Healing in Holy Week

I’ve been thinking a lot about a lot of things this week because I’m a deep thinker, but also because it’s Holy Week. I’ve been in a week of learning, relearning, and creating new pathways for my brain to replace the old negative ones. Thoughts from PTSD/OCD can control someone to a place they don’t even recognize themselves anymore. That was me not so long ago. Put it this way, it was the same month we are in. It’s apropos that my healing is taking place this week, and I find it very meaningful. I’ve thought about Jesus a great deal. I’ve pondered at great lengths whether HE had a say in how things ended up. These are my own theological wonderings; not trying to look for or find debate. I’ve also thought about how HE could have lived a much, much longer life and healed and loved even more people. I’ve never thought of this in my whole life until this week. What if HE had been over 100 years old when HE died? Why so young? I don’t know, and I won’t know for certain as a finite human being. Couldn’t the story have been extended? GOD could’ve given HIM many more years to live, teach, heal, and give. HIS life was cut short. And yes, I suppose I’m questioning that. Wouldn’t it have been awesome to have a 969-year-old Methuselah-channeling Jesus? Think of just how many more folks HE could have touched, literally and metaphorically.

Guess what? My questions may matter to my brain, but ultimately the ultimate happened when I wasn’t even a blink in my mother’s eye…when my ancestors were multiple generations removed from me. Herein is the point entirely. Our questions can float around like bobbers on a fishing line, but the greatest and most phenomenal act of love occurred without our help. GOD did what GOD does which is let the world GOD made unfold as GOD designed. This is my belief, anyhow. And the unfolding, for whatever reason, had to happen with GOD’s Son crucified and bleeding and dying on a cross. This makes no logical sense. This is why I don’t like it. Why couldn’t Jesus have grown old, helped 1,000 times more people in the flesh, then died quietly and peacefully…and still saved us? I don’t get it. But guess what? It doesn’t matter that I don’t understand.

Enter the bold and brave Faith onto the stage. Faith means ‘who really cares if we don’t get it’. We are humans. We aren’t going to get it. Faith is ‘we don’t know why, we don’t know how, and we don’t really like Jesus dying in pain on a cross, but we have to sit with it anyway’. It happened, we honor it, and live our lives to honor HIM. But no it doesn’t make logical sense. Faith says, ‘Rest. It’s okay. You don’t have to or need to ‘get it’. Just be grateful.’ And I’m so grateful beyond all measure today. Because HE left the garden, where HE was mingled within the olive trees in that green, serene space. HE left the beauty for the burn. HE left the calm for the crisis. HE left the peacefulness for the pain….for you.

March 2018 E-News from the Siburt Institute

On Being Elders

Over the past several years I have had the opportunity to walk with many elder groups as they have reflected on their roles and work. In nearly every situation – no matter the size or location of the church – elders feel overworked and overwhelmed with the tasks at hand and the dilemma of serving well. In recent months, while helping a church prepare for “onboarding” a new group of shepherds, many of the things that I have been learning from and with elders began to converge. Let me share some of that with you.

In seeking to find the essence of what it means to be an elder for a local congregation, it is helpful to focus on three things – being, doing and process – framed in the three questions I explore below.

Who are we? One challenge for elders comes with the rush to be faithful and responsible for congregational life. In that rush, elders and church leaders can neglect or avoid a fundamental reality: before anyone becomes an elder, they are a disciple of Jesus Christ. Being a disciple, a humble follower, does not go away when one is identified as a shepherd. Rather, discipleship takes on a deeper and more profound reality for those called shepherds. David Benner says it well of leaders: “The single most important lesson for the leader to learn is that he/she is first a sheep and not a shepherd; first a child and not a father or mother; first an imitator, not a model.”

What do we do? If leaders understand discipleship as their foundational identity, then it begins to shape the practice of leadership. What we do grows out of who we are. As persons committed to following Jesus, the practices of leadership needed in congregations and communities fall into three broad activities. First, leaders are persons who pay attention to what God is doing. Often language about vision and mission emerge in discussions about leadership – and rightfully so. Such conversation requires persons who have the capacity to read and reflect on Scripture, culture and contexts. Such persons pray and listen for God’s voice because the church needs persons who are paying attention to the True Leader. Second, leaders are persons who care for and nurture others. The word shepherd is apt – shepherds make sure their flocks are fed a healthy diet, and they provide care so sheep mature well. Third, leaders are persons who provide oversight and monitoring to make sure the community is moving toward God’s mission. Let’s be clear here. I’m not talking about “making decisions” – though often there are decisions to be made. What I am saying is that leaders are paying attention to God’s agenda and are ensuring that initiatives adequately serve that mission.

How do we do it? Shared leadership is not easy. However, the wisdom of communal leadership, rooted in the witness of Scripture, demonstrates its value as leaders with differing gifts come together to discern God’s work and to share the burden of that work. Determining how to do the work is a deeply contextual thing. There are healthy models in play (see this collection of governance models), and those of us at the Siburt Institute are happy to serve as guides – don’t hesitate to reach out to us. But we encourage you to work toward a process of shared leadership that allows elders to do what no else can do and allows ministers to do what they are best equipped to do. The principle plays out well in the early church when the apostles claimed, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables” (Acts 6:2, NRSV). Pursue ways of working together that allow for leaders to pay attention to God, pastor and care for people, and provide necessary monitoring for the sake of mission.

May God bless you – first and foremost as disciples and then in your practices of leadership!

Carson

NEWS

Save the date: Summer Seminar with Randy Harris, Aug. 3-4

Join Randy Harris, ACU Bible instructor and spiritual director for the College of Biblical Studies and the Siburt Institute, for this year’s Summer Seminar, Aug. 3-4. Harris will examine the challenging topic, “The Gospel and Culture: What’s a Christian to Do?” and will provide thoughtful ways to approach life and society as a Christ follower in our rapidly changing contemporary context.

The seminar will take place in ACU’s Hunter Welcome Center from 1:30 p.m., Aug. 3, to noon, Aug. 4. The cost of the seminar is $60, which covers meals, snacks and handout materials. Registration opens April 1. Visit our website between April 1 and July 26 to sign up.

Registration is open for ElderLink Midwest 2018


Join us next month for ElderLink Midwest, April 20-21. We have a great lineup of breakout speakers: (from left) Jon Mullican, Dr. Carson Reed, Judy Siburt and Dr. David Wray. Our breakout sessions allow for more interaction and discussion on a focused topic in a small-group setting. Topics include church culture, eldering 101, church leader spouses and soul-care for spiritual leaders.

Visit our registration and event page to learn more and to take advantage of the early bird discount.

Learning to Dream

What is the difference between envying and dreaming? Whether comparing one’s church or leadership gifts with someone else’s – or with an unattainable ideal that cannot exist – it can be tempting to cross over from dreaming and vision-casting into envy, which robs our joy. Daniel McGraw, senior minister at the West University Church of Christ in Houston, explores the distinction and suggests specific practices for leaning into the healthy side of dreaming.

Join the conversation by commenting on McGraw’s “Learning to Dream” CHARIS post, then read his new three-part series, “Without Vision, Ministry Perishes.”

Final call for 2018 Ministers’ Salary Survey participants

The deadline to take the 2018 Ministers’ Salary Survey has been extended to April 2! Ministers within the Churches of Christ are invited to complete the survey. Results will be published on our website by May 1.

Summit attendees encouraged to read Jacobs’ How to Think

Summit attendees are invited to join the staff and faculty of ACU in reading a book selected by the Summit team to prepare for this year’s event. The team chose Alan Jacobs’ How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds. Jacobs wrote the book as he struggled to connect the people he loved with the beliefs he held. On every side of the political spectrum, in religion and in academia, people are torn apart by the beliefs that identify them. Jacobs believes that these differences divide us because we do not approach each other correctly.

Jacobs describes positive modes of thought that allow us to communicate effectively and love each other through our differences. Key themes include the dangers of thinking against others, the need to find the best people to think with, the error of believing that we can think for ourselves, the conflict between thinking and belonging and the dangers of words that do our thinking for us.

Jacobs is a distinguished professor of humanities in the Honors Program of Baylor University, and taught for many years at Wheaton College in Illinois. He has written five other books and frequently writes for different magazines.

Jacobs will speak on campus several times in September and will present at Summit at 11 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 17, in Cullen Auditorium. Don’t miss this opportunity to find new ways to think together at Summit 2018: Wholeness in a Broken World.

MARK YOUR CALENDARS

THOUGHTS TO PONDER

A vital part of the legacy of the late Dr. Charles Siburt, for whom the Siburt Institute is named, are his “Charlie-isms” – sayings he liked to repeat. Some are original to him, while others are adaptations of others’ brilliance, insight and wit in the sometimes bewildering world of church ministry. From time to time, we revisit our supply of Siburt’s sayings and share them with you. Here are several of his popular “Charlie-isms”:

  • “Anything that is mentionable is manageable. It’s the stuff we won’t talk about that gets us.”

  • “Telling people the truth is part of loving them.”

  • “You have a choice: you can manage the problem or you can be managed by the problem.”

  • “The greatest point of leverage you have in ministry is to become a healthier self.”

  • “There is no way to modulate the human voice so as to make whining an acceptable sound.”

“The Way to Real, True Freedom”

The words of Father Zossima in “The Brothers Karamzov,”

“The world has proclaimed the reign of freedom, especially of late, but what do we see in this freedom of theirs? Nothing but slavery and self-destruction! For the world says:

‘You have desires and so satisfy them, for you have the same rights as the most rich and powerful. Don’t be afraid of satisfying them and even multiply your desires.’ That is the modern doctrine of the world…Interpreting freedom as the multiplication and rapid satisfaction of desires, men distort their own nature, for many senseless and foolish desires and habits and ridiculous fancies are fostered in them. They live only for mutual envy, for luxury and ostentation. To have dinners, visits, carriages, rank and slaves to wait on one is looked upon as a necessity, for which life, honour and human feeling are sacrificed, and men even commit suicide if they are unable to satisfy it…I ask you is such a man free? I knew of one ‘champion of freedom’ who told me himself that, when he was deprived of tobacco in prison, he was so wretched at the privation that he almost went and betrayed his cause for the sake of getting tobacco again! And such a man says, ‘I am fighting for the cause of humanity.’

How can such a one fight, what is he fit for? He is capable of some action quickly over, but he cannot hold out long. And it’s no wonder that instead of gaining freedom they have sunk into slavery, and instead of serving the cause of brotherly love and the union of humanity have fallen, on the contrary, into dissension and isolation…And therefore the idea of the service of humanity, of brotherly love and the solidarity of mankind, is more and more dying out in the world, and indeed this idea is sometimes treated with derision.. For how can a man shake off his habits, what can become of him if he is in such bondage to the habit of satisfying the innumerable desires he has created for himself? He is isolated, and what concern has he with the rest of humanity? They have succeeded in accumulating a greater mass of objects, but the joy in the world has grown less.

The monastic way is different. Obedience, fasting and prayer are laughed at, yet only through them lies the way to real, true freedom. I cut off my superfluous and unnecessary desires, I subdue my proud and wanton will and chastise it with obedience, and with God’s help I attain freedom of spirit and with it spiritual joy.”

Most of this sounds like it could have been written in the West in the last 50 years instead of being written in Russia in the 1880s. There is truly nothing new under the sun, the underlying dis-ease adopts and adapts new symptoms in a new day and time but what underlies our feeling that something isn’t right is the same root cause across time and culture. We struggle with selfishness, with our fleshy-ness, blocking out our connection with the Spirit.  Desires pile on top of desires and those who have been tasked with the divine mission of spreading the Gospel to all creatures lack fortitude and endurance because we have become so soft and so accustomed to quick and easy faux-satiation that really never fills us and leaves us feeling more and more empty. I will repeat Zossima’s question, “I ask you is such a man free?” We have ministers struggling with addiction, gluttony, and critical/bitter spirits (I know these things well enough myself…ministers are people too in need of grace as much as anyone). Can such a person “fight for the cause of humanity?” It is time that we get serious about our faith and our calling. When we confess our God-substitutes and submit ourselves to the Lord we will “attain freedom of spirit” and “spiritual joy” like never before. We will be free.

Valley Girl Redemption

I know what you’re thinking…the term “valley girl” is most often described as a female from California with a certain recognizable accent. And you’d be right. Except I’m speaking from a different valley, not one on the West Coast. I’m referencing a very real valley, yet one not locatable on a map. The valley I know is one of internal recognition. You likely haven’t seen it, but you might have or have had your own to traverse through. We all experience the valleys in some manner…that first step descendant into downward motion. We might have been
leveled off for years, or always optimistic, feeling that uphill foray with fire in our toes. But something, a situation, a life-changing unfolding comes to roost unexpectedly.

I know several valleys, some in which I’ve occupied real estate for years. I recently spoke about ‘Everests’ I’ve faced, which I still feel. However, now I can ascertain perhaps those mountains were actually valleys. Because on the mountain top you have sure and crystalline clarity. Because on the climb, you know you’re getting somewhere so positivity keeps you moving forward. But in the valleys, you don’t know those things. Valleys can be a beautiful spaces, rich in wildflower colors and green beyond, but they are simultaneously low terrain.

The valleys I’ve ambled through in my first forty years have been daunting, forbidden places. They certainly rearranged me to the core, as in I’m not who I was. Much like one would change the furniture in a room, my interior scenery has morphed. Pain can do that. As a young woman in her early twenties, I never expected to face the valleys I have. I didn’t expect to lose my first husband to divorce, my seven pregnancies to miscarriages, or my second sweet and loving husband to death at the young age of forty. I could not have predicted how life’s circumstances would take me from valley to valley. Losing David is something I’ll never exit the valley over. And that’s okay. I’ve made a beautiful place there full of pink peonies and clovers. I’ve made peace that I’ll remain in that valley as long as I live.

The beauty of the valleys is that’s often where we see God’s most imaginative work because we have to look harder. It’s easier on a peak to survey the land 360 degrees. The valleys, though, you have to appreciate what’s right under you. When I have conversations with God, I imagine my saying, “But I prefer the mountain top!” And I envision God reminding me, “The air is thin up there. You like deep breaths. You like greenery and flowers close to you anyway. Keep your feet in the valley.” In many ways, that’s my comfort zone. So when I root the soles of my feet into the valley soil, it’s not despairing now, it’s comfortable. And I trust that ultimately the Creator of the valleys knows the path my feet will trod. I rest in that, nestled among the wildflowers.

The Spirit-Filled People of God

The functional creed for many Christians as Gordon Fee points out, could be stated something like this, “I believe in God the Father; I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s Son; but I wonder about the Holy Ghost.”

My religious upbringing was full of concern about heretics who taught that the Holy Spirit works “separate and apart from the Word of God” or that the Spirit literally indwells a Christian. How foreign that thinly disguised deism was from the Spirit-drenched reflections of the first-century Christ-followers.

The New Testament never develops a carefully prepared doctrine of the Spirit. However, its pages are filled with life-changing experiences of the early Christians that the God who had been present among them in Jesus Christ was still present in his Holy Spirit. They knew they had received the gospel message with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit (1 Thess. 4:8). They understood that they, the people of God, had become the temple in whom God through his Spirit dwells (1 Cor. 3:16-17). They recognized that only through the Spirit’s power were they able to live holy lives commensurate with their calling (1 Thess. 4:3-8).

Life apart from the presence and work of the Spirit was unimaginable. As Paul put it, “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ” (Rom. 8:9). Before his conversion, the apostle saw the world clearly divided into two groups: Jews and Gentiles. After receiving God’s grace, he saw humanity separated between those “in Christ” (which to him meant those with the Spirit) and those not in Christ (and therefore, without the Spirit).

So common was their experience of God’s Spirit that Paul could ask the Galatians, “Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?” (Gal 3:2). The argument he constructs in Galatians 3 stands or falls on this, their recognition that the Spirit had come powerfully into their lives at conversion and had continued to work in them to produce the character of Christ.

No New Testament writer set out to develop a formula for the Trinity, yet Trinitarian language abounds, for that was the early church’s experience in salvation. The one God had entered the world through his Son, Jesus Christ. And when that Son “left,” he still remained through “another Counselor” (John 14:16 – which implies that Christ, too, had been their Comforter or Counselor).

The benediction at the end of 2 Corinthians is typical. It doesn’t attempt to argue the case for a Trinitarian understanding of God, but it uses Trinitarian language to describe their experience, “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Cor. 13:14). The Christians had experienced the love of God (which had been poured into their hearts by the Holy Spirit, Rom. 5:5), the grace of their Lord which gave expression to the Father’s love, and the participation in the Spirit which made that love and grace present in the church.

In their encounter with the gospel, they learned what the people of Israel had not known about their one God, that he existed in eternal relationship as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit.

The prophets of Israel had looked forward to a day when God would pour out his Spirit. Through the preaching of Ezekiel, for example, God had said:

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws…I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land (Ezek. 36:26-7; 37:14).

Luke, who was concerned to show that such promises to God’s people had indeed been fulfilled (Luke 1:1), reports that John the Baptist told the crowd around him that while he was baptizing in water, Jesus would baptize them with the Holy Spirit and with fire (3:16). Shortly before his ascension, Jesus told his followers to stay in Jerusalem and “wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:4-5).

On Pentecost, this promise was fulfilled. The disciples, hearing the howling of a violent wind and seeing what looked like tongues of fire, were filled with the Spirit (Acts 2:1-4). Peter explained that God’s people were experiencing the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy:

In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
Joel 2:28ff; Acts 2:17-18

But was this gift of God’s Spirit only for a few leaders? No! Peter told those who were listening that they too, upon repentance and baptism, would receive this gift (2:38).

Various groups have taught that the baptism in the Holy Spirit is a gift that comes to some Christians at a later point in their spiritual journey. But the New Testament writers considered it the normal experience for all believers at their conversion. Because of their common experience of baptism in water and in the Spirit, Paul could argue for Christian unity by saying, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13, NASB).

The early church believed the Spirit was much more than some intangible, impersonal force or attitude. They welcomed the Spirit as the indwelling presence of God himself, a presence that had been promised long before. They thankfully recognized that God had delivered them “through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).

But they also believed that the Spirit had done more than take up residence in them. They knew that God was doing something powerful among them (just as he continues to do something powerful among his people today) through his Spirit.

From Theology Matters: Answers for the Church Today; in Honor of Harold Hazelip. Chapter 3 “How does the Spirit Work in the Christian?” pp. 34-36