Sunday, December 6, 2009

Keep Your Degree in a Global Perspective

A Go with God Moment;


I recently received a letter from the Chancellor of Durham University (my alma mater; and Dr. Schenck’s as well). In it he helped me put what we do here at IWU in a global perspective. He referred to a Stanford University study where the entire earth was reduced to the imagery of a village of 100 people, but the study keeps the numbers in correct proportions. In this village,

80 percent would be very poor;

70 would be illiterate,

50 would be chronically malnourished.

6 people would control 66 percent of the wealth.

The part that hit home with me was that in this village, only 1 person would hold a university degree.


Some of you will receive your diplomas in less than two weeks. I know you have thought often about all the hard work you have invested in earning your degree. BUT, have you thought about the global responsibility of what you will receive? Yes, I know that here in the United States your degree has a certain value for an earning potential.


But would you please see yourself as part of our global community. And with such a vision, let me ask just a few probing questions.

·         What actions or what decisions would you make if you were the only one in town who had a University degree?

·         What if only you had the knowledge and the skills with assist this village to provide for its own economy and for its spiritual awakening?

What if someone asked for your help? Like the person who placed you here at IWU; like the person who placed you here in the US, like the person who placed you with your family. You know I talking about the Lord. He has enabled and empowered you from the day of your first breath. What if you were the only person available? Would you say, “Yes.”


And with this being Advent season, let’s keep in mind that when Jesus was the only one in the village who could come and teach us; He came. If we know, “What would Jesus do”…what about us?


May we find our stories to wondrously intersect with Your grander story.
May we find the Advent season to be the incarnation of God’s Story.
May we see Jesus’ story as the place where God’s new exodus begins;
May He start with us.


Now, Go with God


There are many joys I have being the associate dean of the School of Theology and Ministry but nothing compares to announcing the names of students that have been awarded scholarships. This year, the recipients of the Williams Scholarship to Israel are:

1.      Tyler Klein

2.      Kearsten Karrick

3.      Kelly Jones

4.      Andrea Fetterhoff

If you see them, congratulate them. They will be traveling with Dr. Williams to Israel this spring break or during early May. Even more so, let’s give thanks to the people who make this and all the other scholarships possible. Their sacrifice is our gain. For many students, it is the only way they can afford an IWU education. Ultimately, thanks be to God!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

RE: Can You Say,"Liturgy?" Part 2

Last week I proposed to you a new (maybe more accurately, a novel) definition of the term “liturgy.” A Christian liturgy is a communal sacred activity whereby the participants are shaped and formed in godliness. Now, this could take pages to unpack, but allow me to simply state a few of my presuppositions.

Let me remind you of the  three main ingredients to this definition. First, my definition of liturgy begins with the adjective, “Christian” as a principal modifier. Everything we do (or may I now add, refrain from doing) shapes our lives and our loves. Do your choices have a distinctively “Christian” flavor to them? Second, I do not see sacred liturgy is not a private act but as a communal one. Liturgically speaking, our lives are most highly impacted as we touch one another, collide into one another, and graciously offer care for one another’s well-being (see 1 John 1:7 for a wonderful one verse homily of corporate Christianity). Third, the most obvious given is that liturgies shape and form us, the participants.


Let me give you an example. This weekend, the Society of Biblical Literature is holding its annual meetings, where thousands of Bible scholars throughout the world converge in one location. Our overt task is to present papers and to work in hundreds of forums to learn more about Jesus. But a secondary agenda is to network with one another, exchange ideas (and a few resumes), and to fellowship over meals and coffee. There is a true sense of “liturgy” about this event; some Christian some not so Christian. First, the Christian. In a standing room only worship service Sunday Morning, Daniel Block (OT scholar at Wheaton College) reminded us all of what it means to revere and personally honor the name of the Lord. Powerfully, we were charged not only to be teachers of the Biblical word but to profoundly live out the Word before the community were are entrusted to live among. He closed with the following passage:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Col 3:16-17 NIV).

Now, the non-Christian aspect of liturgy. At some presentations, biblical scholars are simply jerks. Their presentation style can be self-inflating and condescending to opposing views. Often, some folks sit in the audience, typing away on their computer to the neglect of the presenter and to the detriment of the surrounding audience. The worst example was during a paper being delivered by our own Bart Bruehler. Someone in the back of the room answered a cell call and continued in conversation until what I would call a “presentation bouncer” tossed him out. Thus, the way we operate in a liturgical setting is certainly a demonstration of the shaping which the Holy Spirit has accomplished in our lives.

So, may I ask you a parallel personal question? In a liturgical situation which we may call a classroom, “Are you letting Jesus shine?” Do you Facebook while your professor presents? Do you practice actions which sanctify or de-consecrate the classroom? In chapel, are the people around you being detracted from worship because of the light on your phone during texting? Or may I ask you to risk all for the Kingdom and actually act like a “bouncer” and asking someone not to hinder the “liturgical moment” and stop texting!


In a moment when You are speaking to us or thru us

May the liturgical moment we cooperate within be another wonderful means of grace

May the sacred time, the sacred place, and the sanctifying effect of your corporate body reveal Your Glory on earth.

May our humanity and our shortcomings not quench the Spirit of Christ.



Now, Go with God



Almost all the Bible Department at Indiana Wesleyan University is here at the SBL conference. You would be so proud. Dr. Ken Schenck presided at one session and will present a paper at another. Dr. Steve Lennox presented at a Psalms session. Dr. Bart Bruehler will present two papers this weekend. An IWU alumni Alicia Myers (PhD student @ Baylor doing her dissertation on the Gospel of John). 


Monday, November 16, 2009

Can You Say,"Liturgy?"

When I say the word, “Liturgy” what comes to your mind? Maybe you envision a service in an Episcopal or Catholic Church where you see yourself participating in a service passively (i.e., being lead by an ordained clergy thru written prayers) rather than actively engaging in worship, such as in Chapel at IWU.

But could I give you a different perspective on the “liturgies” so you may see them in a whole new light. My definition of liturgy would be this: a Christian liturgy is a communal sacred activity whereby the participants are shaped and formed in godliness. Now, this could take pages to unpack, but allow me to simply state a few of my presuppositions.


First, I begin my definition of liturgy with the adjective, “Christian” as a principal modifier. There are all kinds of liturgies that we are involved in that alter our life and loves. Some are more overt Christian (Chapel MWF) others are more subtly secular (watching 8 hours of NFL football on Sunday). Notice in Romans 12:1-2 Paul writes,

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.


Paul talks about our lives being affected in one of two ways, conformed (by the liturgical practices) of this world or transformed (by the Christian liturgies) which leads to the renewal of your mind. Thus, I would argue that there are practices in your life that serve as liturgies for your good or for your ill. (More on this later.)


Second, I do not see sacred liturgy is not a private act but as a communal one. Yes, you can recite the Apostles’ Creed alone or pray in isolation or even sing a hymn privately. But I would see these privatized acts as more devotional in aspect. Spiritual formation certainly, but it may be limited in its affective value because it does not place you in a setting where you are making a public declaration of your faith. Moreover, praying the Lord’s Prayer is liturgical in its origin. Listen to the pronouns, “Our Father who is in heaven...give us this day our daily bread…forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…lead us not into temptation…but deliver us from evil.” All the pronouns are plural. So, as we pray this prayer with sincerity it assumes a public audience whereby we offer forgiveness in order to receive it. Thus, liturgy can be an authentic public confession of forgiveness shaping us together into the Body of Christ or an announcement of a refusal to listen to the Sprit of Christ begging you to release the hurt of past sins done against you. A privatized faith would rob the Body of Christ of the corporate formation it could give. 

Third, liturgies can and do deeply shape and form the participants. Yes, I am certain that listening to a sermon on your iPod “informs” your mind and makes for sound cognitive growth. But when I speak of liturgy, I am leaning more towards its affective value upon a person holistically. As we experience well thought out liturgies, they do much more than “inform” our mind but wondrously “form” our hearts and ultimately “transform” our loves to adopt those of our Trinitarian Lord. 

So maybe I will ask the question this way. What liturgies play a shaping role in your life today? Here is the hard question which we will ponder further next week; as the liturgies that shape your life and loves the most, Christian or secular?

[To help with this soul-searching, I encourage you to delve into Dr. James K. A. Smith’s lecture in the PPAC @ 4pm Thursday Nov 19th for this semester’s Athens and Jerusalem Seminar lecture. Plus Dr. Jamie Smith will be speaking in the Thursday evening Chapel. His new book entitled Desiring the Kingdom explores the topic of how liturgy informs all that we do and love.]


Now, Go with God


Sunday, November 8, 2009

I Declare this "Praise Week"

A Go with God moment.

I declare this Praise Week for the School of Theology and Ministry.

Now, in honor of such a declaration, a word study on “praise” would be a wonderful endeavor. But rather than showing myself to be a Greek or Hebrew geek, can I list just a few verses that have struck me this week from Psalm 22. You know, the Psalm that Jesus quotes from the cross as His own death approaches.

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away when I groan for help?

Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer. Every night you hear my voice, but I find no relief.

Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.

In the midst of what appears as life at its worst; Jesus teaches us that praise should resound from our lips since it is the very place within which the Lord resides. Read the rest of Psalm 22 and you will discover that this tragic story is utterly transformed into a cacophony of praise. Psalm 22:22-24 reads like a completely different story

I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you.

You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!

For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.

May I say simply, “Appearances can be deceiving.” Life may look dim and dark when you can only see thru your physical eyes. Moreover, you probably are missing a large part of the overall story if your trust only what you can see. We need to develop “eyes of faith” and a life of perseverance. For example, throughout the Gospels Jesus taught that His death was only the prologue to Easter and His resurrection. Thus, Jesus’ words from the cross should not be reduced to a faithless cry of dereliction but they are the prophetic announcement of God’s ultimate victory for us all. He is proclaiming Praise to all the world with His last breath. 


So, as a School of Theology and Ministry, I declare this as Praise Week. I want you to tell others your words of praise for who the Lord is and what He is doing for you. I’ll start. Below is part of an email I sent to “Umf” Jim Lo last Thursday morning. He asked me if I was doing alright; because he know I was struggling:

Yes, there seems to been a real heaviness on me these days. I have suffered from severe headaches for the last 10 days. So much so that for the first time in 10 years I stayed home on Monday and dismissed my class. But even that did not seem to help. It only prolonged an already painful weekend into a blue Monday. But Wednesday afternoon Jennie Telfer and Michele Perry (Wed chapel speaker) stopped by my office and the three of us talked for quite a while. It was a deep and significant conversation on many levels. As they prepared to leave, they asked how they could pray for me. So I told them specifically about my headaches and my inability to shake them. Then they prayed. It was a wonderful and beautiful time with the Lord. Since then my pain is gone. PTL. But the best part is that I can now think more clearly than I have in quite some time. And to use a strange metaphor, “Finally, I have been able to breathe again” and God seems to be filling my lungs with His breath.


Now, here is my assignment to each of you.

1.      Tell your praise to someone else. Do not keep it to yourself. Let’s make a contagious effort where declare that God is “enthroned on the praises of His people.”

2.      Send a brief note of praise to and she will begin to have them scrolling on our computer screens in the CM Building so your prase can touch our entire school. Do not hesitate but pass the word, “Praise” is our marching orders this week. 


Now I will start.

Praise # 1: Just this weekend I heard a wonderful praise. It came from two former IWU students, Daniel and Stephenie (Beutler) Freemyer (both ’06 grads). Daniel went on to Duke Divinity school (MDiv ’09). They just paid off their entire grad school bill this week. They have made huge personal sacrifices to see this become a reality in their lives. I Praise the Lord for how the Lord will use them even more profoundly in ministry because of being debt-free.



Allow us to realize that momentary hardships are merely precursers to lives of praise.

Give us eyes to conceive of Your Kindgom,

Eyes to perceive Your Glory,

Most of all, may we have voices to reveal praises in Your Name.



I usually end with the words, “Go with God.”

Not today, I ask you to go to your computer and send a note of praise; student, alumni, or merely a reader of this note; “let’s just praise the Lord.”

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Can You Say, "Means of Grace"?

A Go with God moment.

So, you know I’m a bit obsessed with keeping people close to Christ. Sorry, it’s one of my many flaws. And my other shortcoming is that if someone finds following Christ to be not-worth-the-effort, I sincerely want them to at least ponder staying with Him for just a while longer. And both groups can accomplish this by utilizing the same practice. But you might say, “Since these two groups of people (let’s call you either a faith-seeker or a faith-decliner) are traveling in such different directions, how can the same practice accomplish similar results?

How about an answer in narrative form? While I was in seminary I heard the most wonderful personal story from one of my professors. He was tenured (which means you have a job-for-life) but gave it up to go back into the local church to serve a struggling congregation just outside of Washington D.C. He preached faithfully and loved his people, but the church never seemed to grow. As a matter of fact, the move from a small city in Kentucky to the huge metropolitan area of D.C. actually created a series of almost insurmountable family catastrophes. Slowly but surely my friend/professor began to perceive Jesus differently. He was still real, but rather than powerful and active, He seemed distant and uncaring. My friend did not come to this realization overnight, but it was a slow and almost imperceptible change. Until one day, he decided there was no value in investing time in prayer; because nothing he prayed for came into being. God was there, He just did not seem to care about his family or the church he was serving.

This newly formed vision of the divine frightened my friend. He knew if he did not take some kind of action, his chilling relationship with the Lord may someday turn Ice Cold. He needed to put himself into a river that would give hope that a life of faith would return. He knew that the way to God was to practice what Wesleyan’s call the “Means of Grace.” The means of grace are simply those practices where God shows up in a tangible way with the participants. For him, prayer was the key means he would employ. Yet, he knew he did not have the personal faith to utter sacred vocabulary to reach the heavens. So, he simply rubbed his fingers across the text of the Psalms each day; reading aloud the same words that functioned as the prayer book of Israel and the hymnal of Jesus. He rubbed and recited the prayers of David until the ink began to fade from the page. He knew that walking away from the Lord was more frightening than striving with a silent Savior. So he waited, he rubbed, he prayed.

Friends, practicing the Means of Grace is simply working within the ocean currents of faith-seeking. It’s not demanding a sign or forcing a divine ultimatum. Rather, it’s being honest with oneself that I do not have all the answers or maybe I’m not even asking the right questions. So, I’ll wait like so many faith-seekers before me.

I’ll pray - even is its someone else’s prayers.

I’ll read scripture - even if today, it they seem like mere human words.

I’ll attend church - even if the singing is poor and the sermon is dry.

I’ll take Communion - even if the bread is flavorless and the wine tastes sour.

I’ll wait, for maybe in the midst of this means God’s grace will once again speak into my world.

Waiting on God is not passive, but an active endeavor. So, why not rub your fingers across the screen…Psalm 121

I lift up my eyes to the hills-- where does my help come from?

My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip-- he who watches over you will not slumber;

indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

The LORD watches over you-- the LORD is your shade at your right hand;

the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.

The LORD will keep you from all harm-- he will watch over your life;

the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.

And what about my friend? He is indeed fully restored. He teaches once again, with a fully-orbed grace that is contagious. He is much deeper in character, more tender-in-heart, much quicker to laugh and tears up even in the midst of class. He is strikingly Christ-like. He is sold on the Means of Grace.

What about you? Any takers for the Means of Grace?

Please Lord,

We long to be like you…but are fearful of the process.

We are afraid of tarrying in silence…but know that the still small voice is hard to hear.

We know that the “fellowship of suffering” is Your call upon us…but we are taught to avoid pain. Teach us anew.

Grace us with the Means to become just like You.


Now, Go with God.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Are You a Stumbling Block?

God with God moment.

So, if you read this regularly, you know that for the last few weeks I have been gravely concerned about the voices who speak into your life; the voices who may cause you to stumble in your faith. But today, I am not speaking to your ears which listen but to people whose lips are speaking. Scripture is replete with it position on this matter.  

·         Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God-- (1Co 10:32 NIV)

·         Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. (Rom 14:20 NIV)

·         But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depth of the sea. (Mat 18:6 NAS).

Now, if you are mocking the faith of others, I recognize that attempting to employ the words of Paul or Jesus to silence your voice seems like a fool’s errant. Yet I know that most of you have something in common; you used to have faith. Deep and robust faith. You have “tasted the Lord and know He is good.” Then, something happened in your life. Maybe it came upon you suddenly and tragically. Your heart has been hurt. Was it unanswered prayer? Was it some sort of pain and suffering? Maybe inner shame from the same re-occurring sin from which you could not gain ultimate victory. In the end, your soul has been damaged and you have simply given up the fight. It’s easier this way, isn’t it. At least, maybe easier for you.

Maybe with you it came upon you much slower, as your intellect has outdistanced your faith development. You woke up one day, and it just did not seem you would be a person of “intellectual integrity” to believe any longer. Was it realizing you were looking at the world “thru rose colored glasses” that did it? You saw the pain and suffering of someone else, maybe in the Far East, in Africa, maybe even your neighbor or your family member? And a good God who what all powerful would not allow this to go on. So, the perfect “philosophical storm” has held you captive and robbed you of your faith.

Well, I understand perfectly. So, live without your faith. But would it be alright to make two requests in the meantime?

1.       Would you mind if I asked you to not be destructive to the faith of others. You choice is just that, your choice. Could I beg you not to allow it to affect (infect?) those whom you influence? If you have been hurt, others will certainly feel your pain. And it’s just possible that your pain or disappointment is so deep that you cannot get over it without repeating it over and over; each time making Christ or His church out to be the bad guy. Do you really want to someone else’s faith-implosion on your conscience?

2.       Would you mind if I asked you to continually test the waters of faith, just in case you have a change of heart? I’ve been reading James K. A. Smith’s  (philosopher par excellence) book, Desiring the Kingdom. In part, he explains education in a new paradigm. We do not make decisions based upon how we are informed but rather how we are formed thru liturgical practices; both for and against faith. Now, by liturgical practices, Smith means any repeated activity which shapes us. Let me try to make this extremely practical. If you stay away from scripture, never pray, cease to recite the Apostle’s Creed, avoid church at all times; you are not making an intellectual decision to reject faith. Rather, you are being (con)formed to the patterns of your practices. So why not try faith, one more time? What can it hurt?

·         Let me encourage you to pick up the Gospel of John, just once a week and read a few chapters. What can it hurt?

·         Let me ask you to try praying, again. You can recite the Psalms (Israel’s Prayer Book) or if you are angry enough go straight to some of the imprecatory passages in the Prophets (Jer 20:7ff, entire book of Habakkuk, or try Job). But avoiding an issue (even if it’s with God) is never the act of a wise man.

·         OK, radical I know, but what about fellowship with the Body of Christ? Yes, I know we at times can be disappointing and even hypocritical. But who else on earth is really seeking Christ? Most folks love Jesus, they just don’t like the Church. But it’s in Church that forgiveness is offered and exchanged. Isn’t that a great concept to explore once again?

·         At least try these because I am certain that there are others in your life that you influence; a spouse, maybe a child. Your practices (even unspoken) may so severely affect the faith of a loved one…that…      

Please Lord,

Would You keep the mouths of some closed.

Would You protect the ears and hearts of their listeners.

Would You  allow the eyes and ears of the faith-less to be newly opened.

Would You open their minds that have been (con)formed to this world.

Would You (trans)form the situations,

All for the sake of Your Glory.  



Now, Go with God.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Are All Voices Created Equal?

A Go with God moment.

  • So in the end, whose voice has the most profound influence in your lives?
  • Who is whispering in your ears?
  • Who do you trust?
  • In what direction are they pointing you?
  • Are you following their advice?

That series of questions was what I left hanging with you last week. If you recall, I was asking a simple yet reflective question, “Who are the people who influence your thoughts and in the end, your life choices?”

Each of you knows how important people are to you. Building and maintaining relationships is the highest value of just about every student on the IWU campus. Please re-read that last line, “Building and maintaining relationship is the highest value here.” As if all relationships are created equal. And as if they are of equal value to your life.

Listen to John 1:6-7, There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.” The man named here is who we know from the Synoptic Gospels as John the Baptist…but in the Fourth Gospel he is simply referred to as the “testifier”; as the one who points his friends toward Jesus. If you keep reading the Gospel of John, this “testifier” is heard from again and again;

  • This is He who I said, “He who comes after me has surpassed me.” (1:15)
  • I am the voice crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the paths of the Lord.” (1:23)
  • “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” (1:29)
  • I saw the Spirit of God come down from heaven as a dove and remain on Him (1:32)
  • I have seen and testify that this is the Son of God. (1:34)
  • Look, the Lamb of God (1:36)

Now, after listening to John over and over, watch the response of John’s friends; “When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus.

So, I ask the question again, “Are all friends created equal?” Do you treat all your relationships on the same level? Let me be practical. Ladies, does your significant-other speak to you like John? Is he whispering in your ear words that point you to Jesus? Or are your conversations less than edifying? Men, what about your friends? Do they raise your level of faith? Do they help you with the practical application of your morality? Or do you walk away from far too many discussions spiritually depleted?

Why am I so concerned? Well, in recent months I have had multiple conversations with current and former students who are all of a sudden questioning the veracity of Jesus. They seemed to be following the Lord so closely and then all of a sudden, they changed the course of their life-decisions. There was one common ingredient; the level of credibility they placed in the voices of people that no longer believed. Their influencers had suddenly shifted, and it should not surprise anyone that eventually, so did their faith. You actually follow the people you open your heart and mind to.

Please do not hear me as saying anything as foolish as, “Break all ties with anyone who is not a fully devoted follower of Christ.” We do not need to isolate ourselves. Nor do we need to be afraid of being tripped up at every turn. But I think we need to ask (and answer) the question I voiced above, “Who is speaking into your life?” And are they pointing you to Jesus or causing your eyes and heart to wander?

Please allow me to probe this deeper over the next few weeks, but in the meantime; hear the prayers of your professors. These are men and women in whom you can trust.

Please Lord,

Our cry is that You open the ear of every student so they can over-hear the prayers of their professors that quietly yet faithfully serve to fashion both their hearts and their heads.

We cry out to You on behalf of each student.

May we treat them as Your sons and Your daughters.

May they sense a spiritual adoption in their relationship with us.

May each class open them up to the vastness of Your Kingdom possibilities.

May each hallway greeting be seen as a divine encounter.

May each Baldwin meal exhibit a sacramental flavor.

May each chapel service conclude with both seen and unseen consecration moments.

May each dorm prayer meeting assist in the forming of the Imago Dei in their inner most being.

In the end Lord, May the students You fashion during their four year quest on these hallowed grounds become co-labors with us; all for Your Glory.


Now, Go with God.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Voice Crying in the Wilderness

A God with God moment.

I was reading Mark 1:4-5 with some friends in church last Wednesday. Read them and then I’ll make just a few comments.

John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins (NAS).

Our attention was drawn to the two small qualifying adjectives. All. John the Baptist was in the desert, baptizing; and Mark tells us that everyone left the city of Jerusalem and its surrounding countryside to find forgiveness through the washing of water. Now to us today, that would not sound irregular; but in the first century, it was unheard of. In the time of Jesus’ ministry; forgiveness was found in one place, the temple which rose high above all of Jerusalem. Your sacrifice was brought there, the priest accepted it, offered it to God and declared you forgiven.

But, Mark seems to be starting his Gospel with three introductory thoughts. First, whatever was transpiring at the temple thru the priests, it was not meeting the needs of the people of Jerusalem. And he tells us that all of Jerusalem left the confines of the City of David to journey to the desert to find true forgiveness. Second, Jews in the first century were almost never baptized. It was not a rite of passage for a Jew but for a gentile (called a proselyte) who was converting to Judaism. Third, notice the location, the desert. Other translations call this the wilderness. Listen to me say it this way, “the children of Israel wander out to the desert to meet God.” What does that remind you of? Sure, the Exodus. But in the history of Israel, that was their journey of utter disappointment. It was the place where they were tested, failed and then wandered for 40 years.

So, what do you think is Mark’s point for bringing the memory of the wilderness disaster front and center? Here are just a few implications.

  1. The very next scene in Mark’s Gospel is Jesus’ own baptism and then the Spirit leading (driving?) Him out into the wilderness for His own time of testing. And in this desert trial, the very place where Israel was weak and failed; Jesus came forth victorious with an even stronger faith in His calling and in His Father.
  2. In all the rest of the Book of Mark (with the exception of the beginning of Mark 6) Jesus is the central figure of every single episode. For Mark, there is no life without Jesus. Apparently, we learn nothing about God, ourselves, and our relationship with others UNLESS Christ is central in our lives.

May I make some simple applications? Some of you (or some of your fiends) are trying to make it through life with Jesus only on the periphery. You want to have just enough of Jesus to be called a Christian but not too much as to be labeled an extremist.  Or maybe you are going thru the same “forgiveness pattern” and never getting yourself out of the Sin-cycles. (You know what I mean by sin-cycle, pleading with Jesus to “Forgive me of my ______ sin” but then never really allowing the Holy Spirit to transform your life. Read that as actually taking the sin away). Why not let God call you out to a desert place with Him and allow Him to perform a cleansing work in you?

Finally, the most troubling part of this story is that all of Jerusalem returns home with only a fond memory of their baptism (maybe a picture of them with John the Baptist) and their wet clothes that they hang out on the line to dry. For in short order, they quickly return to their “temple forgiveness” patterns. Worse yet, they seek the advice of the un-repentant priests on how to order their lives. In just a few short chapters all of Jerusalem will be crying out (at the persuasion of the religious leaders), “Crucify Him.”  So in the end, whose voice has the most profound influence in your lives? Who is whispering in your ears? Who are you trusting?



We have ears and we want to listen.

Speak to us so You may be heard.

Thru Your Spirit, we lean into the still small voice.

Bring to us men and women of wisdom who will inspire us in Christ-honoring ways.

May we continually befriend folks who are not following  You.              

But may our voices impact them, not the reverse.



Now, Go with God.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Are His Words Enough?

A “Go With God” moment:

As I’ve been working through the Gospel of John recently, I am struck by the simplicity of its theological beauty. Yes, I am sure that to some degree, Clement of Alexandria is right; John is the “Spiritual Gospel.” For example, have you noticed the first “sign” in John; turning of water into wine (not exactly the miracle of choice for Wesleyans).  John’s summary statement of that section reads this way, “This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.” (2:11) This sounds like true belief language, doesn’t it?

Now, I’m not saying that a sign-generated-belief is by any means inauthentic but by the close of the chapter, John gives his readers a stunning retort to this sign-generated-belief.

Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, beholding His signs which He was doing. But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to bear witness concerning man for He Himself knew what was in man. (2:23-25; see also 12:37)

So, maybe sign-generated-faith is not the pinnacle of what Jesus is trying to (re)create within us. If not, what is He working towards? Here is the question I am asking today: “What is a faith that is pleasing to God?”

By the end of Chapter 4, we find the second sign that John actually numbers, this one again in occurs in Cana of Galilee. But this time it is a spoken sign, done at a distance, some 20 miles removed. The royal official’s son lies near death in Capernaum and his father pleads with Jesus to come down and heal his son. Jesus turns and says these words,

“Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders, you will never believe.” (4:48) Again the father begged Jesus, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus replied, “You may go. Your son will live.”

Now, do not miss the theological punch that John places before his readers (that includes us)… “The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he started off.” (4:50 NAS).

First, notice that the man saw nothing. He only heard the word (Greek: logos) of Jesus and that was enough. Second, ask yourself a question, what would you have done immediately after Jesus spoke? Me, I would have run home as fast as possible to check if what Jesus said actually happened. But if you carefully note of the time element in the passage, you will see that it is not until THE NEXT DAY that the father actually encounters his servant on the road as he traveled home. It is then that they tell him when the fever left his son, at one in the afternoon. Interesting isn’t it. Jesus spoke the word of healing, and the father not only believed him but did not feel the compulsion to run home and see for himself. He lived his life as if the spoken word of Jesus was more than enough.

Maybe, as you read John again, try to do it with fresh eyes. Sorry. Maybe you should make that with fresh “ears.” Listen for all the times that Jesus speaks and His listeners want more than His words offer or even worse, they treat His words as if they are inadequate to meet their daily needs. Let me leave you with the question Jesus presents to Martha at the time of her greatest faith-test, the death of her brother Lazarus. Jesus says,

“I am the Resurrection and the Life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (11:25-26).

So, may I ask you the same question, “Do you believe the Words of Jesus and act upon them unquestionably?” So, today; what kind of belief are you asking Jesus to produce within you? Sign-generated-faith or Word-created-faith? Are His words enough for you?


Lord Jesus.

Today, right now. I ask that You speak.

I beg that we have ears to hear.

I plead that our listening will be transformed steps of faith.

Transform Your image in us into Living vessels of Your Glory.


Now, Go with God

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Profundity of Simply Showing Up

A “Go with God” Moment

Let me welcome you all, whether you are a first semester freshmen or a senior…or anyone in between…to IWU. Summer is a good time to rest but the campus without you is non-functioning. It was quiet, it was empty, it was simply wrong. This is not the way IWU is meant to be. So I say, welcome back…

This is the first Monday Memo of a new school year so with it allow me to address just a few words to the incoming freshmen. For some of you, it may seem as if you have been here for a lifetime. So many new settings, hundreds (if not thousands) of new people, and if you are an introvert, there are very few places just to be alone. Each day of this last week could probably be described as “newness overload.” There are too many new places and with far too many names. There is the Phillippe Performing Arts Center but in actuality we only call it, The PPAC. We have an OLD College Church which has an alternative venue for chapel service, but it looks nothing like a church. We have a student center that looks like a Mall with its own coffee shop. We have residence halls galore (with a variety of names; have you figured out where ToHo is?) and academic buildings in every direction. You have discovered that the campus is loaded with real places with real names but often we only refer to them by acronyms or abbreviations. I apologize to you if you have been confused. I promise you that by fall break (another inaccurate term, because it’s only one day long), you will feel right at home.

Ok, so where am I going with this? Let me tell you a short story (a living parable) about what happened to me last spring. My wife Angie and I were on Sabbatical (every 7 years a professor gets a semester off to hone his/her trade of teaching). We decided to travel to three different Wesleyan Bible Colleges in Africa. At our last stop on the seven week tour, Mozambique, I was bitten by a tick and developed typhus; high fever, extreme exhaustion, and one nasty bite on the back of my leg. However, I was only going to be at this one Bible College for three weeks. During that time I was trying to teach an entire semester’s worth of work in three weeks. So, imagine if I stayed in bed for the next week (advice from the missionary). One third of the semester would have been lost. Instead, I promised my wife that if I taught for four hours a day, I would return to the mission home and rest the remainder of the day. Well, on the first day of class, I explained to the 50 young ministry students (who BTW, had traveled up to five days journey to attend this class) that I was sick but I wanted to try and teach my may through it. So I sat on a three legged stool and taught. Angie kept handing me glasses of water to keep me hydrated. It was 95 degrees with 95% humidity, and we were in a building without electricity or even a ceiling fan. I had never been so exhausted in my life after the first two hours of teaching. And in actuality, I do not remember a word that I said. But at the first morning break, one of the English speaking students came up to me and said, “Dr. Smith that was the greatest teaching I’ve ever witnessed.” His words of course got my attention, so I said (with a good bit of self-serving pride), “What was it that I said that encouraged you?” As I waiting for him to stroke my ego, he said, “Oh, it was not what you said that was impressive. It was the profound fact that you simply showed up.” He went on to explain that when most western teachers come to Mozambique, if they contract an African disease, they simply stay home. And when the teachers stay home, 50 people lives are put on hold and they miss out on all that God has for them.

Now, my new freshmen friends, may I make a simple spiritual application to you today. If you are lonely, hurting, feeling a bit overwhelmed; please simply show up. Place yourself strategically in every position to succeed. Go to every class, with work done; simply show up. Attend the activities in the dorms which will help fashion you into a community; simply show up. Give God the opportunity to pour Himself into you. I mean, really, He has brought you to a time such as this; please simply show up. Allow Him the opportunity to bring you through to the other side. 

Let me try to end this with a few “showing  up” suggestions which may help this week set a good foundation for your long-term success at IWU:

  1. Make Fall Summit a priority. Try to think of your education holistically rather than compartmentally. You grow as a person, body mind, and spirit. Classes for the most part are seen as your intellectual development. But if you have not picked up on it, we endeavor to offer you an integrated education; where we are concerned about your spiritual growth and your academic development. Set aside Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday morning and Monday and Tuesday evening for worship. BTW, Tim Elmore is one great preacher.
  2. Get to know your professors. Make certain in the first several weeks of the semester to stop by the office suite of the School of Theology and Ministry (2nd floor Christian Ministries Bldg). If you do not know him/her, introduce yourself and set up a time for coffee or even a lunch. In my educational career, the time apart with professors had an equal or greater impact on my life than the time in class.
  3. Seek out a church home. Chapel is not a church. Certainly it is a worship experience and spiritual food. But I encourage you before the semester gets too far along to find a local church to call “home.” Now, many of you will say that your church home is, well, back home. But in the ensuing semesters, you will grow academically and spiritually in ways you never imagined. And the people “back home” will not see this. They may always see you as the high school graduate who went off to IWU. I will ask you to put yourself into an accountable relationship with a multi-generational congregation with folks who can watch you, encourage you, challenge you, etc. Moreover, many of you will never return to your “home church” with any sort of regularity. So, finding a local church to worship and serve in now…will be setting an agenda for the rest of your lives.

For Summit this week, I pray that You would anoint Tim Elmore, embolden his heart, and quicken our ears.
For relationships across campus, I pray that You will bind together students and faculty into an academic and spiritually collaborative community.
May we learn from one another in the beauty of Your Spirit.
May we see the local church as Your Body;
May the Body pour into the students, and
May the presence of the students encourage the local church.

Now, Go With God.


Monday, August 10, 2009

Surety for Trying Times

A “Go With God” moment:

I am stating the obvious with these words: This is a time of financial uncertainty. It’s spreading and affecting our towns and families with reckless abandon. Stress rules the day and our futures appear unpredictable. I know that is true with many IWU students, for I have had multiple inquiries for financial assistance; far above the usual for late summer. 


While in the “crisis”, would you allow me to make a few observations relating to our understanding of God and how His will often reveals itself?


First, God is in control. Please do not take this lightly. From the moment He spoke creation into existence He has held all things in order (Col 1:15-17; Heb 1:3). Do you believe this? Did the fall in the garden disturb His control? NO. Did the faithless-ness of Israel in the desert create a dilemma beyond God’s reach? No Way! Or how about the rejection of God’s Son by all of mankind (John 1:11; Mark 14:50)? Was this too much for God to handle? Of course not!  If that is true, the financial meltdown of our modern economic system is not a tragedy beyond His scope. He is in perfect control. Therefore, I urge you not to equate your lack of financial resources as the sole directional marker for the Lord's will in your life. He is so much bigger than that. Moreover, when one door closes, God ALWAYS stands next to many other ones which He will open at your request. Again, I say trust me when I tell you that your prayers for financial needs are heard in heaven. But what would you do if God was refashioning your request and answering it in a new and divinely inspired way? Prayer is not our command to God but it takes the form of a conversation which puts you in direct touch with the Creator and sustainer Himself. So, in these unsettling days, are you interested in His take on how the two of you can partner together during these difficult days?


Second, God primary goal is to shape our spiritual lives and our character to reflect the image of His Son. Thus, the education of your mind may not be the best avenue to do this shaping at this precise moment.  Rather, Scripture tells us again and again that trials and suffering are a keen developer of a life of faith. Don’t believe me…well listen to James 1.

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.


Third, God’s concept of education is a holistic approach; the life of the mind coupled with a vibrant heart of faith. Maybe, just maybe, there are some things the Lord can teach you in a financially unstable time that Drury, Bounds, Lennox, or Bence cannot teach you.  So ponder with me for just a moment, “What might God have in mind this very day?” or Ask the question this way, “What type of faith is He trying to create deep within your soul right now that He has never had the opportunity to develop?”


Let me try to suggest a few practical thoughts of “understanding the times” which might give you a new and fresh confidence that God is at work in your life. This part is principally for those of you who cannot return to IWU this semester because the funds have simply dried up for various reasons.

1.           Taking a semester off to get back on your financial feet seems to be a non-starter these days. In past generations students (read that as “your parents”) worked their way thru college so that when they graduated, they did so with little or no debt. With the huge increase of tuition over the last 20 years, it is almost impossible to work enough hours & go to school, paying as you go. Moreover, in my 10 years at IWU, I have seen students take loans out for every semester, and when they graduate, they do so resulting in tens of thousands of dollars in debt. Maybe, just maybe, the Lord is guiding you in a path of un-debtedness rather than in-debtedness. What if He would like to lead you down a road-less-traveled these days? It may take you longer to graduate, but you will not be burdened with such a huge student loan…especially if you intend in going into a career of Christian Ministry. So one perfect option will be to spend as much time working as you can to pay down old debt or to save for the future. Maybe the Lord is teaching you a new lesson in stewardship. His will may end up being an educational both/and (an affordable education) not either/or (pay me now or pay me later).

2.           Taking time to do ministry (especially volunteering) is a perfect way to “test the Spirit” regarding your call. Many of you have worked in a local church…but why not do this with new eyes. During this time, watch the Lord at work in your life and heart. No one ever has “enough” ministry experience. Try to work alongside a pastor or mentor who will help your hear the voice of God with clarity. Spend this time IN ADVANCE of graduation...trying on the career you are pursuing. Wouldn't it be nice to know with certainty that you are called to this career before you spend 10's of thousands of dollars and 4 years studying? So this semester off may not be off at all. It will be investigating with the Lord your call.


Finally, I do not see this situation as a bad thing at all. It may be an incredible gift the Lord has placed before you. God is neither rejecting you nor closing your educational door. Maybe, just maybe; He is directing you on a holistic path which will make you deeper and more faithful than you even thought possible.


Now; Go With God

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A Parting Word/word to IWU Seniors

Dear seniors; (everyone else feel free to listen);

I miss you.

Now, you might assume that this emotional feeling arises from the fact that I’ve been on sabbatical this spring and simply miss the interaction which comes from being on campus. You would be mistaken. I’m talking about missing you AFTER graduation. April for me is a time of deep mourning not celebration. Over the last four years, I have watched you grow intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. Child development experts say the first 18 months of your life was the most important to your growth. Obviously, these folks have never watched an 18 year old infant (I’m not trying to be offensive. But do you remember what you were like when you first came to IWU?) grow and mature into a 22 year old man or woman. The conversations we have now are nothing like the ones we had during freshmen orientation. And I have watched you grow up; and now, you are leaving. Personally, I think April stinks.

In several of the letters of the Apostle Paul, he closes with some parting words. These words, such as in 1 Thessalonians 5 are short, pithy, and to the point. “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.” (1 Thes 5:16-22).


Would you please pamper me and allow me to give some “Paul-like” parting words to you seniors? 


Here is my first admonition, “Practice the spiritual disciplines that you have seen modeled before you for the last four years.” If you have gained any respect for your Religion professors, you might ask the question, “How have they gotten to where they are?” The answer is simple; by God’s grace.  None of your professors deserve the gift of teaching at the best undergraduate institution in the country, with the most caring faculty, and teaching the best students in the world. It’s all because of His grace. “How does one appropriate God’s grace you ask?” Another simple answer, practice the disciplines which have been passed down from teacher to students; beginning with Jesus to His disciples. “Teach us to pray” they said; and He did (read John 17 or His words in Gethsemane). “What does this parable mean” they asked. And he taught them to read and interpret scripture (read Mark 4:13-20). You have watched and at times been mentored by us for the last four years. I beg you; do not leave this place without pledging that you will practice these spiritual disciplines daily. Jesus did. We do. Shouldn’t you?

Second, “Integrate faithfulness to the local church into your worship of the Lord.” George Barna in his book Revolution is DEAD wrong. No one can remain faithful to Jesus for any length of time apart from the local church. I have watched too many of our graduates (that’s right, CM and YTH ministry students, CE and Worship majors, from every combination of majors and minors) walk across the stage at graduation, receive their diploma, and slowly but surely walk away from the Lord. I’m sure it was not intentional, but it certainly was predictable. If you neglect the spiritual disciplines, if you do without the fellowship of the Body of Christ; I can be prophetic; you will be writing me in 6 months wondering why your faith is faltering, why your passion for Christian service is waning, and why your ability to resist temptation is negligible. Here is another revelation for you, in short order you will miss MWF @ 10am. That’s right, chapel will quickly become a warmhearted memory not an academic compliance. You will miss devos at midnight, principally because you will be in bed by 10pm. You will miss prayer at the beginning of class, and coffee with Christian friends at any hours in McConn. Your guardian angel will be the Church. Remember what Coach D wrote, There is no “I” in Church. Please, hearken my words, the Church is the only place on earth that not only cares about your faith, she wants your faith to grow and flourish. You may say, “The Church is just not for me right now.” Please believe me when I lovingly say, “You are wrong.” The Church does not need you nearly as much as you need the church. If you disagree, you border on spiritual arrogance; watch out lest you fall.  

Now, number three, “Call upon spiritual direction for the rest of your life.” Remember how often you would ask one of your professors for advice? How natural it felt to sit in one of our offices and to ask questions of ecclesiology, Christology, theodicy, or even the practical issues of life? Even the most mundane things of life were fair game. Well, the reason it was so natural, was because IT IS. We are meant to establish Paul-and-Timothy relationships for the rest of our lives. Do not think that because you stop paying tuition, we cease to care. Nothing is farther from the truth. But the farther you move from IWU, temporally and experientially, the more you need others in your life that know the current YOU and the vents which are impacting your life. So, where ever you go, find a “spirit-led Paul” who will assist you on your spiritual journey. S/he can help you discern the voice of God and the pattern of the Spirit in your life. Also, begin the process of being a mentor for someone spiritually younger than you.

Finally, as a word of preparation for the harsh world out there, “Remember, failure is an even better teacher than your Religion Professors.” Recently, I’ve reflected upon the hardship of failure and rejection. I did not realize how many times I’ve been told, “No.” Each one has been painful; shattering what I thought was God’s plan. But each “no” was also a wonderful opportunity for God to reveal His goodness in a profound manner. Let me cite a few examples for you:

·         I have sitting before me the names of five churches that I candidated with. They all rejected me.  One church board member actually relayed the rejection via a phone message given to a baby-sitter while Angie and I were out one night. But then, one district superintendent took favor on me and gave me a chance. It only took one “yes” to reveal the flood-gates of heaven to me.

·         I have four file folders from graduate schools that turned me down for PhD studies, all for a variety of reasons. Only one said, “Yes.” One was just enough. It was at the University of Durham that I formally met Ken Schenck, who several years later mentioned my name to Dr. Steve Lennox (then chair of the Religion Division) when IWU was searching for a Bible Professor. Yes, one was just the right number of acceptances.

·         I have 11 (yes, count them 11) letters of rejection from my application to teach at undergraduate institutions. I was ready to give up when I received a phone call from Dr. Lennox who asked me to apply for a Bible position here at IWU. It only took one “yes” to remove all the pain of opening each of those rejection letters.

Then again, if I had not come to IWU, I would not have met you. We would not have had these last four years together. What a blessing all those rejections truly were. I would go thru them all again to receive a bounty as rich as this.

I am convinced that God is more at work in the rejections of life than in the acceptances. Please allow Him to shape your spiritual life (and professional one as well) through these seemingly harsh circumstances. Of course, your response to rejection and failure will only be endured and stabilized by the integration of items 1-3 above. Finally, here is the answer you have been waiting for your entire college career, “Yes, these will be on the test”. But after graduation, the only test left is life. Choose the life of faith.

Now, for the last time I tell you, “Go with God.”