12 November 2007

NT Scholar's Take on Rob Bell

When I first read Rob Bell's book, Velvet Elvis, I read through it thinking, "This is great stuff. This really connects and has powerful connections between Jesus and placing Him back in the Jewish culture in which He spoke." However, I also thought, "I wonder how accurate this guy is on all this Jewish culture stuff. I wonder what a scholar would say about this book."

Just a couple months ago, I ran across just that. If you have read Velvet Elvis (or are interested in Rob Bell at all for that matter), please read through this blog post from Ben Witherington's blog. Dr. Witherington is a NT scholar and professor at Asbury Theological Seminary and is currently my professor for NT722 Exegesis of Romans. He has some interesting takes on Bell's book Velvet Elvis and the accuracy of Bell's reading of the first century Jewish culture. Witherington's basic conclusion on Bell is overall very positive, but still questions the accuracy of Bell's knowledge of ancient cultures.

11 November 2007

Love...without the mention of war

This morning, I went to worship at Southland Christian Church in Lexington, KY. This church is phenomenal! They have a size that rivals NewSpring (to give a comparison for those of my South Carolina friends) and at least as big of a heart if not bigger! The church is full of loving and compassionate people who are striving to live out a life of love for Jesus and humanity. I love the messages given by the senior pastor, Jon Weece. He truly has a passion and heart for serving Jesus and loving the people of this city and also around the world.

This Sunday particularly blew me away as he admitted to the struggle that he had in preparing this message. He said he struggled around three words in the book of Matthew and couldn't get away from them enough to write the message. He talked of the words that Matthew uses to say how the two sets of brothers by the sea (Peter/Andrew and James/John) reacted when Jesus asked them to follow him: "at once" and "immediately." At once they left their nets and boats and family to follow Jesus. Jon broke down on stage as he told of a dream he had last week and how it left him with a burning passion to go love the people that Jesus would love. So, at 4am, he left his house and went to a Hospice center at the hospital to visit with a young woman from the church who is dying. He then visited others in the hospital. Then he went downtown Lexington and stood on the street corner with a sign that said "FREE HUGS." He talked of a homeless woman who after he hugged her, said that he had done something for her in that hug that no one else has done for her in years. Jon began to weep on stage about how loving people is exactly it, about how that is exactly why Southland works and that is exactly why following Jesus matters. It all circles around to love.

Anyone in the auditorium who had kept at least some of their attention on Jon's message could see by now the combining of Jon's brokenness and joy as he told of these things and told of how he GETS to pastor the people of Southland. He GETS to hear stories from the fast food drive-thru workers about how everyday at least one person from Southland rolls through there and pays for the people behind them in line. He GETS to see the on-site warehouse that Southland has for their food drives among other ministries to the poor. This was a service with a powerful yet simple message of love spoken from a pastor who lived it out himself and truly had sold himself out to that message.

To make it even better, I realized this afternoon that today was Veteran's Day. This was one of the first times in my life that I was not reminded of this holiday in church,...and I was thankful for that. I was glad that there was no mention of it. I'm glad there was no memorial given for veterans in the congregation. I'm glad there were no patriotic songs that bordered on worshiping our nation rather than our King. I'm glad there were no national flags because our brothers and sisters in the kingdom of God stretch far beyond our nation's boundaries.

I know that this is unsettling for some who don't like my view. I also understand that I am probably reacting somewhat to the other side because of the nation-worship that I've experienced in churches while growing up. Please don't misunderstand me: I do feel like we who follow Jesus in America need to have a grateful heart for the freedom of worship that we have and the financial means that we have to live and live well compared to the rest of the world. However, the tendency of most American evangelical churches is to take it too far by almost worshiping our nation with patriotic songs and focusing on those who protect our nation. Again, I must clarify myself: I am NOT saying that I am against the military or war. Well...I am a pacifist. I can't get around it. I just can't see how, through the covenant in Jesus that I am under, I can willingly use violence. However, I also understand that I am an idealist. Living this way doesn't work in a fallen and decrepit world of greed and hate. I see war and the need for military as an unfortunate need at best. War is an unfortunately necessary means when trying to mold a world of hate into a world of peace (which won't be completed until Jesus' reign).

Seeing war as not something to glorify, but, instead, as a necessity to mourn, is why I don't like honoring it in worship services. We should be people who glorify God and pray for His peace, including praying for those who are seeking to bring peace to a broken world. Violence should never be honored, even if it is the means to bring peace. We can mourn the means to something even if good arises from it.

I'm glad that, instead of all those things, I was able to witness what I did this Sunday morning and to be moved in my own spirit to love at all costs.

Love God, Love People
because nothing else matters.

07 November 2007

Change of life...again...

I would have never thought that my plans would continually be thrown in the garbage after I left college. I thought I had everything all planned out. Everything was in its place. Everything was organized. Everything made sense. Everything was leading toward goals that I had. Now I have the faintest of ideas about where my life is going. I'll begin with graduating college and how nothing has gone as planned since. Here's the story:

I moved to my house in Wilmore, Kentucky at the end of May to begin my graduate degree at Asbury Theological Seminary in the fall. I started turning in applications EVERYWHERE and building my resume, but I didn't receive a single call back from ANYWHERE.

Then, I took a week to go back to SWU in early June to see Kindel before she traveled with 'The Difference' this summer. I also led a session with the ministry teams, teaching them some practical tips about life on the road from someone who has just done it for the last couple years. However, Palmer had gotten mono somehow, and it was decided on Wednesday night of that week that he wouldn't travel. Without a drummer, the band was in a bind. They were to leave for their first camp on Sunday. I met with them that night for a tearful night of prayer over the situation (not knowing what I was praying for...). That night, I went to bed not knowing what they would do and not allowing the consideration of joining with them for the summer to even simmer in my head for a second.
However, Thursday morning I woke up and joined the teams for the morning devotions. I can't tell you what Ken spoke about that morning. I was too much in unrest. As I sat down for devotions, the Spirit came and spoke to my heart, saying that I had to offer my summer to them. I don't know if there were many other moments in my life that I could say with such confidence that it was truly God asking me to do something, but this time I knew it was. As I physically squirmed in my seat in Bryant Lodge that morning, I mentally wrestled with God through the whole devotion. I kept saying, "God, I have my plans. I've moved my life. I'm done with this. I need to go to Kentucky. I want to get a job. I want to have my summer to start my life up there. I came down here for a week! They are leaving in THREE DAYS for a TEN WEEK SUMMER!!! I've never heard of a relationship that lasted through a summer of ministry team travel together! I don't want to risk that! THIS IS NOT WHAT I PLANNED!!!" [On a sidenote, if any of you know me well enough, you know that I am a total planner. I hate not knowing what's happening and I hate jumping into anything until it has been fully analyzed.] What was going on in my conscience was totally against any natural order to my personality and I was fighting it to the death. However, by the end of the devotion time, I accepted the death of my own desires and pulled Ken outside to give up my summer to help them. After some discussion with the team, I joined on the team and ended up receiving a decent pay for the summer (sometimes I wonder if I was never meant to find a job in Kentucky...?). I had a great summer with the team. I experienced some great times as well as some bad times (sinus infection and bronchitis for two weeks...). I grew a lot as a person, as a leader, and best of all, with Kindel.

So...then, after planning on only being away for a week, I finally made my way back to Kentucky in late August to start classes in September. As I got into classes, I had mixed feelings about it all. I was learning and classes were mostly interesting, but I was again at unrest with myself and my situation. I was becoming increasingly more miserable in full-time graduate school. Through some prayer, thought, conversations with trusted friends, and self-realizations, I came to realize something. I need people and I need something to do. What do I mean? Basically, I realized that while I was at SWU, it was all the people-oriented activities, ministry-oriented things, the serving, the loving on people, the conversations, the pouring into people and the musical endeavors that fed my soul and allowed me to tolerate the schoolwork when I didn't want to do it. While I was there, I think I took those things for granted and never realized their importance to my own joy and peace in life. Unfortunately, it had to take me submerging myself into a life consumed in books, lectures, and papers (with no time left for anything else) to realize that.

So...that leads me to now. What am I going to do about it?

At the end of this semester, I am moving away from Wilmore, KY. In mid-December, I will be moving into a house with Brady and Jarred Mann in Liberty, SC. Brady is now the youth pastor at Smith Chapel Wesleyan and they are giving him the parsonage to live in. I WILL be continuing my degree at Asbury, but it will be through Asbury's online campus and will only be on a part-time basis (5-6 hours a semester and summer). As of right now, I am not quite sure what work I will do. Truly, I feel that I need a lighter semester to do some self-awareness thinking and such. I am working on finding work that will be minimal, such as working at a coffee shop or something and maybe leading worship somewhere as well. I'm in conversation with Buddy Rampey (District Superintendent of the SC district of the Wesleyan Church) about possibly doing some church planting work in the future (personally, I've had some ideas about going into Greenville...focusing into the greater downtown area, but who knows...).

Somehow, despite my psycho-planner personality and usually defining my worth by my work (typical male style), I have peace about this move. In all good conscience, I have no clear direction to go anywhere else or do anything else and I feel like I am making the best decision I can with the information and possibilities set before me. I think that God is a God who knows my heart's desire to do my best for Him and will honor that if I am truly making the best decision, out of good intentions, with what I know and have in front of me.

If you know of anything down that way that could help me out in getting work, please let me know. Otherwise, please lift up a prayer for me at some point. I need it as I'm attempting to stay dependent upon God through this.