God and Coffee: A Story

Newlyweds Kevin and Naomi Nye
Newlyweds Kevin and Naomi Nye

For the next 2 Saturdays, I’ll be featuring guest voices here at Theology in Overalls. Today, I’m pleased  (with permission) to repost  “God and coffee: A story,” from the weblog of Southern Nazarene University alumnus, Kevin Nye.

Kevin is a writer who gently shakes up  your unexamined assumptions. Even if you’re not a coffee connoisseur, you’ll enjoy how Kevin uncovers God in everyday things.

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GOD AND COFFEE: A STORY

In this, my first “meaty” post about God and Coffee, I simply want to tell a story. It’s a story you may know if you know me personally, or might have a connection to in some other way. It’s nothing more than a personal story about how coffee, and a small little world made possible, changed my life. This felt like an especially poignant story to tell because of all the news and opinions about mental illness surrounding Robin Williams’ death.

This is only a story, and you may wonder, “What does this have to do with God and coffee?” Well, this story has coffee in it, and it has God in it, so that’s my first qualification. But mostly, I tell this story because I think this whole situation was made possible because coffee is something that most of the world shares in common. It’s something that almost all of us drink, young and old, and unites us with the rest of the world: where coffee drinking, farming, and distributing take place. It’s a shared experience, and I think God is in it.

In 2005, an espresso and smoothie catering company called Dirty Water Coffee Co. was started in Oklahoma City by an ambitious, but driven 20 year old named Taggart Dertinger, affectionately known by the name Tag. From scratch, Tag developed a fully mobile coffee and smoothie shop that could be set up in 15 minutes or less, and offer everything from espresso shots to Busted Bean Frappuccinos, or the classic Snozzberry smoothie. By the time I joined the company in 2011, Dirty Water was doing upwards of 20-25 events per week, with four full setups that could be in different places at once.

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Fear or faith? Mrs. O’Leary’s cow and the Ebola virus

Mrs-O-Leary-s-Cow-Realizes-How-She-Can-End-the-Carnage-in-Chicago-s-SlaughterhousesYou’ve heard of a scapegoat. How about a scapecow?

From October 8-10, 1871, the Great Chicago fire cut a huge swath through the city, resulting in $ 192 million in damage to property, killing 300 and leaving 100,000 residents homeless. Urban legend has since blamed Mrs O’Leary’s cow, though a board of inquiry never conclusively established the fire’s cause. A popular poem nonetheless assigned blame:

One dark night, when people were in bed,

Mrs. O’Leary lit a lantern in her shed.

The cow kicked it over, winked his eye and said,

“There’ll be a hot time in the old town tonight.”

It has been 143 years since the Great Chicago fire, but some things don’t change. We still want to assign blame. The latest example is a group of more than 100 Liberian clergy who – in a statement reported by  the Liberia Observerblamed “homosexualism, etc.” for the “plague” of Ebola. One may wonder why homosexuals – a tiny minority of citizens – were singled out by name when others in the majority only merited an “etc.”

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The Eucharist: God’s winsome invitation to grace

eucharistPeople were asking questions. Their pastor was new and – so far – had celebrated communion every Sunday, something they’d never done before, so they decided to ask him about it. “Don’t you think it will become routine if we do this together every week?” The pastor was quiet for a minute, then posed a question of his own. “Do you think God is in heaven looking down at us and saying, ‘Stop it, people! Don’t do that so much!’ ” His listeners laughed; they took his point. The next Sunday, they gladly went forward during communion time.

Sacraments are dramatic rites/ceremonies – or to use Augustine’s term, “visible words” – modeled by Jesus and instituted by him that he intended the people of God to practice as well. In the last chapter, we spoke about one such sacrament, baptism. Baptism is the initiation that marks off individuals as belonging to the people of God, the church. Another sacrament regularly observed by the church is the Eucharist, sometimes called “Holy Communion,” “communion,” or “the Lord’s Supper.”

The term “Eucharist” comes from the Greek verb, eucharisto, meaning to “give thanks.”  The night before his crucifixion, Jesus took bread and wine and gave thanks for them before giving them to his disciples (Matt. 26:27, Luke 22:19; see also 1 Cor 11:24). Luke 22:14-23 picks up the story:

When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”

After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!”  They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this. 

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Spiritual beings in the Old Testament

Rev Chanshi Chanda
Rev Chanshi Chanda

Today’s guest is Chanshi Chanda. Reverend Chanda (M.A in Religion, Africa Nazarene University) is a long time Nazarene. Congolese by birth and formerly a pastor and Field Strategy Coordinator of the French Equatorial Field (Africa Region), he currently resides in Lusaka, Zambia. He recently launched the Institute for the Study of Human Dignity and Freedom (ISHDEF), a Think Tank and advocacy group that seeks to bring Christian theological principles to bear in the economic marketplace. He is the author of Christlike Justice and the Holiness Tradition (2010). The excerpt below is part of the Nazarene Theological Institute course, “Introduction to the Old Testament.” It is reproduced here with Rev Chanda’s permission.

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The Council of Yahweh – Daniel 7.9-14 seems to present a celestial council of spiritual beings who surround God. The best description of this council appears in the vision of the prophet Micaiah in 1 Kings 22.19-23 where God is surrounded by the “host of heaven standing around him on his right and on his left” (v. 19, NIV). Yahweh created them, and he presides at their meetings, even if he doesn’t seek their advice (Isa. 40.13-14) like the gods of other religions. Yahweh is called the “LORD of hosts” (Isa. 47:4, NASB). Before this council, true prophets appear to hear the world of God (Jer. 23.18, 22). The number of angels or other members of God’s council is never mentioned in the Bible.

 God can send members of the council to carry out His will. They worship God, and they execute his wrath by acting as members of His celestial armies. The Old Testament gives to members of the council ranks according to their exact role: the adversary (Satan); the archangels, such as Gabriel and Michael (Dan. 8 & 10); and Job’s advocate (33.22-25), an angel who defends the accused against the charges of Satan. The primary function of angels is to worship God in His court and to announce God’s word, though they sometimes intervene to protect the lives of the faithful.

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Madagascar adventure

Boys from the neighborhood where we stayed
Boys from the neighborhood where we stayed. They proudly display their puppy.

This is an account of Amy’s and my first visit to Madagascar, 18-23 January, 2010. We visited again 30 May – June 3, 2011. Our Nazarenes there are a committed group of people, and the joy of the Lord radiates from their lives. Please pray for Rev Ronald and Rachelle Miller and family, current missionaries in Mada. They replaced Rev David and Lisa Johnson (who now serve on the Africa East Field).

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What do you think of when you hear the word “Madagascar”? Some of us probably think of the movie that came out a few years back, or perhaps the lemur or some other exotic animal. From now on, I’ll think of the Big Island as the place where God is up to Big Things.

My wife, Amy, and I arrived on a Saturday and were greeted at the airport by Dave Johnson and his teenage daughter, Amanda. As we wound through Antananarivo, the capital city with nearly two million residents, the bustling activity was striking. Many barefoot men muscled a “pousse-pousse” (French for “push-push”) laden with bags of rice or other staples. Women set up small tables along the road, wooden stalls filled with colorful fruits and vegetables, suspended plucked chickens or dried fish and beans. Others displayed their wares on the ground, including shoes in all shapes and sizes, brooms or soap.

We went to church on Sunday. More than two hundred gathered under a tent at the children’s center. A group of seven teenage girls made up the worship team, including a boy playing drums and one of the older men on the keyboard. The Lord’s presence was close, and though I expected the many children present to become restless during my sermon, they listened with rapt attention. At the end, two dozen or more came forward as a sign that they wanted to follow Jesus!

On Monday, I began to teach a course on Galatians, part of the pastoral training program through the Institut Théologique Nazaréen. Fifteen students came faithfully, morning and afternoon, as we studied Paul’s letter. I couldn’t have done it without Pastor Richard, who translated my French into Malagasy, the local language. Every day, we memorized another verse from Galatians. Between lectures, students broke into small groups of three or four and talked about how to apply what we were learning to pastoral ministry. In this way, older students became mentors for those who were younger, encouraging them as they took their first steps as shepherds of the flock.

Church History I class
Church History I class

A highlight for me was hearing the testimonies from the students. Many had been born into homes where going to church was only a formality. Only later had they heard the Gospel, that Jesus could change their lives and give them a purpose. Several of the female pastors tearfully recounted how their husbands had beaten them, sometimes just for daring to go to the Nazarene Bible study. Despite this, they prayed for them and some of the husbands had come to Christ. Others spoke of how they had participated in the “turning of the bones” (ancestor worship) but later abandoned this annual ceremony, putting their faith in Christ. This was a step of faith for them, since honoring the dead by digging them up is prevalent in Madagascar.

The day before we left, we visited the street center. Nazarene Compassionate Ministries (NCM International) sponsors this outreach to street children. Many live with parents in ramshackle lean-tos, in tunnels or under bridges. From Monday through Friday, they can come to the center and get a solid breakfast and lunch. There are primary school classes for those who are younger, and older girls can learn sewing or housekeeping. The building was completed with labor from five Work and Witness teams, and includes a basketball court and comfortable living quarters for Pastor Richard and his wife, Theresa, who is the center’s Director. As I toured the building, I thought of three students who had been in my Galatians class. They had come through the center, found the Lord, and felt the call to pastoral ministry. Those stories and many more were only possible because of the incredible work of the center, a work that is even more desperately needed as the economy in Madagascar has been crippled in recent days.

Before I knew it, our time was up. Amy and I said goodbye to our new friends. We left grateful for the many Nazarenes who continue to give sacrificially to the work in Madagascar. Most of all, we’re grateful for the Big Things that God is up to on the Big Island.

Introducing Jacob (“Jake”) Roberts

Jacob_Roberts
Jacob (“Jake”) Roberts

From time-to-time, I enjoy high-lighting budding theologians to readers here at “Theology in Overalls.” Today, I  introduce you to Mr Jacob (“Jake”) Roberts.

Mr Roberts graduated this year from Olivet Nazarene University. He will shortly begin work as a Youth Pastor at a church in the Chicago area. Simultaneously, he’ll be completing his studies to become an R.N.

His blog, “On a Journey: Diving into the Mysteries of the God we claim to love,” can be found here.  Of special interest to Roberts is the nexus between science and Christian faith and how the two need not conflict.

Check out his writings, and feel free to dialogue on the comment threads of his blog. He enjoys theological conversation and discusses topics in a gentle and even-handed manner.

Good start, sir. Keep it up.

Baptism: initiation into the people of God

water-baptism2-300x204West Africa has many people groups. Different tribes “mark off” their babies with distinctive scars. One of my adult students, Francis, had an inch-long scar on his right cheek, just under his eye. During a break in class, I asked him about it. “This mark shows that I belong to my people,” he explained.

This practice may seem strange to those born in a Western setting, though with the rise of tattoos, perhaps less strange than in days gone by. Yet for any student of the Bible, African scarification immediately evokes how God marked off the ancient male Israelites as God’s own. Genesis 17:23-27 explains:

On that very day Abraham took his son Ishmael and all those born in his household or bought with his money, every male in his household, and circumcised them, as God told him. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised, and his son Ishmael was thirteen; Abraham and his son Ishmael were both circumcised on that very day. And every male in Abraham’s household, including those born in his household or bought from a foreigner, was circumcised with him.

For both Africans and ancient Jews, personal identity evokes “we” more than”me.” The people to whom I belong is of first and overriding importance. My story is important only as it is caught up in the larger story of my people.

The Old Testament people of God

The Old Testament takes this concept of group solidarity and goes one step further. Not only is the individual enfolded into the story of his or her people – the priority of “we” over “me” – but the people’s story in-turn is caught up in a much bigger story, the Story of God. In a land infested with idols to false gods, the prophet Jeremiah warned of a coming exile, but gave the hope of a people reconstituted one day:

They will be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me and that all will then go well for them and for their children after them (Jeremiah 32:38-39).

“They will be my people, and I will be their God.” This is the language of covenant, a solemn agreement between Yahweh and the people of God. Isaiah 49:6 is just one of a constellation of Old Testament passages that speak of Israel as a “light for the Gentiles.” They were to be a holy people, an example to the nations. Isaiah 56:6 speaks of “foreigners” who would come to Jerusalem, the “holy mountain,” to pray and make sacrifices to God. God’s people were to be a righteous, winsome, counter-cultural presence in the world, attracting even foreigners like a magnet to worship the one true God in the beauty of holiness.

The New Testament people of God

Old Testament passages like those in Isaiah are a bridge to the New Testament. In the New Testament, the people of God is no longer defined as blood descendants of Abraham. Rather, the people of God is comprised of anyone – Jew or Gentile – who are persons of the new covenant, the “new and living way” to God opened up through the sacrificial death of Christ (Hebrews 10:20). These individuals of the new covenant – this people of God – is the church.

Just as the ancient Jews “marked off” their male children through the rite of circumcision, so the new people of God, the church, marks off its young through a rite, that of water baptism. This replacement of circumcision by baptism is most explicit in the words of Paul to the Colossians:

 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form,  and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ,  having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead (Colossians 2:9-12).

When the church evangelizes in communities largely untouched by the Gospel, many adults who come to Christ will not have had the blessing of growing up in a Christian home. In the United States, this is becoming more common. In some states, church attendance on a Sunday morning involves less than 10% of the population. Converts in such a context are unlikely to have a Christian heritage and – therefore – unlikely to have been baptized younger in life.  So, though older, they have never been initiated into the people of God. They, too, will pass through the door of water baptism into the household of faith, like the Ethiopian eunuch Philip baptized in the desert (Acts 8:26-40). As for the child baptized as an infant, they should receive later at a time when they can understand (traditionally around age 12) instruction in the meaning of their baptism and what it signifies to belong to the people of God. It is then – at the time some call “confirmation” – that they can affirm Christian faith as their own. By doing so, they  acknowledge what their parents by proxy accomplished when they presented them as babies for baptism. Confirmation means saying: “From the start, my parents always intended me to follow Christ, to be part of God’s people. Now, I openly acknowledge that these are my people, that Jesus is my Savior, and that I am His follower.” Like in many African cultures, so in the Christian family, the “we” precedes the “me.” This vital progression from “the faith of my family” to “my faith, too” is found in Paul’s words to Timothy:

I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also (2 Timothy 1:5).

Across Africa, there is an influx of converts to Christian faith. In a context where most are exiting African traditional religions, it is normal that most who are baptized are older. Yet as time goes by, the practice of baptism of those who are infants or young children is likely to increase, as portrayed in the book of Acts when entire families were baptized together (Acts 2:37-41, 16:33). Likewise, as believers in the West shift from the “Jesus and me” perspective to that of “Jesus and we,” the frequency of baptizing the young will surely grow. In any case, there is one baptism, not two (Ephesians 4:5). Baptism remains the once-in-a-lifetime sacrament (literally, “visible word”) of initiation into the people of God, though it may be performed very early or later in life, depending upon the circumstances.

Whether the sacrament of baptism is administered to an infant who later is confirmed or (alternatively) to an adult candidate, the people of God are the people of the covenant established by the blood of Christ (Luke 22:20). The “marking off” of baptism is an initiation into that holy people, at whatever age it occurs. It is an acknowledgment of the priority of who we are together, that the people of God predated me and they will continue when I am gone. I am a chapter in a book, an important chapter, to be sure, but  the book is a story of “we” with many chapters. Through baptism, I have been caught up in this bigger, divine/corporate story, the story of God and God’s people. What a story!

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Image credit: Horizoncrc.org