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Archives for 110 – God At Work

The gospels, at their best, haunt me.

What I mean, is that they have this way sometimes of lingering after I’ve read them. They echo around in the back of my head. They seem to point to something just outside of my field of vision, as though I could see it clearly if I just turned my head quick enough. The gospels nag me.

One haunting text that has nagged me for some time is in Luke 19:41-44, lodged right between Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem and his temple-cleansing action.

As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” (Luke 19:41–44 NRSV)

The text invites the reader to join in Jesus’s distress, evoking emotion as Jesus weeps over the old city of David. His “If only” cry speaks to our own experiences of “what might had been”. Adding a bit of historical context sharpens the blow, as we see what Jerusalem will soon suffer at the hands of Rome, and indeed how the city had already suffered at the hands of the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Seleucids. “If only you could see!” Jesus cries, and I can almost hear it.

Further though, the text invites us to only to lament the ancient disaster, but see its root—the failure of Jerusalem to recognize “the things that make for peace.” This is the bit that haunts me.

I think, given the rest of Luke’s gospel, that “the things that make for peace” probably mean things like God’s willingness to subvert power and honor the humble and lowly (Luke 1:51-53). I think it probably includes things like turning the other cheek and loving our enemies (Luke 6:27-29), or a willingness to repent or to extend forgiveness (Luke 17:3-4). I think it probably is a way of summing up the whole of Jesus’s way of life that ran counter to those who would be power brokers for the future of Israel.

What haunts me about this story is my own blindness to “the things that make for peace”. I can recognize the abstract ethics of peace, but am at a loss for how to bring a moment of it about in the real world. I’m not the only one either, of course. The air is full of violent rhetoric and shows of power, and the anxieties that beg for them are present in the church as well as in the neighborhoods in which we live. I’m at a loss to know how to deal with the spirits of fear, power, and conflict. This is how the gospel of Jesus is nagging at me today.

Of course, in the text, the “thing” that makes for peace ends up being a person; Jesus himself in all his simple glory. Often, I feel like those who met him on the road to Emmaus, whose eyes were opened for an instant, so they could just recognize him for a moment—before he vanished from their sight! I see a glimpse of the Lord, but the image vanishes before I know how to follow. In the end, I pray that the spirit will increase my capacity to recognize him, and teach me how to follow his trail. In that hope, I will immerse myself in his story until I can recognize his call to peace above the din of war. I will immerse myself in his story until I can see him touching the lepers or dining with Zacchaeus. I will immerse myself in his story until his gentle word of grace to the broken sinner drowns out the boasts of the Pharisees at the table. I will immerse myself in his story until I can see his cross in the hands of those grasping for power. I want to be able to see him, everywhere he is at work. I want us all to be able to recognize the peacemaking one.

If nothing else, maybe someday we’ll hear his quiet weeping over us. Perhaps a day will soon come when our eyes will be open and we will see his tears over our addiction to power and fear, and the spirit will move us to join in his lament.

Maybe that will be the start of something new.

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It is almost that time of year.

Candy apples, cotton candy, hot dogs, burgers, sausage, and anything you can imagine on a stick.

Music shows.
Weight guessers.
Games of chance.
And rides.

Lots and lots of rides.

Rides that spin fast.
Rides that twirl high.
Rides that swing wide…
Makes a fellow all dizzy just thinking about it.

It’s been a long time since I wasted my money at the State Fair.
The last time I was there, I rode in some kind of spinning, twirling teacup.
And all my food was wasted.

Yeah.

At this stage of my life, I try to ignore any hints or avoid any suggestion that somehow involves me going to the State Fair.
Especially with children.
Especially with children.

Call me the Grinch of the fall season. I played him once at a 2nd grade Christmas Party. It was fun and felt quite natural.
I’d have no qualms playing him again.

However, there is one attraction I am fascinated by.

Want to take a guess?

If you guessed the freak show, wrong answer. I spend way too much of my own time feeling like a freak myself… I have no need to stare at two headed calf or a man with real horns growing out of his head.

But if you guessed the Fun House or the House of Mirrors, you got it right!

Take a walk through one those and you’ll see yourself distorted in every way imaginable, none of them good.

Sure, it’s a silly diversion and quite comical too. But what if we quit laughing for a moment and considered how the local Church often functions as a house of mirrors?

A house of mirrors?
Yes, a house of mirrors.

To my shame, I have a lot of experience allowing the church to shape my view of myself… Being put on a pedestal, having your ego stroked, being seen as some kind of scholar or biblical authority… It can be very dangerous and detrimental to your spiritual health. Even more so when you begin believing your own hype…

But I am not the only one in danger of a house-of-mirrors or fun house church.
Not by a long shot.

Too many of us come to church for the wrong kind of affirmation. We provide mirrors for each other that distort our behaviors and change the view of our hearts.

Here’s an example I hear quite often: “He or she is a faithful member of the church.”
I bet you already know what constitutes faithfulness?
Attendance!

Really?
Yes, really.

Have you ever heard the old line about how sitting in the garage doesn’t make you a car?

At this point, our expression of what constitutes faithfulness is quite shallow. But then again, shallowness is often the bane of the church—the bane of our own Christianity.

Here is a generalization I feel comfortable with: many of us struggle with a shallow relationship with God caused by a distorted view of our own worthiness.

What if we stood before a fun house that showed us what Isaiah once said? What if we shouted for the world to “look at me” and read…

We are all infected and impure with sin.
When we display our righteous deeds,
they are nothing but filthy rags.
Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall,
and our sins sweep us away like the wind. (Isaiah 64:6 NLT)

At the end of the day I cannot depend on any man made mirror to see what I really look like.
We can certainly with much mercy and grace help each other, but only God’s word provides the true mirror of our heart and soul!

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it. (James 1:22-25 NLT)

May the Word instruct and the Spirit convict!

Les Ferguson, Jr.

The goal of the church of Christ is to glorify God in all that we do (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:31). To do this most effectively we need to be unified and we need to have our best men leading the way. Therefore, though we ought not to be divisive, we should open the eldership to as many men as possible. We must not erect boundaries where none exist. Of course there are boundaries worth defending (cf. Galatians 2:11-14; Titus 1:9-13) and the purity of the eldership is one of those boundaries. It must be maintained through a rigorous testing process (cf. 1 Timothy 3:1; 5:22-25) and public rebuke when necessary (1 Timothy 5:19-21). Therefore, the plea to broaden the eldership is not a plea to accept unqualified men into the office. This is a call to reexamine our traditional interpretations of those qualifications which most often hinder men from becoming elders, namely, being the husband of one wife and having believing children.

Based on 1 Timothy 3:2, our tradition has required elders to be married men. More conservative circles have even required him to be married only once. But does 1 Timothy 3:2 require marriage at all? It appears so, but then again, Romans 16:16 appears to require that we greet one another with a kiss. It is commonly agreed that Paul does not require Christians to practice the kiss; instead he regulates a previously existing custom. He did not command the kiss (they already did that), only that their kiss be holy. This same reasoning can readily be applied to being the husband of one wife. Then, as now, it is assumed that anyone old enough to be considered an “elder”—the Greek word presbuteros literally means “an older man”—will already be married. If this is the case then Paul does not command marriage, he merely regulates an already existing legitimate marriage. Paul wants him to be faithful to the wife he already has. He requires what the Greek phrase literally means, that an elder be a “one woman kind of man.” To require marriage would be strange indeed. Requiring marriage, for Paul, would be equivalent to requiring increased distraction, anxiety, and divided devotion (1 Corinthians 7:32-35).

Another traditional impediment to a man’s appointment is the requirement that he have believing children (Titus 1:6). Based on this verse our tradition has required that a man have at least one child who is a Christian. More conservative circles have even required that he have more than one child and that they all be Christians. But does Titus 1:6 require that his children be Christians? The word translated “believing” is pista. The word can mean “believing,” i.e. Christian (1 Timothy 6:2), or it can mean faithful/trustworthy (Revelation 1:5). Context must determine its translation. There is a helpful passage in 1 Timothy 3 that is unmistakably parallel to Titus 1:6. “He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive” (1 Timothy 3:4). The parallelism is clearer in the original language. “Children are believers” is tekna echon pista. “Keeping his children submissive” is tekna echonta hupotage. The parallel shows that to have pista children is to have children who are hupotage. Taken like this we ought to understand the latter end of Titus 1:6 as explaining what comes before. “If . . . his children are pista, [in other words, if they are] not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination [anupotakta].” Another important thing to consider is the purpose of this requirement. Paul does not relate this qualification to the man’s ability to convert unbelievers; rather, he says it concerns his ability to manage the household of God. “For if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Timothy 3:5).

If these considerations were taken seriously we would be able to broaden elderships in many places. Good men everywhere are warming our pews because, by no fault of their own, they are unable to get married. Strong leaders are kept from being the shepherds of God’s precious sheep because one or more of their children decided to leave the Lord. A church rarely grows beyond its leaders. Congregations all over are shackled to ho-hum Christianity because the men who have the ability to break their bonds are in chains themselves. We need to free our mentors. We need to pass the shepherd’s staff to more men who are eager to give their lives for the sheep.

This article is by Royce Money, Chancellor of Abilene Christian University. I have not personally had the privilege of meeting Dr. Money but as I was asking around to find out who was the right person to get an update on how God is on the move at ACU the name I heard over and over again was Royce Money. Listen in on the exciting things God is doing at ACU. One of the reasons we want to highlight the ministries we have been highlighting is because you may know someone or a church or an eldership who might benefit from some of these resources and our prayer at Wineskins is that this might be what God uses to get people connected. – Matt Dabbs

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abilene_0Christian colleges offer a unique opportunity for ministry on a large scale that is significantly different from all other non-profit ministries. The most obvious difference is the sheer amount of students that are available resources to staff a wide variety of ministries. In fact, most of the students have chosen a Christian campus, such as Abilene Christian University or one of the other fine Christ-centered institutions, because they are interested in some form of ministry or outreach and expect such opportunities.

Another distinctive resource at Christian universities is a dedicated Christian faculty who have a broad grasp on what it means for believers to be salt and light in a world of darkness. They combine a personal commitment to Christ with specialized training in their academic disciplines. Many see their work at a Christian university as a significant part of their ministry. And they have connections—former students, professionals of various sorts, and at times information about funding for ministries. As an example, ACU’s College of Business Administration has a track for students interested in managing non-profit ministries.

I want to emphasize three particular programs at ACU that exemplify the great amount of good that can be done for the Kingdom from a Christian university campus. The first is the Halbert Institute for Missions. HIM, as we call it, is not really located in the Missions Department; it is designed to give opportunities for all the ACU students to be involved in some sort of missions. It is under the able direction of Dr. Chris Flanders, assisted by Larry Henderson and Dr. Gary Green. One of their purposes is to recruit and train global mission teams, averaging about four teams a year. They are also a great resource for missions to local congregations and to missionaries serving throughout the world.

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They are best known on campus for their WorldWide Witness program (WWW). Each year the HIM team recruits 70-80 students to go throughout the world during the summer and serve as interns with experienced missionaries. I am impressed first of all that each student raises his or her own funds to cover expenses during the summer. While we have a Christian foundation that assists those who come up a little short, I am still impressed with the motivation of these students to invest time and energy into their own missions experience. I am also impressed that they come from a wide variety of departments within the university.

Our World Wide Witness program is unique in that students are required to participate in a 3-credit hour, semester-long course that provides the highest level of mission training available. In fact, the WWW program was recently recognized by Standards of Excellence at the MissioNexus OPEN Conference as a certified short-term missions program—the only one of its kind in the fellowship of Churches of Christ. Upon the students’ return, they are thoroughly debriefed, using Dr. Gary Green’s recent book on short-term missions strategy entitled Now What?: Spiritual Discernment for Cultural Encounters.

Recently 72 interns returned from 24 locations throughout the world. In its existence since 2002, 779 student interns have served in the program. Our research shows that 18% of them choose to do mission work full-time when they graduate. The rest of them are forever changed in their global perspective about the Kingdom. Of course, our most widely recognized former WWW interns are Dr. Kent Brantly and his wife, Amber. Both served as interns in the program in 2003.

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The second ministry at ACU I will highlight is the Siburt Institute for Church Ministry. Up until 2010, Dr. Charles Siburt served as ACU’s Vice President for Church Relations and practically everyone’s “church doctor,” as we called him. Charlie mentored hundreds of young ministers and was a constant friend to congregational leaders throughout the country. His untimely death two years ago left a large hole in offering assistance to ministers and elders. Dr. Phil Schubert asked me to establish what soon came to be known as the Siburt Institute for Church Ministry.

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ElderLink, the long-running and successful weekend workshops for congregational elders, has now been incorporated into the Siburt Institute. Also under the same canopy are a wide array of ministry services: Ministry Transitions with several of our faculty assisting churches and ministers as vacancies occur; an active website, containing a variety of video and written resources for church leaders; Ministers Support Network, a weekend sabbatical retreat for ministry couples needing renewal; eConnections, a series of short, non-credit courses that are practical helps in various aspects of ministry; support and sponsorship of racial unity efforts within Churches of Christ; and hosting special workshops in a variety of locations with experts and noted authors in the ministry field. On and on the list goes.

In September 2014, Dr. Carson Reed assumed the leadership of the Siburt Institute, along with his faculty responsibilities as director of the Doctor of Ministry program at ACU. The Siburt Institute is also ably staffed by Curtis King and Karissa Herchenroeder. Also, Randy Harris, one of our faculty members in ACU’s College of Biblical Studies and the epitome of servant leadership, will play an increasing role in the months and years ahead with the Siburt Institute, focusing particularly on spiritual mentoring of young ministers in Churches of Christ.

Finally, I briefly mention ACU’s variety of undergraduate experiences and graduate programs that are now at CitySquare Ministries, located in the heart of downtown Dallas. Urban experiences abound, with plenty of opportunities for hands-on learning—still the most effective way of “getting it.” Check out ACU@CitySquare at either of these two links. The graduate programs are primarily hybrid ones, with a majority of the work done through distance learning.

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In years past, I often reminded the ACU community that we are involved in a Kingdom work. We still are, and we will be for a long time to come.

EEM new Logo black typeThere are times in our lives when something truly amazing happens. When the right people are at the right places at the right time. And when the right calls are made. Eastern European Mission (EEM) has been privileged to be in the right places at the right time to meet the right people.

THE SITUATION.

Communism created and left a lingering moral void in the former Communist Bloc nations that continues to have detrimental effects today. Many parents, educators, and teachers in these nations are concerned about the future of the young people. Some have decided that the Bible should be the basis for bringing up the “next generation” and are acting on that belief to bring the Bible back into their society.

THE RUSSIA CONNECTION.

Beginning in the mid 1990’s, entire regions (or oblasts – equivalent to states in the U.S.) in Russia began to ask EEM to supply all of their schools with enough Bibles and biblical literature so each student could thoroughly study the Bible. These requests came through a Russian Minister of Education, Vladimir, and required meetings, documentation, and lengthy approval processes from government and region officials. EEM responded to those requests, with Vladimir’s help, and to date, EEM has supplied Bibles and biblical literature in five regions in Russia. This country alone represents 7,250 public schools with more than 1.5 million students having the opportunity to study the Bible.

UKRAINE CALLED NEXT.

EEM’s experience and success with placing Bibles in public schools in Russia translated well to the country of Ukraine. In 2008, the move into the schools in Ukraine, began with the region of Donetsk with 1,187 public schools and 366,000 students. The successful completion of the project in Donetsk created increased interest in EEM’s work, and the word began to spread throughout Ukraine.

IVANO-FRANKIVSK.

A turning point for EEM in Ukraine was in the region of Ivano-Frankivsk. Several factors worked in concert to generate their request for Bibles in public schools.

For seven years, one of EEM’s youth camp program teams from the U.S. visited a former communist youth camp in the region of Ivano-Frankivsk and developed strong relationships between the camp director, staff, and campers. Thousands of Bibles and biblical literature were given to the campers who took them home and even to school, exposing the Bible to many in that region.

Then a member of EEM’s staff in Ukraine renewed a relationship with a former acquaintance at a university in Ivano-Frankivsk, which ultimately led to a meeting with the Minister of Culture for the region. Discussions with the Minister of Culture resulted in a request to the Lubbock Christian University choir to visit and sing in Ivano-Frankivsk. The choir accepted the invitation and performed a concert, which was well-received by many local dignitaries, including the mayor and several area educational officials.

EEM followed up on contacts made through the previous activities, ultimately resulting in a meeting with the Minister of Education for the region of Ivano-Frankivsk. From that meeting came the official request for EEM to provide Bibles and biblical literature to all 763 schools in the region, representing 170,000 students.

In 2010 EEM fulfilled the requests for Bibles in public schools in the regions of Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine and Krasnoyarsk, Russia. Yes, Russia was still asking for Bibles as well.

THE DELIVERY. “ARE YOU REALLY GOING TO DO THIS”?

At the end of 2010, with the Bibles printed and ready to deliver to Ukraine, EEM met with the Minister of Education to arrange the delivery details. On hearing from EEM that the Bibles were ready for delivery, the Minister of Education asked, “Are you really going to do this?” To which EEM replied, “Yes, we are ready to begin.” The Minister then said, again, “Are you really going to do this?” To which the reply was “Yes, we said we would, and we are ready to deliver the Bibles.” At this point, the Minister of Education said, “We have been promised so many things by so many groups who never did what they said they would do. So, if you are really ready to deliver the Bibles, then here is what I will do: if you can have all of your Bibles and literature here in two days, then I will call all of the schools in the region and instruct them to send teachers in whatever vehicles they have to pick up the Bibles and literature for their schools.”

The news was exciting, for sure; however, at that point, the Bibles and Biblical literature were still at the printer’s warehouse in Kiev, over 350 miles away. But EEM went to work. Using 18-wheeler trucks and working around the clock, all of the Bibles and biblical literature arrived in the city of Ivano-Frankivsk in just two days.

Then, true to the Minister’s word, groups of teachers showed their excitement at getting the Bibles for their schools by driving whatever transportation they had available, through ice and snow, from all over the state to pick up their school’s Bibles. They came in yellow school buses, blue vans, old green trucks, or any vehicle that would make the trip and carry stacks of Bibles. Genuine excitement accompanied each group, and teachers offered statements of appreciation for the Bibles as they signed for their allotments.

THE DOOR OPENS WIDER IN UKRAINE.

As thrilling as these events are, the door has opened wider. Much wider, particularly in Ukraine. When the Minister of Education in Ivano-Frankivsk saw that EEM was delivering as promised, she picked up her phone and called fellow Ministers of Education in three neighboring regions and strongly encouraged them to visit with EEM. EEM began receiving more requests from more regions for Bibles in their schools. Over the next few years, Bibles were delivered to the Saki district in Crimea, and the Poltava, Rivne, Lviv and Luhansk regions of Ukraine. These regions alone contain 3,674 public schools with over 743,000 students. In Luhansk, we were asked to supply Bibles and biblical literature for 570 public libraries, as well.

CAN A BIBLE CHANGE A NATION?

While we do not control politics, the economy, or other factors affecting nations, particularly in Ukraine, we do believe the opportunity to provide Bibles to all of the public schools in Ukraine can change lives…and a nation. As one of our dear Ukrainian friends, Vasyl (Dean of Humanities at a national university), said, “If we can put the Bible into the public schools, we can change this nation in one generation.” Unfortunately, in our own nation, we have seen the effect of removing the Bible from our public schools in less than one generation.

In 2014, we have the opportunity to place Bibles in the public schools of three additional Ukrainian regions: Kherson (including universities), Ternopil, and Zaporizhzhya. These regions represent 341,000 students in 2,071 public schools (plus 27 universities) who will be studying the Bible. Visit www.MillionDollarSunday.org for more information.

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Only God could orchestrate this. It is to Him we give all the credit and praise. It is from Him we ask for the wisdom and strength to faithfully respond to whatever He calls us to do.

The Bible. We want everyone to get it.

Hearing that Churches of Christ are at a crossroads isn’t anything new.  This worn out cliche isn’t even fit for the recycle bin.  Its like plastic used beyond its viability, representing the worn out options of turning left or right.  There is an even older refrain that comes from Jeremiah “Stand at the crossroads and look around, look for the ancient way, the good way and walk in it.”

I have spent my entire life looking for the good, ancient way.  At least six generations on both sides of my family have pursued the Christian walk inside the Churches of Christ.  Church is family for me.

I have noticed that for the most part when some leader announces the newest crossroad (women’s role, instrumental music, cup quantities, or clapping) the choice is between the left or the right, my way or the wrong way.  Our fellowship long ago mastered the ability to pin people down.  We have historically been masters at being right and helping people come to see that fact. Too often our identity in Churches of Christ has been a veiled equating of our view with God’s view and an unwillingness to see the possibility that our view could be wrong.

In addition to the problems of the past are the problems of the present. Today we face a fracturing of American Protestant Christianity.  We live in a technological era where people can remain separate and connected only to the people with whom they chose to be “friends.”  Our circles of conversation are small and our conversations are comfortable, but not real.  Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Email, Google and Microsoft all promise connection, yet in many ways it is a careful division of human interaction.  We are disconnected form actual engagement with real people with real ideas and real implications in how we discuss these things together.

There is a shift taking place and that shift is for the better. We are at a tipping point in this sectarian center-piece of our identity.  More and more of us understand that old sectarian stances are not the ancient paths represented by scripture, but represented our best efforts to follow God at that time.  As time ticks forward and the present becomes the future, we are able to see the strengths and the weaknesses of our movement. Hopefully we can let our history provide us humility and maybe we can give our history grace.

That brings us to a third way that may allow us to break out of an issues-driven identity. I have come to the point where clinging to Christ and becoming his lifelong follower is all I have.  If we are to discover and to maintain the unity Jesus prayed fervently for in John 17, this means I must be able to admit my errors and accept my past so that I can accept others. The tipping point in my mind is our current identity crisis.  This experience is not new.  It is actually the same identity crisis we’ve faced over and over for 200 years.  Is our unity based upon being right or is it based upon Jesus? For two millennia we have offered beautiful gifts to Christianity like weekly practice of the Lord’s Supper, adult believer’s immersion, a capella music, and independent autonomous churches united across the globe.  These are our best traits, but being right about them (or an even longer list) is not a sufficient identity in the world today.

We need physical places to come together and discuss how we may become like Jesus in our present age.  We do not need spaces to come together to announce the new “right thing,” especially if that right thing is anything beyond making of disciples who look like Jesus.  The next right thing is not instrumental worship nor a capella worship.  The next right thing is not spiritual formation versus education, nor female versus male leadership.  These are all important . . . and each will, when wrongly emphasized or twisted, attempt to be so important that they should divide us.  However, none of them is Jesus which unites us.  What we need most is space to talk and humility to accept other Christians with different understandings as children of God.  Then, we can talk about the real need in our churches—how to make disciples of Jesus.

One of the places in my life where this transition has been on display is the ACU Summit. These lectures are a century long, running example of our movement at its best and at its worst.  There have been flashes of people pointing us to God beyond cultural arguments as well as instances of sectarian exclusion, racism, arrogance, and pride.  The entire 108 year venture has been an ongoing conversation about how life and faith converge in Jesus.  These gatherings have intended to glorify God.  For the most part, if we can forgive the pretense, posturing and fanfare that comes with gatherings of people, God has been glorified and we have been enriched as followers of God.

I believe that what we need is the good way, the ancient way in which to walk.  It has not really changed much since time began.  The Ten Commandments were not changed by Jesus, they were deepened.  The great commandments of loving God with our entire being (heart, soul, mind and strength) and loving your neighbor were not invented by Jesus; they were continued beyond the borders of one nationality.  The pursuit of God is still the most significant pursuit for all humans.  The different now is that through Jesus this is both a reality and an ongoing pursuit.  We may now access God, through Jesus, full of the spirit.  This is not mere salvation access, but access to changes our very person into the likeness of Christ.  We must be changed.

So, I will continue to do my seemingly impossible work of bringing Christians together for conversation at the ACU Summit but I will do so only by daily prayer, daily practice of the fruit of the spirit, daily repentance that I am a sinner who needs the mercy of the living God, and daily submission to the Lordship of Jesus.  I hope this begins to change my sense of rightness and increases my hunger for more and more people to see themselves as Christian followers of Jesus.  I will do all this hoping that our movement will no longer be known only as . . . those people who don’t have music or who dunk people or think they are the only Christians . . . I pray for the day when we will be known, recognized by our love and by the ways that our everyday lives look like Jesus.  That is an ancient way that is good and worth walking in.

Maybe Christians can come to be known as the people who fear nothing except God – no idea, no terrorist threat, no financial crisis should supersede our reverence for God.  Maybe Christians who fear God can be known the world over as the people who do not force their way with arguments, drones, troops, laws, and issues . . . but by our willingness to follow Jesus to the cross.  Maybe then the world will label Christians as “the people of love”—the litmus test Jesus gave in John 13:35.

Dr. Brady Bryce

Dr. Bryce is the Assistant Professor of Practical Theology, Director of Contextual Education and Director of Ministry Events at Abilene Christian University.

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A synagogue leader named Jairus had a daughter who was dying. He went to find Jesus and when he found him, he fell at Jesus’ feet and begged him to come and heal his daughter. At that same time a woman who had suffered for 12 years with bleeding needed relief. She got close enough to Jesus, thinking if she could just touch the edge of his cloak she might be healed…she did and she was healed. Hearing about Jesus and his power to heal, a few guys couldn’t help but think of their paralyzed friend and how great it would be if he could walk again. Seeing the house Jesus was in was full and there was no way to carry their friend to Jesus, they climbed on the roof, made a hole in it and lowered their friend down to Jesus so he would get healed. Jesus healed him.

There are more stories like these but the point is the same – there was one common ingredient that drove each of these people to do what they did. This ingredient is one that I believe is missing from many churches and many Christians today but is something that, if we can reclaim it, would go a long way in the church thriving again.

That word is desperation.

These people were in situations that drove them to make a desperate attempt to seek out Jesus for help. Without Jesus they were doomed. Without Jesus they had no hope.

Whether we feel it or not and whether we realize it or not the same is true for us – we are desperate for Jesus. We just need to realize it. We need to reclaim it.

Too often churches and Christians have grown complacent and comfortable. We can pay our bills, pay the minister, and take care of the basics…so we coast along as if we have it all covered. Have we lost our desperation for Jesus? Have we lost our reliance on the Holy Spirit? Have we come to trust more in our own ability to take care of things than in God’s ability to use us in ways greater than what our own efforts can accomplish? In too many cases, the answer is yes.

What will it take for us to become desperate for God again?

worldconventionDid you know we had a World Convention?

For eighty-four years, God has worked through the World Convention to connect Christians, Disciples, and Churches of Christ globally every day. Stories of recent connections through the World Convention include:

• A Kenyan minister, greatly discouraged by his experiences with western missionaries found fellow believers in his country through the World Convention who encouraged him to continue his service through churches and a Christian school.
• A congregation in Australia joined a congregation in Brazil in celebrating the Great Communion together.
• Churches in Brazil are partnering with Korean churches to plant new Korean speaking congregations in Brazil.

The list goes on and on of God’s work of uniting his people for action around the world.

The Preamble to the World Convention Constitution gives the mission of the organization:

In Christ, all are reconciled to God and to each other, and in the Spirit, God calls us to proclaim this good news throughout the world. World Convention (Christian-Churches of Christ-Disciples of Christ) embodies and encourages fellowship, understanding, and common purpose within this global family of churches and relates them to the whole Church for the sake of unity in Christ Jesus.

Why do our churches need World Convention?

• Because (despite the name), World Convention is not an event but an everyday ministry.
• Because we are the only structure that provides an identity for our movement globally. World Convention is not an event but an everyday ministry that connects our churches worldwide. Without World Convention, many of our churches would only focus on their local congregation. Others might have regional, state, or national structures. But we are the only organization whose purpose is to build up fellowship, understanding, and common purpose within the Christian-Churches of Christ-Disciples of Christ global family. No doubt God’s church will continue without that global understanding, but how much more can we work with Him to bring in the kingdom if we have that global identity.
• Because World Convention is also the only ministry that gives all of our churches, including Churches of Christ and Christian Churches, a seat at the table with other Christian groups. It is so important to have that seat. There we can learn from our brothers and sisters. There we can voice the insights God has given our churches. There we can facilitate work together in the name of Jesus. A seat at the table. That’s what World Convention provides.
• Because of the specific fruit that God provides through World Convention. Fruit like our Global Gathering every four years for fellowship, encouragement, and partnership in ministry. We are overjoyed to announce that our next Global Gathering will be in India, likely in 2017. More details on that meeting will be forthcoming. The World Convention board also elected Ajai Lall as its new President. Ajai is the founder of Central India Christian Mission. For more on his work see http://indiamission.org/ and https://vimeo.com/84273044.

God is at work! To know more about us, see worldconvention.org

welcomeOn Sunday night, August 31, several youth groups from San Antonio-area churches of Christ met at our church, the New Braunfels Church of Christ, for a youth praise event. But this one was slightly different. Our theme was Light The Way, and part of the “sermon” was me using a tripod, a camera, a 25-second shutter speed, and a handful of flashlights to tell the story of Jesus with a technique called “Light Writing.” To do this, get the room very dark, click the shutter open, “draw” in the air with the flashlights, and when the shutter clicks closed, you have recorded a light painting in still image form. I used a projector to display the image from the camera, i.e., instead of the picture displaying on the camera’s LCD screen, it displayed on a projector. The 230 teens in attendance were being led in worship song by our guest worship leader while I painted a series of 17 different compositions. When I was finished, I scrolled back through the paintings, and delivered a short lesson from John 8:12.

Here are the images I created on stage while the teens were singing:
https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152624443698686&l=eb6be77236

The light metaphor is used so heavily in Scripture, particularly by Jesus, that we wanted to build a worship experience around the idea of actual light as a way of telling the story. It was a great night, and was received very well. Months of thought, prayer, and prep went into the event. God was certainly praised by many voices, but by many eyes as well. The idea of Visual Worship was very much at the fore in our planning, because we want to worship God not just with our voices but with our eyes too. What better medium to use for that than light?

But I want to point out how this was not just a bevy of cool effects. These were specifically chosen images that form a narrative of Jesus. This was intentional, rehearsed, and story-driven. We do this in all sorts of other media. This one was visual. And it was, at least I think, cool. And it is very important because if there are ways to sin with your eyes, then there must also be ways to worship with your eyes. If this is true, then we as a fellowship may need to re-evaluate the extent to which we employ the visual in our corporate worship experiences.

redseaFull Disclosure: I am a creative type, and I’ve had a rough go in more than several worship services. And I notice that there’s fewer and fewer like me in our fellowship. But even so, I promise I’m not trying to start a “worship war.” Instead, I would like us to think about the roles that the visual can and should play in church gatherings for the express reason of making sure our message gets heard and seen in an increasingly visual culture.

I admit, the idea of Visual Worship sounds a little too artsy and perhaps foreign to members of a fellowship who worship in ‘auditoriums,’ and go to ‘lectureships’ (just look at those word roots). But we live in a visual culture filled with icons, screens, graphics, and apps, ad infinitum. The visual is the language of our current culture. If we are to engage this culture and stay relevant, I believe our worship services should employ this language so our churches are not dismissed and, more importantly, our message is not compromised by our delivery methods. And it’s no good vilifying the current culture, as if it were 21st century that’s endangering the gospel. The gospel is universal and will thrive in any culture. But it has to be communicated in culturally relevant ways. If the alternative is staying in the 19th century with our design, architecture, fonts, and furniture, that’s just as much of a cultural choice.

Understand: I not talking at all about our message. Our message is fine. The Gospel will and should be preached faithfully. Jesus came, died, resurrected. Disciples should be made. And salvation is by grace through faith. What I am saying is that it is just as ridiculous to preach the gospel to people under 30 using a clipart-laden PowerPoint as it would be to preach the gospel in Chinese to a roomful of Ethiopians. They may listen because they’re polite, but you won’t convince them it’s important. You won’t even get heard, no matter what your message is. Because—and here’s the crux—the environment of the space is monumentally important to current culture. If the environment and design of your worship space is not perceived as important to your church, then your church will be dismissed— subconsciously or not—as irrelevant.

For example, when you walk in your church’s worship space, you should be able to tell it’s a church, but you should also be able to know it’s 2014, not 1976. The color of the carpet, the style of pews, whether or not there are screens, the design of the stage area, the dimmable/non-dimmable lights may not matter to you. But they matter to hipsters, art majors, people who are the first to get the new iPhone, architects. Will interior design save souls? No. But it will set the stage for a message of salvation to be heard.

The shrubs, trees, mulch and a flowers on our church’s exterior don’t really matter to me personally, but if I’m trying to reach out to the landscaper demographic in our community, I’m going to make sure our landscaping sends the message “Hey, landscaping is important to us.” When a landscaper pulls in and notices things are done well, and done correctly, they have an open mind and good feeling about the place–and the message–before they even walk through the doors. Conversely, if the flowers are dead, and there are palm trees even though it’s Michigan, that landscaper who has decided to visit your congregation has just gotten the message that the things that are important to him are not the things that are important to this congregation. That’s not a message I want visitors to have before they even sit down.

But how many more people under thirty are there in our communities than professional landscapers?

Most often in churches, incorporating the visual means projection and computers. But what about architecture? Even interior design? Or how about the fonts and layout of the bulletin? The signage? The letterhead? There are a million tiny (visual) design elements that add up to one of two big messages: 1) we’re relevant, or 2) we’re not.

Most people aren’t able to quantify or articulate these design elements because they don’t have a background in design, film, architecture, or art. And that’s okay, but it doesn’t make these elements any less important. At the subconscious level, I’ll argue that the vast majority of people do notice the feeling, mood, general vibe and purpose of the space within 30 seconds of entering. Environment matters a great deal. And environment can go a long way in preparing a person to hear a message.

Design elements may not be the first things we think of when we think ‘worship.’ But this has not always been the case in history. In the Medieval world, the stories were told not by books or movies, but by the stain glass windows, and in a larger way, the architecture itself. Not everyone could read, and even if they could, Bibles weren’t readily available until after Gutenberg’s little invention. So the story of Jesus, indeed the story of the bible, were communicated by images. If you’ve ever been to a cathedral in Europe, you know this to be true…window after window of glass and lead that are stunning, and have been stunning for generations. (It’s worth noting that they are in the church, the place of ritual, and are illuminated from behind by light. The metaphor is just too great to pass up.) Standing there amid the Gothic architecture, staring up at those windows, you will come to know why they say a picture is worth a thousand words. And pictures, images, ideas conveyed in color and texture capture us like few other things can.

God knows this, and leveraged it back in the Ancient Near East. The artistry of Israel’s tabernacle bespoke its sanctity and importance. It is in the last third of Exodus that we meet Bezalel and Oholiab, God’s designated artisans. They were men who would communicate the gravity and eminence of God’s dwelling place through their creativity. They were chosen by God to build and decorate the tabernacle because they were tremendously gifted, and there’s something about the creative process that connects us with God. Not connect us in the church-y sense, but connects us to something Other, in the place where art has a voice that is beautiful and mysterious and makes you sound nuts when you try to explain it, because it is not from the country of words. Indeed, notice: when you walk into our modern church buildings, you look around for people you know. When you walk into one of those intricate cathedrals, you look up. Which seems to lead to a mindset and posture of worship? When it comes to telling a meaningful story, artists have the upper hand. And we Christians have the most meaningful story of all. Let’s start empowering artists to tell it, and tell it excellently.

There is even a modern resurgence and interest in the ideas of using technology in ways which enhance the message, not become the message. Indeed there is a annual conference in Nashville about this very subject called SALT. This is from the website of Salt Nashville:

“Worship is similar to the family gathering together at our Father’s house partaking in a meal together. At the dinner table there will be a main course, that for us represents the meat of our services, or the Truth of God’s word. Side dishes compliment the main course through music, prayer, offerings, announcements and liturgy. We don’t believe visuals are the main thing. We don’t even believe they are a side dish. We believe they are the seasoning that covers all these elements. There are two seasoning elements on the table: salt and pepper. Both add flavoring to your meal, but only one has the ability to preserve and heal wounds. That’s what art does in our services.”

Luke McElroy, one of SALT’s founders, has written an informative précis on Visual Worship and its origins here: http://www.sundaymag.tv/visual-worship/

Environmental Projection is a current trend in lighting, and using ProPresenter software for worship lyrics and images in ways that tell a narrative that matches the message from the pulpit or communion table. There are Addressable LEDs, projection mapping, and ways to control house lighting from your iPad. There are so many tools out there, it’s mind boggling. But as Mr. McElroy says, these seem like new ideas, but they only seem that way because the canvas has changed. Art has been a pivotal, indeed, essential aspect of the worship experience for generations. This is why I believe incorporating the visual and intentional design back into our congregations and worship services is not just an Under-30 thing. When done with excellence (which is not the same as doing it big or over-doing it; there’s a line, and we best know where it is), a visual worship element will speak to the hearts of everyone in the pews, of all ages.

On the Thursday after our Light The Way teen praise night—four days later—the granddad of a youth group member spoke to me about the event. He was in attendance and told me he was moved to tears by the singing and the lights and the message. He told me he started out in the back of the room but moved closer in the middle of the singing so he could hear and see better. This is a man who himself was a youth minister back in the day. He’s in his late-60s. He’s been in church for 40+ years. And he told me, “That was the best worship I’ve ever experienced in my life. Thank you.”

May we create environments that open us to receiving God and giving him our best.

A global conference to bring Churches of Christ together to focus on more effectively reaching our world for Jesus Christ.

A global conference to bring Churches of Christ together to focus on more effectively reaching our world for Jesus Christ.

By most estimates, there are nearly 3 billion people in the world today who have never heard the name of Jesus Christ. There are 87 countries in the world where less than 2% of the population is Christian. And here in the United States, the opportunities are plentiful to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with those who are currently unreached. The question many Christians ask, when faced with this great need is – how can our churches more effectively advance domestic and global outreach?

One way that Churches of Christ are addressing this need is the tri-annual Global Missions Conference, held in Memphis on October 16-18. Led by a steering committee of missions leaders from across the nation, this Conference will feature: international presenters; practical missions sessions; missions exhibits and networking; and the World Missions Workshop for college students.

John Reese, Conference Steering Committee member and President of World Bible School said, “Churches of Christ are one of the largest missionary-sending organizations in the nation. In several respects we have performed well in our evangelistic outreach, yet the world is growing faster than our efforts. How can we deepen our biblical underpinnings, improve our strategies, concentrate our efforts and communicate more effectively with one another?”

The Conference will consist of 13 Workshops, each consisting of four classes, offered for those serving in various aspects of missions. Each workshop will be spread over the two conference days.

Reese added, “This conference will enable Churches of Christ to be more intentional in work worldwide in reaching the lost; to strengthen the central role of the local church in global missions; to practice better stewardship; and to work side by side with others all over the world in reconciling people to the Lord.”

Conference Tracks include:

  • Short-term Missions – coordinated by Mark Woodward
  • Missionary Care / Family Track – coordinated by Beth Reese
  • U.S. Missions – coordinated by Stan Granberg
  • There will also be a special track with workshops for university students and teens

Other Conference features include special interest sessions, breakout sessions, interest groups and the plenary sessions with the keynote speakers.

Special Interest Session: America Is Calling – The Whites Ferry Road Church of Christ from West Monroe, LA will share their story of how the people of America are coming to them, seeking spiritual answers. Several of the leaders will have a conversation about their experience and what they are doing about it.

Breakout Sessions – There will be approximately 20 different breakout sessions to discuss positive ideas that work. Some of these discussions will be about advancing the gospel in specific geographical locations, and other discussions will be about types of work or methods to use.

Interest groups – These groups will enable people to learn from some different ministries that make their focus to reach people around the world. Participants will be given the opportunity to learn from these ministries and discover ways they can partner together.

Plenary Sessions – The keynote plenary sessions will focus on major themes around missions, whether through the local church or non-profit ministry, or on the mission field. Keynote speakers include: Machona Monyamane, John Reese, Gary Jackson, David Duncan and Monte Cox.

Register Today! – There are still openings available for more participants, but now is the time to register if you plan to attend, as registration will fill up soon. Visit www.globalmissionsconference.org for all the information on registration, lodging, directions and conference details. Online registration is open until October 1st, so register today!

“No matter whether you are a missionary or missionary candidate, an elder, missions committee member, campaigner, Bible school teacher or simply a person interested in world evangelism, there will be workshops tailored to meet your needs,” stated Beth Reese, Conference Steering Committee member.

This year’s Global Missions Conference will be held at the Goodman Oaks Church of Christ in Southhaven, MS just south of Memphis, TN. Lodging and transportation options are available. More information can be found on the Global Missions Conference web site.

“The heritage we carry as the Churches of Christ is that we have evangelized, built schools and become a global movement of God, and now God is calling us to collaborate in order to respond to His call for redeeming the world in which we each live,” Reese concluded.

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