New Job!

Dreams come true, and God answers prayer.

Last week I began work as the Assistant Director of Spiritual Formation at the George W. Truett Theological Seminary. I’m thrilled beyond measure, unfathomably grateful,  excited, and deeply gladdened to enter service in the Office of Spiritual Formation, working under the direction and guidance of Dr. Angela Reed, Associate Professor of Practical Theology and Director of Spiritual Formation. I’m also very thankful for the leadership of Dean Todd Still, whom I have become further acquainted with during the interview process and during my first few days in office.

I’ll follow in the footsteps of Bill Walker, who has been in the role for the past two years. Bill has been a tremendous friend and colleague. He has done excellent work in the classroom and behind the scenes in the Spiritual Formation office. I pray God’s blessing on him as he returns to his roots in Austin, Texas, where he will serve as Director of Vocation at Christ Church of Austin.

It’s an incredible opportunity for me that involves the sweet coalescence of personal history, hopes, passions, and aspirations. Stated differently, this is very, very cool.

So what’s the job?

All kinds of people are part of the Truett community. Some have discerned a vocation to the pastorate, others seek a deeper faith through theological education, and still others  have yet to discover why God has brought them to seminary. Many are from the Baptist tradition, though not all. There are multiple degree programs and certificate programs. The seminary exists “to equip God-called people for gospel ministry in and alongside Christ’s Church by the power of the Holy Spirit.” That’s a big mission that serves a broad diversity of people.

The Spiritual Formation office supports this mission. We do so by praying for the students, faculty, and staff who are part of the seminary community. We also coordinate and offer instruction in one distinct and vital aspect of the seminary’s curriculum: Covenant Group.

Covenant Groups are like small groups, and every seminarian takes part in these groups as part of their course of study. A major part of my new job responsibility is to coordinate these groups, recruit mentors, and shepherd students in meeting this requirement. The model is evolving, changes and refinements are being made. But the basic concept remains steady. When students begin study at Truett Seminary, they are placed in a small group of ideally six to eight colleagues, assigned one group mentor, and then participate together for four semesters in a course of study.

Covenant Groups receive instruction in biblical, historical, practical, and theological approaches to the Christian spiritual life. Each student is required to read assigned texts, to participate in their groups, and to practice spiritual disciplines individually and together. The groups allow space for testimony and ministry to one another, as well as for discernment and mutual counsel as each student listens for God’s will for their life. At the conclusion of four semesters together, our goal is for students to have a firm grasp on their story, to identify ways God has formed their identity in Jesus Christ, and to gain clarity in how God is calling them forward into a deeper, fuller faith as disciples, heralds, servants, and ministers of the gospel.

We also hope these groups nurture friendships, create community, and allow for collegiality to develop among our students. We hope our mentors are seen not only as guides or teachers, but as encouragers and helpful counselors. Community is indispensable for our students as they carefully study and practice the Christian life. Covenant Groups provide a space for a body within the Body of Christ, a place where the ideals we speak of concerning the church can be lived out among a small fellowship of disciples.

I’ll help recruit, train, coordinate, and support the mentors who lead these groups. I’ll also have the opportunity, in concert with Dr. Reed, to teach courses and offer lectures that are part of the Covenant Group curriculum.

While Covenant Groups are my most significant responsibility, I’ll also work with Truett’s Spiritual Direction Training program. As a certified spiritual director, I’m excited to continue that ministry within the context of this program.

I mentioned that the opportunity to join the Truett family was a “sweet coalescence” of my history, hopes, passions, and aspirations. Twenty years ago, while I was an undergraduate at Baylor University, I dreamed of one day serving in higher education. I wanted to be a Christian scholar, serving the academy and the church. I had models to follow in Dr. John Wood, Professor Robert Reid, and Dr. Larry Lehr, people who embodied ideas that I wanted to adopt for myself. There are other examples I could name. My highest hope and my biggest dream was to one day serve in this capacity at Baylor University–as a learned teacher, mentor, and friend.

Furthermore, one of the important figures in the history of Truett Seminary was a man named Paul W. Powell, who served as Dean from 2001 to 2007. Before he served as Dean, Paul was an evangelist, pastor, and Texas Baptist statesman. When I was a boy he was my pastor at the Green Acres Baptist Church of Tyler, Texas. His life and ministry had an effect on multiple generations of my family. Paul baptized me. Later, he preached the charge at my ordination at the First Baptist Church of Allen, Texas, which is pastored now as it was then by Pastor Chad Selph.

The chapel at Truett Seminary is named in Paul’s honor. I’m thankful to be serving in a place that has been marked by his legacy. By witnessing Paul’s life, reading his little books, and hearing stories about him, I’ve been deeply inspired to work diligently for the Lord while it is still day, while we still can, to do all to the glory of God, for “night cometh,” therefore “Go into all the world.”

Lastly, serving in the area of Spiritual Formation aligns with my research interests. I’ve been reading stuff in this area for years. I’m a nerd when it comes to Christian discipleship and formation. Plus, I’m a Christian educator. I want to teach what I’ve learned. I believe in the importance of an intellectually informed faith, rigorous and challenging theological instruction, the formation of character, love for God, and service to the world.

I look forward to serving the seminary community as we create an environment where students can be formed in the way and likeness of Christ. A couple of my friends know that means I will be quoting a lot of Dallas Willard, and they are right. Guilty as charged.

But that won’t be all. Hopefully, the person I quote most will be Jesus. He’s the Master. And I hope to serve him well in this new capacity of service with Truett Seminary. If you are ever in Waco, make an appointment to see me. I’d love to show you my desk, give you a tour, hear what you’re up to, and talk about all the good and great things taking place in this vibrant, thoughtful, and committed community of faith.

Pray for me.

I’ll pray for you.

Let’s keep our eyes open, see what God will do.

The Secrets of God

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Photo by Fonsi Fernández on Unsplash

At first we want the consciousness of being guided by God, then as we go on we live so much in the consciousness of God that we do not need to ask what His will is, because the thought of choosing any other will never occur to us. If we are saved and sanctified God guides us by our ordinary choices, and if we are going to choose what He does not want, He will check, and we must heed. . .God instructs us in what we choose, that is, He guides by our common sense, and we no longer hinder His Spirit by continually saying–“Now, Lord, what is Your will?”

– Oswald Chambers, “The Secret of the Lord,” My Utmost for His Highest

Chambers follows a citation of Psalm 25:14 with a question, “What is the sign of a friend? That he tells you secret sorrows?” Chambers, rightly, says that many are glad to share their troubles, not only friends. No. A friend draws near not uniquely by sharing their woes, but instead when disclosing “secret joys.” When do we receive secret joys from God? Chambers answers with a question: “Have we ever let God tell us any of His joys, or are we telling God our secrets so continually that we leave no room for Him to talk to us?” If God has secret joys to share, surely we want to hear them. Hush. Listen.

Chambers identifies an ever-present Christian concern: knowing the will of God. We often seek the will of God by asking, presenting our requests. We pray, desiring assurance that every choice, every avenue we take, every word we utter, every feeling we have, every thought that crosses our mind, is, with certainty, according to the will of God. But Chambers gently reminds us that answers come with listening and through relationship, the means by which God “gets us in touch with His purposes.”

How does God do so? We listen for the voice of God in prayer; we also study the Word of God in Scripture. God has spoken, and God speaks. We also remain mindful that when we face trials and tribulations, it is through those circumstances that God conforms us to the likeness of Jesus, refines us by the fire of the Spirit, and matures us in faith. We look upon our days with and through the eyes of faith, trusting that God is there, present, with us, has not left us nor forsaken us, and is, right now, renewing our minds, hearts, souls, bodies.

Sanctification is a promise. God does set us apart as holy and will, by grace, render change in those who sincerely trust him–of outlook, understanding, feeling, or hope–at God’s own rate of speed. Our arrival at that place of transformation is often by a circuitious route that we would not choose nor could ever design. It comes when God confides in us, guides us, teaches us, instructs us, not only in what we should actively avoid, but how we are to be and become: people of love, gentleness, wisdom, discernment, service, truth, joy, peace, and humility.

Chambers is clear in reminding us that God knows every detail of our lives. God shares “amazing intimacy” with us. God knows us best, tending to our “tiny things,” in which God reveals his grace. As grace takes effect, we speak differently, we feel differently, we think differently and believe differently, we become like God by learning the way of Christ from Christ and in Christ.

The brilliance, I think, in Chambers’ meditation is the suggestion that we are not always consciousness with regard to how or why God has brought about our harmony with God’s will, our freedom in Christ, and our accountability to the Spirit. We desire God’s guidance. We draw near to God. Then, we find ourselves doing things that stem from being bathed in God’s grace, immersed in God’s Word, and present to God’s Spirit. We don’t always perceive it. We should. Chambers says God “guides our common sense,” which might also be said as, “God gives us wisdom” or “adjusts our judgment.”

That which seems natural to us was once unnatural. Our common sense would not be common apart from the God who is truth. The supernatural has taken up residence in us, the Spirit of God has made a home in us, and God’s immeasurable grace has done a quiet work in making us something we could never have become without The redeeming work of Jesus.

To walk in the will of God as though it were the only way to walk, the most natural way, is an incredible testament to the gracious action of God. God has shared “secret joys” with us, the greatest of which is God’s very self. God is there to be known, and God makes that knowing possible.

My Work Setup

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Photo by Rafael Pol on Unsplash

Sitting at my desk I’m surrounded by gadgets and gizmos and a ridiculous assortment of notebooks, pens, cords, drawing instruments, post-its, tabs, binders, clips, a label maker, a couple of different cutting devices, pouches, backpacks, satchel bags, folders, plug adapters, storage containers, tablet stands, stamps, paperweights, erasers, letters, envelopes, dividers, portable keyboards, cameras, external USB drives, eReaders, iPods, markers, headphones, tape, and a few talismanic knick-knacks that have come to help me feel at home: a Chewbacca Pez dispenser, a rock I used as a visual in a youth ministry talk (it says “SERVE”), an Evangecube. Stuff.

I have tools that I love. I bought my iPad and iPad Mini refurbished and long after their initial release to save money and because I knew exactly how I’d use them: primarily as word processing machines, secondarily as web browsers, and thirdly as video and music players. I added a Bluetooth keyboard and an Anker tablet stand, and I was all set for work at home and on the road. A tablet weighs less than a laptop computer. I like being able to easily sync across Apple devices, and portability is a must.

The more I’ve used digital tools the more I’ve come to trust, love and adore pencil and paper. I don’t think I need to buy another notebook for several decades–I have that many in reserve. We have an overflow of pencils and pens, too. My Moleskine (large) serves as my journal, I have an 18 month Moleskine planner that is my primary calendar but also as a place to deposit to-dos, memories, and doodles, and I have an older Ecosystem notebook that I fully customized with tabs for goals, ideas, my reading record, quotes, lists, scraps, artwork, stuff my kids have made, fortune cookie sayings, cartoons, pictures, and movie ticket stubs. If you hung around with me at Institute or at FirstLight, there might be a picture of you in that notebook. Maybe.

I’m particular about pens and pencils. I switch often between a wooden #2 pencil and a Uni-ball Vision Elite ink pen; I also employ a black Sharpie for art work and letter writing. We have so many varieties of Post-It Notes, ranging in all sizes, cuts, and colors, that I keep one stack handy in my primary desk drawer and use them liberally until they are gone. Then I reload. I use Post-Its as bookmarks, reminders, additions to my day planner, and signs I can easily post around the house (or other random places).

I used to hate writing stuff out by hand. I thought my handwriting was difficult to read and unattractive. But now I see it for what it is: the unique scratch I can put on paper, irreplicable, and the most basic form of art I’ll leave behind. One of the things I’ve come to love about handwritten notes from friends and family is that even before I read the return address or the signature I know who it is from just by the marks they’ve made, the block letters or the looping cursive. If you want a letter from me just ask. I might even include a doodle.

I’ve also started to collect a lot of stuff for drawing and sketching, inking and painting. My new hobby has also given me reasons to use stuff I already had–mainly Sharpies. But surprisingly, I have a lot of other pens and markers I’ve accumulated through the years that I now make it a point to use.

My go-to applications are Google Drive and Evernote. I’m strongly considering a move away from Google Drive, and as many other Google hubs as possible, because I have privacy concerns. I keep track of my primary to-dos, especially tasks that I’ve routinized, using Wunderlist. I’ve thought about migrating to another to-do app, too, but for different reasons. Wunderlist operates slowly sometimes, and I’d like a smoother interface. I’ve yet to dedicate a few hours to making the switch. I have plenty of data to transfer. My to-do list keeps me on track daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annually.

Over the years I’ve cobbled together a really comfortable desktop computing setup. I have a Mac that I bought refurbished, I designated an older computer monitor as a secondary desktop, I bought a monitor stand to elevate that screen, I have a perfect charging station to keep my tablets upright that also preserves space to charge my phone, watch, and camera, and I have a nice little sound system for playing music at home. Everything hooks together easily, and stays compact in my work area. I still have room to lay out my books.

As for knick-knacks, I’ve named a few above. My desk area has small American flags, a Dallas Cowboys star logo patch, a small African sculpture of a thinking man that was given to me by the Conards, a #1 Dad Trophy my daughter gave me for Father’s Day, a pencil drawing of Jesus by Greg Cissell, Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker ornaments my mom had placed on a birthday cake for me a few years ago, a Bob Feller autographed baseball, art created by Susan DeLong that features Numbers 6:24-26, a couple of challenge coins I’ve been given in the past year, plenty of my kids’ artwork, and a ton of LEGO builds. My diplomas are on the wall, as is a piece of art depicting the Holy Spirit’s descent at Pentecost.

My desk has a WACO coaster that my mother-in-law gave to me, which is usually underneath a Klean Kanteen that Molly gave to me, and whatever coffee mug I happen to be drinking from that day (Einstein, Barclay College, Duke Divinity School, Philosophy News, UBC Students, one from our wedding set, a blue one from a set my mom gave me, Perkins School of Theology, a mug with D’s artwork on it, an  FUMC Waco mug, or one of two mugs Molly and I have exchanged on a holiday). My mouse pad says my name. My mom had it made for me a long time ago, and I still use it.

The other assortment surrounding me: books, books, books. There are standard reference works within reach, stuff I aspire to read soon a little further away, and an active stack I’m churning through on my windowsill. Also within reach: five Audobon Society Field Guides: Rocks and Minerals, Birds, Wildflowers, Trees, and Night Sky.

Lately, when I hit the road and go mobile, I throw a few books into my Heritage Leather Bonhoeffer briefcase (thanks to Molly, who gave it to me, and David A., who made it) along with a tablet, tablet stand, one mechanical pencil, one notebook, a keyboard, headphones, and a coffee mug and go to work. Starbucks is about four miles away. I buy a short coffee, drink it black, sometimes ask for water, and try to find a seat.

Right now I’m at my desk at home, which I scored at a rummage sale in Fort Worth. My friend Ryan Thornton helped me get it home, and a former employer allowed me to store it for about a year, since it was too big to fit in my house. There are books nearby that have been gifts and some I picked up from minister friends who were handing off books to another generation.

The things are nice. The memories and the people associated with most all of my things are much nicer.

James W. Arnold, Honored

austin-texas-state-capitolLast Thursday I had the privilege of visiting the Texas State Capitol to hear the Texas House formally accept House Resolution 626 as I stood next to my grandmother, Bess Arnold, on the dais. H. R. 626 formally honored my grandfather, James W. Arnold, who died January 19, 2019 at the age of 87.

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On my right is my cousin, Jimmy Landes. My brother, Walter Simpson, stands on Mrs. Arnold’s left, with John Landes on the far right. At the bottom of the frame is Representative Travis Clardy, who served as our host, and who introduced the resolution before the House. Mr. Clardy represents Cherokee, Nacogdoches, and Rusk counties. Mr. Clardy’s wife, Judy, grew up knowing my grandparents alongside their children (my mom, aunts and uncle) in the city of Tyler. The Clardy family and their staff were gracious and warmly welcomed us to the Capitol.

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My uncle Drew Landes recorded the proceedings as they were streamed live on the web.

Here is the video, which I wish I could center in the frame, but cannot:

 

Following the acceptance of the resolution several members of the House came and offered condolences to our family, including Charles “Doc” Anderson, who represents Waco. That was nice, considering I knew who he was.

Our visit to the Capitol was special. I won’t forget it. I am glad that Mr. Clardy, Matt Schaefer, and Cole Hefner introduced this resolution, and I am very thankful that my grandmother, Bess Arnold, had the privilege of hearing it read while on the dais. James W. Arnold was a valued member of the community of Tyler, a true friend, and a respectable man.

Equally if not more important, at least to me, he was my Daddy Jim.

Enter Sandman Made Even Better

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Photo by LINN on Unsplash

Metallica’s Black Album is an absolute classic, and I have fond memories of my little brother humorously whispering the bridge of “Enter Sandman.” Virginia Tech likes the tune and has for years. Metallica was a go-to source for pregame  tracks in the 90s, and I guess they still are considering how often their sound makes its way into hype videos.

There are many covers of “Enter Sandman,” but none as good as the one I heard this week from Iron Horse. Without further ado, let the pickin’ begin.

Football: Know Your Terms

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Photo by Bank Phrom on Unsplash

I’ve made another appearance in the Waco Tribune-Herald’s Letters section, this time talking football terminology. Click and read my letter.

The Trib printed this article from the AP, which I read on Saturday. I wrote my letter that afternoon, and it appeared locally in print on Tuesday. Here’s the play, and the term, that came to mind:

I never knew this play inspired an ice sculpture.

A few years later similar action occured in a game I cared about.

Sports are great. People are, too, especially in their inventive use of words.