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the continuing saga of a follower of Christ
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CHOG Sunday School research

Well, it’s been an interesting spring/summer for me already. From hanging out with my sister-in-law for a month to getting a new car – a 2008 Honda Fit, something to write home about! – I’ve had a lot on my plate. In addition, I’ve been wrapping up my research on the history of the Sunday school in the Church of God. That also has been something to write home about… all my research has turned into a 36-page paper (ok, only 28 of that is text, but still…it’s my biggest paper to date), which I will be presenting at a small gathering at the North American convention of the Church of God.

Sounds pretty cool, huh? I’m excited about it. I even have a cheesy Powerpoint presentation coordinated with the paper…should be fun.

This convention is held every year in Anderson, the Mecca of the Church of God. Historically, I haven’t participated very much in these conventions, because when you’re from Mecca, making the pilgrimage just isn’t quite what it could be. But anyway, it looks like I’ll be able to spend most of a whole day (or even a day and a half) at the convention, so that should be quite interesting indeed. Lots of seminars and worship services, and the meeting of the general ministerial assembly, of which I am a card-carrying member these days.

So if you happen to read this before next Tuesday (June 24th), and if you happen to be in the Anderson area, you are more than welcome to come hear my talk (along with the talk of another student researcher, two birds with one stone). Our session is from 8:30am to 10am, Tuesday 6/24, in room 113 of the seminary building on AU’s campus.


all bust up

Captain Midnight has had his final ride…

That was my dad’s name for my car, which I bought (in a manner of speaking) from him back when I left for Miami six years ago. I’ve put a lot of miles on it in these past two degree programs… it was up to about 130,000 miles, and I hoped to get it all the way to 250,000 before it died.

Last weekend, our pastor graduated from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary up in Chicago with a D.Min. degree. Several people from our church wanted to travel up there to attend the graduation ceremony, but the number of people was substantially greater than the number of available seats in the cars of those people who can drive. So Tara and I lent my car to friends of ours (Bethany and James), so they could drive their car and my car up to Chicago and therefore carry twice as many people.

All went well with their trip until they got off the interstate, less than a mile from the location of the ceremony. Bethany, driving my car in front, stopped suddenly at a stop sign which was mostly hidden from view by a bush on the side of the street. James, driving their car behind Bethany, was checking his mirrors and getting ready to change lanes if necessary. He looked forward just in time to smash into Bethany at a whopping 15 miles an hour.

Everybody walked away from the collision, thankfully. The only injury of note is a cracked rib in an elderly lady who was sitting in Bethany’s front seat. Both cars were deemed undriveable and were towed to a nearby towing yard. Bethany and James rented an SUV and were then able to drive everyone around in one car (and thus avoid rear-ending each other again!).

On Thursday, Bethany and I (and our pastor) drove back up to Chicago – our pastor, because I believe he felt somewhat responsible for causing the whole scenario; Bethany, because she had to return the rented SUV; and I, because I wanted to see my car and perhaps drive it home if it were worth repairing. On the way up, Bethany got the call from her insurance – both cars were totalled. (We’re still waiting on the details of the settlement.) When we got to the towing place, we cleaned out both cars and took a few pictures for posterity. Click on any picture for easy viewage:

Bethany's car

A close-up of the front end of the car James was driving. Notice the perfectly round circle in the condenser – that’s the work of my tailpipe, which is only two or three years old. 🙂

Bethany's car

A broader view of the front end of James and Bethany’s car.

Dave's car

My car. Notice the lack of rear bumper. Dad, that cracked bumper finally gave up the ghost – it fell off at the site of the accident. 🙂

Dave's car

The worker man is taking off my license plate for me. Notice my tailpipe, as strong as ever. (Of course, the collision may have destroyed where this pipe connects up at the front of the car.)

Dave's car

Lack of fender. Notice also how the body is squished up on the rear tire. That’s what made my car undriveable.

Dave's car

There wasn’t much room left in the trunk. The lady in the front seat is on oxygen, and she had an extra oxygen tank in this trunk. I’m glad it didn’t explode…

Dave's car

This is a close-up of that rear tire. Bethany’s finger shows how close the body is to the tire. It wasn’t quite touching, but roads aren’t perfectly smooth (and people do have mass, as well).

So, there goes my car. It’s all bust up. Any ideas on what we should get to replace it? We’re about to go car-shopping this evening…


women priests

This week, the Pope issued a decree stating that women priests are subject to automatic excommunication. If you’re at all interested in the topic of women in ministry, then this should create some sort of reaction in you. If you’re for women in ministry (as is, in general, the Church of God – after all, this is the contemporary issue of the day), then this decree probably feels like a step in the wrong direction. Our world doesn’t function in a male-dominated manner like it used to; Christianity needs to be at the front of this wave of change, not at the back.



It’s summertime, and that means that I get to start reading my ordination books.

For the record, let me say that I think it is somewhat silly that all the reading I’ve done for seminary thus far – probably 50 to 60 books at this point over the past four years – counts for absolutely nothing when it comes to ordination in the Church of God in the state of Indiana.

Let me reiterate: that is, in a word, silly.

I have spent thousands of dollars and thousands of hours working on this M.Div., apparently a practical degree. And yet, just now, I purchased eleven more books totaling over a hundred dollars so I can have even more reading materials that will prepare me to be the perfect minister.

And while I’m on this topic, let me explain one thing of interest. These books that I have to read to be ordained all fall into one of several categories; I have to read one book from each category. One of the categories is “Church of God Contemporary Readings.” Sounds pretty good, huh? Contemporary readings, what’s going on now in the life of the church, what are the vibrant topics of discussion, things that are really important in the Church of God today?

Two titles. Both of them about women in ministry.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I strongly support my female colleagues who are working hard to follow God’s call on their lives to become pastors. And, on the face of it, it’s probably a good thing to make all the yet-to-be-ordained men think about women in ministry and to make all the yet-to-be-ordained women feel better about their journey into hostile territory.

But is that the only contemporary issue that the Church of God is facing today? Hardly.


What about unity? What about homosexuality? What about war and peace? What about environmental stewardship? What about reaching a post-Christian, postmodern culture? What about racism? What about American affluence? What about the nature of the church? What about congregationalism? What about the decline of Sunday School? What about the shortage of pastors? What about Christianity and Islam?

Two titles. Both of them about women in ministry.

This, too, is, in a word, silly.

(And I score ten grammar points for using four commas in a seven-word sentence.)


another year…

…in seminary… has drawn to a close. (Actually, I should say “is drawing” – even now I’m taking a break from writing one of the final two papers of the semester.)

We had our final SOT chapel service of the year this past Tuesday. The last chapel is always the “hooding ceremony” in which the graduating seniors get their Master’s degree hoods. Very fancy, very formal, professors and administrators in “monkey suits” as my dad calls them. I was asked to lead the congregational singing through the service, so I had a lot to pay attention to … and I had an interesting perspective on the goings-on.

As a worship leader, I always find it difficult/challenging to bridge the gap between the message and the following congregational hymn, if a hymn does follow the message, which was the case on Tuesday. I spend a lot of mental energy paying attention to the message (strange, I know) and trying to draw some connection between the message and the text of the hymn so that the transition can be as seamless as possible.

I had two ideas for Tuesday’s transition. The one I went with was, I think, the more appropriate choice. The message was about Christ’s command that we love God and love each other – when seen in context of graduation from seminary, this command becomes immediately practical and fresh. When your daily world changes dramatically (as it does in graduation), you have to remember who you are and what you are doing. The concluding hymn was “And Can It Be That I Should Gain” – a marvelous hymn about the work of Christ to bring salvation – what amazing love! The connection, in my mind, was obvious: our obedience to Christ in loving God and loving others is a direct response to his love for us. So stand with me and sing…

The other idea I had was very hard to ignore. You see, the speaker of the hour wore a bright red academic robe, not black or blue or green like those of other professors and administrators. Dr. Stafford, had he been alive on Tuesday, would have worn his bright red academic robe, as well. The resemblance was actually very strong. And we sang “And Can It Be” – the last time I sang that hymn was at Stafford’s funeral service just four weeks ago. It was his favorite hymn.

It probably would not have been appropriate to twist the emotional content of the service by mentioning Dr. Stafford in the transition between sermon and hymn. But we remembered. I know, because I remembered, and I saw the same memory on the face of one of the graduates. I am certain that many remembered. “And Can It Be That I Should Gain?” Stand with me and sing…



The last few days have been, in a word, pretty heavy. (Oops, that’s two words.)

On Sunday evening, I gave a short testimony at church (pre-arranged, we’re not that spontaneous) about the influence of prayer on my life. So I told the story of my call to ministry, which took place in the context of prayer with a friend. I’ve been thinking about that call a lot lately, especially as another graduation approaches (and mine looms ever larger just one year away)… what is it that I’m doing with my life, anyway?

Then on Tuesday, the multiple whammies hit. My church history prof, whose wife died last fall, somehow got to talking about her and her joyful life at the end of class in the morning… and he got choked up, which was only natural… but that’s the first time he’s gotten emotional in class since those first two weeks or so after she died.

In chapel, then, we had the annual commissioning service, complete with distribution of servants’ towels and all that good stuff. (When I get mine next year, it’ll be my third. So I can wash three feet at once.) And each senior had the opportunity to say something to the community, offer some kind of thanks to the faculty and staff, etc. Of course that became emotional pretty quickly. (On the plus side: they do the M.Div. graduates first and alphabetically, and my last name starts with A.)

Add to that a discouraging (to put it mildly) CPE situation for a couple of good friends of mine… and then in homiletics class, I was scheduled to give the devotional thought for the day, so I told the story of my call to ministry again, this time with a slant toward the meaning of preaching (being the voice of the shepherd, John 10:1-10). Then two classmates gave powerful sermons about (a) our ability to think too much of ourselves when we shouldn’t and (b) our need to find songs to sing, figuratively speaking, about the faithfulness of God in our lives. (what would I pick? I honestly don’t know)

Oof. It’s just a lot to handle all at once. But I should have expected it sometime… for the past few weeks, I’ve been wondering if I’m going down the right path with this whole seminary bit. It’s just like God, I think, to drive a point home with merciful abandon.

End result? Well, for now, it’s a good bit of reassurance that I am on the right track, even if there still is so far to go…

Oh yeah, and the Indians need pitchers. Like a flooding city needs a levee.


doctrinal leaders

I’m going through some old seminary class notes of mine, in preparation for teaching Sunday School at church this coming Sunday. And I stumbled on a page of notes from Dr. Stafford’s Constructive Theology III course, which I took in the fall of 2005. On October 4 of that year, Dr. Stafford named seven doctrinal leaders of the Church of God: D. S. Warner, H. M. Riggle, F. G. Smith, R. R. Byrum, C. E. Brown, Earl Martin, and Albert Gray. (Sometime in the 1950s or so, American men started having first names and not just two initials.) Dr. Stafford also suggested three criteria that we can use to identify doctrinal leaders in our movement and in Christianity in general:

  1. the person writes
  2. the subject of this writing has to do with the beliefs of the church, not with anecdotes
  3. the person and his/her writing is accepted by the church

In retrospect, I think we can safely add Gil Stafford to this list of doctrinal leaders of the Church of God.


Dr. Stafford’s funeral

I attended the funeral of Dr. Gil Stafford at Park Place Church of God this morning. He died of cancer on Sunday after just over a year’s worth of struggle with the disease. It’s hard to overestimate the impact that this man has had on the Church of God in general and on me in particular. When I first enrolled at the seminary, I made sure to sign up for Stafford’s Constructive Theology sequence of classes, because the word on the street (from a trusted faculty source!) was that he might be retiring soon, and that it would be advantageous for me to take all three theology courses from Dr. Stafford, the premier Church of God theologian. I did take those classes, and one more, with him, and I enjoyed them thoroughly. I’m even using one of them (the worship class) as the basis for a Sunday School class I’ve been teaching at church since November. So many of the things he taught me have stuck with me these four years…

Two comments about the funeral.

First, Dr. Stafford, in each of his classes, had a habit of charging us to preach, should one of us preach at his funeral, on Colossians 1:15-20. Those six verses, speaking of the supremacy of Jesus Christ in all things, were the theme verses of his life. To be honest, this week I’ve been nervous that the speaker at today’s funeral would somehow have missed that communication and would have planned to preach on some other passage. (Can you imagine a few hundred people standing up and clamoring for the Colossians text to be read?!) But the pastor of Park Place preached on the right passage, and all was right with the world. It was a fitting way to give tribute to Dr. Stafford – by giving real tribute to the Lord.

Second, on multiple occasions, Dr. Stafford explained to his students why he believed that “And Can It Be” had the best hymn lyrics ever written. A short description here will suffice: each verse approaches the saving work of Christ from a different perspective, and all biblical perspectives are covered. It truly is a Christ song grounded in strong faith that speaks of the glory of Jesus Christ and his redeeming work on the cross. And so we sang it at the funeral today. Let me tell you, that was the most powerful time I have ever heard that song sung. It was powerful for me because I knew (and could see) many other people around me who knew the meaning that Dr. Stafford saw in this hymn, and we knew how fitting it was that we should sing it at his funeral. There was no other closing hymn that we could possibly have sung… it was the only choice that would have made any sense. I’ll never think of that song in quite the same way again.


It’s times like these that I wish I were living closer to campus, so that I could process this week with my fellow classmates. I feel oddly disconnected from the community… I’ve never had a professor die – especially not one so important as this one.


opening day

… has finally arrived, and all is (mostly) right with the world again. Even better, the Indians are up 7-4 against the White Sox after five innings. But lemme ask you this… is it a good sign if your starting catcher (who happens to hit cleanup, somehow) pulls his hamstring in the second inning of the first game of the season? (sigh)


another look at holiness

I went to school today, which is unusual for a Friday, since the seminary doesn’t do classes on Fridays. But I went up there to do some research, and I was surprised to find a friend of mind preparing to preach for her advanced preaching class. She invited me to come and be part of the audience, because the place was pretty empty, and it’s no fun preaching to a handful of people. So I was glad for the opportunity to hear this sermon, from this particular preacher… (since last Sunday was Easter, and since I had my Homiletics class on Tuesday like normal, I think I’ve heard six or seven sermons this week alone!)

She preached from Ephesians 2:19-22, and part of the sermon focused on verse 21, which lifts up the concepts of unity and holiness, both important ideas in the Church of God.

Her take on the holiness part was especially interesting to me. “The whole building … rises to become a holy temple in the Lord” – the church, in its growth in Christ, grows in holiness. But this holiness is not for the church’s sake, not for bragging rights or self esteem points or anything like that. Instead, holiness is all about the revelation of God, through the church, to the world. The point of holiness – the reason why we strive to be wholeheartedly dedicated to Christ and his purposes – is so that God might be revealed through us to the world. In this sense, holiness carries with it a fundamentally missional orientation.

This is crucial, I believe, for us in the Church of God (and in the broader church) to understand and hear anew in the 21st century. We are called to be disciples of Christ in a culture in which religious discipleship is becoming increasingly irrelevant… we must understand our separation from the world as a means of reaching out to that same world. We must come to view ourselves with the type of humility that sees something bigger, something broader, something more divine taking place through our human lives. That’s part of what it means to be God’s church, anyway.

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