Monday, May 23, 2016

Even Walls Fall Down

One of the things I loved about living in Europe was being surrounded by so many old, historic structures.  It was exciting to visit church buildings and castles that were 5 times older than our country!  The only downside to this was that you’d sometimes catch a whiff of the smell of damp antiquity.  But even that generally just made me nostalgic. 

Each year our mission team would attend a Christian retreat held in Rothenburg, Germany, one of the best preserved medieval cities in all of Europe.  Most of the buildings in the town were built in the 11, 12, and 1300’s, and though modernized on the inside, the outside of them look much like they did 700 years ago.  Complete with cobblestone streets, walking into the old town feels like you are walking into history, if not the set of a Disney princess adventure.  Surrounding the city is a massive wall with huge towers, which has only been compromised on a couple of occasions, most recently when Allied bombs destroyed part of the wall and city at the end of World War II.  Thankfully, the German army surrendered before more damage was done.  After the war, the citizens of Rothenburg solicited the world for help in rebuilding their damaged wall.  The world responded, and with donations pouring in from as far as Japan and the United States, the wall was repaired and tourists can now enjoy the charms of this quaint burgh. 

Though not crucial today, walls were essential for the defense and protection of ancient cities.  So it was no unimportant task that Nehemiah set out to accomplish in the 5th century BC when he and several other Jewish leaders began the task of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.  But as crucial as walls were to the towns of antiquity, they could also be damaging when they unnecessarily kept people separated and isolated from one another.  Paul reminds us in Ephesians chapter 2 that the dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles has been torn down through the gospel of Jesus Christ.  And in Galatians 3, Paul tells us that though as diverse as Jew, Greek, slave, free, male, and female, we can be fully united in the Messiah Jesus by being clothed with Christ through baptism.    

Unfortunately, even in Christ, we sometimes lapse back into wall building.  We set up artificial barriers and fail to embrace one another’s God given diversity.  In a misguided quest for uniformity, we sometimes destroy our Christ formed and Spirit fueled unity.  How often are people put off and denied entrance into the body of Christ by the walls we build? 

Thankfully we are headed for a city whose walls have 12 gates, open 24/7.  In his vision, John saw the following.  “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.  And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.  The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.  Its gates will never be shut by day – and there will be no night there.  People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.” (Revelation 21:22-26)  In the meantime, as we seek that city of the renewed creation, let us do our best to at least pry open gates, if not to tear down walls! – Shay

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

For Vance Crowe

A couple of weeks ago at our midweek worship, Waypoint, we looked at the life of Martin Luther and last week we heard the story of Rosa Parks.  These were significant people who have left major marks on the world.  It’s highly unlikely that any of our stories will be captured in the annuls of history.  In fact, most of the men and women of faith through the ages have lived their lives without leaving even the smallest record for posterity.  Yet, that didn’t mean that God didn’t work through them.  Though their names may be forgotten now, in their own time and place, they may have made an impact that is still rippling out across the pond of time and space into eternity.  Though God at times uses extraordinary people to accomplish his will, more often than not, God works through every day people doing every day things.   

I've been blessed by a number of mentors through the years.  I've learned from ministers and other members of various of churches I've worshiped in.  Many of my school teachers and coaches have had a tremendous impact on my life.  I continue to look up to so many of my college professors, from both my undergraduate and graduate studies.  I've worked in ministry with several amazing colleagues, both older and younger than me.  And obviously, more than anything else, I've been formed by my family - my parents, siblings, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins. 

In addition to all of these mentioned above, one of the most impactful people I've ever had the privilege to know is Vance Crowe.  Vance was the director of Camp Blue Haven from 1987-2003 (17 years).  My first summer to attend camp was Vance's first summer to direct it.  My first summer to teach Bible class at Blue Haven was Vance's final summer to direct.  I camped under Vance's leadership for 10 summers, I worked for him as the dish room manager for one summer, and I was blessed to serve as one of his counselors in 2001.  There are countless Christ-like men and women who've had a hand in making Blue Haven youth camp the amazing ministry that it is, but no one has done more through the years than Vance and his wife Amy.  Though he passed from this life on Saturday, May 14, 2016 – his legacy will continue to impact thousands upon thousands of people!

I have so many fond memories of Vance, it would be difficult to try to recollect them all now, but I want to share a few.  In 1991, during 2nd session, I joined dozens of other campers on the all-day hike to the top of Elk Mountain (11,661 feet).  Vance led the hike and it was the first time a group from Blue Haven had attempted to make the 13 plus mile round trip journey.  We had no problems making it to the snow crested peak of the mountain, but as we descended, Vance decided to take a short-cut that turned out to be a long-cut.  What should have been around 13-14 miles turned into a 26-mile marathon of mythic proportions.  We slept out under the stars and didn't get back to camp until the following morning.  But during the entire journey, no one ever doubted that we'd get back to civilization in one piece.  Vance remained calm, cool, and collected and owned up to his mistake, while simultaneously assuring everyone that we would all be okay.  Later that summer, he had t-shirts printed up and sent to all of us on the hike.  The shirts said, "I survived the Elk Mountain Lost Hike."  I think they must be collector’s items by now.  I certainly lost mine somewhere along the way.

Though he got lost on that occasion in 1991, Vance knew his way around the Sangre de Cristo Mountains like no one else.  In fact, it sometimes seemed like Vance would just appear out of nowhere!  When we used to have devotionals out in the woods, you would look up and there would be Vance!  Where did he come from?  Then you'd look up and he'd be gone again.  It was both comforting and a little alarming – he seemed to be Omni-present around camp.  Our fear of and respect for him kept us all out of trouble. 

When I was a junior in High School in Marble Falls, we asked Vance to be the speaker at our annual youth rally.  The rally was held on a Saturday and I had a basketball game the night before in Belton.  The Crowes made the trip early and came along and watched me and a couple of others on our team who had attended camp.  It was so encouraging for the director of Blue Haven to take the time to watch one of my games! 

Maybe that's what I remember most about Vance Crowe.  He was always an encourager.  I delivered some dreadful devotional talks through the years while attending Blue Haven as a camper, but I remember always being encouraged by Vance.  In part, his encouragement gave me the confidence to pursue ministry as a vocation.  One of my fondest memories comes from my final night as a counselor at Blue Haven in the summer of 2001.  He hugged me and then whispered these words in my ear, "Thank you for allowing the Lord to use you so powerfully this summer."  Those words were few, but coming from such a mentor in the faith, they meant a lot and have stayed with me to this day. 

When I attended his funeral, I discovered many other ways Vance had blessed others.  For instance, he and Amy had fostered dozens of kids through the years.  I only knew him for one small slice of his life – a few weeks out of the year at Camp Blue Haven.  And yet, he got up, day after day and went to work for God in his Kingdom.  While speaking with Karl Jones, the Burleson pulpit minister, a couple of years ago, I discovered that Karl knew Vance from his days of ministering in Oklahoma.  In fact, while Karl was preaching in Davis, OK, Vance had hosted a gospel meeting at the Davis congregation.  So many others in Oklahoma and other places knew the Crowes and were impacted by their Christian service.  Who knows the length and breadth of their impact?!!!   

I could go on and on, in fact, I could write a book about Vance, but I'm not the one to do that.  There are many others who were closer to him and knew him far better than I did.  Certainly, one or some of them should write a book about this fine man's life.  I'd love to read it!  He will certainly continue to be missed, but as former Blue Haven counselor, Jon Camp posted soon after Vance’s death, our cloud of witnesses just got bigger!  And that part of Hebrews really sums up who Vance Crowe was.  He was one who fixed his eyes on Jesus and humbly followed his Master and Savior.  His life and example inspire me to want to do the same. 

Vance, was just an ordinary guy.  And yet, God used him in extraordinary ways.  We all are just ordinary people, but God can do so much through each one of us.  And God has given us this great cloud of witnesses to spur us on to love & good works.  Most of these witnesses are very average, like we are.  Who makes up your cloud of witnesses?  Maybe they are still living, or maybe they’ve passed from this life into eternity.  Either way, we should follow them as they have or are currently following Christ.  And let’s not forget, though we may feel small or insignificant in the grand scheme of the universe, we still have an important part to play.  God has placed at least a dozen or so people within our sphere of influence.  Maybe more?  So, let’s play our parts well.  And as the writer of Hebrew tells us, “Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us…” - Shay 

Monday, May 9, 2016

Live Out That Story

Have you ever re-watched a movie or re-read a book and discovered that there's more going on in the story than you initially had noticed?  Have you ever looked back on certain points in your life and discovered that there was more going on than your first impressions of a particular episode or event?  One of the reasons we tell stories is to discover the meaning within the mess of our lives.  Because stories, at least good ones, typically have a beginning, middle, and ending (or resolution), they give us the power to perceive connections that might otherwise go unnoticed. 

The more we read, study, and reflect on the story of God and his people, as recorded for us in the Old and New Testaments, the more we discover meaning and purpose within that epic narrative.  And because we're living in the late middle part of that story - after the climax, but before the final resolution - the more we read, study, and reflect on it, the more we will discover meaning and purpose for our own lives.  I often hear people talk about practicality and applicability when they refer to the study of scripture, as if God had simply given us a self-help instruction manual for life.  No doubt, our lives are greatly enhanced when we live within the flow of the overarching narrative from creation to new creation, but to treat this transcendent story as nothing more than a pop-psychology primer or a guide to greater spirituality, is akin to reading Shakespeare to simply increase one's vocabulary.  There may be some value in it, but it nevertheless misses the point.  And just as one's reading of Shakespeare will be greatly enhanced by a cultural and historical understanding of Elizabethan England, so too is our reading of the Bible blessed by Biblical scholarship.  But the point of the endeavor remains: to get inside and live inside the story that scripture tells.

This past week, I was blessed to sit at the feet of N.T. Wright and other Biblical scholars, theologians, and ministry practitioners at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures.  I'm always pleasantly amazed at how rich, deep, and wide is the story of God and his people.  None of us will ever exhaust the riches found in the pages of this brilliant saga, so the best thing for all of us to do is to live out that story through our limited understanding, wherever we find ourselves.  Let's continue to read, study, and reflect, as we get on with the biggest task of all - living it out! - Shay

Monday, May 2, 2016

Where it Really Counts

Some of the greatest moments of faithfulness of God's people in the Old Testament occurred, not when they were living in a position of power and control over their own affairs, but rather when they were living under the authority of another kingdom. 

In the early decades and centuries of Christianity, God's people seemed to be more faithful, devout, and sincere when they were still labeled as outsiders and were forced to the margins of society.  Once the church allied itself with the Roman state and became the Roman church, it lost much of its purity in faith and doctrine. 

In the early decades of the 21st century, many have observed that the Christian faith has a smaller voice and a diminished influence in western society.  This may be true, but rather than lamenting this, I believe Christians would be better advised to focus on a grass-roots, ground up mentality.  One of the best ways to insure that the faith is passed onto the next generation, is to make sure the faith is passed on within our individual family units.  One of the best ways to make a difference in our nation, is to make a difference in our local community.  And one of the best ways to make a difference in our local community, is to make a difference on our own street and with our own neighbors.  It all starts with getting to know them and loving them, regardless of where they may be spiritually - now or in the future.

 Much time and energy is wasted on social media and other distractions of our modern world.  May the body of Christ focus its energies on real life, real relationships, and real community!  Despite what may be happening at the national level, politically, or otherwise, we can make a real difference where it really counts. - Shay