This month: 189 - Freedom in Christ
Exploring the Heart of Restoration

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Archives for August, 2021

By David Kneip

“Though she be but little, she is fierce.”

– William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream III.2.325

This famous quotation, a statement of pride by many a young woman, is not the only example in literature of a diminutive hero or heroine.  Novels frequently feature characters described as small or short, whether young people like the valiant Gavroche in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, or small adults like Charlotte Brontë’s title character in Jane Eyre.  As Christians, we also see this theme in Scripture.  The Bible is full of unlikely, “small” heroes, like the insignificant Hebrews becoming God’s chosen people, or the youngest son David becoming the greatest king in Israel’s memory.  As readers, we are often drawn to these characters because we can see how the odds are stacked against them, as they try to make their way in a “big” world.

For many decades, ACU’s annual Summit has been big.  Like, “thousands of people on campus at one time” big.  “Row after row after row of exhibits” big.  “Major national speakers” big.  We’ve had big themes and big dreams, and those big dreams have often brought big results.  

But over the last several years, we’ve noticed that “big” seems to have lost a bit of its luster.  Perhaps it’s due to the very power that brings these words to you – the internet – which has brought the big world out there into our homes and even our pockets!  People don’t need to come to gatherings like Summit in order to hear those big speakers or participate in large worship gatherings; we can simply subscribe to our favorite preacher’s podcast, or join the Zoom worship at a big church!  And people seem to be making that very choice, as attendance at gatherings like Summit has been declining all over the country. 

And then COVID showed up and shut down most events like Summit. But at a more personal level, we have faced a whole complex set of challenges as a result of this pandemic: isolation, uncertainty, illness, grief, and anger, just to name a few.  Regardless of their source, these challenges sap our joy and weaken our hope; taken together, they can be – and have been – highly debilitating for believers.

As a result, we have created Summit 2021 with these developments in mind.  Our theme this fall grows directly out of the past 18 months: “Seeking Hope, Finding Joy.”  We will speak frankly about the challenges that we face as disciples, as ministers, as servants.  We will seek to renew our hope in Jesus Christ, to refresh the joy that comes from the Holy Spirit, and to revitalize our desire to serve in God’s kingdom.  And we will do those things in some tried-and-true ways: through worshiping together, through hearing engaging speakers, and through Christian fellowship.

That word “fellowship” is crucial here.  It’s not just Summit’s content that attempts to address the realities of our world – it’s also the format.  As we’ve all learned over the past 18 months, there’s just nothing quite like face-to-face, embodied fellowship with other believers.  It is absolutely true that we can worship together online, and that we can pray for one another, sing together, and hear an excellent sermon via Facebook Live.  The same is true for ministers and other congregational leaders.  They need fellowship with others – in their town, in their church fellowship, in similar ministry roles – but like an online worship service, affinity groups on Facebook are just not quite the same.

So this year, in response to realities on the ground, and in light of the things we think we can provide, Summit is “going small.”  Rather than inviting you to a smorgasbord of events, hoping that you will find something meaningful to you, we are curating a set of experiences to which we want to invite you.  Both this fall and this spring, we will host short, intense gatherings of ministers and congregants for spiritual renewal and growth.  This fall’s Summit, to be held at ACU on October 14-15, will feature gathered communities of preachers, children’s ministers, and ministers in small churches, along with a “general interest” group for folks of all stripes.  Next spring, we’ll do it again at the end of March, with another set of focused communities for renewal.  You can learn more about all things Summit at www.siburtinstitute.org/summit.

We know that this model of Summit will be unfamiliar to some, but our goals are to equip church leaders and help churches thrive.  And as we see in Scripture, those goals can be met by moments big or small.  This year’s Summit is leaner, hopefully more efficient, and certainly more intentional.  Our hope is that, after you leave Abilene this October, you’ll be able to say of Summit, “though it was but little, it was fierce!”

Christianity Today’s series “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill” is not for the faint of heart!

But it is an important resource for church leaders, church planters and trainers of church leaders and church planters. 

The series looks at the way Seattle’s Mars Hill Church grew rapidly, influencing many, but then suddenly collapsed. CT describes it this way: “The church and its charismatic founder, Mark Driscoll, had a promising start. But the perils of power, conflict, and Christian celebrity eroded and eventually shipwrecked both the preacher and his multimillion-dollar platform.”

https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/podcasts/rise-and-fall-of-mars-hill/

From listening to this series (which is currently on episode 7 of 12), there are many different applications we could make. I’d like to share just two observations or reflections here:

  1. We need to be intentional about learning from negative leadership examples from around the globe so we won’t be doomed to repeat them.

Toxic leadership is a problem for American churches, but it is not a uniquely American problem.  Some of you may have had experiences dealing with toxic church leaders at home and across the globe (hopefully, though, those experiences haven’t been outweighed by beautiful examples of leadership and service around the world!).

Where our family served in southern Africa, our mission team and the network of churches we were a part of went through a messy, protracted challenge because of a leader who’s failings continued to cause collateral damage.  In wrestling with the fallout from that bad leader, we tried to be intentional and learn from that bad example and use it as a good way to encourage healthy leadership in the churches in Mozambique going forward. For more on that attempt to process and grow from a negative leadership experience, see http://missiodeijournal.com/issues/md-8-2/authors/md-8-2-howell1 

  1. We need to remember that influence is a complicated thing and shouldn’t be conflated with maturity.

The podcast series highlights the fact that when a leader has more charisma than character the consequences can be disastrous.  When we see someone who is talented but is not practicing the ways of Jesus with those around them, that is a major red flag and platforming them or giving them even more influence is ultimately dangerous.

Christians and Christian leaders were made to “shine like stars” (Philippians 2:15) and to use their influence.  But when leaders want to be “stars” in the world’s sense of that word, they can easily transform from being “stars” that shine in the universe into becoming “black holes”!  As stars our influence and gravity should be used to slingshot people to the center of the Cosmos – Christ.  The gravity of narcissistic leaders (their influence) though, is destructive because they bring others into their orbit for different reasons and eventually send followers crashing into themselves or each other.  Churches and institutions also can be narcissistic and think that they are the center of the story, instead of using their gravity/influence to slingshot people towards the real hero of the story – the Son.

Those are just a couple of ideas that I keep coming back to as I’ve been listening to this series.  May the Church learn and grow from the past (even from bad experiences) and may leaders seek to embody the ways and means of Jesus in everything they do.

This month I’d like to emphasize the symbolic heart of communal worship, no matter in which setting it takes place.

The Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow, it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

~ Hebrews 4:12-16

I have asked
That the sword-word be a scalpel today
And that it incise my heart
And so I open my garments
Exposing my chest
Prying apart the breastbones
Slicing the flesh
And letting the breezes here
Blow across my quivering heart
This chapel has become an
Operating room; the blood and
Bread somehow oddly appropriate.
The covenant I have made is the
Anesthesia that allows me
To undergo this coming experience.
Will He cut into me
Leaving behind an irritant
That I will coat like a pearl–
A thing of beauty out of pain?
Or will it fester inside me
And kill?
Or will He pour in wine and oil
And bind up my wound
And set me on my feet again?

We expect when we come to “church” that the Lord will somehow recognize our effort, see our dedication, and reward us in some way with a “good experience” there. We speak of coming with empty buckets to be filled, of needs like gaping holes in our hearts that are to be bound up with fellowship, love, and instruction. Most of all, we want something from the Lord Himself—an insight, a comforting, a reassurance. We want, in other words, for Him to be open with us. But because He’s a loving Father, He doesn’t just pat us on our heads and tell us everything is all right. Sometimes His words hurt; and we recoil because we find to our surprise that we are the ones who have become vulnerable, not Him. Our eternal praise should be to Him who spares us without spoiling us.

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

~ Matthew 26:27-28

I take the small silver cup
And hold it expectantly
Beneath His fingertips,
The tap from which
The red liquid trickles
I tremble at the cost of
This beverage;
Ever startled at
The sweetness of its taste

What a marvelous time it is, to be able to sit in quietness and peace and think on Jesus without distractions. No matter what the weather, no matter what the political upheaval, we are safe as we contemplate our Lord. This place is a tryst—that which has the kiss of eternity on its brow—and a truce with all outside. 

Dr. Latayne C. Scott is the recipient of Pepperdine University’s Distinguished Christian Service Award for “Creative Christian Writing,” and is Trinity Southwest University’s Author in Residence. Her newest book is Talking with Teens about Sexuality: Critical Conversations about Social Media, Gender Identity, Same-Sex Attraction, Pornography, Purity, Dating, Etc. with Dr. Beth Robinson (Bethany Books.) The author of over two dozen published books, including Passion, Power, Proxy, Release (TSU Press) in which these poems appear, she lives and writes in New Mexico. She maintains two websites: Latayne.com and Representationalresearch.com.

Have you ever wanted to hit the brakes on a moment, letting it slowly unfold to savor every precious detail? We long for this ability in life’s small moments like vacation, date night, laughter with our children, and a meal between friends. We even go to great lengths to freeze time for weddings and life’s great milestones with professional photographers trained to make each moment look stunning to the last pixel. When we return to those images years later we smile, laugh and even cry. We crave the details of life’s greatest moments. 

Wouldn’t you want even more detail of an event even more important? Wouldn’t you want to peer at every aspect of the most life-changing moment in all of history?

The book, The Man Called Messiah, by Corey Stumneis a slow motion, gritty, and emotive narrative of the betrayal, flogging, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christians are often only accustomed to rushed descriptions of these events delivered on Sunday. Stumne’s book by comparison is a gut-check of specificity and emotions about the cross and its surrounding narrative.

In order to explore more detail than the biblical account provides, Stumne writes in the category called biblical fiction. Biblical fiction takes liberties with the details and sentiment of the biblical story without compromising the main events. In The Man Called Messiah, Stumne has clearly researched thoroughly what we can know for certain in order to greater explore the elements that extend beyond the facts of the narrative.

Stumne tells the story of Jesus’ last days in beautiful language, but that is part of why it makes this particular book hard to review.  The unique language and imagery of his work is best experienced firsthand than described by a third party.

To give you a sense of where this book will take you, I’ll just leave you with two of my favorite parts.

First, The trials that Jesus faced before his crucifixion were told in such a way that I felt like I was hearing it for the first time. Even as a minister, they provided a fuller picture of the events leading up to the cross than I had considered before. The back and forth between leaders, the uncertainty of the situation jumped off the page. Second, Stumne’s brief, but brilliant portrayal of God’s entry into the tomb before Jesus’ resurrection gave me long pause. It was a moment in time, that in my opinion certainly happened, but had never crossed my mind. 

He writes this in the beginning of chapter 13,

“The Father looked down upon the stone that sealed what would become the most renowned grave in all of history. Inside lay the rotting corpse of The Man, the Father’s promised messiah.

The Father considered the stone. He remembered the day he fashioned the rock and placed it in the earth, fully knowing one day it would be used to seal, in a way, a part of himself in a cold, dark grave. All of creation, including the stone, was good. It was very good. But there was nothing in all of creation that sin hadn’t touched and marred. The Father created the stone for his glory, but it was being used as a symbol of death.

Although the thought sickened the Father, he wouldn’t let the Accuser prevail. The Father’s mission was to redeem and restore everything in creation back to its original condition and purpose, including the stone sealing the grave of his messiah. The Father was about to use the stone for his glory once again in a way that would permanently change the world.” 

What will you experience if you read The Man Called Messiah? You will experience aspects of the story surrounding the cross that you have never considered before. You will also experience a crushing sick feeling in the pit of your stomach as you read the details of the flogging. You will feel the emotion of each person as the story of the cross unfolds. Why read something so emotional, heavy, and graphic in a world that already feels so burdened? When all is considered, The Man Called Messiah isn’t just a retelling of the story of Jesus, but rather it is another way to remember just how much God really loves us. The Man Called Messiah is way to remember God’s love like an old wedding photo, reliving each detail of just how real, intense, and enduring God’s love really is. If you are someone who wants to relive God’s love day after day I recommend you pick up a copy today.

Here is the link!

Each summer in high school I traveled with my church youth group from North Texas to New Mexico for camp. We almost always stopped in Amarillo on the way, staying in the homes of church members there. We were strangers to them, but because we were part of the church, they welcomed us. 

On one particular occasion, a family was so kind as to let us stay at their house while they were out of town. A group of us teenage boys and an adult sponsor, who happened to be my father, bunked there for the night. And as often happens with teenage boys, we got rowdy and accidentally knocked over a porcelain statue. It shattered on the floor.

We felt terrible and a little afraid. We asked my dad what to do. We decided to leave a note of apology and a twenty dollar bill — who knows how much that little statue was worth — as reparation for our mistake.

This story is part of the mosaic of my Southern cultural experiences growing up through which I learned how to be a guest in another’s house. Always treat someone’s things better than you treat your own. Leave it better than you found it. Offer to help wash dishes. Say please and thank you and yes sir and yes ma’am. And if you make a mistake or damage something, own up to it and try to make it right. This is the etiquette of being a guest.

Once when Jesus was traveling he saw a tax collector at his store and went to meet him. His name was Levi (also known as Matthew). Levi was likely despised by his people — though Jewish, he collected taxes for the Roman government, the oppressor of the Jewish people. Jewish tax collectors, for this reason, did not have a good reputation. We don’t know the nature of their conversation, but it was significant, because when it was over, Jesus asked Levi to become his disciple. Jesus’s request was so compelling that Levi laid down the benefits of his occupation and retired on the spot to follow Jesus.

Excited about his new path, Levi decided to throw a party for Jesus, inviting all his colleagues. Levi wanted them to meet the mentor who had changed his life. Jesus did not hesitate to attend, even though doing so violated any number of ceremonial and purity laws. Simply to share a table with someone ceremonially unclean like a tax collector was forbidden and taboo, let alone joining a party with a crowd of “sinners.” This is not lost on the religious leaders — they criticize Jesus for making such a move.

And still Jesus does not hesitate to become a guest. To submit to the rules of another’s house. To share a meal and conversation with people whose values were certainly different than his own. To risk criticism because of who he associated with. Jesus, as he tells the disapproving religious leaders, was interested to be around those who were hurting, not those who mistakenly thought they already had it together.

Matt Dabbs is right: if we build it, our neighbors will not come. It doesn’t matter what we build — beautiful buildings, house churches, missional communities, microchurches, or some other shiny ecclesial model. The days of “come and see” are largely gone. The days of first being the host,  with all the power that accompanies such a role, are largely gone.

The Spirit’s invitation to the church is instead to become a guest. With Jesus, to travel and see and meet our neighbors. To be present with them. To treat them and their homes better than we would treat our own. To learn their customs and ways of life. To seek to make amends for the mistakes we have made. To invite them along with us as we seek to find life and flourishing in the way of Jesus.

Perhaps then we will meet Jesus there, in and with our neighbors, and Jesus will build his church anew for our time.

Charles Kiser is a minister with Storyline Christian Community in Dallas, Texas. You can follow his other writings, including a forthcoming book project on trauma-informed evangelism, through his Facebook page or Twitter.

If you are ever privileged enough to visit Israel, you might find yourself standing 1476 feet above the Jezreel Valley at the top of Mount Tabor.  This is the traditional spot upon which Jesus was transfigured in the presence of Peter, James and John.  I’m sure you remember the moment, and I’m quite sure Peter will never forget it… “While Peter was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.  A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” Lk. 9:34-35.  This of course takes place precisely after Peter recognizes Moses and Elijah who are conversing with Jesus, and then suggests that it would be a great idea if he (Peter) builds three shelters for them.

Today a Roman Catholic Church completed in 1924 resides on the supposed spot of the transfiguration.  It is built upon the ruins of a 12th century Crusader Catholic Church, which is itself built upon the ruins of a 4th-6th century Byzantine Era Church.  The artistry and decor of the most recent building ironically has three rooms.  The two on either side are built to honor Moses and Elijah, while the one in the middle is built to honor Jesus.  I guess what Peter had been discouraged to accomplish, others finished for him. 

I felt as if this experience spoke directly to what many American churches face when building impressive structures that are meant to be attractional to those we know need Jesus.

Here’s an irony to throw at you.  As I write this article in a month themed, “If You Build It, They Won’t Come”, we are 3 weeks away from occupying the brand new Gateway Church of Christ building.  It truly is a state of the art facility!  We were painstakingly intentional, designing every facet of the building to be attractive, cutting edge, and inviting to the general public.  The opportunity to build was not of our doing, but rather something that completely fell in our laps.  Kind of akin to hitting the winning jackpot lottery numbers without ever buying a ticket.  Many ministers spend their entire careers wishing something like this would happen to them (If I’m being honest, I know I have).  While culture shifts all around us, many of us find ourselves stuck in a building that is not only uninviting, but in many cases has often been guilty of manufacturing more hurt than healing.  Out of our desire to change that culture we many times build something out of the hope that it reflects what we dream we are really like!

The experience at the Church of the Transfiguration is beautiful no doubt.  Artistically its mosaics are designed to tell a story.  This great story is reflected in the architecture.  What pained me was that while this beautiful structure serves its purpose to retell a story, it stands as a monument of something that happened there.  It’s not so much a place of sending but rather a place of reminding.  There is a biblical precedent for that.  We are all familiar with the hebrew scriptures that left instructions to the Jewish people to build altars at locations where God had delivered them to be set as a reminder to future generations of what God had done.  It is part of remembering our story. 

I remember feeling badly for the designers of the past structures.  When they built their own buildings they were all doing something they felt was for the future.  What they didn’t know at the time, was that over time, the land would change ownership and their beautiful structures would be torn down and largely forgotten.  Who knows how many people their work inspired?  Who knows what kind of ministerial work emanated from that precipice?  That reminder stuck with me as we were then in the beginning phases of relocating and designing a structure for the future.  How would we do it differently?

The way we went about it was to build something that helped people find ways they could be invited into a part of this living story.  We wanted to welcome them in a way that gave them a freedom from judgment and allowed them to change their current story.  We wanted to create an atmosphere that  positively affected the broken stories of others with the truth of Jesus.  In other words we had to start reminding ourselves while teaching our people that the church is DYNAMIC not STATIC.  The church for millennia has spread due to the dynamic nature of its origin.  It should never be bound to a location, but rather a people.  I’m reminded of Acts 7:48-50 where Luke reminds us that “the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says:  “‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.  What kind of house will you build for me?  says the Lord.  Or where will my resting place be?  Has not my hand made all these things?”  Or better yet, 1 Corinthians 3:16 “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?”

Jesus gave the orders to go and build disciples, not buildings.  Yet it’s also worth noting that he didn’t condemn the practice of building either.  While building a new building might excite those who have positive memories of once belonging to a church, it doesn’t exactly draw the masses.  The public generally doesn’t care.  If we want them to come, just as the father longed for his prodigal son to come home, we must create a place that draws them with compassion, not judgment.  A place that offers forgiveness not grudges.  Wherever we are we must maintain the dynamic nature of the church and try our best not to become static.

I have thought for years that the church in the West is in decline. It seems that decline has accelerated as of late. The only issue is, it depends on who and what you count.

If you count “phonebook churches” – established churches with a building, street address, etc then yes there is a lot of decline going on. But if you count churches as a whole (which means including house churches) the numbers level out a bit. God is doing some amazing things through house church networks in the United States and I believe this is only going to grow.

I want to be careful this month to not sound like this is a criticism of institutional churches. My belief is that God needs all kinds of churches – big and small, in homes and in buildings for various purposes. God isn’t through with the institutional/traditional model of church. I also believe that God is just getting started in the house church movements in the U.S. and that is great news!

So welcome to August at Wineskins. I am excited to share what I have learned with you as we planted a church last year and God continues to show us how to do it!