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.