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

Friday, November 3, 2017

Reformation and Restoration is Still Incomplete

Over the past month and a half, dozens of my brothers and sisters in Christ have gathered on Wednesday evenings at 7 pm to discuss William P. Young's modern classic, The Shack.  I am thankful that so many of my fellow sojourners are willing to engage with this writing and try to grow in their faith and understanding through this interaction.  None of us are completely on the same page with one another on every issue, but because we all acknowledge that we're on a spiritual journey and that none of us has it all together (either morally or theologically), we have chosen to extend grace to one another (and Young) and give one another the benefit of the doubt.  Its amazing how much better dialogue goes when we assume the best of others, rather than the worst.

For too long, conservative Christians have shied away from exploring writings or ideas that challenge some of their preconceived notions.  I believe that much of this reluctance is driven by fear.  It seems that we are afraid that if we go down certain paths, we're on a slippery slope that leads to who knows where.  And how would we know if we aren't even willing to give theses paths an honest look?

I have no problem with someone starting down a spiritual line of thought, only to turn around and go back in the other direction once they are convinced that the path won't be fruitful.  However, to dismiss the journey out of hand before its even begun causes me to wonder if the individual may not be very secure in their faith to begin with.

As the Protestant Reformation celebrates 500 years (give or take), I think its a good time for all of us to consider what we believe, and even more importantly, why we believe what we believe.  One of the ideas that the reformers tried to promote was that the church should always be reforming.  In my faith tradition, which comes out the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, we've tried to continue to go back to Scripture in order to more faithfully become the people of Christ.  Sadly, some of the time, we've failed to follow the paths where Scripture leads when it conflicts with what we've always been taught.  If the reformers felt that we should always be reforming, I believe the restorers would have equally felt that we should always be about the task of restoration.  News flash - the task of reformation and restoration will never be complete for any of us, individually or corporately, or for the world, creationally, until we are enjoying our resurrection lives in God's renewed creation in the age to come!  So rather than fearing change, we should embrace it, knowing that growth, maturity, and transformation cannot happen any other way.

I pray that God will give us all the grace, humility, and open hearts and minds that we need to fully become the people he's recreated us to be through Christ and his Spirit. - Shay

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Best Decade Yet

When I turned 20, I was excited to finally get into an adult decade.  When I turned 30, I was excited because I felt like I might get a little more respect amongst my older colleagues.  I also began to realize that I was the age Jesus was when he began to minister.  Thankfully, I've had a longer ministry than Jesus though.  That's the only thing that I'll ever outdo Jesus in!

Now that I've turned 40, I'm excited just because its always good to turn a day, a year, or even decade older.  I have neither the dread of being in my 40s, nor am I feeling any kind of a mid-life crisis beginning to emerge.  40 just seems like one number more than 39, which felt like one year more than 38.  I can safely say that each decade of my life has been better than the last.  So, I expect the 40s to be the best decade yet! - Shay

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Faith and Gratitude of a Foreigner

After reading and meditating on Luke 17:11-19 over the past few days, here's my paraphrase and some reflections from the passage.

“As Jesus journeyed toward Jerusalem, he passed through the borderlands of Samaria and Galilee.  As Jesus entered a village, ten lepers approached, but made sure to keep a safe distance.  They cried out, ‘Jesus, Master, show us some mercy!’  Jesus saw them and said, ‘Go and let the priests examine you.’  So, they went and were made clean along the way.  But one of them, once he realized that he was healed, turned around and began to shout out praises to God.  He flung himself at the feet of Jesus and said, ‘Thank you so much!’  This one was a Samaritan.  Jesus asked, ‘Weren’t there ten cleansed?  Where are the other nine?  Can you believe that only this foreigner has paused to give God the glory?’  So, Jesus said to the Samaritan, ‘Stand up and begin the rest of your life.  Through faith you’ve been made well.’”

For the last eight and half chapters of Luke’s gospel, Jesus has had his eyes firmly fixed on Jerusalem and the new exodus that he will accomplish there.  But as he presses on towards his destiny, his eyes are also open to what his Father may have in store for him along the way.  Moving through the borderlands of Samaria and Galilee, he couldn’t find himself more on the margins of mainstream Jewish society if he tried.  And as he enters this little village, ten men who are very much on the fridge of community life, cry out to this one they recognize as their master, hoping that he might grant them mercy - hoping that they might be healed.  Jesus sees them and their plight, and in keeping with Mosaic orthodoxy, he commands the lepers to go and show themselves to the priest so that once their healing is confirmed, they can be restored back into the life of their community.  Only at this point, they’ve yet to be healed.  But, in faith, the ten obey Jesus and set out to find one of the local priests.  As they go, they are healed.

No doubt, once the nine Jewish lepers realize they’ve been healed, they speed up their pace to get to the priest and begin their lives anew.  They have places to go, people to see, things to do, and lives to relive.  They’ve been isolated from their friends and family for so long.  Jesus’ gift of cleansing will enable them to be outsiders no more.  These nine Jewish lepers have acted in faith.  They’re obeying Jesus’ and Moses’ command.  They’re doing the right thing and undoubtedly, they’ll soon be reunited with their family and friends.  They are cleansed and this is a good thing.  But nevertheless, they’ve missed out on an opportunity.  And as so often is the case, a stronger faith is found through an unexpected person.

Despite the stereotypes and judgments hurled at the Samaritans, only this foreigner takes the time to pause, to lift up his eyes and his voice in worship to God the Father, and to fall at the feet of his Master and Savior in gratitude.  We can learn so much at unexpected times, in unexpected places, and through unexpected people.  Time and time again, the strongest form of faith is found on the margins rather than in the mainstream.

Like the ten lepers in this story, we often cry out to Jesus, asking him to show us mercy and to cleanse us and heal us.  This is a good thing.  We should be quick to do so.  And like the lepers, we can be sure that Jesus sees us and hears our cries.  Like the nine, we might be quick to get on with our lives, including obeying God and doing the right thing.  Our days are filled with work and responsibility.  We’re busy providing for our families and meeting urgent needs.  We’re bustling here and there – to and fro – doing good things – doing the right things – doing even religious things.  But, if we’re not careful, like the Jewish lepers, we might fail to pause and offer God our worship and our praise.  If we’re too busy living life, even doing good things for God, we might fail to take the time to thank God’s Son for his deliverance.  We might find ourselves missing the forest for the trees.  As the Westminster Catechism reminds us, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”  The means are important, but we must never lose sight of the end.  We should spend at least as much time praising and thanking God for what he’s already done in our lives, as the time we spend in asking him to do the things that he’s not yet done.  God calls us to be faithful.  But as the apostle Paul consistently tells us, God’s will for our lives is that we might also be thankful.  And one of the primary motivations for mission is to bring worship to God where it’s presently lacking.   

So, let’s keep this story in the forefront of our minds.  Let’s lookout along the borderlands of our world for those lessons we might learn in unexpected places through unexpected people.  And in the midst of living life and obeying God, let’s be sure to occasionally pause and take time to praise God for who he is and to thank him for what he’s already done.  We have much for which to be thankful and our God is forever worthy of our praise. 


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Torn Between

Nearly seven years ago I began writing this blog.  This is only my 160th post (a little over 20 posts a year), but it's been enjoyable to occasionally share my thoughts with those who have taken the time to read them.  There's so many great blogs and other content to absorb on the internet, so I am thankful that a few people are willing to give my voice a listen.  I began this blog a couple of months after we had moved to Dublin.  I called the blog "Near St. Anne's and the Sea", because when we first moved to Ireland, we lived right across the street from the amazing St. Anne's Park.  And just down the road from our apartment was Dublin Bay and the Irish Sea. 

After over two years, Juli and Ashlyn will get to visit both the park, the beaches on North Bull Island, and all of the other places they miss so much.  I've already had the chance to visit Dublin twice this year.  So, though I'm genuinely stoked to be able to be back on the little island I lovingly refer to as the "Garden of Eden of the North Atlantic", I don't think my anticipation can compare to theirs'.  But, I am thankful that this time around I'll be able to experience our home away from home with my family.

As I've mentioned in another blog post or two, in this life, we're often torn.  We are torn between places and people.  We are torn between the here and now and the eternity still to come.  We are thankful for what we have, where we're at, and the people we get to experience life with, but we also long for that which we are missing, the places we cannot be, and the people we are absent from.  I believe that somehow and someway, this dilemma will be resolved in the age to come.  In the meantime, we make the most of where we're at, while we're here (or there). 

For the next week or so, we'll be reconnecting with those people and places we presently long for.  And then, when we get back home, we'll be thankful to be back home.  The good news is that Jesus will journey with us the entire way.  "And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:20). - Shay