his tongue secure.

4) The righteous prosper and the wicked perish.

The first three seem like wise words. It's good to listen to parents, sexual impurity brings down great people (especially in the church it seems), and our tongues our powerful tools for good or bad as James points out.

But I'm having a hard time with the fourth theme. Do the righteous prosper and wicked perish, because all around me I see signs that say otherwise? Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. That seems like better logic and wisdom. Wouldn't the writer of Proverbs be better off putting a disclaimer on this proverb? He could say this is generally true, but the opposite is true at times. But the writer refuses to say it. I shy away from and condemn a prosperity gospel many times, but does Scripture teach some of this? I don't know. This is just another question in my seemingly endless bag of questions I am writing for God to answer when I enter the pearly gates. We shall see.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

I sense that people are starting to get it!

Last night I was at a young married men's Bible study. We are studying If You Want to Walk On Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat by John Ortberg. The book focuses on Peter's willingness to walk on the water with Jesus. And last night I sensed people starting to understand what I have been hoping for in my dreams for the church in the future: a missional church. I want to see a missional church, but I have never been sure if others are willing to get on board and get out of their comfortable consumeristic chairs. Last night I saw a glimpse of it.

We were talking about our fears and how evangelism is hard for us and all of a sudden the conversation turned towards mission. One guy asked, "Have you ever wondered if we should continue to do this study on Monday nights? We go to church to focus ourselves on Sunday and Wednesday and we spend time creating community on Monday nights? We are so inwardly focused. Maybe this time weekly should become a time for outreach." That is what I am talking about. That is the message that I couldn't have stated better myself. We continued on for several minutes and it excited me to know there are people wanting more for the church than just letting it be a fortress set apart from the world.

What is the church truly working for? Are we trying to bring others to Christ? Sometimes we think we need to get ourselves better with God before we can really reach others, but we are never going to be right enough to evangelize with that attitude. God calls imperfect, sinful people to get his gospel out. We are called to mission where we are. May this kingdom not just be one of powerful talk but of powerful action.

Monday, July 11, 2005

I Keep Finding Myself in Prisons

Last night, once again, I was in a prison. I went with a group from First Colony to the Carol Vance Unit. This unit is an all-Christian unit that came into existence because of George Bush's faith based initiative while he was governor. What an experience it was!

I met Robert. Robert was a man like any other who just happened to be serving a 30 year sentence for some kind of crime. He was a college grad and a well-spoken man who knew Christ personally as his Savior. It was amazing to hear about the change that had been made in his life. He said that his time at Carol Vance had been given him a chance to study God's word daily around men who had become his brothers. This church he had been apart of in the prison had been a place where many had come to God and flourished. He said there were several who faked their faith to get out early, but most of the men truly were seeking God. No longer do I see prisoners as people who cannot be touched. When I think of a criminal, I think of Robert E. Lee. (Yes that was his name.)

And I met Gerald who had been shot in his leg and God had miraculously healed him. God is at work even in the prisons, but his hands and feet in the world, the church, are lagging behind. Why are there so few prison ministries? Why are we so scared of this population? I think it's because we don't have faces to put with this label. I grew up, as many did in Churches of Christ, unsure about Baptists until I married one and put a face with someone different from me. I grew up unsure of criminals until this summer as I have put faces with this label. We all fear the unknown until we are able to put a face with whatever label our society leaves us with. Our job as Christians is to get to know every unknown and break down the labels our society uses to separate us.

Get to know a prisoner. Get to know people different from you because you might just find out there is more in common than you once believed. There are differences between everyone but if we can agree on the core of our faith, Jesus Christ, then we can overcome many of the labels society brands us with. Instead of man, woman, black, white, poor, wealthy, prisoner, free man, republican, democrat, old, young, we can all be called Christians. Isn't that a vision for the church?

Friday, July 08, 2005

The Church of Irresistible Influence

I am halfway through The Church of Irresistible Influence and I really like it. I have read about 5 missional church books that are very strong on the sociological dimension of what the church needs to be about in our changing context, but this book gives a more concrete example of how a church in Little Rock, AR is becoming an influence in their community.

I think we all sense there is something changing about our world. We have heard about our shift to a postmodern, postchristian, postdenominational, and every other post you could imagine kinds of world, but the true question we must ask is, "How can we be faithful to God in the church's new place in society?" I don't care what you call the next great thing in the church, but I certainly don't want to be a part of any fad or movement without it being God's real plan for the world. However, I don't see the missional church as a fad because I believe it is a call for all churches to make God's mission our mission. It doesn't call us to growth, it calls us to faithfulness. It doesn't call us to power, it calls us to the wisdom of the cross that beckons us to come and die to our desire for power. The church has always needed to take this as its call.

Sometimes I am too accepting of books and don't read them with a critical enough eye, but I believe the missional literature and The Church of Irresistible Influence to be books that are calling to the church to faithful living beyond itself. That is good news and a good direction for any church.

Father, we know you want people to be saved. That is your character. Help the church to be a community that doesn't become a fortress against the world, but becomes a bridge for the wrold. Some people might come to the church, but so many more need to the church to come to them because of a variety of factors. Let us become a seeking people who receive your kingdom and help to further it as you allow us to. Amen!

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Aftermath of a tragedy

The sermon seems to have gone well. It was great to have my parents in and to hear so many encouraging comments afterwards. I cannot see myself doing anything other than preaching. God has put a passion for preaching his word in my bones that cannot be shut up. It's strange to already be finished with the highlight of the summer already.

As I awoke this morning to the news of a bombing in New York I thought, what would Paul write to the church in London after today's events? What does the wisdom of the cross say to the victims of senseless violence? The wisdom of the world would be resolute in its assurance that those who brought this destruction would receive due punishment for their actions. As many were outraged after 9/11 and wanted to bring war on the terrorists, so many today would like to pay these people back.

But, I think it is good to ask the question, "What does the wisdom of the cross tell us to in this situation?" I haven't fully concluded where I am on the subject to war. I lean towards pacifism, but I'm not sure yet. But as I think through the lens of the cross, I can only think Jesus would have prayed for these people and not fought back. What do we do when faced with such a situation? How do we respond to people with such hate and animosity? The answer surely cannot be to fight hate with hate. Is there such a thing as a just war? Is self-defense even justified by Jesus? What is the answer?

God grant us peace in this world of violence. Grant peace to the families of the victims and guide us in the wisdom of the cross.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Here I raise my Ebenezer

As I read this morning, I think I figured out what an ebenezer is. We sing about raising it in church, but what does it mean to raise my ebenezer?

This has become an issue in modern worship. How do make relevant songs that have become outdated not so much because their language is archaic, but because biblical literacy is at an all-time low in churches?

As I read 1 Samuel 7 today I read, "Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, 'Thus far has the Lord helped us.' Israel has experienced God's victory and Samuel raised this ebenezer as a monument to mark a restoration in the heart of Israel.'" The ebenezer is a reminder to all who pass by it of God's mercy and covenant. What a message of hope!

We must not move on to new worship music just because people, like myself, lack Biblical literacy because many of our old hymns are wonderful if their significance can be explained in a new and helpful way. Let us continue the ministry of Jerry Rushford. We must keep our history of hymns alive for a new generation. There are many wonderful songs being written today, but let us not write off the hymns of the past. As I have found today, the symbols of our past continue to speak volumes today.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Family: one of God's greatest gifts

This weekend has been a wonderful weekend mostly because of the time Holly and I have had with our families. Holly's whole family came in Friday through Monday and traded places with my family who came in Monday and are staying through Thursday. What a blessing it is to see and have fun with familiar faces.

As I reflect on times with family, it reminds me how the years go by so quickly. It's hard to imagine that I will never live at home in Dallas in my house again. Life goes on and things change for the better most of the time. It seems that in my race to grow up (that probably began as I sat listening to the adults during lunches after church rather than coloring with the kids at the other end of the table) my early years passed so quickly. The memories are ingrained in my head and will remain there tempting me to want to go back to what was, but I know that great memories are still to be made. Good times are ahead and that is worth looking forward to.

Mom, dad, Greg, Cathy, Clark, Heather, Morgan, PJ, thanks for all of the memories and Holly and I look forward to the many things that are ahead. The future is bright and full of great experiences so let us trek on together and not apart for our memories are most special when we are all together. And let us not forget that we strive forward for a time when we will be together with those of us who have already passed on. Let us not forget this.

God thank you for families that have passed on faith to us. May we be faithful to tell your stories to generations in the future. This is exciting and scary. Help us, O God. We love you and thank you for putting us in families that have loved us. And remind me to sit with the kids and forget about the adult table at times. Amen!

Friday, July 01, 2005

Doing Church

This summer I am a part of my third internship in a church and I've found there to be a big difference between many churches and the world of academia. In university, we are dreaming dreams for the church, studying all about God, and trying to develop a healthy theology as well as a healthy look at the church. As I read more about how God wants to develop churches of mission, it consumes me often. I want to step into a church some day and create an environment where mission is the lifeblood of the church. I feel called to bring churches through this transition from consumer orientation to becoming a missional church.

As I think about this often and come into churches for summers, I find that many churches are not even thinking about how they can be more faithful to God's call and dreaming about the possibilities for renewal and mission. Instead, they are just "doing church." There are no staff meetings with a conversation for vision or conversations over staff lunches about whether we are faithful to the call of God in our corner of the world. Somehow, the mundane things of church have crowded out this important part of receiving God's call for a church. At first glance, I am critical of this situation, but as I think more about it, I wonder if this is all a church can do to stay alive. If you forget the mundane, though important things, the church will fall apart. However, without a vision the church will never become what it can be. I wonder what it will be like 10 years into my ministry. Will I still dream dreams? Will I still seek exciting visions with the staff and leadership of a church? Or am I just an overexcited university student whose hopeful dreams about the church need to be tamed down through day-to-day grind of ministry? I hope this is not the case.

God grant us all visions for your church that are bigger than tomorrow and in line with your will. As we seek your calling in our churches, give us hopes and futures that you promise and desire. We love you and we want to see things as you do. Praise you for all of the good you bring.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005


I grew up with the view that missions was something done overseas and evangelism is something we do here in the states. I also thought missions was a program of the church, just a part of the overall purpose of the local church.

But as I begin to read and think and dream about the future, I see the faulty presumptions in this model. I believe our outreach muscles have atrophied as we have sent out paid missionaries into distant countries and worried about furthering (growing) the church in the local area. We do a good job of "doing church" and teaching about parts of Christianity, but we don't feel a need to be missional in our way of life. Clergy have been seen as the only qualified ones to reach out but the truth is the clergy's reach is limited in a world that is put off by anyone working with a church. Just mention you are a minister in a haircut conversation and you will get one of two reactions: the end of any conversation or a confession of what the person has done wrong and wishes he or she could do better. The hands of God's kingdom are the people of the church. That is where his mission and kingdom are furthered. What are ministers currently doing to promote or inhibit the mission of the each member of the conversation?

Where does mission need to happen? Well, if African churches are now sending missionaries to bring Christ to America, I think that is a good sign of where God's kingdom needs to be furthered. Mission is not an overseas term, or a program of the church. Rather, mission is the lifeblood of the church and we are to join in God's mission as he has been so instrumental in his mission for us. He sent his son into our world to bring salvation. Now we must continue this practice. Let's die to our dreams for people coming to our church and begin to bring people into God's kingdom however that can be accomplished.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Wisdom of the cross?

As I work on my upcoming sermon, so many thoughts are going through my head about what a church that follows the wisdom of the cross looks like. What is the wisdom of the cross? Christ commanded his followers to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow him? Is this the message we are preaching in churches?

Somehow I think we leave this part out of our new member recruitment and baptismal training. Do we train people to view the world with the lens of the cross after they come up out of the waters of baptism or are we happy enough with their eternal assurance that we forget to remind them they are new creations and are to live like it? Rather than always trying to gain people by talking of how God blesses and gives good things, we have to remember that Jesus preached an of an upside down logic that demanded suffering and persecution for the sake of His name. We have to remind people that the path is difficult. We, who grow up with the American dream, must be reminded that we are not a part of the world who seeks to be successful in salaries and toys, rather we are successful when we die to ourselves and are crucified daily.

How are our churches being crucified daily? Are we trying to seek power in society by legislating morality and supporting political candidates that will force non-Christians to live the way we think they should or are we accepting our fleeting role in society and moving to the margins happy to live in the place God has always wanted us to be. We can't keep seeking power as churches, we must die to ourselves and reach the hurting and sick. Christ didn't try to regain his dignity when he was on the cross by coming off and slaughtering his opponents, rather he died to himself and knew that God would raise him in a short time. We, as people and churches, must do the same. Let us die today in the hope that God will raise us soon.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Inside the Gates

I spent Saturday night inside the gates of a prison. First Colony put on a Christian concert for the inmates and it was quite an experience.

It was such a strange feeling to have the high security outer gate to the prison close and lock behind me as I walked towards the auditorium where the concert was going to be held. I expected to walk in with others from the church waiting for me, but I walked in alone only to have 4 inmates dressed in all white open the door to the auditorium for me. I don't think I have ever been more nervous in my life. I went inside and found the group from First Colony and sat with them. As I looked around, I realized that there were about 200 empty chairs waiting for inmates that would be all around us. As the men in white walked in, I began to realize that there would only be 172 people present without restraint (20 First Colony members, 2 prison guards, and 150 inmates with untold crimes and histories).

An incredible thing happened this night. I sat beside many inmates and got to shake their hands and learn a bit of their pasts and about their homes and families. These were men like any other you might meet. Maybe even more grateful and gracious. All had sinned and committed crimes, but we all needed to know this Jesus and how he could save us from the bondage we all knew too well. They praised God and prayed out to him in a way I had never seen before in all of my years in churches and youth rallies. These were broken men who couldn't even conceive of their own righteousness without the blood of Jesus. It's too bad that many of us out of prison have misconceptions about how good we are. If we could only see our sin like these inmates, maybe we could praise God and thank him as much as they.

As the concert ended, these men were so grateful for us just coming to spend time with them. They applauded loudly for the band and could not stop saying thanks to us. As they filed out, I stood in the hallway shaking each of their hands and looking into their eyes. Each one of them looked at me with a gratitude I had never seen before and with words of love. Now I know why Jesus came to free the prisoner and not to brush shoulders with the spiritual elitists. He did so because the sick know they need him and will get on board to do great things.

It was an experience I will never forget. As I showed my ID to the lady at the gate and walked out to the freedom I know so well, I felt strange about walking out for these men were no different from me. We all are in bondage and wanting to be free, yet I was able to leave the gate. It made me long for the day when the judgment comes and God sees my ID and reads the words, Christian: paid by Jesus' blood. That is what I long for and what I hope to never forget.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Beginning the Missional Conversation

One day I want to write a book. It has become a dream of mine. And as I read more missional literature and become convinced that it is the heart of God for the church today, I hope to write a book that can continue the missional conversation especially as it pertains to Churches of Christ with the benefits and setbacks that presents.

As I read the book Confident Witness - Changing World, a book put out by the Gospel and Our Culture Series, I sensed the challenge we have ahead in the section written by Jon M. Huegli. He quotes Kennon Callahan and Lesslie Newbigin to help people get a sense of the need for this conversation. They write,

"The day of the churched culture is over. The day of the mission field has come. In such a setting, the church's role is to bridge the gap between God's kingdom and the context of the culture in which it finds itself." - Kennon Callahan
"Ours is not as we once imagined a secular society, it is a pagan society and its paganism having been born out of the rejection of Christianity is far more resistant to the gospel than the pre-Christian paganism with which cross-cultural missions have been familiar. Here, surely, is the most challenging missionary frontier of our can we be missionaries to this modern world, we who are ourselves part of this modern world?"

I believe this to be true and though this challenge is difficult, we have a God who is bigger than the challenge. We cannot cross this chasm alone. God will have to be the key player as he always is. As we start this conversation of missional faithfulness, we must remember this is God's kingdom that he is building, not our kingdom to build. We are to receive the kingdom, not construct it with our rationality and goals. God is the architect. Let's have fun praying about the blueprint and how we can enter each room in time. God bring your kingdom and we will receive it and enter into it.

Maybe these are the beginning thoughts of a book someday, or maybe it is just a conversation that will transform the church to the faithfulness God is always calling it to. Either way, it is exciting and I invite you to join me on the journey.

What does it mean to be missionally faithful in the church?

Thursday, June 23, 2005

A Post Shorter Than Psalm 119

This morning I read Psalm 119 I believe for the first time all the way through. As I read, I wondered, why do we not have such a longing for righteousness and for keeping God's commands? Almost every section of Psalm 119 focuses on the incredible Word of God. We have lost this wonder for God's Word. It is a book we leave around our homes and leave at church every now and then, but when was the last time you saw Scripture as a treasure?

Psalm 119:72 says, "The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold." Even as a preacher who will need Scripture weekly to come up with sermons, I don't have this awe for God's Word. I have always thought it is important and needs to be read as a part of the spiritual disciplines, but never a treasure.

What if there was no Bible? What if there was no record of God's words and actions in the past? I can't even imagine, yet I take for granted the chance I have daily to search his Scriptures and, as Psalm 119 reminds us, memorize and meditate on His Word.

Blessed be the Word of the Lord!

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

As I look out the window this morning...

What a beautiful day! What a blessing it is to be a child of the creator who gives the grace of a new day just as beautiful as the grace of his mercy that is new every morning. I don't know how unbelievers live day in day out with the unforgiven debt that weighs on their hearts daily. What great love the father has lavished on us.

Let us not forget to be so gracious with those around us today. We need not become the man in one of Jesus' parables who is forgiven much but fails to forgive the small debt that he lent out to another. It seems that every shortcoming we find in other people, is just a microcosm of the great shortcomings our father in heaven puts up with from us.

This thought has come with my sermon in mind. If we are so foolish not to believe in the wisdom of the cross, that true wisdom is found in the seeming upside down logic of Christ's teachings, then we have it all wrong. If we don't believe and live into the belief that you must die to live and that the poor in spirit receive the Kingdom of God, then how can we ever accept the knowledge of God sending his son to earth in order to die for our sins. That is the ultimate upside down logic that saves us. What a beautiful day!

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Walking in step with the Spirit

It feels so good to have the Spirit work in your life so closely that you hear him speak so clearly. In every preparation for every sermon I have ever preached there has been a moment of uncertainty replaced by several moments, minutes or even hours of guidance from the Holy Spirit. It's one of those moments in which you can't stop writing because incredible thoughts which you are otherwise unable to come up with start to come into your mind.

Last night I sat in bed and had one of those moments. As I decided to speak on the wisdom of the cross in 1 Cor. 1, I had so many thoughts go through my head about what God wants to be said. I don't believe this message to be a direct rebuke of anything at FC, but I do believe it is applicable to so many in our churches today. I thought about going to sleep without writing anything down, but the deluge of insights would not stop to let me go to sleep. So at about 1:00am I got up to write down everything that was given to me. What a blessing it is to have a God who still lives and speak through his people today.

Continue to speak Lord and I will listen!

Monday, June 20, 2005

Preaching at First Colony

What to preach? How does one go about the process of figuring out what one will preach while preaching to a church as an intern. I get to speak on any topic once on Wednesday night, July 6.

The place of an intern in a church is interesting. Especially a preaching intern. Youth and children's programs are in the peak season and hire interns to help them with an impossible load, but a preaching intern does not face the same situation. I am not needed, yet welcomed onto a staff in somewhat of a strange role. I am a part of the team, but my decision power is limited. My main task is to help the church while not setting any fires to be left for others to extinguish when I leave. So, in picking a passage, I don't want to start any fires, I want to be relevant, but I don't want to be so "relevant" (harsh about an area the church needs to grow) that my ministry is ineffective for the rest of the summer. For instance, bringing up missional concepts in a church whose leadership might not be ready to go there, could start a fire.

Ultimately, I must speak what God has for me to speak because otherwise I am speaking my own foolish words of human wisdom. "1 Corinthians 1:18 says, "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." Surely this is the truth.

It's easy know what you're preaching in a series, but in a one time shot, it's sometimes hard to know what needs to be said.

God, answer my prayer with the wisdom to know what your message is because surely you know what needs to be heard. This is my prayer. In Jesus' name, the one whose name I look forward to proclaiming, Amen.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

My Visit to Learn About Prison Ministry

My eyes have been opened a bit. All these years of being in churches and never once have I learned of anything to do with prisoners. And let me tell you, the harvest is RIPE, but the workers are FEW. God is working in prisons in incredible ways. Why hasn't the church made a priority of touching these people? We are sent to make sinners free from their pasts, why not prisoners?

I almost even began to believe that though it was not good these people are in prison, it might just be God's perfect plan to show them the truth of God's grace that reaches beyond any sin one can commit. Amazing stories come out of these jails about men and women who have no fathers, but find THE father in heaven. God is good we just have to remember not to get in his way.

Also, are we, as churches, truly willing to be safe places for ex-offenders (yes, even sex offenders) to attend a be apart of a community of faith? How would we welcome these people if they came into our churches? Would we put our faith in them and in what God can do through them or would we be too worried about our children that we wouldn't let them near? Money seems to be a safe way to keep people from close relationship. We want to help people financially at times which is good, but sometimes I think it is a safe way to help without the strings of a real relationship with someone different than us.

This workshop was good, but it reminded me of some of my poorer experiences in Churches of Christ. I have been guilty at times of arguing for Churches of Christ and our positions in the "Lord's Church." As I sat in on classes and lectures I sensed a bit of this exclusivist bend. The last thing prisoners need is an indoctrination into a community that will only let you belong if you believe in uniformity with them. Rather than the behave, believe, belong model we have lived by in our churches, we need to be a community that makes sure people belong before they have to believe and behave. Sure, there are probably prison ministries out there that teach hurtful theology that is wrong, but if we can work with another denomination to further the work of Christ on earth in the prison ministry or anywhere else for that matter, we must do so as long as Christ is preached.

My eyes have been opened and my ears touched. The question is, "How will my legs and arms carry out the purpose God has called all of us to: sharing in God's mission to the lost?" That is the question we must be about.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Going to the prison

I am writing late tonight because I will be out of the office for the next two days getting to know a little about prison ministry. That makes me think, what does God truly believe about prisoners? It's easy from this side of prison bars to choose to believe that inmates only choose God out of their lack of any other hope other than heaven, but could it be that prison ministries are God's way of getting to people who would otherwise miss out on the good news of His grace?

It's always been hard for me to actually consider Hitler or other infamous people going to heaven if they repented near their death. But really, it has to be my lack of faith in Christ's power to redeem that closes my thinking if I am to condemn such people. Why do I hope, like Jonah, that God will not redeem some people who have caused so much harm to others? What is it in me that finds it hard for me to see God being able to do that? Is God that small? What other perimeters do I put around God's omnipotent grace? Perhaps this weekend will be a time of answering some of these questions.

God is big enough and merciful enough to bring any sinner to heaven and I must continually thank him for that because my sin is no better than the sin of anyone else. If anyone deserves death, it is me.

Thank you God for your amazing grace that covers me and every person that I currently believe to be too far out for your grace. Change my heart this weekend. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
After reading the blogs of Mike Cope and others in the preaching community, I thought what could be a better way of journaling and conversing about God's work in the world than to publish my thoughts on the internet. It's a bit scary at first to think anyone can access my private thoughts and dreams, but as a young man feeling called to the pulpit this must become natural.

I am happily married to my wife, Holly, for almost a year. She is a spiritual champ and the love of my life. I have a brother and two parents and life is good. This summer I am interning at the First Colony Church of Christ in Houston as an adult and college ministry intern.

As a student at ACU, I have grown to understand more of what it is to be a follower of Jesus Christ. The local church is still God's hands and feet in this world, though now I see after several years of college that it does not fully encompass his kingdom. As I read missional literature and begin to pray and dream about how God will use me to bring the good news to a church someday, I realize that mission is what we are called to. It is not just a program in the church. It is the lifeblood. It is God's purpose for us in the world. I am excited about the future of the church and hope that this forum is a chance to dream and pray with others in churches and in the world. May God bless the future of this blog through whatever means he chooses.

Welcome to the inner thoughts of Collin Packer.