Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Good Life

What is your plan for spiritual growth in 2012?

Let that question settle for a moment. I'm guessing there are some readers that have a plan. Some of you have worked a plan for years and you have seen incredible fruit from careful planning and committed action.

But I'm guessing there are others out there that don't know where to start. You want to grow. You've wanted to grow for years, but it seems that every year you look back and feel like you are starving for a closer relationship with God.

If you're looking for a spiritual challenge, I want to invite you on a journey with the Littleton Church of Christ in 2012.

I know what you're thinking. How can I journey with Littleton when I go to another congregation? When I live in another state? In another country?

Let me start by telling you about the journey our church (Littleton Church of Christ) is taking in 2012. (By the way, let's keep this secret between you and me until Sunday because our church doesn't even know about this yet!)

In 2012, Littleton is going to pursue "The Good Life" that Jesus pronounces in the Sermon on the Mount. That's right, I'm spending an entire year preaching through the Sermon on the Mount. More than just studying Matthew 5-7 for the sake of knowledge, we're going to seek to put "The Good Life" that Jesus preaches into action for the sake of the world. We believe God's word doesn't just need to be heard. We believe it needs to be seen.

Some of you have spent year after year trying to complete yearly reading plans. That works for some people. But let's be honest, how many of you have ended your year-long plan in the book of Leviticus (the graveyard of year-long reading plans)?

Maybe you're asking, "How could I focus on only three chapter for an entire year?" I'd challenge you to try it. Here's why:

The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus' clearest declaration of what the kingdom of God is all about. Jesus prays for his Father's "will to be done on earth as it is in heaven" in Matthew 6:10. It's the role of the church to display his will by being "salt" and "light" in the world. We demonstrate the kingdom of God as an announcement to the world that Satan's reign is on life support. We exhibit the "Good Life" of the kingdom in order to point people to God's future that is already on its way.

So, how can you journey with us? I'm glad you asked.

Each week there will be planned readings and a conversation on my blog about the upcoming week's sermon text. These weekly blogs will provide a place of conversation for members of the Littleton Church of Christ. But my hope is that many others spread across the country and the world will choose to join as online partners in this conversation. Add whatever commentary seems beneficial. I'd also encourage you to download Littleton's free sermon podcasts and listen to the weekly sermons through the iTunes Music Store.

The call this year is to action.

You do remember how the sermon ends, don't you? You remember the song..."The wise man built his house upon the rock...the foolish man built his house upon the sand."Do you remember the difference between the two? Unfortunately, that part missed the final cut of our children's songs.

The wise one is the person who hears Jesus' words and puts them into practice. The foolish one is the person who hears Jesus' words and does not put them into practice.

The purpose of this challenge is not just add to our faith knowledge, but to add to our knowledge action. Spiritual formation occurs when the fruit of our lives announces "The Good Life" of the kingdom of God to the world.

I also challenge each participant to commit to memorizing the entire Sermon on the Mount in 2012.

As you make your New Year's resolutions, consider how you will mature spiritually in 2012.

Are you up for the challenge? Let me know if you're willing to join in.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Why People Should Despise Tim Tebow

Living in Denver, it's impossible to hide from the media's coverage of Tim Tebow. Yet, I'm beginning to realize Denverites are not alone. It seems to be THE prevailing national sports conversation.

Let me start by saying, "I root for Tim Tebow." I certainly rooted for him in the 2008 National Championship when they beat the Oklahoma Sooners, but that had more to do with their opponent than anything else. I appreciate a guy who won't compartmentalize his faith. We need more Christians who will not divide the sacred from the secular.


I was shocked by a Yahoo! Sports article this week in which a pastor, who claimed to be Tim's pastor, was quoted as saying, "It's not luck. Luck isn't winning six games in a row. It's favor. It's God's favor." According to the article, his pastor also said the Broncos wouldn't be winning games if God hadn't decided to reward Tebow's religious beliefs.

Which led my critical brain to quite the stream of consciousness...
-Does that mean Aaron Rodgers is being rewarded more than Tebow since he is the only quarterback to defeat Tebow and his team is undefeated? Is he even a Christian? That's worth a google search.
-Is God so preoccupied with helping NFL quarterbacks win games that he forgets to prevent natural disasters and the poor and marginalized of the world?

I don't think Tebow is the problem. He has never said God manipulates the outcome of sporting events. I think he's authentic as a disciple of Jesus.

My concern arises from the conversations I hear among conservative Christians. I continue to hear Christians who are upset about the media's uproar against Tebow. Christians feel slighted and even persecuted by what they perceive as a liberal media bias. Some wonder why Michael Vick's redemption story is more palatable than Tim Tebow's distinctively Christian story.

And underneath all of those concerns is a worldview. Lee Camp, professor of ethics at Lipscomb University, has called it a "Constantinian Cataract." Since Christianity's political emergence in the 4th century, Christianity has been at the center of culture. The church wielded power and influence. In many Western countries since then, Christianity has been the predominant religion.

But things are rapidly changing. The church is no longer the center of culture. The 21st century is more like the 1st century than any century since. We are in a post-Christian culture.

The response I've heard from Christians lamenting the media's bias assumes a worldview. Many of us still assume we are the majority.

But listen to Paul's words from 1 Corinthians 1: "He [God] chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things..."

Christians are called to be peculiar. We're called to be maladjusted. Tim Tebow is maladjusted.

Question: Why are we so upset about the way Tim Tebow is being portrayed.

Answer: Our frustration reveals our desire to be accepted and glorified by the culture. That's a radical misinterpretation of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

Better Question: Why don't WE stand out as much as Tim Tebow?

Wrong Answer: Tim has a larger stage than we do.

Right Answer: Most of us are too adjusted to the world. We lack peculiarity.

It's time for us to stop hoping for the world to look more like Jesus. Sometimes that's a diversion from the harder work of becoming like Jesus ourselves.

It's OK to be an underdog. It's OK to be reviled. It's OK to be despised. Because when you are despised you join a long line of saints who have followed Jesus down that same path.

We follow a Savior who was despised. Perhaps we should be less surprised when an authentic follower of Jesus is despised as well.



Thursday, December 08, 2011

From Suffering to Hope

I had an experience with Scripture this week that shouldn't shock me, but it did.

I'm sure there are many professions that cause the worker to cease his/her amazement over time. For instance, I'm sure there are brain surgeons who get so accustomed to doing dangerous procedures that the amazement of his/her first successful brain surgery wears off over time. In fact, if I ever need brain surgery, I hope I get a doctor whose hands don't tremble and jaw doesn't drop when she slices open my skull. The sign of a good brain surgeon is that she forgets the incredible/daunting nature of her task.

I'm sure most people who do their day job over time lose their initial excitement to some degree. I can't imagine a PGA Tour golfer or professional surfer wanting to change professions, but it happens. I'm sure marine biologists long for a day when they can work above water and astronauts wish they could spend more time on planet earth.

Familiarity breeds contempt.

Confession: It can happen to preachers too! It is possible to forget the incredible blessing of bringing the word of God to the people of God.

I know it's shocking. But I'm guessing your preacher goes through the motions from time to time as well. Even searching the Scriptures can become a bland weekly task.

But there are moments (you preachers know what I'm talking about), incredible moments, God-breathed moments, when a text you have read a thousand times cuts through you like, well, a double-edged sword. Usually those moments occur when we stop reading to find a sermon for others and start reading for a change God wants to make in us.

I think these moments happen when our lived experience in a particular moment meets with Scripture's power that is ever-present. I had one of those moments this week.

I heard these words from Paul at a Men's Breakfast:
"We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." Romans 5:3-5

How had I not seen it before? I've read these words a thousand times.

But if I'm reading that right, suffering leads to hope. What? That woke me up.

Now, I haven't endured much suffering in my short life. I'm in the 1% when it comes to the level of suffering I've endured in my life. But the past few months have been a time of trial.

Through this time of "suffering," I've lacked a few things. But most of all, I've lacked hope. And my loss of hope has affected many around me.

But in a moment of God-breathed inspiration, ancient words from a guy from Tarsus answered my dilemma. Hope is not found in the absence of suffering. Hope is found through suffering. Counterintuitive much?

I'm not sure how suffering might be branding your life as you read these words. I'm sure your suffering is greater than mine. I'm also sure you belittle your suffering because you can think of hundreds of people who have been through more.

But what if on the other side of suffering, if you live with perseverance and character, is hope. That's a game changer!

May this word of hope comfort you in your affliction!


Monday, November 28, 2011

Happy Birthday Holly!

I want to wish a special birthday to my wife, Holly. She is my high-school sweetheart. We started dating our junior year of high school. Holly has been the clearest picture I've ever had into the heart of God.

She's the blog genius of the family. She has many more followers and she designs and updates the look of my blog. She has the gift of creativity that reflects the God she serves.

As the blog expert, she finds my blogs too lengthy and theologically dense (take that as you wish). She thinks people want more personal details and stories. So, in honor of her critique, I offer to the world the 15 things I am most grateful for in my wife.

Here it goes:

1) Loyalty - You're the most loyal person I've ever known.
2) Beauty - I only wish people who stopped to notice your physical beauty could see the incredible beauty that shines from your life.
3) Mother - You are so natural with Maddox and Addison. Daddy isn't so natural.
4) Incredible Knack for Giving Gifts - Giving gifts is your love language. I've never known anyone who had more fun figuring out what to give other people.
5) Knowledge of Sports - I'm continually shocked by how much you know about sports. It shows you love me because you care about what I care about.
6) Grace - I know what grace is through you. (Only you know how much grace you have given to me)
7) Love For Children - Children from Honduras and Africa have received your prayers and care.
8) Love For God - Your commitment to God is obvious to everyone you encounter.
9) Craftiness - You've got a knack for making crafts, blogging, and scrapbooking. You chronicle our lives.
10) Our Marriage - In a world of so much uncertainty, I have nothing but certainty about our marriage.
11) Biblical Knowledge - You took 3 semesters of Greek. What more needs to be said?
12) Cooking - You've never cooked a meal I haven't enjoyed. Don't argue with me on this one. Compare my waistline today with my measurements on our wedding day.
13) Your Family - I love my in-laws. Not everyone can say that, but I can.
14) Carefree Disposition - You've never demanded your way in over 7 years of marriage. I wish I could claim the same thing for myself.
15) Love - I didn't know agape love until I experienced it with you.

The last decade has been the greatest blessing in my life! You are amazing! I couldn't ask for more out of a wife than God gave me in you. You are my Proverbs 31 woman. I love you Holly Packer!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


So, I saw this picture on a friend's Facebook page. (Shout out to Vanessa and Nic Mount, missionaries friends of ours who are spreading the kingdom in Hawaii...Don't laugh...this is legit mission work)

And I got to thinking: How would our small group react to this idea? How would our church react if we had a bin  in the back of the room that everyone placed their cell phone in before entering worship? My guess is...not too well.

But I think this move might be one of the most countercultural commitments a church could make to stand out in our culture. Are we willing to believe our worship of God and conversation with the people around us is more important than a phone call or text we might receive?

I know, I know. I sound like an 83-year old man: "Back in my day, I had to carry around coins to insert in a pay phone to call my mom to pick me up from the golf course. You can live without a cell phone." But hear me out.

Have you been to a playground recently? Back in my day, my mom would talk with other moms or interact with us at the public park. I dare you to go to a local park today and start a conversation with another parent. I guarantee the Facebook app on their phone would be a tough competitor to a conversation with you, as a human being. Or try to start a conversation at an airport or a restaurant waiting area.

I read a study recently that mentioned the problem of nursing mothers giving their attention to their cell phones and iPads instead of their nursing babies. The special bond made between nursing mothers and babies is being affected by our addiction to technology.

I'm tired of it. I'm tired of my lunches being interrupted by a cell phone call. I'm tired of diverted attention to a Twitter reply when I'm in the middle of an important conversation. I'm tired of hearing, "Oh, I'm sorry. I've got an important phone call I must take."

I'm tired of my child interrupting me when I'm reading a blog or checking my Facebook notifications. Oops! It's not just those people. It's me.

Jon Acuff, author of the popular blog called "Stuff Christians Like," confessed a similar struggle recently. His poignant story recounted his daughter asking him to take a picture with her that he wouldn't post immediately to his myriad of of social networking sites. It seems documenting the fun times with our families has become more important than having fun times, which is a shame really.

The ministry of presence (being physically, mentally, and spiritually present with the person in front of you) has never been more needed, more powerful, or more countercultural. I'm rarely with a person who gives me more attention than someone they are communicating with outside of the room.

And as families, we're going to have to find new ways to do this with so many technological distractions.

I'm already noticing a problem with my 2-year old. He prefers the iPad to human interaction.

I'm just really struggling to find out where he learned that.


Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Agnosticism as a Spiritual Practice

Humility and theology don't tend to go together, but I'm not sure one can do good theology without an extra measure of humility.

I've spent much of my life in a religious tribe with many people who lacked humility as they shared their beliefs. And in any movement that lacks humility, you can expect to experience never-ending fractures and divisions.

So, as I thought about ministry as a career, I went to Abilene Christian University to get the answers to all of the right questions. But what I found there didn't meet my expectations. I didn't get the answers.

It's not that my professors weren't brilliant. Many of them received degrees from seminaries of great esteem,  but they didn't make me memorize information that coincided with the answers they had received from their Ph.D. program. They taught me to think, which is perhaps the greatest gift one can receive.

I've said it before. Today I'm less certain about many things, but more certain about the few things that really matter. I'm committed to being a Jesus-centered person who points people to the kingdom through my words and actions. I believe whole-heartedly that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. I'm trying to center my life on his teachings.

At times, I wonder if my lack of certainty on my beliefs about about peripheral matters is a concern to people in my church. Do people need their spiritual leader to feign certainty when he/she struggles with doubt?

And with all of these questions, this question keeps coming to mind: Is agnosticism such a bad thing when it comes to our theology? Is it ok to be an agnostic when it comes to my understanding about the end of the world? Is it ok to be an agnostic when it comes to my opinions about the best practices in corporate worship? I think so.

Hear me closely: I'm not advocating agnosticism when it comes to the essential core of our faith (basically Jesus).

Maybe it's my postmodernism speaking, but agnosticism might just be a path toward greater unity.

Let's face it: We all think we're right about everything. If we didn't believe we were right, we'd change our beliefs.

But there are elements of our faith that are not worth dividing over. Unity is not the same as uniformity. There is room for a diversity of practice at the table of the Lord.

In the words of Ian Cron, "Five words that could change the world - 'but I might be wrong...'" I don't know for certain, but he might just be right.


Thursday, October 06, 2011

Worship Minister Search

The leadership at the Littleton Church of Christ just announced a search for a Worship Minister. But the job is aimed at so much more than improving the quality of our worship on Sunday mornings.

What we want to hire is a new set of eyes who can make our "front-door" as hospitable to newcomers and guests as we can possibly make it.

I can't emphasize enough the importance of viewing churches through the eyes of guests. Because every time a new person walks through our doors, they are interviewing. And few churches have the vision to think through their vision from a guest's perspective.

Recently, I went to a couple gatherings at a mosque in town. It was part of an inter-faith dialogue I was involved in this summer. And let me tell you: You don't know what it is to feel like an outsider until you're a Christian standing outside of a mosque unsure about etiquette and wanting to make sure you don't offend anyone in the process.

Few Christians know what it feels like to be an outsider in church. We know the language, the rituals, and the idiosyncrasies well. We know how to get connected at a church. We know which children leave during worship and where Children's Worship meets. We know when to stand up and sit down during service. We know what to wear so we won't stand out.

But guests don't know that. Churches have to do a better job of creating hospitable and welcoming worship gatherings. We need to make it easier for newcomers to easily become an included member of the family. If anything, as insiders, we need to accept discomfort knowing that our role is to make the outsider comfortable and included. I think Scripture has something to say about that!

So, if you're interested in the worship ministry position at Littleton, get in touch with me. But we're looking for a worship minister who also wants to be our "Front-Door" Minister. Someone who has a heart for outsiders and including them in the life of the church. Someone who will walk beside guests from their first step in the door until they are fully integrated into the church.

More than anything, our churches need to be a place where "life" can be found. Our gatherings need to be places where people are filled up and sent out again into the world with new eyes to see the world and their vocations.

If you or someone you know is interested, e-mail me at


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Entering a New Season

It feels like a new season. Yes, fall is upon us, but the heat of summer hasn't been very brutal at all in Colorado. One thing I love about Colorado is that we live through four true seasons. Growing up in San Diego, we really only had one real season...72 degrees and sunny. The Mesquite trees of Abilene never really went through a beautiful Autumn like Denver does.

But the seasonal change for my upcoming ministry season has shifted as well.

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend ACU Summit (the old ACU Bible Lectures). It was an incredible week of fellowship with some of my great ministry buddies. I had no teaching responsibilities, so I was blessed to spend the week filling my cup for the upcoming season.

Tonight, I leave for Oklahoma City. I will be speaking at OC's (Oklahoma Christian University's) chapel on Thursday and Friday on the topic of gender identity for guys and girls. I'm grateful to Dudley Chancey for the invite.

It's also an exciting season at the Littleton Church of Christ. We're in the middle of a month focused on missions as we lead up to our annual Missions Sunday offering. I'm blessed to be a part of a church that is committed to foreign and local mission in powerful ways. In addition, the elders and staff are looking forward to a month of conversation about our future vision coming up in the month of November. I look forward to some new challenges and exciting opportunities in the next few months here at home.

In October, I've accepted invitations to speak at two different churches as a fill-in for two preachers I've come to respect a great deal.

On October 9th, I'll be speaking at Valley View Christian Church, which is a local church in the Denver area. Since moving to Denver, I've been involved with a Christian Church Preacher's group, which is the place I met Gene Barron, the Senior Pastor at Valley View. It will be exciting to share my gifts and get to know more of my Christian Church brothers and sisters.

And the following week, Southern Hills Church of Christ has asked me to fill in for Phil Ware during ACU Homecoming weekend. I was born into the Southern Hills Church during a time when my dad was the Involvement Minister there. Southern Hills was also our church home while Holly and I were married in Abilene and I interned there as a Preaching Intern during the summer of 2007. We are blessed with so many incredible relationships with many wonderful people in that church.

And finally, later in October, I'll be a part of an incredible preaching conference that David Fleer has put together at Lipscomb University. It's more than just a place to soak up information. It's a conference in which every participant will preach a sermon and receive feedback. In fact, there's a possibility that I might preach in front of Walter Brueggemann, an incredible OT scholar and preacher.

And I'll finish that week with 12 of my greatest preacher friends in the world as we meet for our annual retreat. I couldn't do ministry without the prayers and support of these guys and the other incredible mentors who have walked beside our group.

And the most exciting part of this upcoming season is the way our family is growing and expanding. Maddox is learning new things all of the time. And Addison is growing up way too fast. Holly and I are excited about this season in our family and we look forward to all of the challenges and blessings we will face in the year to come!

(If you're interested in knowing more about the family. Holly's blog is the best place to stay up on all of the latest news and pictures. Her blog is way more exciting than mine, which she reminds me of often! Her blog is linked in my blogroll on the right side of the page. Check it out!)

If you're in the area of Oklahoma City, Valley View, or Abilene during Homecoming, please come and meet me. I always love to meet blog followers when I get the chance!


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Pt. 5 - In Conclusion - What I Like About CofC

As I said, at the beginning of this blog series...I like Churches of Christ.

I like Churches of Christ because, at our best, we exemplify these core values:

1) Congregational Autonomy
2) Unity
3) Centrality of Jesus & Scripture
4) Apolitical & Kingdom Focused

When these values get highlighted, we're at our best.

The bad news is: We're rarely at our best.

Currently, these values that were core at the start of the Restoration Movement have been lost to a reputation of rigid doctrinal stances, sectarianism, and an inability to renew our churches' practices with the needs of culture.

If we have a future, we have to regain these original virtues.

First, we need courageous church leaderships who will be willing to utilize our great value of autonomy for good. We don't have to be bound to a list of "brotherhood" non-negotiables. Those non-negotiables truly are negotiable unless we plan on allowing a "denominational" pressure to keep us from incarnational ministry that makes the most sense for our time and location. In other words, be the church in this time and this place. God never intended for us to restore 1st century worship traditions. We need a restoration of the Holy Spirit's presence and the church's mission in the world first and foremost.

Second, we've got to get our heads out of the sand when it comes to the universal church. I was at a Church of Christ preacher's lunch yesterday. Somehow, sectarianism has manipulated that group to believe that we have 25 churches in the Denver metropolitan area. Either we're doing bad math or we've lost our vision of unity with any church that would submit to the lordship of Jesus Christ. In Post-Christian America, we no longer have the luxury of sectarianism. It's time to work with others for the sake of the kingdom.

Third, let us recenter ourselves on Jesus. If we don't plan to represent him in our conduct, we might as well remove his name from our signs and buildings. The worst thing we could do is represent his name in a manner that causes people to want to have nothing to do with him. Jesus is the exact representation of God (Heb. 1:3). If it can't be said of Jesus, it can't possibly be true of God. It's time to stop restoring perfect worship and start pursuing relationship with a perfect Savior.

Fourth, let's return our focus to the kingdom of God. Jesus' message was not about the church or even about heaven. His message was centrally about the kingdom of God, God's vision for the world. The church isn't the kingdom. The church is a sign and foretaste that, when it's at its best, gives people a vision of what heaven looks like on earth. We are a colony of heaven showing people the future that is on its way.

I do not love Churches of Christ. I'm not wed to that title. That's sounds more like idolatry than anything else.

But I am tied to these four values and instincts that were a part of our DNA in the mid-1800s. I believe in the vision of that church. And I'm willing to lead a church that is committed to those things.

And to be honest, there are plenty of churches out there (who aren't part of our movement) that get this better than we do. I know of churches across the theological spectrum who pursue congregational autonomy, unity, the centrality of Jesus and Scripture, and an apolitical, kingdom focus better than many of our own churches do.

So, what will it be, Churches of Christ? Can I stay here and lead our churches toward this vision? Will you accept a minister who places these four values at the forefront of his focus?

It's your decision! There are other places I can go to live out this vision. There are other churches that could use a leader committed to these things.

But I'd like to see it happen again with you because you've instilled this vision within me. You've been home for nine generations.

I'll be waiting to hear your response.

Collin Packer


Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Pt. 4 - Apolitical & Kingdom Focused - What I Like About CofC

The fourth value I'd like to highlight from our history in the Restoration Movement is a much more unknown value. We started with apolitical and kingdom focused values.

This part of our history is mostly unknown because we live in such politically charged times.

We're coming up on an election year, which means my inbox is about to be filled with junk mail garbage about every political topic you could imagine.

One of the things that shocks me as a preacher is the assumptions that people make about my political leanings. They assume their jokes about the other political party are something I will find humor in. In fact, I keep a folder of "special" political spam e-mails I get, just so I can make myself feel worse on bad day.

But our movement didn't start with a focus on politics and civil religion. Barton Stone, David Lipscomb, and Alexander Campbell (in his later years) would be considered radicals today in their views of a Christian's relationship to the state.

We started out as a kingdom focused movement with strong bents toward pacifism, little involvement in politics, etc. But as World War I & II strengthened the country's nationalism, we lost our way as we wed ourselves to the state. And those who struggled to keep their radical kingdom views were labeled as communists and Cordell Christian College (a pacifist institution) closed its doors as a result of this rapid shift toward the kingdoms of this world.

Today, Churches of Christ do retain a great measure of apoliticalism in our DNA. Few of our buildings sport American flags and few of our preachers are known for using their pulpits as their political platforms. And I appreciate that legacy of our movement. Yet, it's still not as it once was.

The kingdom of God has never been about political power. We must remember that Jesus died at the hands of the empire. The Christian church lost its plot when Constantine made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire. Instead of being persecuted by the sword of the state, the church began to use the sword to coerce pagans to become Christians.

As one of my favorite writers has said, "Mixing the church and state is like mixing ice cream and cow manure. It may not do much for the manure, but it sure messes up the ice cream!"

Let us remember that most of Scripture was written by people who had the boot of the empire on their necks. The Bible is an oppression narrative. And as citizens of the world's only superpower, we ought to have our eyes opened to how our social location shapes our biases when we come to Scripture.

As Tony Campolo has said, "We may live in the best Babylon in the world, but it's still Babylon and we are called to come out of her."

Let us return to our roots as a movement. Let us regain our apolitical, kingdom focus.

For all of us who have been baptized into Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, neither Democrat or Republican, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Pt. 3 - Centrality of Jesus & Scripture - What I Like About CofC

As we reviewed last week, our penchant and reputation for sectarianism could have been stopped had we lived into unity, which was one of the key instincts of our movement from the beginning. So, the question that ought to be asked is: How did a movement of Christians who were focused on unity become known as such a sectarian institution?

I believe it happened because we failed to live into another key instinct I'd like to highlight today.

The third key instinct in our movement that I appreciate is our commitment to Christ and Scripture. One of the early identifying statements in our movement is that we have "no creed but Christ, no book but the Bible, no law but love, no name but the divine." Not a bad vision worth pursuing.

It's hard for any group of people to say they have truly held to Christ only. Our actions often seem to betray that desire. But this motto is a vision we ought to live into.

One of the earliest sermons I preached at Littleton was entitled "Becoming a Church of Christ." I likely angered people on both sides of the congregation with that title for a couple of reasons. For those that wanted to jettison our past, the title brought back memories of a painful past with our movement. Why would we want to hang on to a title that reminds us of so many painful memories? On the other hand, some were likely excited by the title, but disappointed by the sermon. It was a hopeful moment to think their 24 year-old new preacher wanted to take the movement back to its "glory days."

But that wasn't the point of the sermon. The sermon was not an argument for keeping the name "Church of Christ" on our signs and title deeds.

Now, before you get your panties in a wad, I wasn't set on changing the name because it was embarrassing to me with all of the baggage the name carries. That might be an issue in some areas, but not in Denver, Colorado. I was clear that we must take "Church of Christ" off of our name if our church is an embarrassment to Jesus. If we fail to reflect Christ, then we'd be better taking the name off than continuing to do harm to his name.

I have to admit...I kind of like our name. It explains to everyone that the body that meets at 6495 S. Colorado Blvd. belongs to Jesus. He's our head and we intend to put him on display in everything we do as a church.

But too often, our name has come to stand for things that have nothing to do with Jesus and his central message of the kingdom of God. And when that happens, we're better off hedging our bets by taking the name off of the sign than continuing to do business as usual with his name being equated with traits that turn people away from the good news.

When's the last time you remember saying, "Oh, you're from the Church of Christ, huh? You're those people who do your best to live exactly like Jesus did, right?"

I talk to more and more people who are fascinated by Jesus, but they're continually repulsed by Christians who serve as roadblocks on their path toward Christ. If we could return our focus to Jesus over every other pursuit, I think there would be more interested in joining us on our journey.

So, I think we should pursue this original vision. Let's make Christ our creed. Let's make Scripture our script. Let's make love our only law. And let's bear the name of the divine one, Jesus Christ.


Monday, August 08, 2011

Pt. 2 - Unity - What I Like About CofC

In the last blog, I highlighted our value for congregational autonomy. However, the downside of our autonomy has been our unwillingness to work with other congregations for the sake of the kingdom.

The second instinct I want to highlight from our movement is unity. When coupled with autonomy, our movement's emphasis on unity should allow us to bridge the gaps between ourselves and other independent churches and denominations.

Unity was the glue and engine of our movement from the start.

Barton Stone and five other key leaders wrote an important document in 1804 called the Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery. These leaders of the Presbyterian church near Caneridge, KY chose to put a stop to their particular denominational ties in order to join with the larger body of Christ, which has no distinction.

They wrote: "We will, that this body die, be dissolved, and sink into union with the Body of Christ at large; for there is but one body, and one Spirit, even as we are called in one hope of our calling." These powerful words were instrumental (pardon the pun) in our movement's beginning."

Another key phrase of the early Restoration Movement was "We are Christians only, but not the only Christians." This important distinction has been eclipsed by a more sectarian vision in the late 19th and 20th centuries. But a return to the original instincts of our vision must include a call to unity to be lived out in tangible ways.

Lately, I've heard some who have asked me: "Are we just wanting to become a community church?"

Now, I want to unpack that question because it's loaded. In an effort to be generous with the question, I believe there are some who see the American megachurches' self-critique of being "a mile wide and an inch deep" as a possible result of such a move. Let's be honest, I don't know of a church leader in our movement who desires to see spiritual shallowness as a result of any changes.

The question takes an intentional shot at community churches. I believe the question itself is sectarian in nature and reveals the fact that we've become more of a denomination than we often admit.

Some might interpret the question to mean that we don't want to lose our distinctives in an effort to become all things to all people. But remember Barton Stone and the others from the Springfield Presbytery left their own distinctives in order to pursue Christ without the boundaries of their previous traditions.

Is it possible that today's community church trend is a move similar to our own movement's instincts from the very start? Are community churches pursuing the Restoration Movement's plea toward unity and autonomy more faithfully than we are in Churches of Christ? These are questions we must grapple with in an increasingly post-denominational world. Because our original impulses would set us up perfectly for the coming world in the 21st century.

So, how did a movement that started based on a plea for unity get a reputation for believing we were the only ones going to heaven? I'll address that next time with the third instinct of our movement that I appreciate.



Friday, July 29, 2011

Pt. 1 - Autonomy - What I Like About CofC

The first value I want to highlight in Churches of Christ is our commitment to congregational autonomy. Because it's the water I swim in, I haven't always appreciated this impulse of my movement. I guess I always assumed that every church had elders who made decisions for their particular body.

As I've gotten to know ministers in several different denominations, many of them would jump at the chance to minister in a church that had fewer hierarchical structures and complications. It would be difficult to work in a church that was forced to submit to decisions made from leaders at top who were not familiar with the contextual issues present in each congregation.

One of the greatest traits of Christianity is its contextuality. While there is a consistent story, God's good news works itself out differently in different locations and times. If Jesus were to be born in 21st century America, his ministry would have looked and worked very differently.

One of the key verses that speaks to Jesus' contextual ministry is John 1:14. The message translates it best, "The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood." Since then, God has called the church, his body, into neighborhoods throughout the world.

The Quran (Islam's holy book), when translated into languages other than Arabic, is not considered fully inspired. Only in its original language is the Quran considered Allah's inspired word. Islam, as well as other religions, are not nearly as contextual as Christianity is. But Christians do believe different versions of the Bible are fully inspired. Our best missionaries (those not involved in colonialism) have always shared the good news throughout the world in ways that are contextual to the cultures they find themselves in. Congregational autonomy is one of the best means churches have for doing the best on-the-ground, contextual ministry.

I value autonomy because decisions are left up to leaders who, when at their best, are making the best decisions for their sheep. No denominational leadership knows each congregation as well as church leaders do. If certain changes make sense for our church, our church's leaders are able to make a discernment that will impact us without impacting dozens of other churches.

Now, we do have to be careful not to equate American values with kingdom values. We have to be aware that our movement emerged in specific context. The American frontier valued rugged individualism a great deal. And many of our churches have taken this value to an unhealthy end. Our autonomy, at its worst, has devolved into a competitive spirit, which has kept us from working with other churches.

But no worries, next time I'll talk about another key impulse of our movement that allows us to retain our autonomy without sacrificing the ability to work with other churches.


Monday, July 18, 2011

Things I Like About Churches of Christ

I like Churches of Christ.

There...I said it.

There are some who would likely argue I'm an enemy of our movement. But I really like our movement. I've never called another church home.

In fact, I'm about as Church of Christ as one comes. I've got the pedigree. I'd put Paul to shame. By my count, I'm a 9th generation member of the Restoration Movement (a movement that birthed Churches of Christ, Independent Christian Churches, and Disciples of Christ). I was named after Collin McKinney, an ancestor of mine who was baptized by Barton Stone and who planted churches in north Texas. McKinney, Texas and Collin County are named after my namesake.

I'm the preacher at a Church of Christ. I've been raised in a Church of Christ. I've been taught by Church of Christ professors. It's all I've known. And I'm grateful for it (most of the time)!

But I'm also critical of Churches of Christ. I've got enough skin in the game to critique us. I think I'm experiencing what Leroy Garrett described as "A Lover's Quarrel."

So, in an effort to work through my "daddy" issues (What do you call issues with a whole movement?), I've decided to begin a series to remind myself and others of the "things I like about Churches of Christ." Because while I'm a bit embarrassed about our quirky uncles and strange cousins, it's my tribe and I've got a lot to be grateful for.

Over the next few weeks, join me in a conversation about Churches of Christ. Whether you're an ex-member, enthusiast, or member of another faith tribe, please join me in a discussion about our history, present, and the hope we have for the future.

We're not the whole kingdom, but my prayer is that Churches of Christ have pointed people to the kingdom in the past and will learn to be more faithful in the future.

What are some things you value most about Churches of Christ?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Introducing Addison Grace Packer!

 [Note: I'm embarrassed it's taken me so long to get this up. But I have a great excuse. I was just waiting on her 1 month old pictures so you could compare :)]

Our daughter, Addison Grace Packer, was born Tuesday, May 31. She was 7lbs and 20 1/2 inches long. I'm glad to share that Holly and Addison are doing great.

Holly and I were so grateful to share this special moment with both of our families that were able to be here for her birth. Their support means so much even though we live far away from them.

I wondered how I would ever have as much love for my second child as I've had for Maddox. But as people promised me, Addison has opened up another level of love that I didn't know was present within me. I love playing baseball and wrestling with Maddox, but I can already tell I will have a different kind of love for Addison. It's a love that draws out my protective nature from those pesky boys. It's a love that has me wrapped around her little fingers. Holly and I look forward to this journey with our baby girl.

So far, she's sleeping well and gaining her weight back. Maddox is responding with an expected amount of jealousy. It is a transition for him as it has been for all of the firstborns who have ever had siblings. But, it is so special to see Maddox gently take care of Addison. He's going to be a great older brother and he's already fitting in his role so well!

So, now we're a family a four! Holly and I have children, which is so strange to say. We're so grateful to God for his precious miracle that he has added to our family.

And as we've prayed from the time before Maddox was born, we long for the day when Maddox and Addison will confess Jesus as their Lord. I can't wait to see the kingdom dreams they will bless the church and the world with.

Lord, receive Holly and me as disciples of yours. May we lead our children in the way of Jesus. May our words and our actions always lead them toward a clearer vision of the world as you intended it to be. Where we hold them back from your kingdom adventure, challenge us to let go. When our fears of what will happen to their bodies keep us from unleashing them as your missionaries to the world, help us to close our mouths and watch with excitement. Give Addison a love for welcoming heaven to earth. May she have Sunday eyes for the world and may her hands and feet follow the dreams you will give her!


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

My First U2 Concert

I've followed and been a fan of U2 for awhile now, but Saturday night was my first U2 concert experience. The first stop of their 20 city North American leg of their 360 Tour. The Fray, one of my favorite bands, opened at the packed Invesco Field at Mile High.

U2 came with 102 trucks and spent 4 days putting together their $70 million stage.

I've been to some incredible concerts in my day, but this one topped them all. It was pure spectacle combined with a deep concern and passion for good music and social justice. If U2 comes to a city near you, don't even think about missing them.

U2 played many of their classic favorites and played quite a few songs from their latest album.

Since the concert was on May 21st, 2011 (a date suggested by Harold Camping to be the end of the world), Bono humorously dedicated "Until the End of the World" to Mr. Camping.

But the highlight of the night came during a 4 song set before they walked off stage for the first time. This stage that had been the scene of a raucous rock concert turned into a holy space of worship and concern for those who endure injustice at the hands of the empires of this world.

The apostle James, in one of the few and clearest mentions of religion in all of Scripture, defined religion like this: "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world" - James 1:27.

With those for eyes to see, Invesco Field, usually a coliseum filled with football, scantily-clad cheerleaders, and loud cheers, turned into holy ground. It even felt more worshipful than most of the more than 1,500 worship services I have been a part of on Sunday mornings throughout my life. Bono led the crowd in songs of lament, hope, and unity.

The band lowered the lights a bit and started into "Sunday Bloody Sunday" while showing scenes of oppressed people throughout the world. It was interesting to see people shout and cheer to this lament, a song that speaks out against the historic bloodshed in Ireland. In fact, one of the most iconic moments of U2's early years is the footage of Bono parading a white flag around with "Sunday Bloody Sunday" blaring in the background."How long must we sing this song" sounds hauntingly like the words of authors of the Psalms.

Following "Sunday Bloody Sunday," Bono led the crowd in a repeated refrain of "Rejoice" to a new melody the boys had created.

Then, Bono introduced a video with the recently freed Aung San Suu Kyi thanking U2 fans for lifting their voices to free her from house arrest in Burma. As Bono puts it, Aung San Suu Kyi is to Asia what Nelson Mandela is to Africa. That video was followed with "Walk On," a familiar U2 song written for Aung San Suu Kyi praising her for her activism in fighting for freedom in Burma. And as if on cue, Amnesty International workers carried in candles representing the 3,000 prisoners who are still unjustly imprisoned in Burma. And one of the great lines from that song, "a place that has to be believed to be seen," took on a whole new meaning in the midst of this 4 song praise service in the middle of a rock concert in Denver.

The band then followed with one of their most acclaimed songs "One," which took on an incredible sound in the midst of this worship chorus.

And before the encore, the band finished with "Where the Streets Have No Name." It was an incredible song set. And the worship of the crowd (with eyes to see and ears to hear) was a more authentic cry to God for justice, unity, and lament than perhaps any worship service I have ever been a part of.

And at the end of their encore, they finished the concert with one of my favorite songs, "Moment of Surrender." It was the perfect ending to an incredible night!

I was forced to ask, "How could our worship experiences be more authentic like my experience at the U2 concert?" I know the spectacle and setting had much to do with the impact I felt. But could we write more authentic lyrics? Could we write songs of lament to fill our normally joyous celebrations.

As I sat with a couple who feared the lost of their unborn child in a service recently, the worship that so normally fills my soul with passion and love for God suddenly echoed back so hollow. Where was the note of lament for this couple? Where was the cry of desperation to God? It was nowhere to be found in that service and I'm afraid that's too often the case. But plant that couple in the midst of 80,000 people in Invesco Saturday night with ears to hear, and I think their experience might have been much different.

We need musicians and writers who will chart a new path for Christian artistry. I'm so glad there are bands like U2 that remain in the secular scene to bless a wider audience. But Saturday night made me cry out for more bands like Derek Webb and Gungor who will sing it like it really is and write lyrics for our services that seem to miss the mark so often.



Monday, May 16, 2011

Love Wins - Pt. 4 The Most Threatening Virtue

So, Rob Bell came out with a book a couple of months ago. I'm not sure if you've heard about it. It's created quite a conversation.

Here's the link to the video that caused all of the controversy:

Controversial? Yes.
Important Conversation? Yes.
Questions people are asking today? Absolutely!

Now I must give an obligatory warning like every preacher gives. Do I agree with everything in this book? No. Do I agree with everything in any book? No. that that's done let me get real with you.

I have read the book (important distinction because many who have critiqued Bell failed to read his book before doing so). I have listened to him speak on two occasions on his book tour. I heard him speak and he answered one of my questions at his book signing at the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Highlands Ranch. I also heard him speak at Denver Seminary the following day. I've been a Rob Bell fan for quite a while. And I'm still a fan!

He's willing to tackle questions that most aren't willing to touch. And while he might come off as a shallow, emergent, trendy preacher with dark-rimmed glasses, he's got some theological depth to him.

I appreciate his first century Jewish background work and how his relevant messages reach a postmodern crowd.

There are people who disagree with what he says, but I think most are unknowingly more upset with how he says it. He writes for a postmodern crowd that appreciates the right questions more than the right answers. And Rob asks questions that must be asked.

His view of the new heavens and the new earth are spot on. His chapter entitled "Does God Get What God Wants?" is worth the price of the book.

Some have labeled him a universalist, which is absolutely incorrect if you've read his book closely. He's certain some individuals will choose hell even though they have the opportunity to receive God's grace.

I guess my question comes down to practice. Most of us would reject the descriptor of universalist were it used to describe us. And on a theology paper I would reject that title as well.


How many preachers are practical universalists when it comes to preaching funeral sermons? (I say this knowing some of you have likely heard a few preachers condemn people in the coffin.) In practice, when it comes to the moment of death most of us are either universalists or agnostic at worst.

And even if you're ready to send people to hell at funerals, most of us at least are generous enough to let God be the judge in the end. And most people I know are this way. If asked who is going to hell, they will back away from answering and admit, "Well, I'm not the judge. God is the judge."

The truth is, we don't know and we aren't the judge.

But the scary thing is that I think some of us desire for hell to be more populated than heaven. And that is not God's desire. God "wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." (1 Timothy 2:4) Perhaps we should want the same thing!

The truth is C.S. Lewis wrote some of the very same things that Rob Bell has written (perhaps parable form is safer). And he is the poster child of the same conservative evangelical critics who condemn Bell as a heretic.

I like how Rob described what he was doing in his book while he was at Denver Seminary. And I think we should be after the same task.

He said, "This books sits on the edge between urgency and possibility. It's my intention for it to sit there."

In other words, we should live our lives with all urgency and passion to welcome the kingdom of God to earth. Rob's book isn't a call for complacency while we wait for God's grace to invade our dispassionate lives. In fact, I would argue the escapism of evangelicalism's traditional story about heaven and hell lacks more reasons for urgency about life on this earth. So, we are urgent to proclaim and live the good news welcoming God's kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

On the other hand, we hope for the possibility that God's grace might just be larger than our box often allows him to be. We live with urgency, but we leave open our judgment to the Great Judge who happens to want all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.

But perhaps what concerns me most is the angry response of Christians to Bell's book. My question is this: If claiming too many people will go to heaven is heresy, why don't we consider it heresy to claim too few people will go to heaven?

I want to live with urgency as I welcome the kingdom of God to come in its fullness on earth as it is in heaven.
I also want to live with the possibility that God might be more gracious than our imaginations can fathom.
I want love to win! Do you?


Monday, May 02, 2011

Al-Zarqawi & Bin Laden: Same Story

I'm copying a blog post I wrote June 9, 2006 - almost 5 years ago.

These words are just as relevant as they were then. Substitute Al-Zarqawi's name for Osama bin Laden and I think I'd write the same words today.


Which Terrorists?

As I walked into class today, I was informed of something that made the class cheer in approval. As I turned on the radio, I heard that it was a good day. As I turned on the tv, I was forced to look at the face of a man who was supposed to bring me joy.

Normally a seminary class cheers when God has answered a long awaited prayer request. Usually my radio makes me feel good when my sports team wins or when one of my favorite songs comes on. Most of the time I rejoice when I look at the tv and see the hopes of the homeless being answered on Sunday nights on ABC.

However, today was not such a day. In fact, I might sound un-American, but that is not my biggest worry right now. Today a man was killed and millions rejoiced for that reason alone. Al-Zarqawi, the second greatest threat in the Eastern World, expired. No, I take that back, he died by means of two 500 pound bombs. Pardon me if I don't rejoice. Pardon me if I don't feel like singing praises to my God right now for upholding the cause of America. My veins don't bleed red, white and blue when my country's best news this year is found on a tv screen showing a dead man's face.

I have to admit that my ideas have changed in the past few years. Four years ago I would have thought this was a great thing, but as I am mastered more and more by Scripture and God's Kingdom, it becomes more difficult for war and fatalities to bring a smile to my face. The Kingdom of God asks different questions than how can we preserve our lives best in America. I have stopped pretending that God favors America any more than anyone else. I have stopped praying for God to bless America and start blessing the world.

Call it pacifism if you want. Call me a coward, but I don't think justice is served in retaliation and I don't think this endless string of violence will end with one more assassination of an Arab person (or Arab target as many call it). I don't have many answers, but I have a model to follow in all of this. Christ has taught me to follow his path down the road to the cross. I am called to turn the other cheek and pray for my enemies.

Sure, we need to uphold the cause of the oppressed and there may be justification somewhere in all of this, but surely we can hold our cheers when we hear of the loss of a person's life. We must mourn for those the terrorists murder, our troops and our enemies. I can't quite see Christ rejoicing in this news today.

The best news I heard tonight was from a father whose son was beheaded by al-Zarqawi a couple of years ago. Larry King interviewed him and asked him some volatile questions. He asked him if al-Zarqawi's death brought any closure. The father said (paraphrase), "No, any loss of life is a loss for all of humanity." King went on and on trying to get the father to admit some joy or relief in this death, but the father obstinately denied feeling any relief or vindication. Al-Zarqawi's death would not bring his son back and vengeance wasn't the answer.

Wow! What a testament. Perhaps we can learn from this father. I'm not sure what I really believe. I don't condone terror or rejoicing in the death of another person, but what do I do with with the murder of an unrepentant sinner? Is it ever right to condone and rejoice in the death of another? I need more time to reflect and think, but I'm not sure I can do this.

It was sickening to hear the applause of classmates today. It was gross to hear a radio personality claim victory in the death of another. It was appalling to continually see the face of a dead man on tv tonight. I am a part of the Kingdom of God. My goal is for all people to be transformed by the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. We must lay down our lives for the sake of others. We must share the good news with those easy to love and those difficult to love. In short, we must be Christ to a world in the midst of suffering, terror and murder. We must proclaim, "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!" not only to the Arabs but to ourselves when we condone acts of terror abroad and among our friends and relatives.

Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

My Mentor - Pt. 3 The Most Threatening Virtue

One of the huge missed opportunities in our churches is intergenerational connection. So many of our churches spread five generations, yet we only seem to experience the pain of those differences rather than the joy.

In fact, I've argued in the past that the church's current struggles are the fault of modern medical science with its increased life expectancy. Paul likely never had to deal with bringing a congregation of 5 generations together. Yet, I wonder if there are hidden benefits we miss.

Which leads me to a story...

In 8th grade, my family began attending the Highland Oaks Church of Christ in Dallas, Texas. I was a leader in the youth group and after leaving for college, I served as a summer preaching intern there as well. My dad serves as an elder there. It's my home church when I return home.

However, I never met my mentor who shared the same church home with me all of those years until about three years ago. We'll call him Jim (I changed his name to protect the guilty.) After I entered ministry, Jim pursued me and invited me to lunch.

Now, Jim was a preacher in Churches of Christ until he was divorced, which was the end of his professional ministry career. But since then, he has served as a beloved teacher and mentor of other young ministers. I've been blessed to receive his love, prayers, and advice. Every time I've returned to Dallas since then, we've caught up over lunch and I've shared my musings from ministry. Unfortunately, in the last few months, the doctors told them he only had a few months left due to an aggressive form of cancer. He has handled this announcement with so much grace and love.

I remember our first encounter over lunch vividly three years ago. With a stomach full of excellent pizza, we returned back to his house for hours of swapping stories about ministry. He listened as I (the young, naive minister) shared my struggles, concerns, and questions.

Finally, I shared with him my struggle over how to deal with judging people in their sin. I shared with him my desire to love people while acknowledging the need to judge them "so as not to let sin get a stranglehold" or some bizarre reason I can't currently recall.

Jim smiled and asked me a piercing question that will roll through my head for years to come. He said, "And what role do you feel God has called you play in this matter?"

I told him, "I'm called to love the person."

He responded, "Is there any other role you play?"

And I thought and responded, "Well, as the preacher, it must also be my role to judge the person. I can't allow sin to go unchecked. I must let them know the truth."

He said, "Is that your role?"

Our continuing discussion that day changed me forever. What is our role as Christians when it comes to judging others?

Well, in the past, as one with the truth, I've been confident in my ability to judge others. When you know you're right, it's easy to commence with the judging. Having colonized God and knowing he's on our side,it's an easy and inevitable next step to arrogantly judge others who struggle with greater sins, which often brings alienation rather than restoration. Interestingly enough, I even judged non-Christians by a standard they had not themselves committed to living out (bizarre really).

But today, I sit in my office with Jim's question still rattling around my brain. What is my role? What is the role of a Christian in bringing about the restoration of God's prodigal children?

First, I think of Jesus' statement in Matthew 7:1-2. He says, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." And then he goes on in a humorous way about planks and specks in people's eyes. Interesting!

Second, I think about Paul's words in Galatians 6:1. He says, "Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently." I don't recall too many attempted interventions with sinners that could be described best by the word "gentle." Important distinction.

Third, I think about Paul's words to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 3. Guess who brings growth in people's lives. Not us; it's God! We plant the seeds and water them, but God brings the growth.

Which allows us to define our role a bit better. God brings the growth. The Holy Spirit's role is to convict.

Our job is simple. Guess what it is? I bet you could guess.

Our Job: Love.

We are called to love. Love sums up Torah. Love shows that we are connected to the father. Love brings the possibility of restoration.

Shane Claiborne says it well, "I've learned that people can be right and still be mean!"

What we believe is important. But just as important is how we believe what we believe.

Because love wins.

I appreciate my mentor's words. They'll remain with me for a long time.

I'll preach the truth (at least the truth as I perceive it), but no amount of truth that I preach will make up for a unloving Spirit.

But know this: "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins." - 1 Peter 4:8


Sunday, April 03, 2011

Cranky Church Members - Pt. 2 The Most Threatening Virtue

"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love." 1 John 4:7-8

It's that simple! If you love, you know God. If you don't love, you don't know God.

So, the world should know the church by what characteristic most? Well, I'll throw a suggestion out there. Perhaps, love.

But surveys show that the first thing unbelievers say about us isn't "You know what bothers me most about Christians? They're just too loving!"

Now, I know, I know. I can just hear some Christians begging me to define love before this gets out of hand. I can just hear some saying, "But love means loving people enough to tell them the truth! It's not loving to let someone perish without letting them know they are in error."

True, but can we just admit that's not exactly the gospel's best definition of love? 1 Corinthians 13 doesn't harp on love being a trait of judging people's eternal destiny. It's more about patience, kindness, and humility...words that rarely get thrown out in discussions about truth. (Save your breath. I know some of you want me to point out that love rejoices in the truth...I'm way ahead of you.)

I'm concerned about the church. But not for our lack of truth...for our lack of love.

Let's face it: In some churches, the longer you go to church, the crankier you get. Ask any of your preachers. I don't have a desk full of angry letters from people under the age of fifty (now I've created more hate because I've defined what it means to be old).

It seems to me that if our churches are spiritually forming people into the image of Jesus, then people who had been in church longest would be the most loving. Let me be honest, that's not always the case.

And I'm not really pointing the finger at our members. I think it's the fault of our leaders. Christians certainly bear some responsibility. But our churches must not exactly be love factories partly because our focus has been on perfect doctrine to the detriment of our loving lives.

The moment one is baptized ought to be the moment a Christian loved least. The love chart ought to be a quick upward trend following that moment.

Perhaps we ought to check the water for more than its temperature because it's not bring the desired outcome when it comes to love.

In the past three weeks, I've had three conversations with people who are upset because of my recent preaching and blogging. All three of those conversations have to do with the dialectic between love and truth.

I get it, we need to pursue truth. But not at the cost of love.

They will know we are Christians by our love. Love is the name on our jersey. It's the name we go by.

I'm just not so sure the world knows it yet?


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Jesus and Love - Pt. 1 The Most Threatening Virtue

God is love.

And Jesus seems to think love is important as well.

One day, one of the teachers of the Law tested Jesus with a question: "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"

Tough question. To be honest, I'd be a bit reluctant to answer a question like that. Like most preachers, I've become quite adept at sidestepping tough questions by answering the question I want to answer. For me to make such a pronouncement about the Law, I'd have to more proficient in the Law. I was taught growing up all of that "Jewish rulebook stuff" was unimportant. So, I have to admit I don't know the Law well enough to even give a guess.

But notice, Jesus doesn't answer the question like we would expect him to. As Post-Reformation Christians, we would expect him to say, "The Law? Why are you so concerned about the Law? I've not come to fulfill the Law. I've come to abolish the Law with a new covenant." However, it would be tough to get there if you pay close attention to Matthew 5:17-20.

Jesus never skips a beat. He quickly wades through 613 Old Testament Laws that he has certainly studied quite often (he was a Jew by the way, which we seem to forget), and he replies, "Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18." Well, not exactly. He actually says, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. (OK, he still answers the question in his own way by giving two laws instead of one).

Basically Jesus says, "613 laws are commentary on these two. Just love God and others and you've got it covered."

Now, this response didn't work for the Pharisees. And unfortunately, we're still trying to put caveats on Jesus' simple response. It's like we want to remind Jesus, "I think you forgot a few important things Jesus." But I'm sure if Jesus was here to defend himself he'd reply, "I didn't leave anything out. That's it. That's your job. Leave the rest to the Father."

Jesus loves the strangest people. He loves prostitutes, Samaritans, tax collectors, lepers, a rich young ruler who can't leave his idol of wealth, and women caught in adultery. And his love separates him from the Pharisees. And his love threatened all of the religious leaders of his day.

We want to say, "Yes, Jesus love is important. But aren't there other things that are important too."

It's almost as if we want to pat Jesus on the head and let him know that he's naive about the world. But I'm not sure he's all that naive. He preached a message of love and was sincere enough about his message to die for it. That doesn't sound too naive.

For some reason, Jesus' boundless love was threatening to people in his day.

And as we'll see in this blog series (and possibly the blog comments as well), I think love is still quite threatening today.


Friday, March 18, 2011

The Most Threatening Virtue of All

Lately, I've noticed that people are threatened by the strangest thing. We're threatened by love.

Now, I know what you might be thinking. "Collin, you must be paranoid if love is so threatening to you."

My response: I bet if you take a closer look, you might just be threatened by love as well.

Look around and you'll notice how threatening love really is:

-When you look at the gospels, the most unloving people aren't the Romans or the pagans. The Romans kill Jesus and they come off appearing even more loving than the Pharisees and religious people of Jesus' day. The religious elites seemed to be threatened by a Jesus who loves people at all the wrong times (on the Sabbath, at the well, on the cross, etc.).

-Church leaders know the truth about Christians perhaps more than any other group of people. But I must admit, love isn't the first characteristic I would use to describe church members. Unfortunately, it doesn't even make the top 10 characteristics I would use to describe church members.

-Three years ago, I had a conversation with a mentor who forever challenged the way I thought about our task as Christians. It all had to do with how threatening it can be to find love as our primary duty as Christians (and I still remember that conversation vividly).

-Rob Bell writes a book called Love Wins and the Twitter world and blogosphere go nuts. And it's not because so many non-Christians commented on Bell's book. Bell's name lit up the internet because Christians were bickering with one another over how literal hell really is. The conversation wasn't about love. The conversation became about whether Bell was a heretic or not. And love didn't win.

And the world looks on wondering what in the world Christianity is really about. Or perhaps they've stopped wondering because we've confirmed their suspicions all too often.

Over the next few weeks, I want to develop these four experiences and express why love seems to be so threatening to Christians.

So, come back for my thoughts and for conversation. My hope is that love might not just be the topic of these blogs to come. Perhaps it might even characterize our conversation.

Perhaps this time, Love might win.


Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Why My Unborn Baby Girl Has Rocked My World

The good news is that Holly and I are expecting a baby girl in early June. Everything looks healthy. We've even given her a name. She will be called Addison Grace Packer.

I'm so excited! Yet, this is new territory for me. Growing up, it was just my brother and me. So, as I continue to see the pink outfits and bows already going on the credit card, it's becoming a bit more real.

But while our bundle of sugar and spice and everything that's nice is growing in Holly's belly, I'm becoming a wreck. Not just in the knowledge of fending off our pretty girl from those obnoxious teenage boys, but from the theological problems this causes me.

Because now, the discussion of women's role in Churches of Christ isn't an issue. It involves my own flesh and blood (Although, Holly has often reminded me that I've always had a wife who's been affected). It's now about my daughter. It's now about me. And if I'm honest our position on women's role has always affected more than the women. It's affected all of us and diminished all of us.

On my blog, I've been careful not to rock the boat too much. Perhaps I write so infrequently because most of what I want to say I'm afraid might make too many waves (or perhaps too few because I'll finally find out how few actually read my blog). Perhaps the echo of my professors' voices warning us as students not to publish things on blogs that will cause us trouble when looking for future jobs still rings in my ear.

But there comes a time that silence must give way to words and action. And the arrival of my baby girl has created just that space for me.

So, here it goes: Our churches must begin to talk about the role of our women in leadership and in our public assemblies. We must make space for these discussions. We cannot allow our fear of some unknown enemy to keep us from engaging in a conversation that should have already happened.

I wonder how many of our members are as dumbfounded as many of our ministers about our current practices with women in our churches, but have allowed fear and caution to keep them silent as our practices remain the same.

Is it groupthink? Do we have well thought out theologies supporting our current practices? Do most of us realize the oddity of our male dominated services in 21st century society? Perhaps there are more who want to ask these questions than we sometimes imagine.

Last year at ACU Summit, Stephen Johnson and several women in the Graduate School of Theology at ACU began a conversation entitled "Half the Church." There was a great deal of discussion at the end of last year surrounding their studies and dialogue about women in Churches of Christ.

If you are not yet aware of this ongoing conversation, be sure to check out Listen to the podcast, "She Is Called." It's a moving piece. Also, subscribe to the "Half the Church" podcast on iTunes.

But my baby girl has rocked my world far more than she will ever know before Holly's third trimester has started. And I'm sure I will never be the same again. Thanks be to God!