Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Around the Horn

Yes, I know this is the name of an ESPN sports show.  But we were using it long before them.  In baseball or softball, of course.  When we took the final ground balls of infield practice, then we’d go “around the horn.”  From catcher to third to second to short and then over to first.  (Or the less fancy version of third to short to second to first.)  And, ever since, the term has stuck in my brain for some reason.  Going around the horn.  One last go-around. 

Maybe someday, this will be a regular column … like Rachel Held Evans’ “Sunday Superlatives.”  Maybe in the fall, when Cheryl and I have our kids off to college, and we are officially empty-nesters.  But for now, it’s just a quick look at web stuff that’s been of interest to me.  And if you grew up Church of Christ, or conservative evangelical, or in the South, or some variation of that … then you might see some things to your liking as well.

So let’s go around-the-horn, a few easy tosses beginning with …

Francis Chan ‘unloaded his heart’ at Tulsa Workshop” … loved this title and post by Erik Tryggestad for The Christian Chronicle:

“I believe we want the same thing,” Francis Chan told a packed arena at the Tulsa Fairgrounds in Oklahoma. “I see this fire coming from this denom — do you even call it a denomination?” …

Pepperdine introduces LGBT scholarship” by Genevieve Chong in the Pepperdine University Graphic:

Pepperdine has officially announced a new scholarship for students who have demonstrated a commitment to the LGBT community. The scholarship ... will be awarded to students “whose academic or personal involvement have demonstrated a commitment to the health of the LGBT community.” …

Tweet of the Week … by Donald Miller:

“Show me a controlling person and I'll show you a person who is secretly afraid.” - @donaldmiller

John Mark Hicks, a professor at Lipscomb U and clearly a man with 2 brains (which I mean as a compliment) blogs “19th Century Middle Ground: Women in the Assembly”:

The practice of northern “Churches of Christ” … encouraged women to pray audibly, exhort the congregation and participate in the leadership of the song service. This pervasive practice among northern congregations was ultimately overwhelmed by the practice of the more dominant southern “Churches of Christ” who regarded any public role by women as unseemly and unbiblical…

And a little bit more about Francis C from Wes Woodell’s blog titled “A Tremendously Blown Opportunity to Work with Francis Chan”:

Not only did I get to meet Francis and spend some time with him, he actually offered to help with the college ministry and wanted to help me start a weekly meeting on Friday nights to reach students using my church’s facility – his idea, not mine!

He even wanted to bring Chris Tomlin over to get things kicked off – how cool is that?!

Unfortunately, it wouldn’t happen…

And last, but not least, a video about a couple from our church who adopted a little girl and then dedicated her to the Lord.  If you like adoptions or God or babies, then you will probably enjoy this.  (Just click on the pic.):

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Cautious or Courageous?

Dawn Gentry—a wife to Harold and mom of Michael (wife Autumn) and Elizabeth—attended Rochester College, Harding U, Cincinnati Christian, and is now at Emmanuel Christian Seminary.  She loves to travel and to speak … and she does some blogging at www.dawngentry.com.


My journey through vocation and ministry has been a long, winding road. Very few people have heard my full story, because at various intersections and roadblocks I’ve been able to overcome barriers without making a lot of noise. Additionally, I am cautious about what I post, or where I share my stories, because I don't want people to jump to conclusions about what I believe without being willing to have an actual conversation about it. And there was a time when I was in a ministry job where I feared if I “showed my hand” too soon (or too loudly) I would have risked losing my income. I’m not so fearful now – partly because as a full time student, I have no income to lose. :)  But I also think that maybe my passion for God’s word and God’s will has fueled my courage for God’s women.

Many stories shared via Mike’s blog have been from God’s women within the churches of Christ who have stayed in those fellowships and found a voice and an outlet for their gifts. My path, instead, led me from non-instrumental churches, to a church plant that used acappella worship but allowed instrumental special music, to an “evangelical” independent Christian church…and most recently to seminary. I grew up a preacher’s kid who attended a small Christian school and two church of Christ colleges. I didn’t wake up one morning in my “c of C” life and say “HEY! I don’t fit here!” I just kept asking questions along the way, and watching to see what doors God would open.

The churches of Christ I attended in my 20s allowed me to work in children’s classrooms and cook for potluck suppers. If memory serves me well (and I’m 50 years old, so no guarantees) I participated by singing on a praise team a few times (on the front pew, with a mic) before congregational dissenters put an end to that novelty. When I was in my 30s, the church plant we joined allowed me to sing “special music” but not lead worship…when we merged with another church plant, women were allowed to sing on a praise team that led worship from the front, with microphones. That is, as long as a man was actually leading the praise team.

When we joined an independent Christian church it was immediately evident that women were allowed to do much more. Women occasionally read scripture or prayed in the service. Women were allowed participate on praise teams up front. Women were allowed to serve as “ministry coordinators” (their term for deacons, so no one could complain about “women deacons”). As a ministry coordinator I was allowed to lead a group of first impressions volunteers.

After we’d been there three years, I was hired as the Children’s Ministry Director. As such, I was considered part of the “pastoral staff” and I was allowed to attend all staff and elder meetings. In addition to “administrating the programs” involving children and families, I was allowed to participate in hospital calls, pastoral care, long range planning, and curriculum development. I co-wrote a class on spiritual gifts and led a church-wide initiative to connect people to serving opportunities. I led small-group Bible studies, and even spoke – from the pulpit, with a Bible in hand – for non-Sunday morning special services (twice in 11 years). I was allowed to do ministry in many ways.

I was “allowed” to do ministry.

Yet, in 1st Corinthians 12:4, 11, 18 we read
      There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them…All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines. ...God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.

And in Ephesians 4:7, 11-12 says
     To each one of us grace [gifts – same Greek word] has been given as Christ apportioned it…Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up

The Spirit distributes… God has placed… Christ apportioned…

Calling and giftedness are the role of the Godhead. Not one of the passages on spiritual gifts limits any specific gift to a specific gender. Not one of the passages on spiritual gifts suggests that church leaders have the job of assigning specific gifts or roles to specific people. Instead, church leaders are exhorted to equip God’s people for service. In fact, the purpose of such variety is for the benefit of the whole church, as well as for the growth and maturity of the individual using those gifts. Consider these other scriptures:

Continuing Ephesians 4: 12-16
…so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith…and become mature…speaking the truth in love we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament [NJB says “every joint adding its own strength!”] grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

And Romans 12:3-6
…Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.

And I Corinthians 12:6-7
There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

When I am asked a question about what I believe about women in ministry, the challenge often presented is “What about what the Bible says?”  Generally, they are referring specifically to the two limiting passages, 1 Timothy 2:11 (I don’t permit a woman to teach or to assume authority) and I Corinthians 14:34 (Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak). If that was all the Bible said on the topic (as in the much often quoted attitude God said it, I believe it, that settles it!), there would be no debate, right? Life would be so much simpler…

Ah, but that’s not all the Bible says on the topic. And the spiritual gifts passages (encompassing over 52 verses in four different books) are just one example of that tension within God’s word. It can’t all be harmonized perfectly. So the reader must use discernment in reading and interpreting and applying the texts – all of them – in a way that brings glory to God and supports the ultimate goal of bringing others into the kingdom. In connection with those goals, there are two additional passages that we should note.

I Peter 4:10-11:
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.

I Timothy 2:2-4 (yes, please note this comes right before one of the limiting passages)
…live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

There is no doubt that topic is deep and important and valuable to all of us (not just me and my daughter, who is even more courageous about the conversation than I have been). Our families, our churches, and especially church leaders need to be willing to have these hard conversations. I believe God will hold us accountable for using our gifts the way He intends (not the way society always expects) and I also believe God will hold us, as leaders, accountable for being good stewards of the gifts he's given each of our church members, including women.

We need to encourage each other to have genuine dialogue about things we disagree on, not just assume that what has always been is the only reality in which God can work, or that cautious avoidance will prevent rocking the proverbial boat. And in the meantime, while we wait for important conversations to take place, we need to be courageous. Courageous enough to use the gifts God has given us and encouraging others (both men and women) to do the same.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Bible College … a Q&A with Philip Yancey

I don’t read a lot of Christian books.  In a good year, I might read 3 or 4 from beginning to end.

There are a couple of reasons for this, maybe more.

  1. I’m a slow reader.  It’s true.  As an elementary-school SRA reader, I spent a good amount of time on the purple cards.
  2. There are a lot of Christian authors that I should read and that I should enjoy, but for some reason I don’t.  So I avoid them, but I nod and smile when other people mention them.

And so I had to consider carefully when a friend recommended What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey.  This was probably in 2006 or so, and the book had been out for about 8 years.

Now I knew I’d heard of Mr. Yancey before, but I couldn’t quite place him.  Maybe he had crept into my brain during my frequent strolls through the aisles of Borders (the bookstore, now sadly departed).  Or, now that I think of it, I may have seen a copy of The Jesus I Never Knew lying around my parents’ home in Arkansas.  Maybe a volume that Mom had picked up at a garage sale?

Nevertheless … I picked up a copy of W.S.A.A.G. and loved it.  L-o-v-e-d it.

5 stars.  Recommend to friends.  Life-changing.

For some reason, within the first few pages, I thought to myself, “Okay, this is a book I can handle.  It’s not all apple pie and rainbows.  It seems real to me.  This is a guy I can trust.”

And so Philip made it as a regular into my Christian book rotation.  This means, once every year or so, I pick up one of his books and read it, cover-to-cover.

Somewhat recently, I finished What Good is God?  (It does seem like a lot of his book titles end with a question mark), and there was a part in there called “Bible College” which was full of personal connections for me.  Philip did not attend the same college as me (and many of you), but there were similarities:  funny times, good times, growing times … and a good bit of legalism in the mix.  He concluded the section with words of advice for students at his alma mater:

“Above all else, I leave you this word grace, and hope and pray that you will let it soak into you today and the rest of your days.  I pray that while here you will not only believe in God, but also know deep in your soul that God believes in you.”

Amen, brother.

And so I wrote Philip a fan letter and basically said, “Hey, how about a little interview for my little blog?”  And he graciously agreed.


So here you go … Mike and Philip, an email Q&A:

You say that you “have learned to appreciate other traditions of faith,” which includes Catholic and Eastern Orthodox.  How does your view of (the size of) God’s kingdom now compare with your view in Bible college (and before)?

PY:  Mainly, I’ve learned humility.  In Bible college and my childhood church I thought we and only we had a corner on THE TRUTH.  Later I learned that some of the things we believed were flat-out wrong (such as racist theology) and we badly needed other balancing parts of the Kingdom.  For example, when I wrote a book about prayer I was drawn to the commitment of Catholics, who have been doing it for centuries with great energy, and Eastern Orthodox, who have much to teach me about reverence and the role played by sensory aspects like music.  I concluded that all of Old Testament history and New Testament theology did not exist simply to prop up the tiny sliver of faith that is American evangelicalism.

What part did the Holy Spirit play in your life as a young Christian (and/or in your Bible college days)? What part does the Holy Spirit play in your life today?

PY:  Good question.  Most of what the Holy Spirit does is “under the radar” and hard to pin down.  I don’t see the Holy Spirit as some obvious force; it’s simply the Spirit of Jesus, God’s reality acting on people available and tuned in.  When I feel promptings to care about someone and to pray, that’s the Spirit.  When I feel guilt over my behavior, that’s the Spirit.  When I meet with God in personal devotions, that’s the Spirit.

I’ve heard a good number of sermons on hell. I’m guessing you’ve heard a few as well.  Do you think these sermons did more harm than good? What are your current thoughts about heaven and hell?

PY:  In many cases such sermons do more harm than good, mainly because they present God primarily as a hostile force, a stern judge or Policeman.  Also, the group I grew up among, placed so much emphasis on the afterlife that they treated this life as a kind of pre-death experience.  That’s got it all wrong.  If you read the sermons in the Book of Acts, and Paul’s epistles, you’ll see strong promises of heaven, surely, but the main emphasis is on how to live here.  I don’t think we should give the afterlife more attention than the Bible does.

So what’s next for Philip Yancey? A memoir (I hope)?

PY:  Yes, I’ve done a lot of preliminary work on a memoir, though I haven’t written a word yet.  I have a book on “Communicating faith to a culture running away from it” that will come out first, and may also do a small follow-up to Where Is God When It Hurts.  I definitely want to get to that memoir, though.  It will help me stitch my life together.