Archive for May, 2006

living in God’s story

This week I am in a challenging and Christ-centered class called “Living in God’s Story: Spiritual Formation in Missions.” We have talked about the spiritual disciplines, about church, about the nature of the Trinity, about our “missional God,” and many, many other things. Dr. Earl Lavender, director of missions at Lipscomb, is teaching the class and has shown a level of vulnerability and passion that I have rarely seen at the graduate level. It has been refreshing.

Here are some random quotes I wrote down from the class, in no particular order. Be blessed!

Scripture = paradigmatic stories about how God interacts in the world

We live in a world of competing stories. Everyone lives in a particular story, whether by default or intent. We need to re-introduce (for many people introduce) the story of God.

Salvation is living with Jesus.

If you’re God, why pray?

We need to believe that our life is to be fully absorbed in the kingdom story. It needs to consume us.

Mother Teresa: “I never pray for clarity. I only pray for faithfulness.”

Spiritual formation is learning to hear the voice of God in normal circumstances of life.

God created the universe as a symphony of praise, and spiritual disciplines help us to tune our hearts to that symphony.

Fantasize about God. Look for representations of God in everything we see.

What would church/our life/missions look like if everything we did was run through the understanding of God as relationship?

Every vocation is an opportunity to live out the kingdom life.

What we cannot now do through trying, the spiritual disciplines allow us to do through training.

The post-Resurrection life is not about doing the spectacular, it’s about helping people figure life out.

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apart, but not separated

(from left) Cara and Travis Fry, Chad and Katie Allen, Houston and Kelly
Shearon, C & S

The human person is not an individual, not a self-contained being who at some stage in life chooses or elects to be in relationship with another and others. From the very first moment of existence, the infant is toward the other, ordinarily the mother or father, who is in turn toward and for the infant. From our origin we are related to others. We are from others, by others, toward others, for others, just as it is in God to exist in the relations of interpersonal love. — Michael Downey, Altogether Gift: A Trinitarian Spirituality

It began as a one-time thing. A prayer and discernment get-together for a graduate school couple we didn’t really know that well, Travis and Cara Fry. Five couples were there back in August 2005, worshipping, praying, and asking each other and God what to do next.

It went so well, we decided to do it the next week. Almost 10 months later, we’ve met every Wednesday night with three other couples to talk, pray, discern, and eat. Man, has the eating been good. We have celebrated communion together from time to time around the table. We have, at times, taken these gatherings very seriously, sharing tears or “firm discernment,” and have often allowed the Spirit to direct the gatherings as the Spirit willed.

But our group was not about gatherings, first and foremost. The initial gathering led to something so much deeper: Life together. It was about brake pad replacement on our Corrolla. It was about mountain biking every week down at “the trails.” It was about coffee together in the mornings. It was about “girls’ night” and “guys’ night.” It was about countless prayers that we lifted up for each other on a daily basis. It was about sharing together the frustrations, the joys, the anger, the sadness, the love of life.

Wednesday marked the last formal gathering our group will have (in its present state). On Saturday, Chad and Katie Allen will go to Atlanta to spend some time before they travel to Dubai, U.A.E., for a research trip in July. Chad is an accountant who wants to do bi-vocational missions in an Arab country. Travis and Cara Fry will leave next week for a backpacking trip in Colorado and New Mexico (including some much-needed spiritual “filling up” at a retreat center in N.M.) before they move to Tanzania in June to join God in his work there. Houston and Kelly Shearon will finish out a Vista internship with a local non-profit before pursuing further education in international development; they dream of creating sustainable development partnerships in some of the poorest nations in the world. The Holts, of course, will leave June 3 for Boston to join God’s “work already in progress” there.

We have seen God in this group over the last 10 months. We have drunk deeply from the well of Christian community, realizing for the first time the power of the Acts 2 account of the “fellowship of believers.” We have come to see one another as fellow travelers — pilgrims — on a Way that doesn’t promise safety or comfort, but does promise “life abundant.” Traveling with other pilgrims makes the uncomfortable times bearable — even sweet. While we may not gather as regularly from here on out, our little “fellowship of believers” will stay connected by the Cross. Across oceans, time zones, and cultures, we will be connected in our status as pilgrims on this narrow Way and in our passion for introducing others into this most perfect Way.

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wealth

GKB has facilitated quite a discussion of the Christian approach to wealth and prosperity. Discussions like that bring out every possible opinion, from “God wants us to be rich” to “God wants us to be poor,” and everything in between. Sometimes it makes my head hurt.

But instead of defining ourselves as Christians by what we are not (not rich, not poor), what if Christians began to make some bold commitments to how we’re going to live?

Could we commit to not seeking our own interests, but the interests of our Father?

Could we commit to modeling a radically different way from the way of this world?

Could we commit to seeing that in our communities of faith, no one is going to be in need?

Could we commit to seeing that our eyes are fixed on Christ (and Christ alone)?

Could we commit to a “throwing off of all that hinders?”

Could we commit to trusting God for our provision?

Could we commit to viewing our “stuff” as God’s?

Could we commit to “seeking justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God?”

Could we commit to “not storing up treasure for ourselves on this earth,” but treasures in Heaven?

Could we commit to following the way of Christ, who “had no place to lay his head?”

What implications do these raise? What would you add?

world-creation

I don’t want to be a church planter as much as I want to be a world-creator/enactor.

Let me explain.

Walter Brueggemann has popularized the image of the preacher as a poet who causes people to imagine new worlds and calls them to inhabit them:

The event of preaching is an event in transformed imagination. Poets, in the moment of preaching, are permitted to perceive and voice the world differently, to date a new phrase, a new picture, a fresh juxtaposition of matters long known. Poets are authorized to invite a new conversation with new voices sounded, new hearings possible. The new conversation may end in freedom to trust and courage to relinquish. The new conversation, on which our very lives depend, requires a poet and not a moralist.

While Brueggemann’s statement should be true for preaching, how much more true should this be for our lives? Shouldn’t our lives embody a new reality, a different way of living, as we also imagine out loud how “Christian difference” can change a person’s life and the world? If we are Christians, what role does actually following Christ have on this world creation? (GKB brings this up over here, if you haven’t already read it.)

This is why I’m not satisfied simply with “church planting” as the end-all of mission. We envision our lives being the sermon that demonstrates a different way of living — a truly Christian way of living, in the fulness of that term — to a culture crying out for a “different way.” I love the way Shane Claiborne puts it in The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical:

Few people are interested in a religion that has nothing to say to the world and offers them only life after death, when what people are really wondering is whether there is life before death.

If this is true, what would the Christian report card look like with regard to distinctiveness from yet attractiveness to the world? I have a theory about why people weigh Christianity on the scales and end up saying, “No thanks.” While hypocrisy is obviously a big deterrent, I think an even bigger reason people don’t choose Christianity is that we have created a religion that is really not that different from anything else in the world. The only thing that changes is the individual’s status, moving from the “Hell” column to the “Heaven” column.

What if we and everyone that reads this blog committed to modeling a truly different way for the world around us? Would lives and communities around us change? I’m afraid that taking this seriously, though, might mean taking seriously the thing that should strike fear in every comfortable, safety-oriented, “neat” American Christian (myself included) — following Christ.

gradgiation…OK, what now?

Steve's Graduation Blessing

I graduated yesterday.

I heard Pomp and Circumstance, wore a silly robe and hat, got “hooded” by Dana Hood (no joke), and posed for lots of pics. You can now call me Missionary and Artful Master Steve Holt Jr. (because I received my master’s of arts in missions) — kidding, kidding. Yesterday morning I, along with my classmates who are graduating, were commissioned and blessed by the faculty and our parents in a tradition that is probably about as close to ordination that the CofC gets. It was special, though.

“The Big Dance” went over without a hitch, except for the fact that I forgot to remove my black cardboard hat during a scriptural call to worship, and I was the only one out of 400 or so in Moody Coliseum with my hat on. It was cool, though. I was on the front row, close enough for Royce Money (the prez of ACU) to sweat on me while he was speaking (not really). Dr. Tony Ash, the commencement speaker, charged the graduates to “bring it on!” when it comes to a Christian example of peace, love, humility, etc. I was pumped up. I looked around at my fellow graduates at one point, however, and began to think, “I don’t deserve this master’s degree. That’s Travis Fry…man, what a smart cookie and awesome man of God! And that’s Adam Kirkland — he’s out of my league…” Paraphrasing Wayne and Garth, “I’m not worthy!”

The real fun, however, began at 3 p.m., when most of our close friends and family assembled in our backyard for an old-fashioned, meat-grilling, horseshoe-playing, sun-burning, conversation-having cookout. We have the best friends and family. Many of you are reading this as we speak. Please know how much we appreciate and love you. We would bear almost any burden you’d need us to carry, and we know the same is true for you.

OK, what now?

Well, I’m not out of the woods yet, academically. Monday I begin a Maymester class called History of Missions, and next Friday I begin a weeklong class called “Living in God’s Story: Spiritual Formation for the Missionary.” In total, three more weeks of academic work, to end on June 2.

June 3, we pack up all our stuff into a 5×10 U-Haul trailer, attach it to the borrowed Dodge Grocery-Getter my folks graciously lent us, and start driving east. We pick my folks up in Memphis, and we should be in Boston by the evening of Monday, June 5. It is unbelievable how soon that is. Though we will be sad to leave those friends (and some family) I mentioned earlier, we are ecstatic to have this opportunity to start over in our favorite city, joining God’s work there, a “work already in progress.”

Thanks to all of you who have been praying for us for the better part of two years. Thanks to you who have given us a pat on the back or a kind word of encouragement. Thanks to you who supported us in any way. You are appreciated and loved, and we couldn’t have done this without you. To God be the glory, though.

Keep praying…

Hank Hill goes church shopping

“I guess I can understand buying coffee in church, but do you really think Jesus recommends Nat King Cole?” — Hank Hill, King of the Hill

(press the “play” button at the bottom)

HT: Kelly