7/19/16

When A Muslim Buys Christians Lunch

I have been teaching the same Sunday School class for about six years now and, for the most part, have enjoyed it very much. Every couple of weeks a number of the guys get together for breakfast or lunch at a local restaurant. I got word this afternoon that today's meal was a bit different than usual. Here's the short message I received about it, a message that, if all us Christians just stopped a moment to think about, could really teach us something. Sure, as a Christian, I want everyone, including my Muslim friends to come to know and trust Jesus. If that doesn't happen, however, the least I want is for us to be able to at least coexist in peace. Here is a great example of how we can take steps toward making that happen. Read this and then, my fellow Christian, realize that it's your move. Pay it forward!

Email Title: Unexpected Generosity

Email Body:  Most of you know about the New Covenant Mens Meals...we alternate between having breakfast and lunch at an area restaurant every three weeks.  This morning, following a prayer, seven of us had a good meal and a good time at the IHOP on New Circle and Palumbo. When it came time to pay the bill our waitress told us it was taken care of.  When pressed on this, she said another person had paid for all of us and insisted on remaining anonymous.  She did hand us a note he had written:

"Peace From Your Muslim Brother."  Needless to say we were surprised...and thoughtful about this act of generosity and the person doing it.



7/4/16

Meeting Wayne B. Smith - A Small Tribute

Despite the fact that I was introduced to the concept of "church" late in my teen years and in Southern Baptist circles at that, in a very real sense, I "cut my teeth" on church, as it were, in the (Independent) Christian Church movement. For those not in-the-know, the "Independent" churches, while not an "official" denomination with an episcopacy or president or single central leader, basically function as a denomination. They have an annual national conference, they have scores of Bible colleges and several seminaries around the country, and they are, for the most part, very strict within most of their churches and institutions of higher education about only hiring people produced in their schools. In Kentucky especially, these congregations are everywhere. They are part of what is known as the Restoration Movement, a movement that was birthed and given life at Cane Ridge during revivals. Eventually, however, the Restoration Movement splintered into three. 

On the far right of the Movement are the Churches of Christ, usually non-instrumental. On the far left are the Disciples of Christ, who tend to focus largely on social issues. In the middle and more to the right, at least in this part of the country, are the Independents. They, unlike the Disciples of Christ, which are a denomination and have a single leader, pride themselves on their independence.

In 1999, just after I finished high school and had really just become a Christian, I took off for Kentucky Christian College (now University). Immediately following that, I took a scholarship offer at Lexington Theological Seminary to do my MDiv. The former is affiliated with the Independent churches and the latter with the Disciples of Christ. Both of those times were formative for me in many ways and I have many fond memories of my times there.

But it was also during my time at these two places that I encountered Wayne Smith. To date, I have four degrees, including a Ph.D., and am working on a fifth, so I have taken tons of classes. I have sat at the feet of world-renowned scholars and am so fortunate to have done so. But, I have a confession to make: I cannot really remember, at least in a word-for-word fashion, a single meaningful quote from any of those professors. To be sure, they have helped shape and edify me but, at this very instant, I struggle to recall any one course-steering word or quote off the top of my head. 

The same cannot be said, however, with regard to my encounters with Wayne B. Smith. As anyone and everyone who ever heard Wayne knows, he loved telling jokes...that was his shtick, his thing. Sometimes his jokes were a bit too colorful for the pulpit and sometimes over-the-line, but there was never a thought that he had any malintent; you knew he was just out for a laugh and trying to tap into folks' joyous side. 

But back to what Wayne said. Friends, I have to be honest, one of the first times I ever heard Wayne speak (it was the second time, on the same day, actually), he made a comment that, even though I didn't realize it in that moment, has remained formative in my nearly twenty years of ministry. It's something that many have heard him say. Yet, more than any secondary quote I know, it is the one that I have returned to most; it has, for all intents and purposes, been something of a life motto for me, something I suppose that's a close as a "life verse" as you can get. 

Somewhere around 2000 or 2001, Wayne came to speak in chapel at Kentucky Christian. Everyone loved it; it was a big hyped up day. It was around that same time that a building had just been dedicated in his name. But Wayne also came to my preaching class and spoke to us young, budding preachers, It was there that Wayne spoke and gifted me with that life motto, something I've used in countless sermons to be sure, but even more, something that has be personally formative: "Preach the Gospel, brother, preach it! Put it high, where men can teach it, put it low where men can reach it, preach the Gospel, brother, preach it!" That statement, simple as it may be, is one of the most profound I've ever heard. 

To me, the call than to preach the Gospel is a great one and there is few greater gifts than the experience to be able to. In a world where the Gospel is often so watered down and so non-offensive and so, well, not the Gospel, the Church desperately needs folks who will preach and teach it, and who will hold it high as they do so. At the same time, however, those same people must keep it at a level where it's understandable. That's the task of one who handles the Gospel: Respect it enough to hold it high, love others enough to bring it to them. In fact, I don't think the "put it low" part of this means dumb it down or water it down; no, it means that, as a preacher, you must also a be a servant. You have to "get low," you have to be a servant before those you're sharing the Gospel with so they will see how wonderful it is and, in turn, raise it high themselves.

I wasn't shocked, but I did get goosebumps when Southland Christian Church, which Wayne founded many years ago and is now a massive congregation, shared a video of Wayne and he those were his parting words. He called those words his life motto. Some of the first words I heard from the man were the same as the last I heard from him. And if there's one thing beyond the phrase itself we can learn from that, it's consistency. All these years, Wayne Smith has been a consistent and ardent advocate of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, even in the face of backlash.

I've heard many stories about Wayne over the years, even as I've moved out of the Restoration Movement and into United Methodism. I know of his work ethic and how he used lots of "shoe leather" going door-to-door telling the Gospel in the early days of Southland. I had another chance to meet Wayne when, as a young pastor, he came and preached a revival at the church I was leading. It was the annual homecoming service and Wayne did his usual thing: told jokes, told more jokes, made a couple of profound points, and told some more jokes. The place was in an uproar and busting a gut laughing for nearly 45 minutes straight. I had the chance to sit and eat with him afterward and, even then, I felt like I was in the midst of a giant of the faith. The best part of it all, however, was the fact that he was still incredibly humble and approachable. 

I was only two years or so into that ministry and, about two weeks after that homecoming service, I received a large envelope in the mail. Wayne had taken it upon himself to send me a package. Upon opening it, I found a book of sermons he had written and had spiral bound. The picture included here is a snapshot of that book; I still have it. The note on the inside cover, handwritten by Wayne to me, says, "Hope you can use this material - Keep up the good work - Wayne B. Smith." I imagine there are other ministers out there with this same exact book (and maybe even the same comment and signature). I heard that just before he died, in fact, he was still at a ministers gathering encouraging preachers, especially the younger ones (and he even noted that he thought that event would be his last - crazy!). But, returning to the book he sent, as the title suggests, these were his favorite sermons; the ones he delivered across his time in ministry and the ones that he loved the most. What a blessing to receive them! I've read them all. 

There were several others, not bound, that were included. One, which I've included a snapshot of here, was titled "Abortion." This was given at Southland on January 18th, 1987. As I read that again this evening, I was struck by his boldness. Three paragraphs in he says this, "We come here today to tell the truth. Abortion is wrong. Abortion is unscriptural. Abortion is anti-scriptural. Abortion is murder." 20 years on, this is still an issue we need to confront, of course, and we need to tap into that same boldness of the Spirit that Wayne did then.

You've seen the book and at least one of the other sermons, but what you don't see here is a personal note he sent me, a word of encouragement. And you don't see the $200 in cash he included. I was surprised but, after thinking about it, not shocked. I realized then what made Wayne "one of the greats," namely, that he wasn't in it for himself but only for the sake of God's kingdom.

Unfortunately, I haven't seen Wayne in person since the early 2000s when he visited that little country church I was leading. Still, over the last several days, I've been both saddened and blessed by seeing all the things folks are writing in his honor. I wanted to partake and so I wrote this brief post; it's good to give thanks for our brothers and sisters! I thank the Lord that I got to cross paths with Wayne and, even more, that I got to sit at his feet and learn something that has shaped me over the course of 20 years, something that has never left me. We all say lots of things and most of them pass into oblivion. For me, Wayne's comment has not simply passed by; no, it has stuck. And so, as he says at the end of the video below, and as he said during that class to me at KCU, I say to you, too, one more time: "Preach the Gospel, brother, preach it! Put it high, where men can teach it, put it low where men can reach it, preach the Gospel, brother, preach it!

May that be your motto, may it continue to be mine, and may our brother in Christ rest in peace! 


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6/19/16

Why I'm Still (and Staying) A United Methodist

The United Methodist Church (UMC), my church, is in a state of flux. Evangelicals like myself who are committed to historic, apostolic, orthodox Christianity are feeling the social pressures from Progressives to bend to society's desires with regard to the issue of same-sex marriage. Progressives, those who affirm same-sex marriage and are vying for its full acceptance and inclusion in the UMC, are committed to challenging orthodoxy. Since the UM "Book of Discipline" speaks against this practice, they want to amend it. Evangelicals do not. How can such a bridge be crossed? What can be done? Can the two perspectives coexist under the same denominational roof or must they divorce? 

At the recent General Conference, the episcopacy (= bishops) drafted a letter titled "A Way Forward," in which they proposed to form a study committee that, over the next 2-3 years, would research the issue of same-sex marriage. This committee would then bring their findings and suggestions forward and make suggestions as to whether or not to emend the "Book of Discipline's" language about the issue. For evangelicals, this letter resembled a hail Mary pass of sorts, or better yet a punt, to simply buy more time on the issue. Many read it as if in 2 or 3 years, when the culture of the West was even more open to same-sex marriage, the UMC would eventually accept it. Some progressives, however, read it as another "No!" From their perspective, "wait a little longer" basically just meant "No!" again, just as it always has. In short, the bishops' letter left Evangelicals and Progressives alike unsatisfied.

That, however, is simply a nice way to say it. For me personally, I must say, the last month has been trying. I have worried, prayed, read, talked, and worried some more. In all of this, at the fore of my mind has been the thought of whether to leave the United Methodist Church or to stay the course. Initially, I wrestled most with the notion of simply staying aboard what I perceived to be a sinking ship. "Why waste my time?" I thought. "Why waste 2, 3, or 4 more years of my life helping a denomination die?" After a while, however, my perspective began to shift. I came to the realization that what was really bothering me was the idea of submitting to a wayward leadership. The real nagging question was, "Can I, in good faith and conscience, stand before my maker having knowingly submitted myself to a wayward group of leaders?" As of late, I have been dwelling on that question with something of an obsession. For some, the answer to that is pretty obvious and very cut and dry. "Leave!" they would tell me. 

Someone like Paul, after all, would simply rebuke these gone-astray/awry leaders; there's no way he would've submitted himself to them. So, what's my hangup? What's my excuse? What's stopping me from leaving? Shouldn't I leave with the type of boldness Paul would have left with? Shouldn't I just shake the dust off and move on? Shouldn't I do what Paul did in Acts and wash my hands of this mess? The constant thinking about such things created an inner sense of turmoil that made me want to leave all the more. I continued reaching out to folks I respected, brothers and sisters who also had the Spirit, in order to reason with them. I processed through things with the Sunday School class I've been teaching for about 6 years now, talked through it during 2 home group meetings, had many conversations with my wife, and I made numerous phone calls to trusted friends. 

Then something happened, something simple, something that moved me. A couple of weeks ago after a Sunday School class, a friend approached me. This friend is one who has been part of the class for decades, who had been there much longer than I. As he was heading out the door he put his hand on my shoulder and said, "I always appreciate your teaching. We need guys like you. Don't leave; we need you. Suck it up and stick with us." At that moment, my perspective shifted a bit once again. My staying or leaving wasn't so much about submitting to a wayward leadership but submitting to and serving those in need of the truth, those hungry for the truth, namely, Jesus' sheep. In a word, it was about "discipleship"! This guy was essentially telling me what Jesus told Peter, that is, to stay and feed the Lord's sheep. And just to be clear, what got me was not that I needed to be needed but that the UMC needed to be needed. The UMC needs people who will treat her like the beautiful bride of God she is. 

Moreover, it dawned on me then that staying wasn't an affirmation of the ideas or ideologies of rogue leaders. No, my staying is three-sided: I stand with the leaders who remain faithful to classical Christianity, I stand with fellow followers of Jesus upholding the apostolic faith and, at the same time, I stand squarely against those attempting to inject false teachings into the Church and attract followers to these ways of thought and practice. Rather than bail on my people, the people called Methodists, I'm staying; I'm going to suck it up; I'm not leaving. 

As I write this, big changes are already underway. Over the weekend, a spectacle was made at a New England annual conference. Progressives announced that they had had enough and essentially vowed to stand opposed to the "Book of Discipline." At the end of the day, the logical outworking of their actions (after judicial rulings and all) will result in a secession from the UMC. Stated differently, this may be the beginning of the end for the UMC as we know it. Or put differently yet again: A split now seems underway, especially if this results in a sort of domino effect. What we have here is not excommunication (though Paul himself surely would've not hesitated calling for that) but rather a desire to leave. The cynical reaction might be to sing "So long, farewell, Auf wiedersehen, Adieu.." as they head out the door but I'm not rejoicing. My hope is that God's kindness, whether shown by me or others, might lead them to repentance (Rom 2:4). 

Admittedly, I'm not a guy who does well with long periods of waiting. I don't like the sun going down with things unresolved. That's part of the reason I cringe when I have others continually tell me to wait to see what God does with the UMC. I don't want to wait. So, to get over my anxiety, I've decided that I'm not going to focus on the future but am going to be here, in the now, in the moment, and trust both that what I'm doing in being faithful and even more, what God is doing in being faithful, is enough. Don't get me wrong, the future is important but I can sleep better at night when I lay my head on the pillow knowing that what I've done today for Christ's bride has blessed her and him. 

I am not a cradle-to-grave Methodist. One thing I often say, however, is that I was Wesleyan before I knew the tradition even existed. To borrow language from my Catholic friends: Finding the UMC was like a finding my way to a homecoming. And so, I'm staying here; I'm staying home. Others are leaving (both Evangelicals and Progressives!) and they're making noise all over the internet about it. In the midst of that, to my Evangelical siblings in the faith, I want you to know that if your conscience is heavy and the Spirit seems to be calling for that, I have no desire to hinder it. But if there are others out there who've been struggling like I have, I do hope this is a word of encouragement for you. As a John Wesley Fellow, I made a vow to whereby I committed myself to renewal in the UMC. I am holding out hope that that's on the horizon, even in the midst of a possible split. And, just in case you need to hear it my fellow UMC brother or sister who is committed to historic Christianity, let me urge you to stay, to feed God's sheep, and to suck it up. Christ's bride needs you, too!

3/22/16

Another SBL 2016 Paper Accepted: Network Morphology Via DATR

I'm happy to share the news that another paper of mine has been accepted for SBL 2016 in San Antonio, Texas. I'll be presenting in the Global Education and Resource Technology section or, as some of you may know it, GERT. Just below are the title and abstract. I look forward to seeing folks at the conference in November!

A Network Morphology Approach to Koine: Using DATR to Model Adjective Paradigms

In this paper, I use DATR to model network morphology at the paradigm level in Koine Greek. In particular, I focus my attention on adjectives in order to demonstrate how this form of computing can create a host of paradigms in a relatively short amount of time. Along the way, I discuss concepts central to DATR such as hierarchy, inheritance (default and multiple), generalizations, classes, and overrides. I show that DATR has the potential to not only to save time, but to also reveal morphological connections that might otherwise go unnoticed.

3/15/16

SBL 2016 Paper Accepted

Hi Friends, I just wanted to share that my paper for the 2016 SBL Annual Meeting (San Antonio, TX) was accepted. I'm excited to be part of the prestigious Synoptic Gospels section. Here's the title and abstract:

Can I Get an "Amen"?: 
The Rhetorical Function of "Amen" in the Synoptics

Although "Amen" appears more than 50 times in the Synoptics, it often receives little exegetical attention. Indeed, interpreters have long followed and relied upon BDAG, which asserts that "αμεν λεγω" is a construction unique to Jesus. On the surface, this appears sensible enough to simply adopt and move forward with. This paper, however, aims to chart new territory in Synoptic studies by giving some much needed attention to overlooked features of this ancient affirmative. Here I challenge the consensus position on "Amen" and show that a rhetorical analysis sensitive to both linguistic- and context-based cues and clues yields a harvest of new insights and understandings about this word and its use in the Synoptics. In short, as a rhetorical device, there is more to this term, especially with regard to how it contributes to the shape and formation of Gospel narratives and discourses, than initially meets the eye!

2/17/16

New Book! - Introducing Amharic: An Interactive Workbook

Hi Friends, it's been a while since I've posted on here but I just wanted to briefly mention the publication of my latest book, Introducing Amharic: An Interactive Workbook. You can pick up your copy HERE (http://www.glossahouse.com/#!product-page/cba4/b581db85-5fde-a75f-47ff-606ba6fff94f). But here's a little blurb:

Introducing Amharic is an interactive workbook for those interested in learning Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia. Through a variety of engaging lessons, learners using this text will gain a variety of speaking, reading, and writing skills. The foundation for being able to do these things well is a complete mastery of the fidel (i.e. alphabet). That is the main focus of this book! But learners who use this book will also be in a position to begin working with Ge’ez (Classical/Ecclesiastical Ethiopic).

Along the way, however, readers will learn numbers, days of the week, months, and important grammar points. Introducing Amharic also has audio companion files (sold separately) for the nearly 100 vocabulary words presented in the book. These files are available for purchase and download at GlossaHouse.com.

The goal of the GLOSSAHOUSE MODERN LANGUAGES SERIES is to facilitate the creation and publication of innovative, affordable, and accessible scholarly resources, whether print or digital, that advance research in the areas of modern texts and languages.