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On Friday evening I sat on the patio of my favorite Italian restaurant and listened to my son’s stories.

Little more than a year ago, he and his older brother successfully completed the U.S. Army’s Ranger School, often considered the most difficult thing the Army can throw at a young man outside of actual combat. As though that were not enough, this strapping son had just come through the Army’s other elite training program, the Sapper Leader Course (a.k.a. ‘Sapper School’).

A few hours earlier, his father-in-law and I had dabbed at moist eyes as the 24 soldiers—of 45 who began the course—had received their Sapper ‘tabs’ in one of those military ceremonies that is at once understated and profound.

Kind people say ‘You must be proud’, but I am not proud. I deeply admire the commitment and relentless persistence that have produced my two sons’ achievements. More, in fact, than I can say. But there is no place here for a father’s pride. What they’ve done, they have done. I’ve stood back in bemused awe, always, and cheered them on when I can. But this thing is theirs, not mine.

Back to an exquisite Missouri evening and that Italian restaurant. I know of no more gentle, no kinder human being that the son across the table in front of me. People sometimes observe aloud that he is authentically humble, and they could not be more right. My son’s mere conversational tone, his attentive interest in the stranger just met, his deflection of naive praise, deflate military caricatures in the time it takes to get to the second sentence.

Of the Sapper Leader course’s 28 unforgiving days and nights, my son describes nine days straight of unending ‘missions’, a bewildering kaleidoscope of hunger, sleep deprivation, and cerebral challenges. When asked, he says that he and his ‘Sapper’ comrades averaged 45 minutes of sleep every 24 hours during that phase of their training. He has lost fifteen pounds in these four weeks, his muscular face now chiseled by the lost body fat that in gentler times softens the lines of his jaw.

I hear, between his lines, the tale of countless moments when he felt that he could not do the next thing. And then found out that he could.

From my remote (and emphatically more rotund) position in the conversation, I recognize what he’s describing. No stranger to pain—though I have volunteered for less of it than my sons—I am familiar with the moment when you know you can’t. And then find out that you can. The moment when you do the next thing, the surprise when you’ve come—How does this happen?!to the other side.

This is, I think, one of the mysteries of being human. This meticulous construction of limits and limitations, and then this capacity to perforate them. This knowing that I can’t. This discovery that in fact I can.

My son is now ‘double tabbed’. He belongs to that elite cadre of my country’s soldiers who wear on their uniform two muted arcs of fabric that signal to the knowledgeable that they have been to hell and back, in a manner of speaking, two times.

One says ‘Ranger’, the other ‘Sapper’.

And that my son and others like him stand ready to deploy the dark skills and the self-mastery that are required when softer people decide that our nation needs them.

My son is not a morality play. He is not a parable of achievement. He cannot be reduced to the uniform he wears when he must. He’s my son.

But on this Sunday morning, he is a reminder—no, he has reminded me—that the moment when we cannot comes just an instant before we discover that we can. One day we will understand the mystery of being human better than we do now, this odd mingling of glory and squalor that is our nature and our fate. Perhaps this capacity to overcome will stand near to the core of what we have discovered that we are.

 

 

 

 

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¿Qué significa cumplir setenta años?

Fundación Universitaria del

Seminario Bíblico de Colombia

Celebración del septuagésimo aniversario

28 marzo 2014

 

 

¡Feliz cumpleaños!

 

Espero que todos se sientan satisfechos, orgullosos, y alegres en una ocasión tan digna de celebrarse como la que nos convoca en esta tarde hermosa en Medellín.

Ante la invitación de poner mi grano de arena en esta gran celebración, me siento agradecido. Aunque contar los años me hace sentir un poco viejo, he sido admirador del SBC (Seminario Bíblico de Colombia) y, luego, de la FUSBC (Fundación Universitaria Seminario Bíblico de Colombia) por la tercera parte de esos setenta años de bendición y desafío que celebramos hoy. (more…)

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We rightly grow weary of the dismissive verbal wave of the hand that claims, ‘These modern worship songs can’t compare to the old hymns. They just repeat the same words over and over again’.

Our generation’s artists, who dare the challenge of providing us with words and song for worship, need our encouragement rather than our blanket condemnation. The established hymnody of the church, after all, tosses at us some sickly-sweet laughers that would make the apostle Paul wince. And this is to say nothing of the richness that is to be found in corners of the contemporary worship repertoire. (more…)

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The best hymnody leaves little else for comment. When a writer of music intended to lead the people of God into worship manages to assemble, meaningfully and memorably, the great truths in a way that brings the simple and the wise together into adoration, he has accomplished a very great thing.

Recently, at the Christian community that my wife and call home—Indianapolis’ Church at the Crossing—these words came into our mouths. What more can one say?

Children of the Heavenly Father
Safely in His bosom gather
Nestling bird nor star in heaven
Such a refuge e’er was given (more…)

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An address delivered by David Baer (President, Overseas Council/USA) to the 2012 ICETE Doctoral Consultation in Nairobi, Kenya.

 

 I have been asked to sound the notes of celebration and achievement this evening, a task I hasten to undertake. I will add to these a personal word of congratulation.

I have given to the modest thoughts that I will place before you this evening a title of just two words: Studying Love. (more…)

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Discernimiento y valentía: por qué nuestros pastores requieren una formación teológica.

Seminario ESEPA, 5 mayo 2012

Cuando recibí de parte de Sadrac Meza la invitación a dar una charla en este notable evento, comencé a identificar mis opciones.

  • Podría contar anécdotas y memorias de ESEPA de antaño.  ¿Quién de los que estuvieron no recuerda con aprecio a Alberto Barrientos, Juan Kessler, Guillermo Brown, el inolvidable Eugenio Green, Kevin Jezequel, Gaby Murillo, Juan Macadam, Dorothy Andrews, y tantos más. Pero para muchos en esta noche, semejantes memorias serían reliquias y semejantes personas seríamos reliquias.
  • Podría navegar las aguas de la exposición bíblica. Pero mañana es domingo y ustedes estarán en sus iglesias, recibiendo—por lo menos los afortunados—lo mismo.
  • Podría enviarles a sus casas con exhortaciones fervientes. Pero me falta suficiente presencia en este contexto para asegurar que mis exhortaciones sean alineadas con su realidad y su momento histórico.
  • Podría contar cuentos sobre la vida de Sadrac. Pero sólo tengo cuarenta minutos …

Al final del día, como entonaba un ex-rector de ESEPA con una memorable frecuencia, mis opciones reales se reducen a una: hablarles del corazón respecto a tesoro frágil que es un seminario … que es ESEPA … en un mundo que todavía no sabe como atesorarlo suficientemente, porque no le ha tocado vivir sin él. (more…)

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Changing while God does not
All-Africa Institute for Excellence in Christian Leadership Development
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 4 May 2011

In one of Jesus’ briefest and least quoted parables, the Master commends to his listeners a very fortunate man. Jesus explains to us with striking brevity one of this man’s virtues:

He is capable of making good and even reverential use of those features of God’s economy that come from the past.

The same thing might be said of many human and beings, no doubt. Yet this man stands out from the crowd, as it were, because of a second quality that he exercises together with the first:

He finds it possible to recognize and embrace the new thing that is by God’s grace becoming possible.

You will recognize these words, from the thirteen chapter of the gospel of Matthew:

(Jesus) said to them, ‘Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.’ (Matthew 13:52 NIV)

We come together this week to discuss institutional sustainability and organizational change. Together, the challenge they present can be threatening and ominous, not least because we engage this challenge as frail human beings who struggle to make the best of things even as they now are. Change lies one horizon beyond and can seem a bridge too far. (more…)

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El 31 de octubre 1517, es la fecha que se conmemora la Reforma Protestante. Este hecho nos recuerda el gesto de aquel monje agustino, doctor en teología, quien luego de un proceso de reflexión y lucha interna, decidió exponer sus ideas. Su intención original era convocar a un debate teológico con los eruditos de su tiempo. ¡Estos fueron sus famosas 95 tesis! Lo cierto es que Lutero jamás imaginó que las verdades expuestas en esas cartillas, no solamente tendrían valor para el círculo académicos de ese entonces, sino que saltarían como bandadas de palomas puestas en libertad, impactando a todas las esferas de la iglesia y el pueblo, hasta nuestra actualidad.

Claro está, la reforma no inició con Lutero; fue un proceso que empezó a gestarse siglos atrás por distintos movimientos conformados por hombres y mujeres disconformes con las influencias que dejó el emperador Constantino. Este hombre se había convertido al cristianismo y en el año 313 promulgó un edicto de tolerancia religiosa hacia los cristianos. Dichas acciones pronosticaban el cese de casi 300 años de persecución y el advenimiento a tiempos de paz; pero en realidad era el presagio de nuevas artimañas que amenazaban con destruir la identidad de la Iglesia. Como reacción a esta alianza: “Iglesia e imperio”, se empezó a notar cambios que en nada contribuían a fortalecer las bases del cristianismo, mientras la iglesia se marchitaba por la aridez de su trato. (more…)

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The seminary or theological college finds itself today under more fervent attack than perhaps at any time since the modern seminary became a fixture in Christian circles.

Its critics are many, articulate, and sometimes scathing. Let me enumerate three principal criticisms to which seminary staff and leadership must respond if they are to remain viable.

First, the seminary’s critics allege that the seminary has uncritically adopted a university model that privileges academic pursuits over training for ministry. Second, the seminary’s traditional focus on biblical studies, systematic theology, and ministry skills such as counseling and preaching comes under criticism as irrelevant to modern ministry and incapable of training adept servants for the modern or post-modern church and world. Third, seminarians are told that their institution has become inaccessible to most trainees for Christian service and—not an entirely separate concern—slave to an economic model that is no longer viable.

If these allegations are sustainable, then it appears that the seminary—and its younger brother, the Bible institute or Bible college—is doomed either to decline or collapse. (more…)

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If you had told me a year ago that I’d be sitting in the third row of a stadium-like conference venue with 37,000 pilgrims who’ve gathered from the four corners to listen to Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger scrape their chairs up to a table and answer questions for a day, I’d have wondered what you were smoking. Or curious whether you’d glimpsed my impending early retirement.

Yet thanks to a Buffett disciple who’s simultaneously joined the board of the Christian non-profit organization I direct and become a friend-for-life, the invitation to do just that came into my hands. Out of respect for my host, I joined the airport queues of the faithful making hajj in Omaha.

I shall not soon forget what I saw in that city, heretofore known to me chiefly as the source of mail-order steaks. (more…)

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