Monday, May 21, 2018

Citizenship and Identity

Our friends and former teammates, Craig and Merschon Hutson officially became Irish citizens today.  Less than 8 years ago, the Hutsons moved to Dublin as aliens, but today, they have made the Republic of Ireland not only their residence, but their home.  I am thrilled that they've taken this step and I know that it means so much to them and to the North Dublin Christian Community for whom they labor.  There are many Irish Americans in the world, but not nearly as many American Irish.  The Hutsons have joined the few and the proud.

Several decades ago, my grandmother Augusta and her Danish family became Americans.  I'm sure it must have been a meaningful moment for her family to not only embrace their new home, but to be embraced back through the naturalization process.  Immigrants around the world can empathize with the feeling.

Ever since I first moved overseas 19 years ago, I've spent a lot of time thinking about citizenship and identity.  Though I'm proud to be an American, I am more and more convicted that this is only one small part of my identity.  Don't get me wrong, I realize that so much of my world-view and even personality has been shaped by growing up in the United States.  And I have received many blessings as an American.  But more and more, I've come to view myself as a citizen of the world, rather than just one nation on this terrestrial ball.  In fact, though the US is a republic, I have become evermore convinced that monarchy is the way forward.  But not just any old monarchy.  I am convicted that the only kingdom worth living for, and even dying for, is the Kingdom of God.  But it's a kingdom that I will never kill for (our founder has outlawed this).

Thanks to dual nationality, the Hutsons were not forced to renounce their US citizenship today.  They don't have to choose between being Irish or American.  But citizens of the Kingdom of God don't have the option of dual nationality.  Sure, we live and function as Americans, Irish, Venezuelan, Nigerian, Chinese, or Iranian.  We pray for our leaders, as well as other world leaders, we pay our taxes, send our kids to school (or home school them), and try to obey the laws of the land (so long as they don't violate the constitution of Christ's Kingdom).  But our ultimate allegiance must always be given to our only sovereign, King Jesus.  And we have faith that one day, whether soon, or in the distant future, the kingdoms of this world, will become the one and only kingdom of our Lord, and he will reign forever and ever.

Though Craig and Merschon are citizens of two great republics, their most prized possession is their citizenship in a monarchy.  And knowing them both well, I can say without a doubt that the most important "passport" they hold is the one they received years ago when they were baptized into Christ and became a part of his people, being marked and sealed by his Holy Spirit.  Like me, they long for the day when passports will no longer be needed as the nations will bring their glory into the new Jerusalem in God's renewed creation and all of earth's people will be made one.  Come King Jesus! - Shay    

Monday, May 14, 2018

Loving God with Our Minds

During the final week before his passion, Jesus found himself involved in several confrontations with the Jewish religious and political leaders.  A scribe overheard Jesus disputing with the Sadducees about the future hope of the resurrection of the dead and came near to ask Jesus a question.  Mark records it like this: "Which commandment is the first of all?'  Jesus answered, 'The first is, 'Hear O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.'"  

Like everything in the universe, it all begins with the God of Israel.  Not just any god, but the one and only God - the God that is one.  He created all things and by his powerful word, he holds together all things.  And he is the one who will bring all things to completion.  There's nothing that we have that we have not received.  There's nothing we can do to deserve life - we didn't choose to be born - it is simply given to us as a gift.  And our first response to the good gift of life is to love the giver of the gift.  

How are we to love him?  With everything we have and with everything we are.  We are to love God with our emotions and our will.  We are to love him when we feel like it, and maybe even more so when we don't feel like it.  We are to love him on the outside and we are to love him on the inside.  We are to love him through what we say, what we do, and even through what we think.  And we are to love him with every bit of energy and strength that he supplies.  Our love for God cannot be passive, it must be active.  It is something we choose to do.  

The greatest obstacles to our loving God comes from idolatry and selfishness.  The two are linked together.  Humanity's first sin was to love the creation rather than the creator.  We pursued the gift, rather than the giver of the gift, and we did so with selfish motives. 

But just as God has graced us with the breath of life, so he has provided the gift of his Spirit to those who respond in faith to the gift of his Son.  Through the Spirit and the Son, over time, we can learn to love God with everything we have and with everything we are, including our minds.  And of the four ways which Jesus claims we must love God,  I believe that loving the Lord with our minds may be the most important.     

Sadly, I think it is often the most neglected.  The human mind is incredible.  God has blessed this planet with minds that have unlocked the scientific structure of much of the universe (though there's still much that will probably always remain a mystery).  He has given humanity minds that have learned how to treat all manner of illness and disease through modern medicine (though there's still much research to be done).  The engineering marvels of the ancient world blow me away and 21st century mechanics and technology boggle my mind.  Not to mention, philosophy, poetry, music, art, story telling, and creativity of all kinds points us towards the initial creative act of the Creator.  The human capacity to discover and create has made the world an exciting place!  And yet, so many believers, who are otherwise brilliant, choose to use sloppy and shallow thinking when faced with the question of God.  

The single most important question that will ever confront humanity is sometimes not even pondered.  And when it is, more energy and reflection is often given to work, hobbies, partisan political debate, and silly, time wasting distractions, than to faith.  It's not that people are incapable of thinking deeply about such things, it's that they've chosen to put their time and energy elsewhere.  I believe it's also down to the fact that rigorous theological reflection takes time and a healthy attention span.  Many in our world have grown tired of waiting and lack the patience to think critically.  

The result of failing to love God with our minds is that many within the church remain on a perpetual diet of milk - baby food!  They are clueless about some of the basic teachings regarding the life and work of Christ, and have grossly misunderstood such rudimentary teachings as faith, repentance, baptism, and the resurrection of the dead (Hebrews 5:11-6:2).  Isn't it time to move on!

Please, don't misunderstand me.  I do not wish to imply that the legitimacy of our relationship with Jesus is primarily down to our knowledge and understanding of the Bible and theology.  I am simply lamenting the fact that so many of the gifted, talented, and smart people in Christ's church haven't devoted their God given gifts to be used in the service of a more mature and robust faith.  They have not taken the time to think critically about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.  As Anselm of Canterbury said, theology defined is faith seeking understanding.  It only stands to reason that the better we understand our faith, the more likely we are to allow it to penetrate the nooks and crannies of our lives.  Knowing what we believe is important, but knowing why we believe it, is even more important.  Don't forget to love God with all of your heart and soul.  But don't forget to love him with all of your mind and strength as well! - Shay 

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Experience and Innocence

When I was a kid, I was exposed to the music of Simon & Garfunkel, Willie Nelson, and Neil Diamond while on road trips with my parents.  Of the three, I'm still a fan of Willie and Simon & Garfunkel, and though I don't listen to Neil Diamond, I respect him as a song writer and singer.  However, I've never seen any of them perform live.  I really need to catch Mr. Nelson soon, as he recently turned 85.  I have no idea how long he'll be around (the herbal remedies seemed to have worked in his case, though I don't think I'd recommend that to anyone else looking to live a long life), but I can't imagine he'll be touring a decade from now.  Paul Simon is about to embark on his farewell tour, so I better catch him while I can too.  My parents have seen Neil Diamond live a couple of times, but I wasn't present and I don't think I've ever attended a major concert with them.  But I am thankful that we hold some musical preferences in common.

For better or worse, I've exposed Ashlyn to quite a bit of my music catalogue.  She's taken a liking to everything from George Ezra, Roddy Woomble, and Idlewild, to Dropkick Murphys and Rend Collective.  But my happiest moment came when Ashlyn told me that U2's new album, "Songs of Experience" is her favorite record of all time.  She claims that she'll never quit loving it (that's up in the air), but I'm just happy she's enjoying it in the present.  And though she's young to attend her first rock concert, she'll join me to see Dublin's finest launch their new tour tomorrow night in Tulsa, OK.  Juli will also be present, so it will be a family affair.  And since this is the Experience + Innocence tour, we'll all be aptly represented.  Don't worry, we'll make sure Ashlyn's wearing earplugs and gets to bed early later in the week! - Shay      

Monday, April 30, 2018

Unfinished

I took a trip to Germany and Ireland at the end of February.  I wrote about the first day of the Germany leg back on March 5.  I had intended to write several blog posts detailing various portions of my adventure within a few days of my initial post.  Here it is, the last day in April, and I'm just now getting back to it.  In one sense, I'd like to pick up where I left off.  But, as it's been so long, I really don't feel like going back down that path.  I've slept nearly 60 nights since then, and already some of the details of the trip are a little hazy.

But this also reminds me that in a variety of ways and at various times, I leave things undone.  I have good intentions -  I start off in a direction, but then one thing or another gets in the way, and I abandon my previous plans.  I would love things to be much more neat and tidy.  I would like to have a beginning, a middle, and an end, that at least makes sense, even if it doesn't always end up "happily ever after."  Sometimes things just end up unfinished.

Towards the end of his letter to the Romans, in what we call chapter 15, the Apostle Paul explains to the houses churches of the Imperial Capital that he hopes to join them soon and use Rome as a base for further mission work, in places like Spain.  But before he can journey to them, he needed to deliver a monetary gift from Gentile churches in the Eastern part of the Empire to the Judean believers in Jerusalem.  Paul did indeed deliver the gift to the Jerusalem church, but while there he was taken into custody and was eventually transferred to Caesarea where he remained for over two years.  Out of desperation, Paul, being a Roman citizen, appealed to the Emperor's court in Rome.  After a lengthy and dangerous sea voyage, Paul finally arrived in the eternal city.  But how the apostle to the Gentiles wound up at the city of seven hills was completely unexpected.  It's unlikely Paul ever made it to Spain.  So, in a sense, Paul's mission was left unfinished.  And this wasn't the first time in his life where Paul's plans where altered in some capacity (see Acts 16:6-10).

Often, when I get to the end of the day, I didn't quite accomplish all that I had set out to do.  It's the same when I reach the end of the week, the month, or the year.  But, each day has only 24 hours, each week has only 7 days, each month has only 4 weeks, and each year has only 12 months.  And each person has only one life to live.  And when we come to the end of our lives, whether long or short, undoubtedly, we will have left many things undone.  Life is a series of loose ends.    But that doesn't mean that our lives will have been necessarily unfinished.

Paul learned to live with the tension of loose ends and unfinished business.  He was faithful in the tasks that his Lord placed before him, but he was consistently reminded that God's Kingdom was finally God's work and God's business.  Though its hard to imagine any other person having as much of an impact on the work of the Kingdom, even Paul's work was only a very small tile in God's large mosaic.  And Paul trusted Jesus to bring it to completion in his own time and in his own way.  Whatever work Paul would have completed in Spain, he entrusted to his Savior.  We must learn to do the same.  

So, though I had intended to share the details of the remainder of my recent Euro journey, those stories will for now remain untold.  And even if they never make their way into narrative form, I have no doubt that they'll be told and re-told in the age to come.  And like all of our lives, they'll make much more sense when seen, read, and heard from the perspective of eternity.  Until then, we press on. - Shay

Monday, March 5, 2018

German - Irish Trip, Day One

I landed in Frankfurt, Germany at 5 AM local time on February 20, 2018.  I had traveled to Germany to attend the ABSS (Advanced Bible Study Series).  Having been to Germany multiple times in the past, I felt fairly comfortable hopping on a train and then eventually a bus to make my way to Gemunden, where the ABSS is held annually.  However, once I arrived in the tiny village, I realized that I had no idea where the retreat center was actually located.  There weren't many people out on the street, and the three or four folks that I spoke to didn't speak a lick of English.  And since I don't speak a lick of German, communication wasn't happening.  One local eventually pointed me in the direction of a hotel and so I made my way over to the quaint little place where a kind woman gave me instructions on how to reach my destination.  She told me to walk back out to the outskirts of the village and then head up a side road to the top of the mountain and there the place would be on the right.  Thankfully, it was only a small mountain, really more of a hill.

A few minutes later, I arrived at the retreat facility, having missed the first 15 minutes of the first presentation.  John Galloway, based out of East Kilbride, Scotland had recently completed a multi-day trip to Israel, and was sharing pictures and background information on a number of sites from the Holy Land.  Following John's presentation, Daryl Tippens, professor of literature at Abilene Christian University began the first of his six lectures on the theme of faith and culture.  Robert Limb, originally from the East Midlands of England, but based out of Paris, France for the better part of 40 years, began his lecture on Hope in the 21st Century.

After lunch, Daryl and I caught a lift from Jordan Arnold, an American missionary located in Slovakia, to the local Lidl (a German discount store, similar to Aldi).  Daryl and I both needed to pick up some toiletries and I needed to get some cash from an ATM.  After swinging by the Lidl and a local bank in Usingen, we took a jaunt out to the Kransberg Castle, which sits high above the surrounding countryside in the village of Kransberg (population 800).  We shared a cup of tea in local cafĂ© before heading back to Gemunden.

After a short nap, and dinner, the nearly 30 of us in attendance, had the privilege of listening to Jordan speak on the word of the cross from 1 Corinthians.  Following Jordan's presentation and a quick coffee break, we all settled in to watch Babette's Feast.  I had heard of the story and the film, but had never had the chance to see the movie.  But, I was also seriously jet-lagged, so I can't really say that I've seen the film now.  What I can say is that I've seen parts of the film.  Babette's feast is about the transforming power of grace and how a sacramental understanding of creation can radically change the way we interact with the world.  I look forward to going back and re-watching the film when I'm more alert.

After the movie, I grabbed a hot shower and then hit my bunk for a much needed snooze. - Shay

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Family Memories of Brett Winters


On Sunday, December 17, 2017, family, friends, and loved ones gathered at the Prestoncrest Church of Christ in Dallas, TX to celebrate the faithfulness of our Savior in the life of my cousin, Brett Wade Winters.  Though Brett only lived thirty-five short years, he made the most of his time.  God saved him and used him to make an impact on the world around him.  I was honored to have been given the opportunity to share some family memories of Brett and I wish to share them here, now. 

Our church family and our biological family create the most important relationships we’ll form in this life.  It’s a double blessing when our biological family is also a part of our church family.  Brett Winters was blessed by a strong faithful family, and Brett was a blessing to his family.

Cynthia Winters, Brett’s mom is one of six siblings, children of Rip and Gussie Turnbough - Papa and Gigi as they are more affectionately known to us.  The six Turnbough kids went on to have a total of eighteen children, meaning that in addition to his three siblings, Brett had fourteen first cousins – and that’s just on his mom’s side of the family.  I’m not sure how many cousins Brett had on his dad’s, Will Ed’s, side of the family.  I am blessed to be one of Brett’s cousins and my life has been greatly impacted for good by him.  Growing up, our cousins, aunts and uncles, along with Papa and Gigi, were regularly gifted to spend time together in various locations from Texas to Colorado and beyond.  Most of these holidays and get-togethers took place at the base of the Davis Mountains, out in the tiny West Texas town of Balmorhea. A typical Turnbough family get-together included board games, cards, dominoes, and group games like Charades.  When we were all younger, at night-time, we would turn Gigi’s and Papa’s huge front yard into a big playground for hide and go seek.  And not just any ol’ game of tag, but an extreme version of hide and go seek in the dark.  As we got older, we would utilize the front yard for games of touch football and kickball.  And when we got tired of that, we would commandeer a set of keys to the local high school gym and play some basketball.  These various sporting endeavors continued, even as we aged – and we didn’t all grow old gracefully.  There were quite a few minor and not-so-minor injuries, but we pressed on with the games in Balmorhea and other places.   

Brett’s aunt, and my mom, Karen Smith, tells of a time that our extended family was celebrating Christmas in Estes Park, Colorado.  Brett would have been about 11 years old, and our family had gone down to the local roller skating rink for a spin.  After a while, the family noticed that Brett was in his own little world as he made lap after lap around the rink.  He would make silly faces, gyrate his body, and even kick his leg up on the wall.  The entire time, he stayed in his own world, oblivious to the laughter of his family.  Everyone got a kick out of it and talked about it for some time.  But Brett didn’t do it to get attention or to make anyone laugh.  He was just being his light-hearted, joyful self.  And Brett’s sister, Kayla used to work hard at trying to get Brett to laugh.  She didn’t always succeed, but when she did it brought her great joy.  Brett consistently brought others great joy.  He was comfortable in his own skin.  He wasn’t worried about what others might think, so he was free to be who he was – free to live a life of joy – free to be who God created him to be, and who Jesus re-created him to be. 

As Brett grew older, his influence on others grew wider.  Sixteen years ago, I happened to be the camp counselor at Camp Blue Haven & I had Brett’s younger brother, Jared in my cabin.  One morning, I asked my campers to share someone who had been a strong spiritual influence in their lives.  Without hesitation, Jared spoke up and said that Brett had been the biggest spiritual influence in his life.  And just a couple of months ago, while on a trip with his family to watch his beloved Texas Tech Red Raiders, Brett and his older brother, Cade, took time out of their busy weekend to share a meal with their two college-aged first cousins once removed, Landon & Nathan.  Landon remarked that Brett was fully invested in their conversation, despite all that he was dealing with.  This aligns perfectly with what Courtney expressed in an online post on Thursday.  In it she said, “This entire year’s journey for Brett was NEVER about him or cancer.  It has been about God and loving others.  He has pointed people to Jesus in the midst of his pain.”  Brett’s life mimicked Jesus, as he lived to serve and to bless others, rather than himself.  Brett’s cousin, Misty Boyles, states that Brett reminds her of their grandfather, PaPa – a kind-hearted, gentle, humble, and hard-working servant.

And Brett had many opportunities to work alongside his grandfather, PaPa, out on the farm in Balmorhea.  Back in the summer of 2001, Brett, me, and our cousin, Brent, were unloading oats for our grandfather out in the middle of the desert – in the middle of nowhere.  The owner of the place was kind enough to give us some half-melted popsicles.  We all thirstily drank down these half-liquid concoctions.  But Brett had taken his shirt off and much of his popsicle had dripped onto his chest.  So, his “chest-lettuce” sported a sticky residue which soon became the home to dozens of flies.  But Brett wasn’t bothered, he just continued to work hard, shoveling oats amongst all the floating chaff and swarming insects. 

And it was around this time in Brett’s life that he met his beautiful wife, Courtney.  From the very beginning, their relationship was unique.  At their wedding, back in 2006, Brett’s first cousin once removed, Kaelen Boyles served as their flower girl.  As Kaelen reached the end of the aisle, she discovered that she still had quite a few flowers left in her basket, so, she just dumped the flowers into a pile on the ground.  Despite her unorthodox flower peddling, she recalls that Brett gave her a tender smile that made her feel like a princess.  And at their wedding, Brett and Courtney gave away a mixed cd as a party favor.  The cd contained songs that musically reflected different aspects of their lives and relationship.  Shelly Turnbough, the wife of Brett’s cousin, Colby, remembers listening to this cd and thinking about this incredible couple.  This party gift was fitting, as Brett and Courtney didn’t want to just live their lives – they wanted to share their lives with others.  And the desire to share life was rooted in their shared relationship with Jesus Christ.  Indeed, Christ-centered is certainly the best way to describe Brett’s and Courtney’s marriage.  Christ-like is without a doubt, the best way to describe Brett’s life.  

In fact, from early on, Brett’s life was eerily similar to Jesus.  Like Jesus, before becoming a teenager, Brett was left in a crowd by his parents.  It happened in the summer of 1991, when the Winters were on a family vacation with my family, and Gigi and Papa.  We traveled from Texas all the way to Alberta, Canada.  While at Glacier National Park in Montana, our party accidentally left Brett at a tourist lodge and drove off to head back to our campsite.  As we traveled along, Cindy kept urging my dad to slow down on the curvy road.  But once we discovered that Brett was missing, Cindy kept shouting at my dad to drive faster to get back to the lodge and find Brett!  Thankfully it only took a few minutes instead of the few days it took Joseph & Mary to get back to Jerusalem.  When we arrived back at the lodge, the 9-year-old Brett was safe and sound, sitting quietly on a bench.  And that shouldn’t surprise us, Brett was always cool as a cucumber.  He always exuded such a peaceful spirit.  Right up until the time of his passing, Brett displayed a peace which passes all understanding.  A peace provided by the Holy Spirit which dwelt within him.  His peaceful presence allowed others to experience that same peace, even through this difficult ordeal.

But though Brett was a man of peace, he was also a warrior – a fighter.  He fought hard for his family, he fought hard for his friends, and he fought hard for his Savior.  Like the apostle Paul 20 centuries ago, Brett fought the good fight, he finished the race, and he kept the faith.  And on that great day of resurrection, the Lord, the righteous judge will give him and all those who have longed for Jesus’ appearing, the gift of the crown of righteousness.  Courtney related Thursday in her blog post that Brett considered this life to be merely a blip on the radar of eternity.  He so eloquently described it as just a small fabric in the tapestry woven by our creator.  Brett knew that though his body was wasting away, like Jesus, his future was resurrection.  And so, like the apostle, Brett made it his aim to do all that he did in service to Christ.

Notice the apostle Paul’s words to the Philippians.  Read carefully, and you’ll be reminded of the kind of life that Brett lived.  “I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead…I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own…forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  Paul goes on to say a few verses later, “Brothers and sisters, imitate me…” 

Brett’s dad, Will Ed, said last week that Brett made his life count.  And because he so faithfully imitated Jesus, his Lord and savior, we would all do well to imitate Brett.  Not to be him – there is only one Brett Winters – but to be like him and to become the people that God has created us to be – and to especially become the people that God, through his Spirit, and through the resurrection of Jesus, has recreated us to be.  Brett was a blessing to us all and his legacy will continue to be a blessing to so many.  Like Brett, may we make our lives count.  From 1 Corinthians 15, “…thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord, your labor is not in vain.” - Shay 

Monday, December 4, 2017

Bread and Wine

In Luke 22, in the midst of celebrating The Passover with his disciples, Jesus performs a simple act with a profound meaning.  Luke tells us that "he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body, which is given for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.'  And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, 'This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.'"

Jesus could have taken two or three hours to explain to his disciples what he was about to accomplish through his death and his resurrection (of course, if the rest of the gospels are considered, his disciples probably wouldn't have understood him anyway).  He could have left behind books, upon books of theology, detailing the exact spiritual significance of what was about to occur (isn't it interesting that Jesus didn't pen any writing that's found in our New Testament).  But he didn't do that.  He simply took a loaf of bread, gave thanks, broke the bread, and shared it with his followers - he shared it with his friends.  And after that, he took a cup of wine, and that too he shared with his intimate companions.

Though it is a worthwhile endeavor to seek to understand the faith we profess (I hope to do it most days), the most important part of our faith - is that we have faith to begin with.  We begin with faith and one day, Jesus will bring our faith to completion.  As we await that day, we humbly receive the gift of Jesus' body through the bread.  It is broken for us.  We take it, we eat it, and we offer him our gratitude.  Likewise, we graciously accept the gift Jesus' blood through the wine.  It is poured out for us.  We take the cup, we drink it, and we give to him our thanksgiving.

Our Father, holy is your name.  May your kingdom continue to come and may your will always be done in our hearts, minds, and lives, and on earth, as it is in heaven.  Thank you, not only for our daily bread and wine, but most of all, thank you for the bread of life and the blood of life.  Thank you for your Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ!  May those of us who have surrendered to him say, amen. - Shay