Monday, April 10, 2017

With Jesus on the Road to Calvary: Exploring Imaginative Prayer

My latest article in print, With Jesus on the Road to Destiny, appears, at first glance, to be a creative re-imagining of Jesus' final week leading up to his crucifixion and resurrection. Certainly an appropriate Palm Sunday piece.

But while it is that, my main point is about using creativity and your imagination in your spiritual disciplines.
Imagine the conversations Jesus and the disciples had during all those long walks. That’s exactly what I do when I pray, using my imagination to chat with them about what they—we—are seeing, doing, and hearing. As we sit around a campfire in the evening, I ask Jesus questions about the people we encountered and the things he said during the day.
I've used this imaginative method of prayer frequently since I first got the idea from Richard Foster

In Foster's book Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home, he talks about "sanctifying the imagination" in the chapter on Meditative Prayer.
The simplest and most basic way to mediate upon the text of Scripture is through the imagination . . . This is a wonderful aid as we come to the text of Scripture. We are desiring to see, to hear, to touch the biblical narrative. In this simple way we begin to enter the story and make it our own. We move from detached observation to participation. 
In Celebration of Discipline, Foster talked about another application of imaginative prayer, one that I've taught to people in church, in campus ministry, in counseling, and in the prison
Let’s play a little game. Since we know that Jesus is always with us, let’s imagine that he is sitting over in the chair across from us. He is waiting patiently for us to centre our attention on him. When we see him, we start thinking more about His love than how sick Julie is. He smiles, gets up, and comes over to us. Then, let’s put both our hands on Julie and when we do, Jesus will put His hands on top of ours. We’ll watch the light from Jesus flow into your little sister and make her well.
Obviously, this is only physically happening in your imagination. You're not actually controlling Jesus and his hands.

I often, when I'm praying for someone in need, picture Jesus giving them a hug or standing by their bed with their hand in his. It helps me to focus, and it's a way of specifically communicating to God what I'm praying for.

Some have criticized this form of prayer as too new-agey. I like this explanation by Greg Boyd in
CTPastors: Learn Imaginative Prayer:
Differentiate imaginative prayer from the New Age movement. Imaginative prayer is focused on biblical truth; whereas New Age uses the imagination to go on shamanistic journeys. This is simply thinking about God in concrete and vivid ways. It's rooted in the biblical tradition.
Some won't like this type of prayer simply because their personality isn't constructed that way. Some of us learn and interact better in very concrete, black and white ways. Others, like me, always see the abstract and the imaginative even in the midst of real world events.

If this helps you in your prayer life, I'm glad. If not, I sincerely hope you're still praying.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

In Print: Do Not Call Conspiracy Everything This People Calls Conspiracy

“And then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14).  
Now that’s a conspiracy theory that can change the world, if only we keep our heads about us and stay on message. 
My article, Do Not Call Conspiracy Everything This People Calls Conspiracy, is in the April 2017 issue of Christian Standard. When I wrote the article, shortly after the November, 2016, election, I had no idea how timely it would remain.

I highly recommend reading a book I referenced, Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories, by Rob Brotherton (Bloomsbury USA; November 17, 2015).  If you read it with an open mind, seeking truth, it will challenge you to question why you believe the things you believe, and to resolve to be more diligent in "taking every thought captive."

A few quotes:

When it comes to conspiracy theories it’s tempting to think that our belief - or disbelief - is based on fair assessment of the facts. But the reality is that our beliefs are shaped by our overarching worldview more often than we might like to admit. As I said, the conspiracism is a lens through which we view the world - and we all have a different prescription. Few people credulously accept every theory, and few staunchly reject every suggestion of conspiracy. Most of us are somewhere in the middle, mildly skeptical of conspiracy theories across the board, but unwilling to write them off completely. (page 97) 
More than three quarters of the students [in a study] admitted to having one or more paranoid thoughts on at least a weekly basis. Around a third of the students admitted to having a paranoid thought more frequently.
 . . .
Paranoia goes hand in hand with conspiracy theories, but conspiracy theories aren’t exclusive to the fringe, because paranoia isn't exclusive to the fringe.
. . .
Likewise, there’s an element of truth to the idea that conspiracy theorists tend to feel relatively alienated and powerless. But this, too, is a more universal experience than the stereotypes would have us imagine. Psychologists have long understood the importance of feeling in control, and it’s not a desire exclusive to people on the fringes. We all want to believe that we understand our circumstances and are master of our own destiny. (page 109) 
By painting conspiracism as some bizarre psychological tick that blights the minds of a handful of paranoid kooks, we smugly absolve ourselves of the faulty thinking we see so readily in others. But we’re doing the same thing as conspiracists who blame all of society’s ills on some small shadowy cabal. And we’re wrong. Conspiracy-thinking is ubiquitous because it’s a product, in part, of how all our minds are working all the time. (page 243)

Sunday, March 5, 2017

In Print: Uphold the Cause

I am the alien.

Scriptures describe us as sojourners, refugees, and aliens. Our biblical identity as a peculiar people and the “set-apart ones” doesn’t put us in a class above others. We’re not better because we know the King. Quite the contrary, our status carries with it the promise that we can expect to be among the outcast, the odd ones, and the oppressed.

If I believe I’m an alien, I won’t easily choose political options aimed at protecting my own status, whether legal, financial, or societal. I have no status, other than that of a pilgrim temporarily on mission in a foreign land, looking forward to going home.

My alienated status will lead me to identify with others who are strangers in my adopted country. Whatever my opinions about the legal and political issues surrounding immigrants and refugees, I’ll choose to show them kindness and to uphold their cause along with the Lord.

If I choose to believe I’m among “the least of these,” it will change the way I approach political issues.

Read the rest at Uphold the Cause in the March 2017  issue of Christian Standard .

Sunday, February 12, 2017

In Print: Small Churches With a Big Impact

In towns and cities all over America, small churches are known for more than their Sunday morning services. We asked the leaders of several small (under 200) congregations to share how their church serves their community. Their answers prove it doesn't take a big congregation to have a huge impact. The results are in this week's Lookout magazine, entitled "Small Churches, Big Impact."

Ashland Christian Church's Back to School Festival

Monday, February 6, 2017

In Print: The Church of Mirrors

From The Church of Mirrors, in the February 2017 issue of Christian Standard magazine:

A congregation that has embraced the intentional diversity Jesus designed into his church will be eager to welcome yet another square peg into the mix.

I tell prisoners the church needs them just as much as they need the church. Every congregation needs committed newcomers who bring something different, something a little out of the ordinary to the personality of the church. Just imagine the people a former prisoner will be able to attract to Jesus; they are likely to be the kinds of seekers who might not feel comfortable in a middle-class congregation.

The church was designed to be a widely diverse collection of oddballs, nonconformists, straight arrows, and free spirits. What better way to be equipped to serve as a reflection of righteousness to a world filled with oddballs, nonconformists, straight arrows, and free spirits?
Read the rest HERE

Monday, December 5, 2016

Training the Next Generation of Women in Ministry: The Rest of the Story

Anne Menear (2nd from left) with some of her "daughters"
My latest article, an interview with Anne Menear, is in the December 2016 issue of Christian Standard.  (Training the Next Generation of Women in Ministry: An Interview With Anne Menear). I encourage you to check it out, in paper or online.

Anne is the Director of the Education department at Central Christian College of the Bible, as well as the Dean of Women and the possessor of several other titles and wearer of numerous hats at CCCB.

As usual, not everything from my interviews finds its way into the published version of the article.Here, then, is more from (and about) Anne Menear:

I'll begin first with a couple of quotes from her boss, David Fincher, the president of CCCB:
“Anne has been quite dedicated to working in whatever capacity we need, as well as building strong relationships with our students and staff members. She relocated here from West Virginia in 2004 and has been all in. She has actually recruited several employees to come here as well. She has been a tremendous asset to us in that time.”
. . .
Many of the earlier restrictions upon women in all of our Christian colleges were inferred from Bible verses that specifically addressed the worship assembly and leadership polity of the first century church,” he says. “Over time more female students enrolled at Christian colleges and were being given leadership opportunities in our churches after graduation. In order to develop servant-leaders for the church, we saw that not only were there legitimate leadership needs within the church where women were being called to serve, but there were many qualified women who could effectively train both men and women for those positions. At that point, utilizing them in those capacities was difficult to criticize either biblically or culturally

Anne Menear on why she gave up coaching the CCCB women's basketball and volleyball teams:
I gave all that up to for the student development. Too much road work. I love people. I love coaching, but I’m not a professional athlete or coach by any matter.

On her passion for teaching people how to teach:
I’m in charge of the Christian Education program, since Mr. Schantz retired, so I’m the advisor for Christian Education majors and I help them with the schedules and oversee their internships.

Basically I try to teach well, to teach them how to teach. That’s one of my greatest passions is teaching to teach.

I hate that the assumption is made that you’re born a teacher. I think anybody can be taught to teach, with some basics skills.

I don’t think you should put someone in as a teacher, whether it’s for Sunday School or otherwise, just because they have a bachelor’s degree or they have a master’s in something. That does not mean that they know what they’re doing. It means they know a lot about a subject.

I think with a little bit of training anyone can be trained to be a teacher. So you teach them about discipline, teach them how to be organized,and how to put together a layout for teaching and be prepared.
On restorative discipline:
I always call it the principal of the college. When I was working in Virginia I was an assistant principal, so I had to discipline on a lower level.

Here, discipline is more based on our code of conduct. We try to do what’s call restorative or redemptive discipline. It’s a great program. It was introduced to me when I first arrived here.

It’s just the idea that we’re not going to kick you to the street because you can’t follow God’s rules; we’re all struggling with that one.

Instead, how can we restore a person and help them to overcome those things so they can be a part of the community. I get to do a lot with the young ladies around here.
I work very closely with Daryl Ammon, my boss, and with the Dean of Men, Aaron Welch. We do a lot of team type of work. The climate of today’s culture is such that you don’t want to be one on one with people, so you get into a he-said/she-said situation, It’s a really cool program
On identity as the key issue for women:
I was at the national basketball tournament in Joplin two years ago and a young lady spoke on the subject of identity, and bells and whistles went off in my head.
. . .

I think that’s been a universal issue for centuries, but I don’t think it’s gotten any better at all.

How is that different than “finding myself”? It’s more guided. There’s less drugs involved! I don’t want them to necessary want them to wander around Colorado looking for their feelings.

I know they’re going to make a lot of mistakes, a lot of its trial and error.

They need good examples. I try to have some of our dorm mentors, professors’ wives, or local ladies in the church to come in and have contact with them, just to show them you can have a direction in life, you can have an identity and it’s not necessarily just wife, mother, children’s minister, missionary, that it’s “I’m a child of the king.” Once you have that prioritized then hopefully there will be less wandering and finding yourself.

I was the main speaker at an all girls camp for 5th-8th graders at Lemoine Christian Camp last week. I told them you’re all princesses. Some of you have been acting like queens; you think everybody should be bowing before you. But you are a child of the King, and that makes you a princess.

But there’s still responsibility that comes with that. People aren’t here for your beck and call.

Your identity could be bound up in so many different things, and it could be the wrong things.

It’s a message little kids need. It’s sad, but I can’t believe how many 10 year old girls I see, and younger, struggling with that already. Wearing makeup, flirting with boys, and that kind of life. When you start that young, by the time you’re 18 and 19 and you’re going to go to bible college, those things hang on to you. They show up here with a lot of baggage.

If you came here broken like that, we can work with that, but you don’t have to go that direction.

I drive home that you don’t’ have to go that direction. You don’t have to be an alcoholic to feel the grace of God. You don’t have to have walked down those bad roads in order to get real with God. I feel fortunate to be able to catch a lot of them before they get to that.
On how she wound up at CCCB:
A friend of mine knew that I wanted to teach at the college level, saw the advertisement in the Christian Standard and passed it along to me. I kind of pooh-poohed it. There’s no way they’re going to hire a 30-year old woman – a thirty year young woman – to work at a bible college.

I sent the resume in, got an interview and got hired. I assume God was somehow orchestrating a big move away from the ocean I love to the Midwest, where the humidity is just as wettening, but not as nice. It’s a different culture than northern Virginia.
On trends among students:
I get a sense of restlessness. They’re not sure what to do or where to go.

Your generation and my generation, we went to bible college because we wanted to preach, we wanted to teach, and we had in mind where we were headed.

Now we have a lot of ones who are not sure, so they start in general studies and then they change to counseling, and then they might change their mind again three semesters into that.

Friends who work at Mizzou say the same thing.

That’s one of the hardest things to deal with is students who are flip flopping degree programs, which they don’t understand can really hurt your progress. They don’t where they want to go or what they want to do. They just know they want to do something.

This generation is really struggling with that , clarity of direction. It goes back to the identity issue.

I love something Jon Rawls said about your call. Very few people in the bible were called directly by God’s voice. “You go from here to there.”

We are all called in the general sense to spread the gospel, of course.

But whatever we choose to do should be based on our talents and what we’re trained to be able to do. And we should go ahead and do that with boldness.

So I just try to give them that kind of message. You might not hear God’s voice audibly in your bedroom tonight saying, “Go to Nigeria”, but there might be somebody who contacts you or who you meet at ICOM, who invites you to come to Nigeria. And if you’re able to see how you could fit into that, then you can see how it could be something you could do with your career.

God kind of leaves some things up to us and we’re all scared to go through those doors. I just try to explain it to them and reinforce it.
. . . and a final quote from Anne Menear:
"We could use a little less divisive subjects and more unity."

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Don't Mourn. Don't Cheer. Mobilize.

The total expenditure of words in the past 24 hours has been "yuge." Everyone has an explanation for what just happened and suggestions for what comes next.

An editorialist in the Chicago Tribune wrote, Use this gift from voters well, Republicans, advising the winners to take constructive advantage of what will likely be a very short window of opportunity, if history is any indicator.
Just as surely as they've [the Republicans] have raised this red sea, they can sink back to minority status in a couple of election cycles. Solutions or self-destruction, GOP. What'll it be?
A writer on the other side of the divide said on The American Prospect website, Mourn. Then Organize.
At a time like this, many liberals and progressive will recall the words of labor activist Joe Hill: “Don't mourn, organize.” But let's be honest. We're in shock. We need time to mourn. To recover from the trauma of this election. ...
The truth is, this is probably not the great sea change most people seem to think it is. Nate Silver of points out in What a Difference 2 Percentage Points Makes that the difference in popular vote was minuscule statistically. If only 1 voter out of 100 had voted differently, the entire narrative of the post-election onslaught of verbiage would have been totally different. The conventional wisdom would have been completely reversed.

The arc of the pendulum, it seems, is not that large.

So what should a Christian do, now that the election is over?

I'd paraphrase Joe Hill: Don't Mourn or Cheer. Mobilize.

That same Chicago Tribune editorial opens with this quote:
"How could Nixon have won? Nobody I know voted for him." — New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael, expressing disbelief (and myopia) in 1972 after Republican Richard Nixon defeated Democrat George McGovern by an Electoral College vote of 520-17. Four years later, Democrats won back the presidency.
Kael's comment illustrates a sad truth, that we all tend to congregate with people much like ourselves. We don't take time to get to know the people whose lives and experiences have led them to a very different political perspective than ours. We look at politics as being about the big issues, rather than seeing the people entangled in the daily impact of those issues.

The next step, for missional believers, should be to examine what we can learn about the people of our community, based on the election cycle we've just endured and the results of this vote. Can we see beyond the rhetoric and the slogans to understand the hearts and minds of people who would inexplicably vote for four years of Donald Trump? Can we push past the accusations and labels to learn about the daily struggles and fears of a person who would dare vote for Hillary Clinton?

Our God has what each of those people needs. The only way they'll discover God's gift is if we'll stop being a voting bloc called "Evangelicals."

Instead, let's mobilize to reach out to our neighbors and share with them our hearts and our good news..