Last weekend, I attended a conference in Rockville, Maryland – where it was sunny and hot, nearly 90 degrees! – hosted by the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation. As their website says, “Shalem is grounded in Christian contemplative spirituality yet draws on the wisdom of many religious traditions.” I would guess, simply based on observation, that the vast majority of the 150+ attendees to this conference are Christians, but they practice Christianity in a way that is a bit different than how you and I usually practice it.

I attended this conference in order to fulfill a requirement for my current Doctor of Ministry “independent study” course. I designed this course a few months ago, in consultation with my supervising professor, in order to propel me forward into the Professional Project which will be the culmination, the capstone, of my doctoral work. According to the seminary’s instructions, my independent study was to include an “immersion experience” which would connect to this Professional Project and, at the same time, would stretch me in some meaningful, significant ways. Last weekend’s Shalem conference did exactly that. Continue reading

March is well-known in the sports world for being the time of “March Madness,” when over sixty college basketball games are packed into three weekends.  Over the years, I have enjoyed filling out a bracket for fun and watching how most of my predictions turn out to be completely wrong.  And I’ve grown an appreciation for the pace, tempo, and energy of that kind of game.

But nothing in the sports world compares to my love of baseball.

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This Sunday, Pastor David preached from 1 Corinthians 2, a chapter which emphasizes God’s secret wisdom and the role his Spirit plays in revealing that wisdom to the people of God.  What kinds of mysteries do we encounter in our faith, and how can they change our lives?  Listen in to this week’s sermon, and join the conversation!

Listen now!

Today, Tara and I sang in a choral concert at Memorial Presbyterian Church in Midland.  The concert featured a 45-minute piece of music entitled “Requiem,” written by the 20th Century French composer Maurice Durufle.  It’s a beautiful piece that is very familiar to me, since I sang it with a different choir a decade ago.  Singing along with a hundred other singers, a small orchestra, and a recently installed pipe organ was a tremendous experience.  There’s something about religious choral music that speaks to my heart in powerful ways.

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Going to Town

photo by salvobrick
photo by salvobrick

Over the past few years, I have learned the art of “going to town” – that is, combining errands into one trip so that we don’t drive 40 minutes round-trip simply to get eggs and a gallon of milk.  You see, life in Indianapolis was much different for us:  we could get to a grocery store, the bank, or the post office in only five minutes.  Living here in the country, in the neighborhood of the church, has changed our approach to life, at least in that regard.

“Going to town” is something we plan for, something we do intentionally, with wisdom, and with purpose.  This attitude is heightened when it involves catching a plane in Flint or a show in Toledo.

How much more should we be careful, intentional, and excited about going the city of God!

By “the city of God,” I don’t just mean heaven.  Yes, we should be careful about going there, of course.  But I believe “the city of God” refers to the way God helps us settle in his presence – beginning even in this life, and continuing into eternity.  Read these words, which we read in worship on separate weeks earlier this month:

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say this– those he redeemed from the hand of the foe, those he gathered from the lands, from east and west, from north and south. Some wandered in desert wastelands, finding no way to a city where they could settle. They were hungry and thirsty, and their lives ebbed away. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He led them by a straight way to a city where they could settle. Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men, for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.  … Whoever is wise, let him heed these things and consider the great love of the Lord. (Psalm 107:1-9, 43 NIV)

“How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? … My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim. For I am God, and not man– the Holy One among you. I will not come in wrath. They will follow the Lord; he will roar like a lion. When he roars, his children will come trembling from the west. They will come trembling like birds from Egypt, like doves from Assyria. I will settle them in their homes,” declares the Lord. (Hosea 11:8-11 NIV)

Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:16 NIV)

Be intentional about following God on the journey.  Cry out to God when you are lost, and give thanks when the way is made clear for you.  And remember:  God is in the business of expressing his love for us by providing places, physical and spiritual, in which we can settle.

–Pastor David

Good News

By now, you probably have heard the story of Antoinette Tuff, the Georgia school bookkeeper who this week helped to prevent a tragic school shooting by talking with the 20-year-old man who entered the school armed with an AK-47.  Many people are talking about, writing about, and celebrating the heroic actions and bravery of this woman.  Ms. Tuff kept the potential shooter talking while he decided what to do: whether to attack students and staff, injure himself, or surrender to the police.  For half an hour, she kept calm and spoke wisdom to this young man until, ultimately, he laid down his gun without having injured or killed a single person.

photo by Br3nda
photo by Br3nda

This is a tremendous story of love and compassion in action.  I want to highlight a few principles for us to consider:

  • This threat was met with the love of Christ.  As I listened to the recording of Ms. Tuff’s 911 call, I was amazed by how she spoke kindly to him, treated him with compassion, and even told him that she loved him.  She spoke openly of pain in her past that led her to consider suicide, but she reassured him that this was not the best answer.  She told him that she was proud of him for giving up without hurting anyone.  The love of Christ is powerful, because even in tense and dangerous situations, this love empowers us to treat other people as human beings with real needs.  “So in everything, do to others as you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12 NIV).
  • This threat was met with nonviolence.  This story should be a powerful reminder to us that dangerous situations can be handled appropriately with nonviolence.  Historically, the Church of God is a peace-loving organization.  We believe that the way of Jesus is one of peace, not violence; hope, not fear; love, not anger.  Jesus instructed a disciple to sheathe his sword when the Lord was arrested (Matthew 26:50-52).  Jesus himself, while being beaten and ridiculed, did not fight back against his assailants (Luke 22:63-66).  Even when the end result was his own death, Jesus was never violent – and his disciples carried on that tradition at his instruction.
  • This threat was met with preparation.  School employees undergo regular training on what to do in exactly this scenario.  Ms. Tuff gave witness to that after the fact; the training helped her handle the situation with her instincts.  Put differently, the training formed her into the kind of person that could appropriately handle this potential shooting.  Jesus was tempted by the devil before beginning his ministry (Matthew 4:1-11).  Jesus invested heavily in his disciples so they would know how to behave after his death, resurrection, and ascension.  Later, Paul instructed young Timothy to persist in his spiritual practices so that his life would be transformed, along with the lives of those around him (1 Timothy 4:12-16).

What would our lives look like if we were to live by the love of Christ, an attitude of nonviolence, and daily spiritual preparation?  How would we – and our culture – be transformed?

–Pastor David