Tuesday, December 27, 2005


The next week of my life will be spent packing. When faced with the prospect of packing, you wonder why you ever decided to move out of a perfectly livable situation.

Describing the "sojourns" of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, one biblical writer recalls that "they lived in tents." That means, "they were always packing." Can you imagine?

I know that once we get settled in Amarillo, I'll get excited about meeting new people and about teaching, etc. And like the mother who forgets or disregards some of the pain of childbirth because of her new gift, I won't be thinking about all the packing then. But today, I'm thinking about packing.

I went to one of those order-your-boxes-on-line sites and came across this statistic: The average move requires the packing of 150 boxes. For some reason, that seems like a low number to me; probably because the statisticians don't realize that after throwing out more junk than I knew I had, it still seems like a lot of stuff.

I know, I know. One eats an elephant one bite at a time. But when was the last time you ate an elephant? And did you ever want to?

Okay, where are those boxes?

Friday, December 23, 2005

Scriptures and Songs for Christmas

For nearly eleven years, I served as the preacher for the Ward Street Church in Wallingford, Connecticut. That meant I got to plan and preside at a remembrance and celebration of the coming of Christ.

A blessed time, it was always on the Sunday evening just before (or of) the 25th. We'd listen to words familiar but ever-new. And then, beneath that metal ceiling, surrounded by those plaster walls, and warmed by old steam radiators and the eternal love of God, we'd sing with gusto, and sometimes softness, those songs that practically sing themselves.

The following order of worship was typical. I post it as a fond remembrance of those gatherings, and as a starting place for someone who might be planning a similar time of praise:

Call to Worship, Time of Prayer

Matthew 1:18-2:12

"O Come, All Ye Faithful"

"O Little Town of Bethlehem"

Luke 2:1-7

"Away in a Manger"

Luke 2:8-20

"It Came Upon a Midnight Clear"

"Silent Night"

"Hark! the Hearld Angels Sing"

Philippians 2:5-11

"Fairest Lord Jesus"

"My Jesus, I Love Thee"

Concluding Words of Encouragement

"To God be the Glory"

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Motion in the Ocean

My daughter was a part of the Jonah musical at the Manchester Church of Christ a couple of weeks ago.

Of course, I thought she was the cutest little fish out there. She loves to sing, and she's good at it.
Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

I've recently done a little reading about houses and the cost of living. I've also looked at a lot of houses that are for sale (see previous posts) and talked with some experienced realtors. Here's some of what I have learned:

* Since 1970, the average size for a new house has gone from about 1500 square feet to 2300. Just within the last year or so, the average square footage of new houses has leveled off and actually gone down a little. Turns out, people are spending as much or more as they ever did on houses. It's just that now, fancy kitchen appliances and high-tech entertainment gear represent more and more of the overall cost.

* At least in Amarillo, Texas a house typically sells for about 97% of the asking price. This holds true in all price categories. My guess is that the initial offer is 5-6% lower than the asking price; the seller says, "No." Then the buyer asks to split the difference, and the two settle somewhere in the middle.

* On this the first day of winter, a lot of folks who live in cold and not-so-cold areas are wondering what it will cost to heat their homes until it gets warm again. Meanwhile, roughly half of all the energy used in the U.S. is wasted. Evidently, a lot of lights and TVs are left on when not being used. For some people, wasted energy doesn't feel like money out the window. But it is. So go turn off that light that you don't need to have on right now.

* One of the first things I notice about a house I "look at" is the smell (good, bad, neutral). One realtor told me that pouring a little vanilla extract in a pan and putting the pan in a warm oven gives off that mouth-watering smell of a bakery. Sounds like something worth a try. This reminded me that one of my greatest memories goes back to the time when my mom made roast and potatoes and carrots (was an onion in there?) almost every Sunday. The aroma would fill the entire house, and it was wonderful. I wonder what it smells like in heaven. What's the sensory experience of the aroma of Christ?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Our new home (sale pending!)
See story below. Posted by Picasa

Tale of a Texas Whirlwind

Thanks for your comments on my recent posts. Like the rest of you bloggers, I love good feedback.

After a busy weekend in Amarillo, Texas, Michele and I are back in Connecticut. It was quite a trip. We started Thursday with a late take off at Hartford, which meant we our missed connection at Dallas (we made it to the gate just in time to see the plane moving back from the jetway). So we got to Amarillo about three hours late. But we'd made it!

Then, things got better. For one, Jerry and Kay Chism were our hosts the whole time. They couldn't have been more gracious.

Friday began with a funny wake-up call from Michele's sister, Sharlette. Then, Michele and I spent Friday and Saturday looking at what seemed like half the houses in town. But we had said we wanted to make the most of our time there, and our realtor Cheryl Jones did a great job of helping us do that.

On Friday evening, we took a break from house hunting and had a fun, relaxing dinner with Jeanette, Ken, and Janaye Danley, and Janaye's friend, David. Like a lot of us, the Danleys have moved a few times and knew just what we needed. What a nice time!

Saturday morning, we saw the house we thought we wanted. After a good lunch with Janie and Jerry Klein (Texas barbeque!), we made an offer on the house. Then, we waited.

That afternoon my folks drove over from Altus. We met them at their motel, went out to dinner, and told them all about the previous two days of looking. It was so great to be with them again. We hadn't seen them since August.

That night, Amarillo got a coating of ice. To use the words of the TV weatherman, outside it was "slicker than a greased banana." We wondered, Hadn't we just left cold country?

It was treacherous making it to church the next morning. Not all of the regulars were at the San Jacinto Church of Christ. But it was warm inside; the people were so friendly. During Bible class, the phone in the foyer rang. It was my sister Shari letting us know that she and her family didn't own a sled that could make it from Wellington to Amarillo. They wouldn't be joining us for worship. Of course, I was disappointed that we wouldn't get to see my sister and her family. But something else helped me to feel better.

Going from preacher to college teacher has made me a little anxious. I've wondered a lot about what it will be like to sit during the sermon, listening to someone else speak. Sometimes former preachers are the worst preacher critics, and I don't want to even start being like that, the misery of a ministry. But I have to say that I really like Leonard Harper, the preacher at the San Jacinto congregation. A good Bible class teacher, Leonard knows how to get people to think with Scripture, rather than simply telling them what he thinks about it. And his sermon--on the dilemma that Joseph faced when he learned of Mary's pregnancy--engaged and challenged me. From what I've seen and heard, Leonard is what every congregation deserves to have in a preacher.

After church, we shared lunch with my parents. Then, we got "the call." Our offer had been turned down. So with about two hours before our flight time, we said our good-byes to my folks and met Cheryl at the real estate office to discuss our options. It didn't look like we'd ever get over the obstacles between us and the house. But there was a second house we liked, probably the one we should have picked to begin with.

We decided to ink an offer for the second house and rush to the airport. Within an hour, we found out that all the running was in vain. Sitting at the gate, we heard a loud page. Hearing your named called by a stranger over a public intercom always gives you that grown-up feeling of being called to the principal's office. "What's happened?" we wondered. So we towed our coats and carry-ons back past the check point all the way to the ticket counter where we were told that, because of the ice, we wouldn't make it to Dallas in time to catch the last plane out to Hartford that day. We had a choice: we could spend the night in Amarillo, or we could spend the night in Dallas. But we would not spend the night in Connecticut.

So we called Jerry Chism, who thought he wouldn't see us again until next year, and asked if he could come get us. Jerry was there in a jiffy, and within an hour or so, the Bellizzis and the Chisms were munching on Domino's pizza, delivered by a guy who could have used a pair of ice skates. Was it providence?

Following several phone conversations with Cheryl, who had been on the phone with the seller's realtor, at about 10 p.m. we found out that we'd struck a deal. And, we'd have just enough time Monday morning to sign the papers and travel to the airport for a second shot at making back to New England.

The northern part of the Texas panhandle got even more freezing drizzle on Sunday night. So we woke up Monday wondering what would happen.

What happened was, Cheryl slid to meet us, we signed the papers, and Kay and Jerry took us to the airport. Six hours later, we landed in New England with lots of stories to tell and jobs to do. But now we know a little more about what might happen next. Stay tuned.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Christianity and Christmas

A few days ago, I got a newsletter from a writer who wants to defend and advance New Testament Christianity. Guess what one of the articles is about. Big hint: It's the December issue.

That's right, time to break out all of those arguments against anyone thinking himself to be a faithful Christian while remembering the birth of Jesus between September and the first of Spring.

The article begins with the writer's appreciation for Irving Berlin's "White Christmas." And, he says, there's so much more that's good about this season.

Snow on December 25th? That's good. Presents? Good. Families together? Good. Eating? Good. Christmas trees? They're good too.

But Christians "conducting special Christmas services"? Now that's bad! In fact, it's right to question any group who would highlight the birth of Jesus at this time of year simply (and I quote), "because we want to do so."

I can only hope that this brother means well. But if he does, then I really wish he'd take another look at Paul's Letter to the Romans. There the Scripture says that if someone wants to consider one day more special than another, then that's between him and God. And if someone decides to tell this special-day Christian that he's wrong or bad, then God wants to ask that someone, "Why do you judge your brother? Why do you look down on him? Won't each one give an account of himself?" (see Romans 14:1-12).

But, of course, Romans 14 isn't the passage quoted in the article. Instead, the writer goes to Galatians 4:10-11, which says, "You observe days and months and seasons and years. I am afraid for you, lest by any means I have labored for you in vain."

Now, I'm guessing that our writer would be among the first to say that the words of Scripture can only be understood in context, and that the immediate literary context, the surrounding paragraph, is the really critical part.

So then, what is the immediate context of the statement in Galatians 4? It appears that Christians who had gotten off to good start with God were now turning back to serve "weak and miserable principles." Their observance of special times was not something done towards God (the Romans scenario). Rather, their observance was meant as obedience to former masters who never even held the true status of "gods" (Galatians 4:8-11). It's a vast difference.

In the New Testament, the question is not, "May we observe special days?" Rather, the question is, "Why do you want to observe special days, and who is the object of your devotion?" If the practice is some kind of supplement to faith in Christ or different from devotion to God, then forget it. Don't do it. But if you want to do it because you love God, trust in his Son, and for some reason that time means something special to you, then by all means, do it to the honor of your Lord.

Now, which one of those two alternatives describes a congregation that wants to remember and honor the birth of Christ at this time of year?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Write On!

Why would anyone doubt the biblical doctrine of the Fall? I mean, isn't it something we all assume all the time?

Listen to talk radio. Pick up a self-help book. Go to church. Read blogs, including the comments. Here's what you'll hear: "The world is a messed-up place, and I can explain what's wrong and what we should do about it. "

We typically differ about the answers. But that there is an implicit and pressing question is something every responsible person seems to know, even if they've never been told.

Of course, I'm one of those billions of people who thinks he knows what's wrong and what to do about it. So I write.

- - - - - -

One of the reasons I blog is because it keeps me writing. Writing something. Anything.

I don't write every day. But I sometimes think I'm supposed to. That's because, years ago, when I first started really trying to write, I came across something the great Flannery O'Conner once said. Sometime after she'd become famous, Flannery told an interviewer that she wrote every single day. It wasn't that her writing was good every day. But she knew that if she didn't write every day, then on the days when it would be really good, she might not be writing.

I'm glad Flannery wrote every day. And I think she was onto something there.

Not all media were created equal. Now that I've learned a few things about what email can and cannot do, I'm still trying to figure out what a blog is and is not good for. But for now, I keep the blog because it's like having a friend who constantly says to me, "Come on, man. Write something."

- - - - - -

Years ago I read something about the number of "pages" that a preacher preaches. The writer(probably a preacher) was trying to quantify the output of a preacher's wordsmithing work. The figure came to something like six or seven novels worth every year.

I remember wondering at the time, Should someone quoting the Bible get credit for creativity? And that pre-sermon banter used by preachers to welcome visitors and promote important stuff? That counts as fiction writing?

But I digress. (Probably an effect of the Fall). For the sake of the point, let's say that the preacher doesn't "write" six or seven good novels every year. Let's say it's just one.

My question is, Why isn't the preacher publishing that? Would you crank out a novel a year and never send anything to a publisher?

"The pen is mightier than the sword." What would that guy have said about keyboards and the Internet? Have things like the Bible, the Nicene Creed, Augustine's Confessions, those ninety-five theses, the "Declaration and Address," and Karl Barth's Commentary on Romans taught us nothing?

If you haven't guessed already, I wish more preachers would put at least something in print every once in a while. Not that many are ever going to match the truly great stuff. But over the course of a year's worth of teaching, is there nothing of which the preacher can say, "But this one thing I'll polish and publish"? Preachers, maximize your ministry of the Word! Write for the Lord's sake, and ours.

Inspiration: Up to this point, everything I've ever submitted for publication in a Christian magazine or journal has seen the light of printed day. (Actually, that should be qualified by "almost." The only thing that's been turned down so far is some stuff I wrote on church-state questions; I think I'm not "right" enough about that stuff. Ooh, maybe I'll publish it here). Of course, serials among the Churches of Christ pay from nothing all the way to next-to-nothing. So the competition for space isn't exactly stiff.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Alexander Campbell (1788-1866) Posted by Picasa

Stone and the Campbells on Who is a Christian

It might be that many members of the Churches of Christ would be surprised (pleasantly or otherwise) to know how some of the earliest American church reformers, their religious ancestors, dealt with questions of Christian fellowship and unity. Here's a sampling:

"Whoever acknowledges the leading truths of Christianity, and conforms his life to that acknowledgement, we esteem a Christian." --Barton W. Stone, Biography, p. 332.

* * * * * * * * *

Alexander Campbell calls the following definition his "favorite and oft-repeated":

"A Christian is one that habitually believes all that Christ says, and habitually does all that he bids him." --Millennial Harbinger, 1837, p. 566

This definition grew out of the criticism fired at Campbell after he published an exchange between himself and a "lady from Lunenburg." In his letter to the lady, Campbell allowed that there must be unimmersed Christians in the so-called sects. He added:

"But who is a Christian? I answer, Every one that believes in his heart that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, the Son of God; repents of his sins, and obeys in all things according to his measure of knowledge of his will." --Millennial Harbinger, 1837, p. 411

To recognize that one may habitually obey Christ even when one's knowledge is defective is to face up to the obvious; we all do it. We're all ignorant about some things. And among those things we understand very well, our obedience is imperfect. But, said Campbell, if a person habitually obeys "in all things according to his measure" of knowledge of the Lord's will, then that person rightfully calls himself a Christian. Among the early leaders of what is now called the American Restoration Movement (a.k.a. Stone-Campbell Movement) this was regarded as a valid basis for unity and fellowship.

In the context of the first definition (Millennial Harbinger, 1837, p. 565), Campbell warns against judging those "who would die for Christ" but who because they do not yet understand, have never been immersed. He notes that some of these unimmersed folks often show a Christ-likeness that is lacking in those who would judge them. And he says candidly that he expects to see such people in heaven. Interestingly, this comes from one who championed baptism by immersion and its importance as much as any church leader in history.

* * * * * * * * *
Yet another statement comes from Thomas Campbell, Alexander's father. In the historic "Declaration and Address," Thomas offers the following on the nature of the church: "The Church of Christ on earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one; consisting of all those in every place that profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him in all things according to the Scriptures, and that manifest the same by their tempers and conduct, and none else; as none else can be truly and properly called Christians."

We can learn from our fathers in the faith. They can press us to consider and think through Scripture with the heart of Christ so that we can (1) avoid a false emphasis and (2) identify what is truly crucial to Christian identity and life.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

I Wonder

1. Can't remember where I came across this, but the question perfectly asks what I've been wondering for a while: "Is blogging a revolution in discourse, or is it CB radio?" Whaddaya think? (I promise not to quote you 10 years from now. And if you don't know what CB radio is, ask an elder).

2. Something else I've been wondering about as I get ready to move is, "Which books move with me? Which ones get given away? And which ones should go straight to the trash?" (It's like a dagger in the heart to even ask that last question, but I've collected a lot of books over the years and some just have to go). I'd be interested in other alternatives and guidelines from those who've done this recently.

3. I also wonder about how the advent of the web will impact book ownership. So far, it seems to have increased the sale of books.

4. Related to the first question: I know that there are some good examples and write ups out there already, but I'd like to hear your suggestions, ideas, experiences about using a blog in a school course.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

People from our Present Past, etc.

One of the occupational hazards of being a historian, even an amateur like me, is that you wake up one day to realize that a lot of your best friends are dead people. Also, you sometimes wonder if you would like these people more or less if you could actually be with them for a few days. I suspect that some great characters of the past weren't all that great to be around; some were no doubt better than we realize. I think that for some people, being outwardly successful and being domestically tolerable are competing principles; for others, the two work like synergy.

But back to this business of people I know at a bothersome distance: Some (or most?) of them might intimidate me I think. For example: I get the impression that the philosopher David Hume would probably goof on me, with me standing there, and I wouldn't even realize it until maybe the next day, if ever. Which is not to say I think he was a bad or a mean person. But it's like he has 21 good gears, while I'm stuck with a worn out 3-speed. We would notice the difference, I suspect.

Like a lot of my other dead-n-dear friends, Kierkegaard is one of those people I'm fond of, but could never be like. I mean, he has this passion and seriousness and compulsion and honesty and wit that I'm attracted to (much like Augustine). But there are times when his romantic bent turns into absolute romanticism, and I think I'd have to say, "I hear you, Soren, but I can't go there with you." He'd probably convince me of his way of seeing, until I woke up the next morning at which point I'd get back to seeing like me.

I think that Karl Barth must have been very charming. However, I have to say that most of the time when I read him, I finally sit back, blank look on my face, and say, "Well . . . . Yeah. But how to put into practice (what to do with) what he just said, I haven't a clue." For me, the Barthian upshot never gets fired. Instead, it feels like I just read really good poetry (which is something I never do, but if I did I think I would feel like that). Would I have liked being one of Barth's students? I'm not sure.

What about you? Any folks you know across time whom you'd like to know better? ("Duh! Jesus!" was just taken by me) :-) Any others?

- - - - - -

Our little old kerosene-burning water heater finally died last night. It was replaced today with a big new electric water heater. I just wrote out the check and paid the man. I don't recommend this to anyone. But then, how nice to be able to make a few calls, and in less than 24 hours have hot water again.

- - - - - -

Many years ago, I sat in a church growth class at Harding Graduate School thinking, "It seems that the next generation of Christianity should more-closely approximate New Testament models and images of the church." Yet I kept trudging along in the ruts that had been carved out by my forefathers.

Now it seems like Generation Next is acting on the kinds of things I was thinking then. In some cases, it's not because of a studied rejection of old forms; instead it seems like they could do no other, being who they are. (How's that for an over-generational-ization?)

Anyway, at once I feel proud and hopeful, lost and untrained. It will be interesting to see what unfolds. I will be looking for new ways in which I myself will be called upon to lead or follow. And I'm learning again to not assume that a different future will never arrive.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Go and read what my former teacher John Mark Hicks recently wrote (Dec. 1) about the Lord's Supper. His blog, Professing Professor, is here.