October 2018 E-news from the Siburt Institute

OCTOBER 2018 E-NEWS

Remembering Your Baptism

This fall, I am on a small team of ministers doing interim preaching for a local congregation. For the series, we decided to preach Paul’s letter to the Romans – light stuff, right? Last Sunday, I was preaching and Romans 6 was my text. I began by recalling a notable film released in 2000.

Remember Joel and Ethan Coen’s film, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the Homeric exploration of depression-era Southern culture? Perhaps you recall the three main characters, Ulysses, Pete and Delmar, the escaped prisoners from the chain gang. They hear singing and see men and women walking through the trees to the river, where people are gathering to be baptized. Delmar, good ole Delmar, joins the crowd and runs into the water. He comes out of the water and excitedly proclaims to Ulysses and Pete, “The Lord has saved me from all my sins … the preacher’s done washed away all my sins and transgressions, including the Piggly Wiggly I knocked over in Yazoo.”

Ulysses interjects, “I thought you weren’t guilty of that.”

“Well,” says Delmar, “I lied about that, but God has forgiven me of that, too! It’s the straight and narrow from here on out. Neither God nor man has anything on me now. Come on in boys, the water is fine!”

Delmar understands baptism as a self-initiating act that offers the freedom to live however you wish to live. We might call it a form of fire insurance for the hereafter. Delmar says, “This is too good to be true! God’s grace is so powerful that it takes away whatever evil sin dishes out.”

Coming back to Romans 6, Paul’s response takes his listeners right back to the meaning of baptism. Paul expects them to know – from their own experiences – a clue to the question he is asking: “Do you not know?” Paul seeks to evoke memory and a renewed connection to a shared body of knowledge, a shared tradition.

What is that knowledge?

Namely, that baptism is not merely a ritual of initiation; rather, it is an active participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The action of baptism is a reenactment of Jesus’s own story.

  • In Jesus’ dying, we die. We participate in his dying.

  • In his rising, we are raised with him. We participate in his rising.

  • Baptism is participating in the central aspect of Jesus’ identity – his dying and rising, his obedient death and his new life.

  • This is the pattern of Christian existence! Paul says it in a similar way in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me.”

Baptism is not an arbitrary ritual. To quote Karl Barth on baptism, “it is what it signifies.” As disciples and as leaders, one question we might ask of ourselves is whether we are living a “baptized life.” Do we claim the implications of our own death to sin? Are we living a life characterized by the grace-filled love of Jesus? Churches and families need leaders who are committed to live out the reality of the baptized life. May God bless you in such rich living!

Blessings,

Carson

NEWS

Baker among ministers to host ElderLink North Carolina

Since its launch 18 years ago under Dr. Charles Siburt’s leadership, ElderLink continues to seek to equip, encourage and link those who serve as leaders in Churches of Christ. This year, the Siburt Institute team is grateful for the opportunity to partner with several congregations to bring ElderLink to Greensboro, North Carolina, on Nov. 16-17.

We recently caught up with Drew Baker (’02) to talk about his ministry with the South Fork Church of Christ in Winston-Salem, his leadership with ElderLink North Carolina and several challenges and opportunities facing congregational leaders today. Baker’s interview is featured this month on the Siburt Institute blog, Mosaic.

ElderLink is open to adults engaged in congregational ministry, including elders, ministers, spouses, and ministry leaders of all types. We would love to connect with you at ElderLink North Carolina or ElderLink San Antonio this fall. Contact us at elderlink@acu.edu with any questions or needs.

Taylor leads third annual Racial Unity Leadership Summit (RULS) Prayer Retreat

Dr. Jerry Taylor, associate professor of Bible, missions and ministry, and founding executive director of the Carl Spain Center on Race Studies and Spiritual Action, will lead the third annual Racial Unity Leadership Summit (RULS) Prayer Retreat at Camp Garaywa, just outside of Jackson, Mississippi, Nov. 29 – Dec. 1. This year’s retreat will focus on Hebrews 11 and include a Civil Rights Pilgrimage to key locations in Mississippi.

RULS is a national collective of church leaders whose mission is “to foster a contemplative community, beginning within Churches of Christ and open to all, that will provide spiritual inspiration, theological teachings and practical methods to bring all people, regardless of race, to reconciliation and true communion in Jesus Christ.” For more information or to register for the prayer retreat, click here.

Fitzgerald speaks at Carmichael-Walling Lectures, Nov. 8

You are invited to ACU’s 32nd Annual Carmichael-Walling Lectures on Thursday, Nov. 8. The lectures, featuring Dr. John Fitzgerald (’70) of the University of Notre Dame, are free and open to the public. The event will take place in Room 114 of the Onstead-Packer Biblical Studies Building on ACU’s campus.

This year’s theme is “Friends and Drunks: Two Glimpses Into the Social History of the Early Christians and Their World.” At 4 p.m., Fitzgerald will speak on “The Testament of Jesus: Wills, Friends, and the Fourth Gospel,” exploring the role of friendship in the making of wills in antiquity, and how this practice illumines aspects of the Gospel of John. At 7:30 p.m., he will discuss the topic, “Wine and the Problem of Intoxication in the World of Early Christianity.”

The Carmichael-Walling Lectures are presented each year by ACU’s Center for the Study of Ancient Religious Texts to bring distinctive New Testament scholars to campus. For more information, contact csart@acu.edu.

Locke explores power, privilege and humility

In a recent Mosaic article, “Why Are You Afraid of Losing Your Privilege?,” Dr. Jason Locke (’11 D.Min.) challenges his readers to examine their definition of humility and compare it with the age-old struggle of relinquishing power. Pointing to Jesus as the ultimate model of humility in leadership, Locke notes the gap between what is often said and what is often done on both an individual and congregational level. Locke is a minister for the College Church of Christ in Fresno, California.

To connect with Mosaic, visit mosaicsite.org, subscribe to weekly email updates or multiple RSS feeds, or follow Mosaic on Facebook and Twitter.

Summit 2018 reaches thousands

The 112th annual ACU Summit was a resounding success, offering a time of spiritual renewal for many people. The event opened Sept. 16 with a joint concert of the ACU Alumni Chorus and A Cappella Chorus, along with a keynote address by Bible instructor Randy Harris. That same evening, Summit collaborated with several Abilene-area churches to present the empowering marriage workshop, Fight Night, led by Les Parrott. Concurrently, Jordan Dooley, celebrated blogger of SoulScripts, inspired more than 500 young women as she spoke on the topic, “Your Brokenness is Welcome Here.”

On Sept. 18, in an historic event, Summit partnered in the launch of the newly formed Carl Spain Center on Race Studies and Spiritual Action, which featured a moving keynote address by the Spain Center’s founding director, Dr. Jerry Taylor. The presentation has received almost 10,000 views online. Click here for additional keynote presentations.

Over the course of the four-day event, Summit held 68 presentations in 16 pathway series, a dramatic reading of Ephesians, several a cappella musical performances, a play, a film festival and a presentation by the Barna Group on their latest research with ACU, Christians at Work. We are grateful to everyone who took the time to join us in person and online, and we look forward to seeing you in 2019!

MARK YOUR CALENDARS

THOUGHTS TO PONDER

  • “Making love an issue of identity is crucial for Christian faithfulness and for the perception of Christians by others. It is not merely a matter of changing some beliefs or trying to be more loving. We need to cultivate an identity that reflects Christ in a way that intrinsically influences everything we do, because our actions flow from our identity.” – Dr. Rod Reed, “An Identity of Gospel Love: The Centrality of the Second Great Commandment for Christian Identity,” in The Self Examined: Christian Perspectives on Human Identity (Dr. Jenny McGill, editor)
  • “Busyness hinders a life with God … Some Christian leaders tend toward over commitment of activities, which not only hinders our walk with God but also sets a bad example for others. Not only do we need physical rest, but our hearts also need space to listen to God.” – Dr. Klaus Issler, “Learning From Jesus to Live in the Manner Jesus Would If He Were I,” in Until Christ is Formed in You: Dallas Willard and Spiritual Formation (Steven L. Porter, Gary W. Moon, and J.P. Moreland, editors)

What Should You Do When You Don’t Think You Are Enough?

I like Scott Adams’ book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win BigThe reason is that it took me such a long time in ministry to learn God’s secret code for we believers.  Power is perfected in weakness (II Corinthians 12:9) was like a megaphonal announcement from God to me personally…that I fit the mold.  I was nothing but weak.  Fear always dominated my world.  You, too, maybe?

I remember sitting in my church office as the evangelist in Quincy, Illinois in the mid-70s.  When I was studying chapter twelve of Second Corinthians, and hit verse nine, I said aloud, “That’s not true!”  Power could not be perfected in weakness.  Everyone knows that power is perfected with more power.  My blurting caught me off -guard for I sat realizing to Whom I had just made such a bold comment.  I sat a bit in silence…pondering His revelation.

That God-moment not only changed my entire world, it has most likely spilled over into thousands of others over the decades.  Men, women, and children remain plagued with the Adam and Eve perplexity that our true selves are shamefully, uselessly lacking.  Thus, we spend much of our life covering up our flaws; hiding our insecurities.

We.  Are. Still.  Obsessed.  With.  The.  Fall.

So…what should we do when we believe that we aren’t enough?  I learned something impactive from watching Jesus.  I saw this one who had the Big Assignment to spare humanity…I saw him…often do nothing.  This redeemer (?) would note a crowd coming at him and he would…bolt?  Jesus would escape the demands of what we deem as an honor…helping throngs of people in need?  Yes…at times he turned his back and walked away.

If we can grasp why Jesus did this, might we begin to understand a truly impactive element to ministry success?  Jesus understood from the get-go that he wasn’t enough.  Hear it again.  Jesus knew that he wasn’t enough to carry on the big work of Father.  Thus, he kept slipping away from the crowds to be rejuvenated by the All-Powerful One.  Jesus led the way by being not enough so that we could follow efficiently in his dependent-upon-Father steps.

For my first few years in ministry, I believed the opposite.  My conclusion was that I was deficient; evidently neglected by God.  I was tempted to check in my badge.  Others succeeded.  I surmised I just didn’t have it in me.  But when I saw that power was perfected in weakness, I immediately knew that I was an entire light plant…all by myself!  If weakness was what worked, then, “God, I’m your man!”

Every time one backs off due to inadequacy, that person just rejected God’s working philosophy.  Not one of the disciples was without glaring lack.  The Bible is filled with common-person mishap and failure.  What should you do when you don’t think that you are enough?  Celebrate!  You just hit the jackpot!  God empowers the weak…and no other kind will ever do!  Yay us!

Selah-ing Difficult Social Media Discussions

Selah, in Hebrew, is a pause. It usually has to do with musical notation. It is a break in the music. It is a moment of silence. Everything comes to a halt. The idea of a pause is something we can really use today especially when it comes to difficult online conversations.

When things get crazy online and the comments come flying in, our typical behavior is reactionary. We get reactive and then we get defensive. The walls go up and everyone is dug in. But what if we pulled a George Castanza and did exactly the opposite of what comes most natural to us – the pause?

This allows our physiology to realign. Our breathing slows, blood pressure lowers, and anxiety levels drop. All it takes is doing nothing. Well, it isn’t really doing nothing. It is actually quite a bit more purposeful than that. But the irony is the harder we try the less progress we make in these discussions until someone pulls the plug and that someone is often the more disciplined person in the discussion.

What do you do in the moment of silence aside from letting your physiology take a breather? Put into practice 2 Corinthians 10:5 where Paul tells us to take every thought captive to Christ. That is very hard to do when the comments are flying. In the heat of the battle we have little to no filter. We have no thought being taken captive and held up for evaluation because we are in it to win it and win it big! And in doing so we lack the discipline that comes as part of our responsibility as people who were gifted with a voice. That discipline can help us slow down. It can help us bring things to a stop, a pause. Then we evaluate what is going on and move forward on a better foot.

The Selah can help change the sound of the music to a song that is far more pleasant and mutually edifying than the incessant beating of the drums of pride and arrogance that lack the discipline or forethought to know when it is time to pause.

THE SECRET TO YOUR SUCCESS…REALLY

While society seems inundated with a call to success, many of us seem to be in the wishful hunt.  The very thought, though, remains exciting.  Who would wish to be otherwise?  To be a difference-maker; achieve victory. These can be driving forces.  I possessed such a hunger.  Why did it seem, however, that I had evidently drawn the short straw?  Yet eventually, as if coming over a beautiful horizon, possibility began to open.  What I saw was a great surprise…for all of us.

The secret to success is clearly a spiritual process.  It is easy to assume that any whom we would regard as successful were somehow naturally gifted for such; that they just couldn’t help it.  But, I discovered that this isn’t the case.  The reverse is.  Effective individuals seem to hit upon a range that is, well it’s, like magic.  And, my conclusion is that real God-blessed life is magic in that it cannot be explained; only believed.

Faith, then, is the singular key.  Unfaith seems to keep looking at others in frustrated comparison.  God is clear that living by such is a dead-end alley.  Faith, though, continually anticipates the action of God; to discern what He’s thinking and where He’s taking us.  Such won’t be revealed in sight-form.  It will be assumed within the borders of what isn’t yet; but can and will become.

Christianity has developed an appetite for Bible discussion minus expectation that Its call is for us personally.  We’ve politely taken a back seat to the God-adventure.  Why, we even develop doctrinal arguments to support the idea that direct activity of God has ceased.  And for those who believe this error, it has.  Such suffocates the believer’s heart.

Didn’t one of our favorite prophets insist that where there is no vision that the people would perish?  And, how’s the hunkering down to rehearse the same ol’ same ol’ going for your congregation?  The secret to success is found within the same realm of reality that it’s always been; the magnitude of a people determined to launch into the unknown of potential rather than cowering within the framework of past belief security.  God.  Takes.  His.  People.  Places.

The wonders of the parting of the Red Sea nor the marvels of prison walls tumbling down were not given only for looking back; but are offered to remind us Who knows how to surpass life’s greatest obstacles.  To believe is a present-day robust glory.  Don’t restrict the term, believe, to the second word in the plan of salvation.  Behave, rather, with a faith which dares to break the barriers of eye-fear.  Walk by faith.  Even run by it.

Finally, success isn’t limited to any whom we might be tempted to believe as residing within the upper-class of faith-hood.  Success is for every individual who will dare step out and up while too much of the Christian world would prefer what it regards as safety by not even trying.

Elijah and the Selah

Some times rehearsed speeches are all we have. Elijah was there too, once. In 1 Kings 19:10 he says the very same thing he says again to God in 19:14, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

While Elijah is fazed, God is not. When the last echo of this speech is shouted, literally from the mountain top, it was God’s turn to put on a show of His own. God sends a wind, an earthquake, and even a fire. The text doesn’t tell us how he knew it but Elijah somehow knew in those three violent, earth shattering events, God wasn’t present in any of them. There was something about the chaos and upheavel that didn’t speak to God’s presence for Elijah because with each one the text tells us, “but the Lord was not in the _______.”  I wonder if that bothered Elijah or comforted him. Often when we are anxious we want other people to ratchet things up as well. Who knows….but then it happens.

After the fire subsided and the sounds of crackling from the now scorched vegetation faded, came the Selah…the stillness. It was God’s ever so subtle and ever so appropriate revelation of His presence to Elijah – the “gentle whisper.” The NRSV calls it “a sound of sheer silence.” Let’s look at this phrase more closely. The word for sound has to do with noise. It can be a loud noise like thunder (Job 38:25), the sound of animals (Psalm 104:12), the voice of God (Psalm 18:14 where is a thunderous sound), or as we will see in a moment, even no sound at all. This word is used twice at the end of 1 Kings 18 when Elijah defeats the prophets of Baal. They call out to Baal but there was no “response” in other words Baal didn’t make a sound. Contrast this with the next chapter, the chapter in focus here, where Elijah cries out and God does respond. He responds with a sound but not a thunderous sound. God’s responsive sound is the sound of “sheer silence” (NRSV). The word for “sheer” is a word for “thin” or “small” and the word translated “silence” is only used here in the Old Testament and it means “calmness”.

There’s the Selah – the moment of calm stillness that isn’t completely silent – in the moment after his complaint Elijah is met with the opposite of what he had seen in his battle with Baal – he got a response where they didn’t. It wasn’t a chaotic response like the prophets of Baal with all their shouts. God’s response was the sound of small calmness. I believe God gave Elijah what Elijah needed most. God didn’t need to ratchet up the anxiety level. God didn’t need to undifferentiate himself from Elijah and take on his anxiety. God knew what anxious Elijah needed most and it wasn’t more chaos. What Elijah needed most to calm his anxious heart was stillness and calmness that was represented in God’s audible responsiveness to Elijah.

Unlike the wind, earthquake, and fire…it was in the calmness that Elijah knew that God was present.

May we, in our world of ever present anxiety…in our world of unending social commentary and argument…rest in the calmness of God’s Selah presence. And may we be that for the next anxious soul who comes into our presence.