Archive for ‘Change’

Mercy Project

by   |  12.17.10  |  ACU, Change, Christianity, Contextual Theology, Contexual Education, Hope, Jesus, Justice, Learning, Ministry, Mission of God, Students, Theology, Video

At ACU Graduate School of Theology, we are convinced that deep learning requires real-world engagement. Contextual education–the phrase we use to describe this approach–reimagines the “classroom,” and “study;” and it means that we get to watch students partner with God in truly amazing ways. Working on behalf of enslaved children in Ghana, West Africa, Chris Field (Master of Arts in Christian Ministry, Executive Director of Mercy Project) is one such student. These are his words:

His name is Tomas, and he is about nine years old. He sits perfectly still in the middle of a small wooden fishing boat and watches my every move closely. I reach my hand out to him, and he slowly reaches back. As his small, dark hand embraces mine, these incredulous words form in my mind: “I am holding the hand of a slave.” Tomas lives in Ghana, Africa where he fishes on a boat fourteen hours a day, seven days a week. Tomas was probably sold by a desperate mother, for about $20, to a man she hoped would be able to send Tomas to school and feed him three times each day. Instead, his life is miserable, full of dangerous work and only enough food to keep him alive.

Unfortunately, Tomas is just one of an estimated 7,000 children working as slaves in the fishing industry of Ghana. These are the children we are working to help. These children are the reason we started Mercy Project. Our initial focus was to raise as much money as we could to help the children in slavery. But it didn’t take us very long to realize that the scope and depth of the problem would require more of us. Long-term solutions to the issue of child slavery in Ghana would have to include economic development- economic development that attacked the poverty and lack of economic opportunity that “forced” men to buy children like Tomas in the first place. This is why we are working to transform Ghana’s economy by creating new industry and businesses that are not dependant on child slavery. This economic development and opportunity gives viable alternatives to the country’s current economic choices. We believe this transformation is what will help us save Tomas and the other children working as slaves in Ghana.

This Christmas season, in the midst of all the celebration, I keep catching myself thinking about Tomas. I am sad that–on the outside–he has little reason to celebrate. But I am grateful for the chance to work on his behalf, and I am hopeful that his next Christmas will be full of joy. We invite you to join us in praying for Tomas and all of the hurting people in our world. Could there be a more fitting way for us to celebrate the humble birth of our Lord Jesus?

Renewing worship: Lessons from the Prophets (Part 3)

by   |  07.13.10  |  Bible, Change, Christianity, Church, Contextual Theology, Hope, Justice, Prophets, Worship

This Sunday, I’m supposed to preach a sermon on Isaiah 41, a gorgeous text inviting Israel to come to God, not in fear but in trust and hope.  It’s a powerful text, and in many ways an easy one to preach.  But it’s got me to thinking about a couple of things.

First, notice what the text says: “I the Lord am your God, who grasped your right hand, who says to you, ‘Do not be afraid; I will help you’.”  This is a text about the mercy of God.

This leads to a broad observation: the key to Christian theology is the confession that God has mercy on the world — on all of us collectively, and on each of us individually.  God knows we need mercy, as anyone can recognize.  Our history weirdly mixes together tragedy and irony, salted with just enough comedy to make it all bearable.

Christians always struggle with a tragic view of life because we know too well the power of sin.  We suffer under no illusions, so much so that our honesty often gets us killed (hence Christianity’s history as a community of martyrs).  But in our struggle we must never allow the tragic sense to overwhelm us.  Because we, in the final analysis, do not believe that the world is a place of tragedy.  Because God is merciful, hope is possible.

Then my second thought, also a bit random.  In preparing to preach I always listen to music.  Channeling my inner nerd, I think that means classical music for me.  And this time it meant Bach’s “B Minor Mass,” which opens with about 10 minutes (10 minutes!) on the two Greek words “Kyrie eleison” (“Lord, have mercy”).  On and on it goes.  Why?  Undoubtedly our ancestors had longer attention spans than we do (which wouldn’t be hard).  But more importantly they knew they needed God’s mercy, and that they would get it because of who God is, and that as recipients of mercy, they should properly worship God.

So, to tie these thoughts together, I think a focus on God’s mercy on us would get us out of the phony worship discussions some of us seem stuck in, in which we must choose between legalism and entertainment/personal fulfillment as frames of reference.  What if we thought of worship as the assembly of those in need of mercy and grace?  What if we joined those who cry out to God in doing so?  Would that make a difference?

I’ll let you know how the sermon went (unless it’s a disaster).  But let me know how the reframing of worship as the search of mercy might make a difference in your context.  I’d like to hear from you.

Dr. Mark W. Hamilton
Associate Professor of Old Testament and
Associate Dean
ACU Graduate School of Theology
Abilene, TX 79699
Editor, The Transforming Word

Does the Gospel Sell Itself? (part 4)

by   |  05.04.10  |  Bible, Change, Christian, Church, Gospel, Hospitality, Identity, Ministry, Society, Theology

Mark Hamilton, PhD - Associate Dean, Associate Professor of Old Testament, ACU Graduate School of Theology

Mark Hamilton, PhD - Associate Dean, Associate Professor of Old Testament, ACU Graduate School of Theology


Does the Gospel sell itself?  That’s how I began this series of posts, and that’s how I’ll end it.  If we are on a road alongside of which are exits to narcissism, self-indulgence, and self-promotion, and the Heavenly City seems further away in our rearview mirrors, then how do we change directions?  (I’ll drop the metaphor there, if you don’t mind!)  I’ve tried to set out some of the interpersonal and intellectual challenges because to reflect theologically and to act on the basis of that reflection, we need to consider several factors.

But here’s the final one, and the decisive one.  What does God want?  Now, I know that this question is tricky and easily hijacked by various sides of any given debate.  If you want change, you point to the God of renewal, and if you don’t want change, you mention the old paths.  Both sets of languages — both descriptions of the nature of God — have biblical warrant.  Which one applies at a given moment depends on several factors, not all of which everyone will agree upon.  Moreover, Christians have a wide range of views of just how specific God intends to be.  Neo-Calvinists assume that the sovereignty of God implies a very high degree of planning of human lives, while most other Christians are content to think of God painting in the cosmic picture in broader, more impressionistic strokes.  I do not say any of this to be cynical, but simply to note that I am aware of the hazards.

Still, as a Christian, I must always ask myself what God wants.  It is not legitimate to try to escape the question, if you want to think in Christian ways.  Here are some things (not everything!) that Scripture, which I believe to be the best indication of God’s will that we have, seems to think God wants from us:

1. Let’s be passionate about the search for God.  Christians should pray a lot and with passion.  If we spent more time on our knees, we might spend less time wringing our hands or shouting.  As Paul said to the Athenians, God has given us evidence of nearness by raising Jesus from the dead.  The search is not an idle quest for an elusive goal, but the pursuit of one lover for another seeking rest together.

2.  Let’s care about the stranger.  I have long been struck by Exodus’s story of the redemption of Israel and the legal conclusions that the text draws from that experience: “you shall not oppress a stranger; you know the heart of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9).  Perhaps Christians are so hostile to immigrants and other vulnerable people because we have concluded that this land really is our land, not simply a place on loan from God while we move toward our final home.  Have we forgotten that we too are strangers, that we too are redeemed people?

3. Let’s remember that we are in this together.  It is distressing to watch churches split over issues that can only be classified as trivial.  I have always found that praying for those with whom I disagree (which is quite a few people, as it happens!) or whom I found narrow and annoying and petty (also a fairly large group) changes things.  Very few Christians are so alienated from their own calling that we cannot find in them something to cherish.

4. Let’s remember that change can be both good and necessary.  Some folks I know are worried about “change agents.”  I’ve even read journals that argue that all change is to be resisted.  Of course, this is absurd.  Sometimes change is apostasy, true, and that is to be resisted.  But sometimes change is repentance, as when churches quit making one race sit in the balcony while another sat on the pews on the floor.  Sometimes change is simply maturation as when we recognize that our group does not have a monopoly on Christian commitment or understanding.  And sometimes it’s just change, relatively benign and neutral in meaning.  To fear change is to fear life.  The key is to make change rather than suffer it, and to make it with the highest Christian ideals in mind.

5. Finally, let’s remember that to be church is the greatest calling in the world.  We cannot cherish Christ without also cherishing his bride.  The church often needs correction — we are always reforming — but we also need to be loved and to love the magnificent calling we have received to be harbingers of God’s Kingdom, in which no one suffers hunger, no one is alone, no one is disrespected, and all find a place of dignity and honor at the bountiful table of the Lord.

May it always be so!  I’ll start a new series in a few days, after the Pepperdine lectures.  I hope to see you there!