Showing posts from May, 2009

Missions & the College Church

This evening, our missions ministry filled me & Julie in on the wonderful mission works of our congregation. It's great that we're able to partner with some exciting work in diverse parts of the world. An added bonus is that we are primarily supporting home-grown people.

Brady & Stephanie Smith have DEEP roots in Lausanne, Switzerland. They are an integral part of the French-speaking work within Churches of Christ. Historically, our churches have been unsuccessful in its efforts to evangelize Europe. The sectarianism of our fellowship doesn't translate well in countries that know 1000+ years of Christianity and have seen religious wars fought on their own soil. Still, Brady & Stephanie have persevered and embedded themselves as hard workers and great servants for the Lord there in Lausanne.

Marcus & Julia Rodriguez seem to be doing an incredible job in Beijing, China. They have hopped onto a moving freight train and found themselves in an incredibly fertile p…

Too Much Reading & Writing

I am not a scholar. At least not in the technical sense. I don't know if I could survive in the world of academia where research and publishing are so important. Sorry to disappoint you if you view me as such.

Nevertheless, my last few weeks have been consumed by academic work. I am working toward a doctoral degree from Abilene Christian University, and I have two weeks of classes there in June. Pre-course assignments must be done by June 8. My classes are on spiritual formation (week 1) with David Wray & Jeff Childers; and preaching (week 2) with David Fleer. Figure I ought to learn how to preach now that I am doing it full-time.

So in addition to my "9 to 5 job," I've had to do research for a couple papers, read a stack of books and write a couple reflection pieces. It's one thing to write from the heart. It's quite another to be forced to write things that don't really connect with you at the moment. I know it's a good exercise, but I'm tired…

A House with Olive Trees

Praise be to God! We may have a house here in Fresno. Our house back in West Virginia is headed toward closing, and we are already in motion on the purchase of a new house.

This house has 2 olive trees in the front yard. Can you imagine?! They have been shaped and pruned into ornamental lobes. They remind me of those amusement park rides called the spider or something where you strap into a sphere and it spins those multiples things around & around making you puke. Not that I have such thoughts when I look at these trees.

At any rate, it seems to be a great house in a great location. It's close to Fort Washington School, the elementary school where Jacob ended up this year even though it wasn't our district. And it would be walking distance to Clovis West High School. It's a 5-minute drive (or less) to Kastner Intermediate, the school where Jericho is. And it's closer to the church building than our current house. All in all, a potentially great fit for us!
Our offer …

A Day in Yosemite

Okay, I took the weekend off but should now post something. My mind is mush, however, because I am doing all my regular stuff plus a ton of extra reading and writing for my doc classes. Poor me. I know, it's self-inflicted pain.

Anyway, we spent Memorial Day in Yosemite National Park. Julie has already posted our adventure much better than I ever could, so I'll let her words suffice for the overall story. I had not been in Yosemite since 1990. Julie popped in during the women's retreat in February. And the boys had never been.

It's interesting how much you remember and forget over a 20-year span. Here were some things I recalled (or had forgotten):

(1) It takes a long time to drive through the park. From the south entrance to Yosemite Valley is about an hour. We made the boys sit and talk (as opposed to playing Nintendo DS) until we left the park. Cruel, I know, but it's interesting the things that come out of your kids' mouths when you turn off the radio, the iPo…

What Does Christian Hope Look Like? (part 3: Watchman Nee)

Watchman Nee was born & grew up in mainland China. In 1920, he gave his life to Jesus at the age of 17. He immediately devoted himself to ministry and came under the tutelage of a British woman who not only taught him the faith but who also bequeathed him with all her possessions when she died 10 years later.

He was an avid reader, spending 1/3 of his income on personal needs, 1/3 on helping others, and 1/3 on buying Christian books. He also began to write at a voracious pace, publishing books that have been translated into many languages. Perhaps his most popular book is The Normal Christian Life. His philosophy was to emphasize an inner spirituality.

The foundations for phenomenal church growth were laid during his lifetime. He and many unknown Chinese Christians and foreign missionaries founded churches, trained leaders and prepared materials.

These churches all had to go underground after the rise of Mao Zedong and the Communist Party following World War 2. Watchman Nee was impri…

Budget Props fail

Surprise, surprise. We Californians voted "no" on the 5 proposals that could have cut the debt. The 6th one that limits the pay of state workers during hard times passed. I followed the advice of a friend and voted yes, no, no, yes, no, yes. Hard to know what to do -- honestly.

As Julie and I were saying to each other, either way we are hosed. The LA Times has an interesting editorial today. Since I'm new to California, I am still impressionable & don't have lots of fixed ideas about things such as the election process. Their editorial (click here to read it) blames the budget mess on state voters who have consistently tied the hands of legislators by mandating various things over the years through these propositions. Stack up several decades worth of mandated spending or mandated cuts or mandated this or that (term limits, minimum spending on education, recall of a governor, etc.), and pretty soon the government has little room to maneuver. Interesting argument, …

Budget Vote today

So I'm new to California. And I'm new to the electoral process here. So maybe that explains my confusion.

Today, Californians are voting on 6 budget proposals (Propositions 1A-F). Basically, the state government is a mess -- or should I say, it is in a mess. Facing enormous budget deficits, the legislators that we pay to govern couldn't fix it. So they have come up with proposals that must be endorsed by the voters. I guess this is a good education in California's direct democracy!

Most of these proposals rest on robbing Peter to pay Paul or spending future lottery proceeds now and other neat ideas. I've read editorials in the Fresno Bee and LA Times. I've looked at blog & Facebook postings discussing the issues. Most people seem to be saying, "We're hosed, but we have no choice. Vote yes on most of these, especially on 1A."

So what do I do?

But it's a dry heat

Yesterday, we had a great gathering with the families of deacons, elders & ministers at the home of Gene & Linda Sue. Gene says they asked the police to patrol the neighborhood so there wouldn't be any gang violence while we were over. Thanks, Gene.

At any rate, the party was outdoors under the awnings and misters. We're accustomed to outdoor parties in West Virginia. I've sat on many a back deck, whiling the evening hours away. But sitting in the back yard in heat that reached 105 F is a bit of a new experience for me.

Sure, I grew up partly in middle Tennessee where the heat & humidity could be sweltering. It is possible I was too young to pay attention to such things, but I don't remember many outdoor parties. Plus, there were mosquitoes and ticks and the like.

Then I spent 4 years in central Texas. It got hot there, too, but again I don't remember outdoor social gatherings. Maybe I'm forgetting.

But here it's a dry heat, so folks seem to be okay…

Addendum to Part 1 (Irena Kuželová) on Xian Hope

Quick note to follow up on my blog post this week about Irena Kuželová, the now deceased female pastor of a Moravian Brethren congregation in Prague.

I've done a wee bit of research since my post -- just out of curiosity. The church she pastored seems to have closed up shop. There is a new congregation on the western side of the city. This new church seems to be youth-oriented. You can see their website to get a feel.

At any rate, it appears that Mrs. Kuželová's name appears on a list of state informers from the days of Communism. These lists of "StB informers" were highly inflammatory, showing the breadth of the state security's reach. Neighborhoods, families and workplaces were in shock to see the names of people they never suspected of being informants.

Many people were forced to show one-time cooperation in order to be granted certain privileges. Estimates in East Germany were that 30% of the population had been informers. In Czechoslovakia it was lower, though …

What Does Christian Hope Look Like? (part 2: Ramon Llull)

Several years ago, Evertt Huffard put me onto the story of Ramon Llull. This wealthy young man grew up in the 13th century in Mallorca (now part of Spain). At the age of 33, he had a religious experince of some sort and became a Franciscan monk, giving up his wealth and social standing in the process.

He wrote a number of philosophical and scientific works, some of which were controversial in his time yet foreshadowed later discoveries. Many church leaders didn't take his academic pursuits seriously because he lacked educational credentials.

In the years 1285, 1304 and 1314, he undertook trips to northern Africa. His intent was to convert Muslims to Christianity. He was forcefully expelled on the first and second trips. On the third trip, an angry mob of Muslims from the modern-day country of Algeria stoned him (though the historical record is sketchy). He died perhaps as a result of his injuries at the age of 82.

A pretty unremarkable life. A very unsuccessful missionary. Or so it w…

More Car Show pics

To see some GREAT car show pictures, check out our church website. Thanks to Robin Button who has put a page on there with about 50 thumbnails for you to peruse. Lots of great shots that don't include my sweet little face.

What Does Christian Hope Look Like? (part 1: Irena Kuželová)

About 15 years ago I visited a distinguished woman named Irena Kuželová, the preacher for the only remaining Moravian Brethren congregation in Prague, Czech Republic. Very few Moravian Brethren congregations (Unitas Fratrum) survived Communism in the Czech lands of Bohemia and Moravia. This one church in Prague was small and mostly populated by retirees.

Though battling with cancer, Mrs. Kuželová was still working in mininstry. Her husband was in poor health. She herself could have retired, but she chose to stay on in the belief that her work mattered.

On a visit to her home she described to me her difficult path to ministry and her concern for the religious situation in the Czech Republic. She grew up in the First Republic, as Czechs call it, the period of independence and prosperity for Czechoslovakia (1918-1938). Under the leadership of Tomas G Masaryk, the Czechoslovak GDP grew to the 5th largest in the world.

In those days of hope, a dream started to grow within her. Her parents wer…

Can Theology and Culture Speak to Each Other?

I've been forced to do lots of thinking about theology and culture. A couple major reasons necessitate this. First, I've made a major move. California is new to me. Sure, I've been here on multiple visits, but you never really know a place until you live there. As one of my elders, Lynn Button, puts it well, I'm in the information gathering phase. I'm having to guard against reading my new environment through lenses developed in other settings. Sure, I've learned good processes for asking questions and gathering information, but I can't use past conclusions to shape what I think about the world of California and the Central Valley. I want to be effective in my ministry here in Fresno, so I'm looking at this culture and wondering how theology can interact with it.

Second, I'm in the middle of my doctoral studies. This doesn't mean I'm smart. Just means that I'm a little crazy. At any rate, this program is forcing me to ask questions about …

Deconstruction vs Hope

I spent several days at Pepperdine University last week for their annual Bible Lectures. I've been a handful of times, this being my third straight year in attendance. Hanging out with a few thousand other Christians is an uplifting experience. Plus it's an easy assignment to be in Malibu for a few days -- though I must admit there is no place like home.

I heard several good classes, including one taught by our own Kym Dildine. She did a marvelous job with her material about raising Christian daughters. I hope we can find a way for her to share her material not just with the parents of daughters but with all parents. Folks, we need to be aware of the pressures placed on young people. Too many parents are way too naive about their children. Kids have always gotten into mischief, yes. But the destructive nature of some of the "mischief" available in today's world can seriously scar a young person for life. Thanks, Kym, for sharing constructive ideas so well.

I also h…

Vision Sunday and Car Show

I need to say more about the car show last Sunday on our church property. I was completely blown away by (a) the hard work and excellent organization of our church folks; and (b) the uninhibited participation of the community.

Most people from our church had clearly defined jobs and did them gladly. Serving food, supervising children's activities, judging cars, giving out free info, talking to people -- our folks were busy and seemed to like doing what they were doing. If we can organize such an amazing one-day event, imagine what we can do in other areas!

Even more impressive than our organization was the participation of the community. There were 197 car-show entries, almost all entered by non-members. One of our organizers estimated there were 1,500 people who attended, many who simply walked over from the surrounding neighborhoods. I remember speaking with one man, Gilbert, who was thrilled with the fact that it was all free. No $7 tri-tip sandwiches, no nickle-and-dime charges …

Car Show

Now I understand what the Sunday Spring Classic is all about. Wow! What a great afternoon. I'll wait and post more later, but I just wanted to say that this was an awesome community event. Gene Sue has been a great visionary behind this. And so many others have obviously jumped in over the years to make this great. College Church sure is a talented place!

We're Number 5!

According to information released in today's Fresno Bee, our fair city is now the 5th largest in California. With 495,913 inhabitants, Fresno edged out Long Beach for the last spot in the state's top five. Fourth place is a LONG way away: San Francisco has 845,000 people.

Oddly, the city we just moved from was the fifth largest in West Virginia. Morgantown is growing, but the smallish city boundaries keep the official population at about 30,000. (The census bureau counts it as a metropolitan statistical area with 110,000 people all told.)

And even stranger still, the town of Visalia (just south of Fresno) grew to 123,670 people. I bet that most West Virginians have never heard of Visalia. I hadn't. But it would the largest city in West Virginia -- by more than double! Yet in California it ranks as the 47th largest city. This sure is a big state with lots of people and lots of cities.

Living in bigger cities is nothing new for us. We used to live in Prague, Czech Republic, a …