Thursday, August 30, 2007

Hip check!

In Kung Fu, all sharp parts of the body are of potential use in combative techniques. The fists, elbows, knees and feet are obvious weapons, but even the shoulders and forehead have there place as well. Among the the lesser known weapons of the body are the hip joints. Used properly, they can create a sharp blow to an opponents thigh, the pain of which can be quite distracting, opening up opportunities for combative advantage. In addition, the projection of one's weight through such a hip blow can unbalance and opponent, also creating opportunities for other finishing blows. This technique is often summarized as simply "the hip check."

In essence, one uses their hips to "check" the opponent's movements or strikes, reversing the combat initiative. Having never developed fatty layers to my thighs up to this point in life (at 38 years old I could start any day now), hip checks have been a fluid part of my fighting style. Many a sparring partner has been the unfortunate recipient of my "hip check," launching them across the room or unkindly inflicting the torturous "Charlie-horse." In sparring with Mr. Ott, many a partner has become wary of the "hip bones of death."

How ironic then, that our recent examination of Jacob's life in Genesis 32 would reveal a crippling blow to his hip. His struggle with God left him a changed man in how he walked, how he was known by name and how he saw God's work in his life. I can identify with such physical struggles as Jacob engaged in, only instead of delivering a blow with his hip he received a blow to his hip. What would have been an advantage for me was a target on him.

Could it be that skills I consider advantages might be targeted by God to be radically changed? If God struck my hip, what would become of my fighting style? More probably, if God decided to radically change me in some way that I think works just fine now, where would that leave me? Have I so blurred identity and activity that I do not trust God to change me anyway he chooses? Do I trust God to take my "advantages" and turn them into memorials of his instruction?

The reversal seems most poetic. The calling to become a pastor is a clear "hip check" from God upon me. Flying across the room and crumbling to the floor as my left left goes numb, I stare in awe at the Lord Jesus Christ who, having now demonstrated this strange and mysterious technique to me, helps me up and explains, "Your stance was too high. You were off balance. You had that coming." I receive his soft rebuke, and pay close attention. With compassion and instructive genius he continues, "That was called the 'hip check.' Pay attention. You've entered a new phase. There's much more to learn." Rubbing the forming bruise on my left hip, I'm riveted to his every word.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Office "hours" or Adventure hours

Only after two days on the job as senior pastor of Genesis Community Church I can see that this is the quintessential lifestyle-vocation. I explained to a friend recently that I can see how, as a pastor, there may be times when you're seemingly more "on the clock," but you're never really "off the clock." Just since Sunday I have noticed that the duties one takes on in order to assimilate into the new church community (you get to know them and they get to know you), in addition to constructing a teaching/preaching plan and jumping into the "business" of the church can and will occur at all hours of the day. Set business hours are somewhat irrelevant. What arbitrary setting of work hours could account for softball Sunday evenings, coffee on Tuesday mornings, pastoral rendezvous at lunchtime, cell phones calls, emails and errands?

It is not necessarily alarming, just a paradigm all its own. This will be further complicated when I can set up meetings with people with the frequency I desire, for I thrive on seeing people face to face...against my will I succumbed to pressure and purchased a cell phone ;-)

Nevertheless, I can now see that great discipline is necessary both to develop a productive schedule (there is no boss hovering over to make sure the work is done), and to create those times when one is not "at work." The former is less difficult since I am intensely active by default. The latter appears more difficult. It is made so because at present, my work office and my office at home are one in the same. This very day I had to inform my children that the closed office door will be their visual queue that I'm "working" in a manner than must not be interrupted (as opposed to my normal practice of leaving it open because I rather enjoy their interruptions). How grateful I am for my Franklin-Covey planner.

As time goes on the schedule will become more dependable (though not necessarily routine). Tuesdays and Thursdays will look like this; Wednesdays and Fridays will look like that. Naomi will have an idea as to what nights I might pick to spontaneously invite people over. But in any case, the old slogan for the U.S. Navy appears to be appropriate for the pastor's lifestyle: It's not just a's an adventure.

Far from lending itself to becoming a predictable rut, the pastoral schedule appears to maintain such a level of variety in tasks, times and people as to qualify for the category labeled "adventure." For this reason, I am quite excited about what God has embarked me on, knowing that although it can include "office hours," it is more accurate to suggest that this vocation calls for the work "hours" of adventure.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Unprayed Desires

"Delight yourself also in the Lord, And He shall give you the desires of your heart." - Psalm 37:4 (NKJV)

This verse is often quoted to suggest two competing interpretations. On the one hand, some have suggested that God will grant whatever your heart desires. The power of positive thinking is invoked as people try to focus their attention into such laser-like precision that the powers that be (God I suppose) will acknowledge the intensity of one's desire and grant it on that merit alone. Many fine businesses have been built on this premise. "When you want it badly enough, you'll make it happen" goes the refrain.

Another interpretation, though, seeks to be more piously minded when approaching this concept of one's desires. Because it is acknowledged that we have the capacity to desire rather unproductive things, the caveat is always supplied that "so long as one's desires are in accordance with God's will." Though rightly cautious against entertaining a prosperity theology, it performs a differing yet also unhelpful service of launching people into a frantic expedition to discovery God's will so that they will have desires in accordance with it. Many a well meaning Christian has had undue anxiety inflicted upon them with the charge to uncover God's hidden will (since he seems to so maliciously conceal it).

To my mind, Psalm 37:4 calls attention more to the activity of God's granting over the believer's desiring. The desiring of the believer appears rather passive by contrast. The imperative rests in the first clause: "Delight yourself in the Lord." My obligation is to actively perform the delighting, not the desiring. God knows my deepest desires. He does not require my little reminders (like a child approaching Christmas thinking my parents will forget what my favorite toy in the store was).

The great irony is that he seems to enjoy granting (at least in my experience) the deep, deep desires of the heart; not the flighty whims that popped into my mind during the last commercial break of the Superbowl. There are desires that I have and can voice out loud. But then again, there are those desires that I hold so deeply and dearly that, in my depravity, I won't trust even God with them. Those are the desires I keep hidden, safe, locked away and secret. Things I want so badly that if I were to actually ask God for them, and he said "no," I'd be devastated.

Don't get me wrong. I pray for things all the time, but typically (if I'm honest) they come from a list of requests marked "spiritually deep enough sounding to get everyone off my back." The real desires, the secret longings, the internal aching for fulfillment in some category most often doesn't escape my lips. These are the "un-prayed" desires - the longings that we know we should trust God with but sin and depravity holds us back.

I didn't spend 5 minutes praying about coming to Dallas Theological Seminary. Oh I talked to God about the desire to teach, to be among mentors and have an impact among peers. But DTS was too great, too cool and too ideal for me to even ask God for it (SICK!). When I stood on campus for the first time, having just met with my mentor-through-the-mail Dr. Howard G. Hendricks, I knew my "unprayed" desire had been known by God and granted all the same. I felt the shame of having kept something from him that he'd known all along, apparently had intended to grant, but would have liked to have talked with me about. What intimacy did I miss out on with the Father by keeping those deep longings un-prayed? I felt the same thing years earlier when given the chance to become a kung fu instructor. He granted desires of mine that I had thought too deep to pray about. Oh the intimacy with the Father through the Spirit I had forfeited.

Now here I am again. Newly appointed as the senior pastor for Genesis Community Church, perceiving that God has granted desires for community impact and disciple development that I had longed for for years but never (and I mean never) prayed for. Oh I've prayed much more during the past few months to be be sure. Entering into the candidate process was a big clue to me that these desires must not remain "unprayed." Nevertheless, before that I never once prayed that God would appoint me as a pastor of a church in a community such as ours. He looked deeper into me than I care to look, extracted the desires that I'm uncomfortable with exposing and showed himself sovereign over my "unprayed" desires. His habit of knowing me so well, and granting the desires that I should have trusted him with, motivate me to delight in him all the more.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Would Jesus Play Poker?

We picked up the kids at the airport last night, drove home and heard their stories about the adventures they enjoyed while in California with my parents. It wasn't long though until we jumped right into a game of poker together. While the kids were away I purchased a folding table to set up for game nights with family or guests. It's designed as a poker table, with green felt and cup folders, but it can serve as a game table for any of the collection of board games we have. Such is our commitment to fun in the house.

As we all sat around the table last night, placing bets, calling bluffs and hearing more vacation stories it occurred to me the importance of what we were doing. Such a (money-less) game that called us around the table actually performs much more than all the chips can add up to. It's another way (albeit non-culinary) to bring people, who should be connecting in a healthy relational way, around that most magical of all household furniture: the table. The table seems to have been infused with mystical abilities to facilitate relating among those who ought to be drawing close anyway.

Consider that the table was the centerpiece of worship furniture for the Christian Church up to the Enlightenment (when it was replaced by the pulpit as western thought reasoned that people needed persuasion more than they needed fellowship). Think of the continued power of the table in the beer halls of Germany, the pubs of the UK, the homes of Asia and the coffeehouses of the U.S. Even the health of the nuclear family is often evidenced through how they use the table in their home to foster familial love. The table's power has transcended time, culture, language and social status. One loses count, when perusing the Gospels, of all the times people enjoy significant moments with Jesus Christ around a table. Whether having him as a guest for dinner, for a wedding or sharing Passover with him, Jesus used the table as a kingdom-building tool.

When I reflect on the significance of the evening I had in late July with the men of Cedar Ridge Bible Church (Royse City, TX) during an evening of poker, the power of the table appears demonstrated anew. We had such a fun time, sharing life narratives, joking about each others' quirks and developing deeper friendships. Male relatability needs help in our present culture since ours is not one in which community hunts, barn raisings or harvests are the norm. Therefore, God in his grace causes games to be invented that call people around the table, to experience its relational magnetism. Now I know that some would object to poker because of its use in gambling, which some can grow into a destructive vice. Nevertheless, the power of the table cannot be ignored.

In light of all of this, one can imagine Jesus around such a table, using all of its potential to build relationships for the glory of God and the advancement of the kingdom. I can easily picture Jesus engaging such fun, betting early and often to keep things exciting. I might think twice, though, about staring down the Son of God and wouldn't even try to bluff him into folding out.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Father on "Pause"

My kids are almost home! Naomi and I will go pick them up at DFW International Airport on Wednesday night. They've just spent a month with my parents in Sacramento, CA. Whew! That's a long time. We've gotten occasional phone calls in which they described their latest adventures with my parents. The last week there they spent on the houseboat on Shasta Lake. We're glad they had such a grand time of it, and grateful that my parents would provide them with such significant summer experiences.

For the first two weeks they were gone, Naomi and I revelled in the time alone (going out, sleeping in, talking long over coffee or just relaxing in quiet bliss). During the third week we started noticing how quiet the house was, and that the dogs were not great conversationalists. Now in the fourth week we've missed them pretty intensely. We're very ready to be parents again. It's not as though we were not parents while they were gone, but that the side of our psyche which is always on when children are present (the parent consciousness) seemed on "pause" for a time.

The truth is that parenting is not a "selfless" job at all. On the contrary, once you have made children, and committed to rearing them into healthy adults that love Jesus Christ as you do, your soul is strangely ministered to by having them as the outlet of your parental instincts. It's not merely that my children need a father, but it is also that as a father I need my children. Without them, what will become of those fatherly instincts that have become so intertwined with my soul? It's as though the myriad collection of fatherly instincts cultivated in me by the Spirit, to fulfill my calling at home, is on "pause" while they're away.

I suspect this is why so many parents obsess over their children, clinging too tightly to them, granting little freedom for exploration and discovery. They claim that their children are that in need of structure, regimen and rules. This may very well be, but it is also worth examining whether that parent is strong enough to bear being on "pause." Many are not, instead electing to hover over their offspring well into their adult years. Such emotional umbilical chords preserved long after their time are the result of two related crises of faith: (1) under-developed trust in God to parent their children in their absence and (2) under-developed trust in God to supply other affirmations of their parental instincts through other means (ministry, mentoring, coaching, etc.). To the first crisis I would invite those parents to trust God with their children more, realizing that while they play a key role in his parenting of them, they are not the sole source of their child's training. To the second crisis I would offer the example of parents who have had the "pain of the empty nest" anesthetized by involvement in the lives of others who need their wisdom too.

Some may justifiably counter that my theories have yet to be tested with having successfully reared three teens into productive adulthood who also serve Christ in their respective fields (the goal of every Christian parent). I admit to only recently had my first child enter her teen years. Nevertheless, having been a student to parents whose offspring now serve Christ as healthy adults, I am confident that their wisdom plays out even in my situation. Even with this said I must admit to enjoying being a father. I enjoy my children and am charged by watching their development. For this reason I'm quite ready to have the fatherliness of my soul taken off "pause."

Monday, August 20, 2007

"I believe the term you're looking for is..."

As the time approaches in which exists the very real possibility of being the senior pastor of a church, Naomi has asked me what I'll think when addressed as "pastor" for the first time. Not quite seriously I've told her that my instinct will be to answer that person with "I believe the term you're looking for is 'Chief Instructor'." The reason for this instinct is becasue "Chief Instructor" is a label I've worn before and am therefore familiar with. While plenty of ministry experience has played out for me in churches, the bulk of my shepherding tendencies were cultivated as a chief instructor at Temple Kung Fu in Washington and North Valley Kung Fu in California.

The responsibilities of a chief instructor included, but were not limited to: personally teaching private lessons, teaching group workouts (Skill class, Kung Fu club and Sparring Club), managing studio finances, counseling students on training plans, advertising the studio, school involvement in the community, and training junior instructors to duplicate teaching efforts. Certainly these are not all of a chief instructor's responsibilities; nor do they appear an exact one-to-one correspondence with pastoral responsibilties. However, in many cases the parallels can be striking, and I witnessed those parallels while serving in churches in California, Washington and now Texas.

For this reason the title "Chief Instructor" still feels familiar, while any other seems foreign. It also has not helped that I have had a very different image in my mind as to what manner of man can be a pastor. Previous exposure to men that I would call true shepherds of God's flock have dominated my thinking, leaving the intimidating impression that failure to match the ideal will somehow sink God's ship called the "H.M.S. Christian Church." The picture of the perfect pastor/shepherd has been hanging on the wall of my mind, offering the constant intimidation of how much I don't mirror it.

But God doesn't call pictures into ministry though...he calls people. So I'm left with the choice of either to tear up the picture, or tear up the person. Some might justify tearing up the person, claiming a pious sense of proactive humility; but that is essentailly a vote of no-confidence in the church's ability to call a pastor, discern his makeup and acknowledge how the Spirit assembles a local church body. For this reason it is most reasonable to submit to the Spirit's call to ministry, differences with the pastoral "picture" notwithstanding. Moreover, if the Spirit calls, then he does so with full knowledge of how he has gone about preparing the one he calls to ministry.

The answer appears to be then, to submit to the Spirit's call to service, to trust his ability to guide a church in selecting their leadership and to trust that he has sovereignly prepared me up to this moment. For this reason, it is better to trust the manner in which God has brought me to this place than to attempt matching the "picture." Continued refinement is necessary to be sure, but not to the point of attempting an artificial persona that probably the Spirit has supplied the church with someone else to fulfill. In this way, perhaps it is appropriate to, with grace and patience, correct the "pastor" address with "I believe the term you're looking for is...Chief Instructor."

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Educational "business" trip

Last week my supervisor at my work for the DTS library, Chris Woodall, and I drove to Houston to bring books for a new research lab for the Houston extension campus of Dallas Theological Seminary (adjacent to the College of Biblical Studies). While in Houston, we stayed at the home of Chris' long time friend Paul R. Shockley. Paul is an assistant professor of theology at CBS and is completing his Ph.D. in Philosophy at Texas A & M University. His family was a delight and the hospitality of him and his wife were unparalleled. It was the conversations we had, however, that had the most lasting impression. I was the recipient of the wisdom he had developed through not only his Th.M. training at DTS, but also his philosophy education at Texas A & M.

It seemed that there was seldom an assertion I could make about God, humankind or reality without Paul pointing out that my position was based on a series of assumptions that I was not aware I was laden with, nor was able to defend. He was gracious and patient, never scolding for lacking his philosophical prowess. Instead, he labored on through our conversation well into the night (both Wednesday and Thursday), defining terms, summarizing theories and offering context to key figures. Ethics, aesthetics and social theory were stimuli into meaningful banter. Correspondence theory helped shape the framework for a Christian epistemology whereby we know the truth of God at all. I can seldom claim to have been challenged in my thinking to that extent. It was refreshing.

The most profound impact from the trip was to inspire me toward greater philosophical study, exploring the constructs with which we organize our categories of truth and knowledge. Paul recommended several books to seek out to better understand the concepts of "natural law" and the manner in which God has written on the human heart instincts to recognize his order. I have some reading ahead of me.

It is unfortunate how often Christians consider that faith must be somehow antithetical to reason. It is argued hotly among theologians whether reason can lead someone to faith, but all agree that faith must not equal the suspension of reason. Just as my great love for my wife fuels my drive to understand her with cognitive wisdom, so also a Christian's love for God should excite their thirst for his revelation and the world he has made. The example of Ravi Zacharias is a positive one to follow.

I am one who holds that one cannot be brought to faith by reason; for what arguments for faith can work on one who is "dead" in transgression and sin (Eph 2:1)? However, in the mystery of sharing the gospel the Spirit illumines the spiritually blind, makes animate the inanimate, and causes the unperceptive to behold the beauty of the risen Christ. For this reason and with this understanding, philosophy appears a very useful category of sharing the gospel to an unbelieving world who often have constructed their main objections to faith on philosophical foundations.

For the sake of the gospel, and so that Christians would be strengthened in knowing the "assumptions" of their faith, I am alarmingly grateful for my time spent with Paul Shockley over two days. In the future, I hope to be much better prepared to talk with Christian brothers, or even those yet to enter the faith, about the reasons for my faith and hope in Jesus Christ. The trip to Houston may have been for the sake of DTS library business, but for me the real work began whenever Paul and I sat down over coffee to open up another topic.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Responsible Power or the Power to Respond

It has long been wondered by many how it is that humanity can be so destructive. The societal ills that have been perpetuated by people up to this very day remain a mystery to those anthropological positivists that assert that civilization is getting better and evolving upward. Outside sources cannot be blamed. These ills have human catalysts at all of there roots. Though technology has certainly progressed, allowing fewer to destroy more; people, in general, are as destructive with their power as they have ever been. This is well explained by the Christian doctrine of universal depravity. Not only are all humans touched by the effects of the great Fall, but all aspects of the human condition are wrecked by it as well; meaning that people are essentially and unchangeably bad apart from divine grace.

Contrastingly, the human capacity for gentleness, kindness, honor, respect and service (supplied solely from God as a vein of his common grace) has remained by and large steady as well. Thus humans possess either destructive ability under their own power, or constructive power supplied by God. The common factor between the two streams of human tendency is the capacity for power created into the human condition. The question is not then, “is that person powerful?” The correct question is, “does that person use their power responsibly?” Or more specifically, “do they use their power to respond in the most helpful possible way to the need directly before them?”

Any that have been married, or had children, know what it is to wield such power. One does not need to live with another person long before observing that the wrong words or right words can have almost immediate effects revealing what manner of power was projected (to build up or tear down, for constructive or destructive ends). In like manner, other situations present themselves everyday in which the use of one’s power is called upon. The negative use of power can gain one an advantage, acquire wealth, reputation or renown. However, the positive use of power in the same scenario can bless the recipient, build up loved ones, redeem a broken relationship or heal a wounded heart.

As I go about my daily activities, I find that opportunities for the use of power are manifold. The college student serving me coffee, the single mom ringing up my groceries, the young man needing a mentor’s encouraging word and the older patron at the post office needing help picking up that box are all possible recipients of the positive use of my power. Christians are simply more aware of the power created within people to bless and serve others around them.

If Christians are more powerful in anyway, it is in their awareness that the needs exist, and that they have, through training, practice and the enabling of the Spirit, learned to wield power over themselves as well. They wield power to suppress their own lethargy, their own fear and capacity for complacency. All humans have the duty to exercise responsible power, but only those who, through training, practice and accountability, (and particularly when enabled by the Spirit) develop the power to respond. It is my hope that as a Christian, I will wield such power over myself as to remain aware of opportunities for service in front of me, and then have such discipline as to use my power for the most constructive outcome possible. Ultimately, I don’t have great faith in myself to carry out such ideals, which is why I am so totally reliant on the use of the God’s power to work through me that which I was created so powerful for in the first place.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

The Liberation of Transparency

As I continue in a process of being examined for pastoral leadership, I have increasing seen the truth displayed that the transparent life is liberated from the concern over being found out. It calls attention to the legacy passed down from the medieval practice of confession. Confession was not invented by the Roman Catholics. It is a practice that has its roots in James 5:16 (“So confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed.”). Healed from what?

Applications can abound, but one area of healing I have observed and experienced is liberation from the bondage of secrecy. Secrecy in one’s life can fertilize the snaking kudzu of sin that wraps and chokes out the healthier blossoms of decency purposefully planted by the Master Gardener. Secrecy feeds the shame and addiction of unwanted sins that glom onto the soul, creating abhorrent barriers between where one’s life and how close they perceive God to be. Is there any greater victory for the enemy than the secret life of the addicted Christian leader?

For this reason the ancient practice of confession is wisely resurrected from its historic tomb, and recognized as far too valuable a practice to be relegated to pre-reformation traditions. The life characterized by confession enjoys what I call “the Teflon effect” (less stuff sticks to you). Confession is not then merely an event, but a lifestyle. It’s a transparent life that offers the enemy no quarter in his constant struggle to produce results in the believer’s life best kept under wraps. The transparent life is liberated from the bondage of secrecy that shames people into the shadows, keep the elephant firmly in the room and steps around whatever was swept under the rug.

The liberation of transparency is not only psychological, contributing to a refreshing healing of the soul made sick with secret shame, but also theological. The myriad negative effects of one’s felt-distance from God can never be fully tracked. The example of the first couple is sufficient to remember the effects of sins which need covering up, producing instincts to hide from the Divine presence. Confession strikes a devastating blow at the enemy’s efforts to bring us to a place where we say to God “I heard You nearby…I was afraid because I was exposed…so I hid from You” (Gen 3:10 paraphrased). Embrace the wisdom of James 5:16. Be liberated by transparency from the bondage of secrecy. Secrecy is the proverbial Petri dish in which sin grows to lethal strength. The transparent life allows no such opportunity for sin to bind up the servant of Jesus Christ, but instead liberates them to become what God intends for His purpose of reaching the world.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The Noble Order of Christian Servants

The Noble Order of Christian Servants (NOCS) is a training system of Christian discipleship that was first conceived as a result of the closing of North Valley Kung Fu in 1999. The martial arts school that I owned and ran in Redding, CA was coming to an end and needed to transition into a training method that could continue in homes and churches. The new training system needed to acknowledge how unsuccessfull I had been at merely teaching the Art, instead always gravitating toward using the Art as a means for promoting evangelism and Christian growth. Attempts to teach merely kung fu regularly gave way to discipleship opportunities and challenges for believers to grow in Christian character and kingdom intensity.

Eventually it was acknowledged that God had not built me to teach both separately (kung fu and the Christian life), but instead as an integrated system that blended the highest ideals of Christian service and "protective stewardship." Therefore, from then on any who desired to learn the Art would also find themselves entering into a Christian discipline as well, or not at all. I simply will not return to teaching the Art by itself ever again.

As former students of North Valley Kung Fu continued to meet and train, it was agreed that a rather idealistic discipline had begun which called for even loftier goals (romanticizing the medieval concepts of knighthood in addition to the Art's heritage of the Shaolin priest). For this reason we began referring to fully trained participants (who blended protective ability with Christian service) as "Guardians" (one member joked that the term "Guardian" was adopted because the label "Jedi" was taken). Nevertheless, a Guardian became, by our definition, one who was sufficiently trained in both protective and ministerial ability to be of useful service to those around them, in addition to (of course) remaining committed to a lifestyle of continuing training and growth so that they will not stagnate.

Guardians may not take positions of vocational ministry in the Church, but they are active, teachable and able to make a contribution to the Body of Christ, strengthening her. Guardians may not be experts in martial arts, but their skills have been recognized by the NOCS community as useful to provide protective service for those who's safety they are stewards of. Northern California and Seattle, WA have Guardians with whom I trained and continue to render service in their respective communities. Whenever I offer a martial arts ministry in a local church, I do so looking mainly for who will be become a NOCS apprentice that can grow to be a "Guardian" for their circle of responsibility. Will it be you?

Monday, August 6, 2007

Occasionally Childless

This summer has been like last summer in that my children are spending a month with their grandparents in California, and are they ever having a fun time of it. My parents have taken them on several outings already, fulfilling the summertime dreams of travel and adventure. My wife and I are glad that the kids have such an opportunity and are making the most of it.

In the meantime, we have the house to ourselves, save the two dogs that sleep next to the bed. This occasional “childlessness” has offered us an opportunity to diligently work on the quality of our marriage. Oh we miss the children to be sure, but since we were not married for long before having the first child (the oldest was born 3 days after our first anniversary), we crave the time alone facilitated by the generosity of my parent’s keeping the kids for a month.

The evenings out, the weekend afternoons spent browsing, the coffee conversations have all been a much needed and refreshing break from the routine. This has been especially felt on the eve of our 14th wedding anniversary. Because weeknights can be problematic for unhurried romantic evenings, I spent the weekend arranging special moments for us. We browsed stores, took in a movie, felt the breeze on the lake shore and enjoyed fine dining. It was a rejuvenating reminder that we are indeed married, not simply a legally bound couple who coordinate their efforts in rearing children in the same house.

It must not be misunderstood that this state which allows such marital focus somehow diminishes missing the children. On the contrary, I look forward anew to the banter with my daughter, plus the antics and energy of my boys. Nevertheless, the value cannot be calculated on the time spent alone with my wife nurturing a healthy relationship that does not require children for its cohesion. In this way, we try to make the most of being “occasionally childless.”

Friday, August 3, 2007

A Faculty of One

While attending Dallas Theological Seminary I have come to observe, and as a result passionately confess, that all education of the believer, whether formal or informal, has as its source the Holy Spirit. This would seem obvious to any who confess that God is the source of all, including training and growth toward Christ-like character and service. However, over time it can be tempting for some to begin unconsciously assuming that the source of their education is the human source in front of them (be it personal or institutional). They are, of course, not entirely inaccurate, for human instruments are integral to the Spirit’s process. The unconscious error occurs though to the degree that one begins losing their realization that the Spirit works through both formal and informal, personal or institutional means to train them into that which they must become. In this regard, the Spirit is the consistent educator using any and all means as the teaching tools of His “trade.” The seminary is to the Spirit what a chalkboard is to the math teacher. The mentoring relationship is to the Spirit what the Bunsen burner is to the science teacher. He is the grand unifying Instructor behind all learning moments in the believer’s life.

Not long ago, the U.S. Army ran a recruitment campaign that included the slogan “an Army of one.” The Army was seeking to create the image that it was made strong by the strength within any one of its soldiers. A fine American notion to be sure; however, the slogan has the inaccuracy of seeming to promote individualism within a system where individuality can have devastating results. Far from being an incubator for individualism, the Army must act as a fully integrated and cohesive team in order to accomplish its goals. The veneration of the individual is antithetical to Army values. This perhaps explains why it was discarded as a slogan for the U.S. Army.

For Christians, the veneration of individual believers within the Church can be equally destructive to their cause. On the contrary, they are most integrated and cohesive in their collective veneration of the Individual that links and trains them: The Holy Spirit. For this reason it appears a better use of the Army’s original slogan to venerate the One source of all training enjoyed by believers throughout time and around the world. Therefore, it is far more accurate for believers everywhere to confess they are all being trained and grown by “A Faculty of One.”

The application of this realization to me has been one of trust in the Spirit’s ability to use all of my teachable moments in His training curriculum. Whether in the formal training of an institution’s classrooms, or in the informal training of mentoring relationships, the entire scope of my training has enjoyed “A Faculty of One.” This is of particular comfort as I approach entry into a ministry role I had not anticipated for myself. I have previously not sought extensive formal education to prepare for executing a pastoral function, mainly because I found the appointment of such a post so improbable. However, now that such a post appears highly probable I am forced to reexamine previous years of training for whatever the Spirit has taught me about pastoral ministry in whatever environment He has done so.

Peering back across my experiences in churches, being mentored by pastors and even the degree I have been attentive to professors’ pastoral wisdom reveals that the Faculty of One has been quite active throughout my years in training me for this moment. I cannot credibly maintain that my education has been devoid of pastoral training considering how much the Spirit has already been active with His customize curriculum for me. It is no more customized for me than it is for all believers in whom the Spirit dwells, but the comfort of that customization is freshly resent to me, given special applicability by the task I approach now. In this way, such comfort even allows for a fresh re-interpretation of past training and experience to see how the Spirit was actively preparing for present tasks as well. Would that more believers gaze on the panorama of their life experiences, formal and informal, personal and institutional, and be comforted that preparation for their participation in the mission of God was always being divinely arranged by “a Faculty of One.”

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Married to a pastor's Wife

The ongoing debate regarding women in ministry among Evangelical circles tends to showcase voices from mainly two camps: the complementarian and egalitarian views of gender in religious functions. To summarize these two views, complementarianism and egalitarianism agree in the equality of the sexes. Both consider that male and female Christians share equal intrinsic value in Christ to the kingdom of God. Both also acknowledge intrinsic differences between the sexes that allow the respective sexes to uniquely reflect the Image of God. Where they differ is in their answers to the question: Do these differences inherent to either maleness of femaleness translate into any difference of religious function?

The egalitarian answer, in a nutshell, is “no.” The equality that is won by Christ for all of those who have trusted Him for salvation, are indwelled by the Spirit, are enlisted into His mission and will be taken to Heaven someday translates fully into religious activity. For this reason, it is asserted that religious hierarchal structures ought not to allow gender to factor into authority selection at all. To do so is to deny the necessary affect that theology is to have on reality, and perpetuate inequalities that the giving of the Spirit to all believers is intended to shatter. Galatians 3:28 supports this view by seeming to abolish former distinctions like Jew and Gentile, slaves or freemen as well as male and female. They do not deny that these distinctions exist, but are to have no effect on declarations of religious value of people.

On the other hand, complementarians affirm the equality of the sexes while acknowledging that differences between them do indeed translate into difference of religious function (thus they “complement” one another). They argue that a comprehensive survey of biblical literature, not simply select proof texts, reveal a simultaneous equality of the sexes and difference of function in religious activity and spiritual responsibility. Egalitarians may accuse them of double-talk, suggesting that spiritual value and spiritual responsibility are linked. Complementarians, however, are un-phased. They instead argue that it is reminiscent of the Gnostic tendency to separate material and spiritual realities to suggest that the physiological and psychological differences that exist between men and women have no spiritual effect. On the contrary, it is the worst type of identity crises to confuse areas of responsibility with one’s value. If Jesus has already declared that “the first will be last” and that “one who is great must be the servant,” kingdom ethics would seem to dictate a converse relationship between responsibility over people and intrinsic value to the kingdom. Since this is not the reasonable path, any relationship between function and value for believers of Jesus Christ must be discarded.

As one who holds the complementarian view, I not only confess that diverse spiritual responsibilities are delegated to believers, but that gender affects that delegating act of the Spirit. Are these responsibilities grouped in categories that overlays them on spiritual gifts, such that gifts and functions are synonymous? I argue “no.” Many have similar gifts that are used in myriad functional roles. Likewise, many have similar functions but are aided in the execution of those functions by diverse gifts. They are not synonymous. For this reason, many teachers are pastors, but also are leaders of small groups, teachers of children and speakers to demographically specific groups at conferences and camps. However, not all pastors are gifted teachers, but some are gifted in hospitality, comforting or administration. Therefore, it does not follow that if there are functions delegated specifically to men or women because of their gender that spiritual gifts have somehow been unevenly distributed. On the contrary, one may be delegated an area of spiritual responsibility that translates into a religious function, yet esteem another as more gifted who was not delegated that responsibility.

Such is my view of my wife.

Because I was born male, the responsibility for spiritual leadership in my home falls to me. The Spirit is quite capable of accomplishing proper spiritual direction for my family without my responsive participation in His leadership stream. This scenario is seen often in homes where single mothers must rear children in a Christian worldview. However, the thrust of Ephesians chapter 5 appears to be the preferred paradigm of men serving their families with sacrificial Christ-likeness. Therefore, it falls to me to serve my family in a way that models Christ’s self-sacrificing leadership regardless if I esteem my wife as more “spiritual” than me (which I do).

I also am entering a vocational religious function, which carries spiritual responsibility for a community of faith. How ironic that, because I will serve as the pastor, some will esteem that role as more spiritual and gifted merely by virtue of the office. However, they may not have a corresponding esteem for my wife because she is either not holding the office, or simply because she is a woman (confusing delegation of the office by the Spirit with intrinsic spiritual giftedness to execute it). They would not understand, then, how giftedness, function and value all serve different truths. They would not perceive correctly that they are of equal value in Christ, gifted by the Spirit to be useful to the kingdom and delegated a specific function that they must uniquely fulfill.

The final irony is that my wife is given a measure of identity within the community from her marriage to me. The pastor is esteemed, at least the office, to a degree that he serves as a prefix for relatives’ titles (i.e. pastor’s wife, pastor’s kids, etc.). Though I am delegated by the Spirit the function of spiritual leadership for a local church, the truth is that I continue to esteem my wife as one to look up to in spiritual maturity and depth. This may sound like “code” language for egalitarianism, suggesting that my wife has just as much “right” to the pastoral office as I do. On the contrary, it is the very essence of complementarianism to realize that neither sex has a “right” to a religious function since the responsibility for executing it is delegated by the Spirit. In addition though, if the religious function of pastoral leadership for a church is delegated to men only (as complementarians believe), then it behooves that pastor to serve that community (especially those in his home) by recognizing their spiritual giftedness and maturity, and esteem their capabilities accordingly, even if it results in looking “up” to any of them. For this reason, instead of introducing her as “the pastor’s wife,” it would perhaps be more reflective of the spiritual “muscle” between the two of us to introduce myself as “married to the pastor’s wife.”