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Are We Overrated? A Conversation with Eugene Cho

Eugene Cho is the founder and Lead Pastor of Quest Church – an urban, multi-cultural and multi-generational church in Seattle, Washington – as well as founder and Executive Director of the Q Café, an innovative non-profit community café and music venue. He is also the founder and visionary of One Day’s Wages (ODW) – “a grassroots movement of people, stories, and actions to alleviate extreme global poverty.” ODW has been featured in the New York Times, The Seattle Times, NPR and numerous other media outlets. For his entrepreneurial work and spirit, Eugene was recently honored as one of 50 Everyday American Heroes. His recently released his first book, Overrated: Are We More in Love with the Idea of Changing the World Than Actually Changing the World?

KW: Based on the theme of your book, what would you say is the greatest hindrance to a Christian’s ability to actually change the world?

EC: I don’t think there is really one answer to that question. The body of Christ is a mosaic of people in different seasons of their lives and different seasons of their spiritual walk so I don’t want to single out one aspect, but I do think there are a few significant factors to talk about.

The first would probably be apathy and a general lack of conviction that we need to do something and that God has called the church be part of his plan.

The second, which contributes somewhat to the apathy, would be an erroneous theology. Many of us have a theology that says that we just need to focus on Jesus and that the most important thing is bringing the most people to heaven with us. While I agree with the basic premise, it lacks a larger, more robust vision of the kingdom of God that we pray will be manifest on the earth, as well.

Lastly, I think fear is a significant factor. The world around us is so broken. Just think about what’s happening today: the border crisis in Texas, the continued conflict in Israel and Palestine, Nigerian girls still being held captive—these these situations lead to fear and paralysis because we just don’t know what to do about it.

But I think we also need to be careful about what we mean by changing the world. In our language and in our theology we talk a lot about this and that’s good. I’m glad that, particularly in the evangelical world, the language and issues of justice have been elevated by things like The Justice Conference, for example. But I think we need to be careful about our messianic complexes, about our hero complexes. It would be ridiculous for us to think that we are trying to change the world without understanding that that God also wants to change us.

Part of the title of the book is “Are We More in Love with the Idea of Changing the World than Actually Changing the World?” If I could add another sentence to that already long title it would be: “and also be changed ourselves.”

As we’re seeking to change the world and bring about justice, for us not to consider our own complicity in a broken world, would be missing so much and would actually be a hindrance to the work we are called to participate in.

KW: Why do you think it has become so easy, and so commonplace, for well-meaning Christians to confuse the line between good intentions and doing good?

EC: Part of this is cultural. We live in a world where it’s easy for us to express our good intent. I don’t want to just slam our culture and our people because it’s partly the language of the world we live in whether it’s social media or the ease of getting and responding to information.

This isn’t necessarily bad, but if we’re honest, there’s always a cost to following Jesus, a cost to justice, a cost to taking good ideas and implementing them. We’re all in love with justice, compassion and generosity, but there is a ceiling to that. We love justice until there is a personal cost to us.

That’s the distinction between action and good intent. Action requires a personal cost beyond a tweet or Facebook post.

We have to remind ourselves that there is a cost to following Jesus.

KW: You talk about the reality of Christians being “called to the insignificant.” Why do you think we need to be reminded of this, and why is it so difficult for us to hear?

EC: I’m not suggesting that we have to be insignificant or invisible, but in a world where we’re attracted to glamor, popularity and significance we have to remember that this isn’t the essence of our following Jesus. The most important part of our calling is to be faithful. If we’re attracted to attention and bright lights it can compromise our motivation and good intent. And, ultimately, it feeds our hero complex.

The cover of the book is an unrevealed human being with a superhero uniform. If we’re not careful, we’ll be overrated because we’re more in love with the idea of being seen and being celebrated than we are of being faithful.

Nowhere in scripture do I see that God’s calling for us is to be glamorous, trendy or relevant. Our cultural context makes this so tempting so we have to remember what God’s calling is for us—to be faithful.

KW: You say that Christians ought to begin with self-examination. What questions do we need to ask ourselves?

EC: In the midst of our busyness and desire to be defined by our work, we need to stop and realize that how our culture defines heroism, is different than what Jesus modeled for us. For example, I think there’s something about being humble, being careful about our motivations and acknowledging that in the work of justice we need to ask ourselves the hard questions

How do I embrace silence and solitude in the noise and clutter?

Am I defining myself and finding my significance in busyness and in “good work?”

Am I in it to glorify myself or to elevate God and those that I’m serving?

Am I using people for the sake of growing our own influence and platform?

These are hard questions and questions I wrestle with as a person, as a pastor, and as a leader in somewhat of a public role.

KW: How would you encourage someone paralyzed with the overwhelming charge of making a difference in the world?

EC: I would begin by reminding them that it’s not our job to save the world, it’s not even our job to change the entire world—we need to be realistic. There’s no possible way we can change the whole world; it’s a phrase and a marketing slogan we throw around in the church.

All we’re called to do is be faithful, to live as faithful followers of Jesus. And as we’re faithful followers who study God’s word, as we grow in our understanding of God’s heart, as we learn that justice, mercy and compassion reflect the character of God, as we’re people that study the scriptures, pray and spend time with the Holy Spirit—not because we’re trying to produce certain things, but because we’re followers of Jesus—out of those things will well up convictions that will help us and sustain us. Out of this will spring up energy and guidance for more than one hit wonders, single events, or fundraisers.

I would love to encourage someone to consider what it means to follow Jesus in all of the wonder, in all of it’s scandalous nature, for the marathon of life.

God has begun this mission and I believe that Christ came, Christ died, Christ rose again, and that one day he will come back to restore all things unto himself. We get to simply be a part of this. The world, the mission of God’s salvation, and redemption of this world does not rest on me. I can rest in that and trust that God is at work.

KW: What do you believe the church in America most needs to hear?

EC: The most important thing the church needs to hear is the most important thing we’ve needed to hear from the beginning—it’s the reason we exist. We need to be a church where everything we do is in response to the gospel of Christ. And by the gospel, I’m not just suggesting that we earn our ticket to heaven. The gospel is so amazing and magnificent that it does give us the gift of salvation and reconciles us to God through Christ. But the gospel is also such that it also ushers forth the kingdom of God that was demonstrated by Jesus Christ. That’s the gospel that we need to be a part of and be about.

May we be about the gospel, and may everything that we do—including the pursuit of justice—be in response to the gospel of Christ.

KW: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

EC: Go Seahawks!

On Sticking With It

Guest Post by Rachel Goble

The photo above is from my first visit to Thailand in 2008 sitting in a circle, hearing stories of young women who were trafficked form Myanmar to Thailand’s border town as sex workers. I’ve been with The SOLD Project for 6 years now. It’s amazing to me how often I get asked “so what are you up to now” and watch people’s shocked faces to find out I’m still with SOLD. Or other times I’m in conversation with friends and express the hard parts of my job and get told “you’ve been with this for a while. It wouldn’t be bad for you to move on”. I’ve had enough of these interactions in the last year to both recognize their repetitiveness as well as create a certain feeling of insecurity in what I’m doing. Should I move on? Have I been with this for too long? Could someone else lead it better?

In the last six years I’ve been with SOLD I’ve watched friends move on to second and sometimes even third careers. I’m 31 years old. We’re all in a place of figuring out what we want to be when we grow up. Am I missing something?

I absolutely love what I do. Sure, there are times I feel off balance and know that parts of me aren’t being challenged. Other times I’m overwhelmed with challenge and wish I had a boss telling me what to do next. Sometimes I wish I’d gone corporate as the instabilities of the non-profit world and lack of sustainability weigh on me. I yearn for guidance and growth and new experiences.

But don’t we all?

As I’ve settled into my sixth year of being with the same non-profit – one that I helped start from it’s very beginnings – I’ve realized that I don’t want to run when it gets hard. Or overwhelming. Or when I feel like maybe I’m missing out on some other experience.

Someone once told me that most baby boomers are still in their same careers as when they graduated. Whereas my generation will have experienced 4 careers by the time they retire. I don’t see anything right or wrong about either. But I do know that. For me. Today. I’d like to stick with mine a little longer. Even if that makes my peers not so sure what to do with me.

Gary Haugen once gave a talk I resonated deeply with. He eloquently shed light on the road to justice being long. And painful. And at times mundane (think data entry). But it’s the moments of victory that we celebrate. I’m learning to accept the journey. And learning to trust that the moments of victory will come. With a lot of hard work. And vulnerability. And dependency on investors. And even data entry.

I have a dream. Of a world where children are free of exploitation. Where cycles of poverty are broken. Where families are restored. And I’m seeing that. Every single day. With my work at SOLD.

So, to keep myself balanced, I start other initiatives that feed and breathe life to other aspects of me. I run a photography business that allows me to be creative and provides extra income. I consult. I attend conversations and gatherings about faith and leadership development (both things I’m passionate about). I create personal projects and make films. And all of these outlets allow me to meet new people. Who inspire me and encourage me and get me to ask deeper questions.

I don’t know what the future has for me. But I do know that today, six years later, I am more dedicated to SOLD and our mission of prevention than ever before. And I hope that remains true for years to come. I’m glad I stuck it out. And I’m writing this blog post to remind future me that the journey can be incredibly difficult or even worse, at points, mundane. But the glimpses of justice from the fruits of our efforts that we see along the way make it all worth it.

Paul McCusker on C.S. Lewis & Mere Christianity

Paul McCusker is an author and dramatist. His books include Screwtape Letters: The Annotated Edition and the newly released  C. S. Lewis & Mere Christianity: The Crisis That Created a Classic, plus over 20 novels and non-fiction works. His scriptwriting includes the multiple award-winning audio dramatizations of The Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis At War and the Peabody Award-winning Bonhoeffer: The Cost of Freedom.  He is also a writer and director for the popular children’s program Adventures In Odyssey.Paul lives in Colorado Springs with his wife, son and daughter.

KW: How did your interest in C.S. Lewis and the story of Mere Christianity develop? 

PM: I grew up with a cursory knowledge about C.S. Lewis – the quotes often used in churches and youth groups from him. But my interest in C.S. Lewis as a writer and person began with The Chronicles of Narnia, which I read back in the 80s. I was so impressed with them that I began to read about his life and explore his other writings, including Mere Christianity. Then, as a writer and director for Focus on the Family Radio Theatre, I had the honor of dramatizing all seven Narnian stories, along with The Screwtape Letters. 14 years ago in England I stumbled onto Justin Phillips’ CS Lewis and the BBC, which chronicled his relationship with broadcasting and told the story of how Mere Christianity came to be written. I immediately made notes about how to dramatize it, but the project was put aside for various reasons. It came to mind again a couple of years ago and we eventually produced the audio drama of “C.S. Lewis At War.” While Phillips’ book was helpful, it was written mostly for a British audience. So I had to do a lot of peripheral research to fill out sections, not only about Lewis and the BBC, but about World War Two and England and other aspects that American listeners would need to know. The idea then came up that I should write a companion book for the drama, which I did.

KW: What are some ways that WWII shaped the thought and ideas Lewis expressed in his radio talks and in the finished book?

PM: The war shaped every aspect of the lives of those living in England at the time. Everyone was touched by it in one way or the other, through fear, loss, and tragedy. Lewis had evacuees living in his house, his brother Warnie was active in the military in France, friends or children of friends were regularly shipping out to fight, the threat of an invasion by Germany seemed imminent. Lewis was impacted by all of this. And, as an academic, he came into regular contact with the prevailing secular positions, and anti-Christian bias. With the BBC broadcasts, then, he spoke into the nightmare that was England. He reminded an increasingly secular culture about faith and God and hope and mercy. He also wrote The Problem of Pain and The Screwtape Letters during this time, as well as more of his science fiction novels, and many of their themes came about because the nation was at war.

KW: What was the most surprising thing you learned in your research?

PM: I was surprised by the complexity of Lewis as a man. He was not easily categorized. There was a full integration of his life, experiences, pain and faith. The portrayal of him as a “pie in the sky” Christian, living in an academic tower and untouched by the realities of life, is nonsense. He was a fully rounded human being.

KW: How would you describe the legacy of Mere Christianity?

PM: It’s amazing to think through the many ways we’ve been impacted by Lewis’ thought and approaches in Mere Christianity. The “Three L” argument about Jesus (Liar, Lunatic or Lord), the explanation about God’s being about to deal with all prayers from all people because He is outside of time, and even arguing for the faith from a soundly intellectual and reasonable position – they were all positions popularized by Lewis. We take them for granted now because he did them so well. And it’s significant that his work seems as relevant now as it did when first presented – even more so, in some cases.

KW: Is there something unique we can learn from the chaotic background to the formation of Lewis’ work that might help us understand or navigate our way forward in much of the chaos of today’s world?

PM: He took seriously the task of defending Christianity to a secular audience in a sensible way. He earned his credibility to speak into people’s lives by identifying with their common humanity and then guiding them into the bigger picture of eternity. He was intentional in trying to explain why Christ was relevant using the language of the people, without talking down to them. He didn’t shy away from the tough questions. He didn’t use tricks of propaganda to explain what he believed. We have to remember that every generation has its challenges, its chaos, its secular ideas, its anti-Christian efforts. Ours is no different from his. The question is: will we rise above the shrill voices and screams to speak  about Jesus in a meaningful way to our culture?

KW: What’s a significant takeaway for you personally?

PM: I learned that writing a book about C.S. Lewis is incredibly difficult. I’d rather do novels where I can make up everything :)

KW: What are the books you most recommend to people to learn more about Lewis or the sides of Lewis we may not know? I  recommend Jack: A Life of C. S. Lewis by George Sayers. It’s one of the best. Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life by Lewis himself is essential, as well as reading Lewis’ many other works. Lewis’ letters to his friend Arthur Greeves is insightful, since they span most of his life. Professor Devin Brown’s books about Lewis and his works are very good. And, for self-serving reasons, I also recommend Screwtape Letters: The Annotated Edition :)

An Interview with Mark Charles

If you’ve been a reader of this blog for awhile you know that I like to do book interviews with authors to expose people to a variety of different leaders, voices and perspectives. One of the things we all benefit from in the current world – where we tend to interact most with things we already believe or agree with – is exposure to different points of view. One of the things that helps us grow as people and in wisdom is getting outside of ourselves and deepening our understanding of other perspectives. The Native American, and certainly the Native American Christian perspective, is one that we often don’t hear or are rarely exposed to.

Mark Charles is a voice that many of us need to hear. He is a writer, blogger, speaker and thought leader. I asked him to do an interview about himself, his ministry and his mission of trying to help contextualize the Christian faith within native culture. If you want to connect more with Mark you can connect with him on Twitter (@wirelesshogan) and follow him on his blog.

KW: You partner with the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship at Calvin College as a Resource Development Specialist on Indigenous Worship. What have been the blessings to you as you’ve engaged the topic of contextualized worship in a formal academic setting?

MC: Ya’at’eeh. My father is Navajo and my mother is American of Dutch heritage. Both sides of my family have been involved in the Christian Reformed Church for at least 3 generations. In fact, my Navajo grandparents were translators for some of the early Christian Reformed missionaries in the Southwest. I personally have been involved in several ways with the denomination, including as pastor of the Christian Indian Center, a CRC church in Denver CO, before I moved back to the Navajo reservation with my wife Rachel and our 3 children.

One of the main goals of the Worship Institute is to revitalize worship in the local church this is done primarily through a grants program geared towards congregations. After my family and I moved back to the reservation, I began to write about life, reconciliation, marginalization of native people, and the process of contextualizing worship among native cultures. While living there I was connected with one of the grantees and through that relationship I began developing a partnership with the Worship Institute.

As our partnership continued to grow, I began consulting for them: doing leadership development and teaching and writing about contextualized worship. Their partnership allowed me more time and resources to invest in local leaders on our reservation and to engage in conversations throughout the country about what it means to contextualize Christian worship for indigenous cultures.

When I lecture at the seminary I usually start by asking the students whether anyone has ever participated in a contextualized worship service. A few ethnic minority students usually raise their hand. I then look around the room and tell them I have to assume that the rest of the class must worship in a Jewish synagogue on Saturday in Hebrew. Of course, their answer is no.

I go on to inform them that actually, they do participate in a highly contextualized worship service. When you come from a dominant culture you assume that the way you do things are normal—but, in fact, most worship services in the US are highly contextualized to fit the Western culture and the American people. A core value of the United States that unfortunately had been adopted by the American church is the value of assimilation. But that is not a Biblical value. I use the topic of contextualizing worship as a way to encourage the students to instead embrace the discomfort that comes from our diversity.

But perhaps the best fruit that has come from my partnership with the Worship Institute had been the opportunity to invest in Native leaders with Cru (formally Campus Crusade) and Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship. 3 years ago we started a national Native American student conference called Would Jesus Eat Frybread (WJEF). This conference attracts about 100 native students from around country allows them to ask questions about it means to be both native and Christian.

KW: What is the one of the most important messages the American church needs to hear about indigenous peoples?

MC: There are many things that the American church is ignorant of in regard to indigenous peoples. One of the primary things is that for much of the history of our nation, the American church has worked in partnership with the US government to destroy, assimilate or marginalize Native Americans and our cultures. The main way this came about was through the Doctrine of Discovery. The Doctrine of Discovery stemmed from a series of papal bulls written in the 15th century. Essentially, it was the Church in Europe saying to the nations of Europe, whatever lands you encounter that are not ruled by Christian rulers, the people in those lands are less than human and the land is yours for the taking. It was this doctrine that allowed Columbus to claim to have discovered America—because his worldview, theology and doctrine told him this land was empty.

This doctrine has become a foundational doctrine, not just for the American church, but also for the nation. Most people don’t know the Doctrine of Discovery by name but they do recognize the fruit of it which is foundational in much of their attitudes and perspectives. Manifest Destiny is a perfect example. The Doctrine Discovery feeds a lie to the church and our country which is the belief that the United States is God’s chosen nation and this continent is their promised land. This belief is rarely preached explicitly. But it is implicit in the understanding of what it means to be an American.

The Doctrine of Discovery has also been codified into US law. There are a number of cases in the Supreme Court that reference the Doctrine of Discovery. One example is Johnson vs. M’Intosh (1823). In that case, two white men were arguing over the ownership of a piece of land. One man had purchased the land from indigenous people and the other man had purchased it from the government. The court stated that based on the Doctrine of Discovery, the indigenous people only had the right of occupancy and that the Europeans had the right of discovery. And the right of European discovery trumped the right of indigenous occupancy.

Most people are not aware that at its core our nation is this systemically racist and fundamentally unjust. We often point to the Declaration of Independence as evidence that our nation is “good” and believes that “all men are created equal.” But even that declaration was based on the Doctrine of Discovery. The colonies claimed that the British crown was limiting their ability to expand and “discover” the lands west of the Appalachian Mountains so therefore they had to declare their independence. So the great statement that “all men are created equal” has in its foundation an assumption that the indigenous peoples living in the land were not fully human.

This is a difficult truth to swallow and this information causes quite a paradigm shift for most people. But it’s important to understand this history and the way it has influenced our life and our thinking.

KW: What do you think is the greatest misunderstanding about indigenous people?

MC: I think the biggest misunderstanding people have is that we, Native Americans, aren’t here. Most people don’t realize or think about the fact that we still exist and that there are close to 6 million Native Americans living in this country, representing over 600 tribes and residing on more than 300 reservations.

Four and a half years ago, then Senator Brownback (now governor of Kansas), amended House Resolution 3326, the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act, with a 7 bullet-point apology to Native Peoples of the United States. The apology mentions no specific tribe, treaty or injustice and ends with a disclaimer stating that nothing contained in it is legally binding. The senator tried for years to get a meatier apology passed as a stand-alone bill, but couldn’t even get it out of committee. So he kept watering it down and still was unable to move it. It was finally recommended that he bury it in an Appropriations Act in order to pass it. He did so, and it was signed by President Obama on December 19, 2009, but it was never announced, publicized or read by the White House or Congress.

I hosted a public reading of this apology in December 2012 in front of the Capitol building in Washington DC. I invited Governor Brownback, President Obama, and other government, political and denominational leaders from around the nation to come in hopes of creating a dialogue to begin the process of reconciliation. We had about 200 people show up—almost entirely from the grassroots level. Virtually no one with leadership in the church, academia or the government attended.

At this reading I shared a metaphor that I have used for nearly a decade to invite our nation into a conversation for reconciliation with indigenous peoples.

Being Native American and living in the United States feels like our indigenous peoples are an old grandmother who lives in a very large house. It is a beautiful house with plenty of rooms and comfortable furniture. But, years ago, some people came into our house and locked us upstairs in the bedroom. Today, our house is full of people. They are sitting on our furniture. They are eating our food. They are having a party in our house. They have since unlocked the door to our bedroom but it is much later and we are tired, old, weak and sick; so we can’t or don’t come out. But the part that is the most hurtful and that causes us the most pain, is that virtually no one from this party ever comes upstairs and finds us in the bedroom, sits down next to us on the bed, takes our hand, and simply says, “Thank you. Thank you for letting us be in your house.”

It is my prayer that our nation can begin to acknowledge and respect the indigenous peoples this land.

KW: What is the goal of your new organization 5 Small Loaves?

MC: Through honest education, intentional conversation, and meaningful action, 5 Small Loaves is pursuing restored relationships and seeking healing for Native Americans, the Church, and the United States of America.

For the past 5-7 years, I have mostly participated only in dialogues where I was invited to engage. This included joining the boards of the Christian Reformed Church of North America (CRCNA) and the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA). I also accepted invitations to speak and lead (in partnership with other organizations) on issues of diversity, racial reconciliation, and other faith issues.

But in the past 3-5 years, there have been 3 specific issues that I have been compelled to speak out on and lead into primarily on my own. These issues were so important to me, but yet incredibly controversial throughout the broader country, that I found if I did not speak, then very little would be said or done. These issues are:

  • Creating a space for native voices in national political elections.
  • Advocating for the inclusion of the indigenous peoples of this land in the process to comprehensively and justly reform our nation’s immigration laws.
  • To publicly and respectfully read the U.S. apology to Native peoples that was buried in the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act.

Pursuing reconciliation is going to require engaging in dialogue on these types of more difficult issues. Very few organizations are willing to take on the risk, so we needed to start our own in order to engage them. My wife, Rachel, and I understand that we cannot do it alone. We need to have partners, encouragers and other leaders to help. We’re looking forward to seeing how God will use this organization to raise up people to help move the dialogue forward in these areas.

How Tyrants Become Gods

Guest Post by Ben Larson

I’ve noticed something about myself recently: there are some ugly tyrants in my life. They’re not people. They’re not evil. They are gifts that I have allowed to become tyrants. Here are my thoughts on them:

The Tyrant of Opportunity
How often have I found myself jumping into a project I don’t have time for or paying for something I can’t afford or losing an entire weekend to busyness? Opportunity is probably the biggest tyrant in my life right now. While ignoring opportunity is foolish, and opportunities are a good thing, I’m bombarded by so many that I sometimes forget that I don’t have to try to do it all (especially since I can’t).

The Tyrant of Potential
Knowing your strengths is a good thing. Knowing your capacity is a good thing. Being aware of what you are capable of accomplishing is a good thing. Laying awake at night angry because you feel like you haven’t mastered every interest and accomplished every goal? Not so good.

God knows our potential better than we do, and – more importantly – he knows where our energy will best be spent. It can be difficult to trust him when we know all of the cool, impressive things we could be doing with our lives. I’m learning to beware when I start to think thoughts like “If I could only work a little less…”, “If my relationships didn’t take up so much of my time…”, “If I could just be alone and chase that one goal 24/7…” None of those statements sound like the beginning of a sentence Jesus would say.

The Tyrant of Desire
In the age of American Idol and the Disney generation, I REALLY feel compelled to “pursue my dreams,” whatever that means. But what about God’s calling on my life? Does it involve chasing my personal version of success? Buying my favorite toys? Visiting the coolest places? Playing the biggest stages? God’s calling might not, and am I willing to do more than just accept it and resign myself to it – am I willing to embrace it and pursue that calling with everything I have?

The Tyrant of Guilt
We need to feel guilty. We’re imperfect people that make foolish, selfish, hurtful decisions every day. But not all guilt is healthy. Some is imposed on us by culture, like when a dad feels guilty for not being able to give his kids as many Christmas gifts as the dads in the movies. That’s a silly, cultural guilt that has no place in our Christian paradigm. I don’t want to be tyrannized by cultural guilt that pressures me to perceive my success, my self-worth, my achievements, or my decisions in a way that Christ wouldn’t see them. A God who cares more about orphans and widows than priests and kings would probably not want me to feel guilty for missing a meeting to give a hitchhiker a ride.

The Tyrant of Money
We all get this one. The true danger of money is that it represents everything else in the list…I can leverage money into anything I want it to be, which makes it the most seductive of all the tyrants.
The funny thing about our brains is that knowing about the problem isn’t enough to make the problem go away…this is one of those tyrants that we can only reprogram ourselves away from through generosity.

What is a tyrant? Someone with a lot of power who makes unreasonable or immoral demands and doesn’t have their people’s best interests at heart. Sounds kind of like a false god, doesn’t it?

“You shall have no other gods before me.” – Exodus 20:3

Mike & Ann Mara on Medical Work in Kenya

Some of Tamara and my best friends are Mike & Ann Mara. Mike and Ann Mara joined Antioch at the very beginning, over 8 years ago. They are a unique couple in that Ann is Irish and they both met in Africa while Ann was working in relief and development and Mike was doing medical missions. The amount of things we have collaborated on over the years is a pretty long list, but World Relief NEXT – where we worked on creative and educational material advocating about Haiti, and the Democratic Republic of Congo – and the founding of The Justice Conference would be some of the more significant things. (In fact, if you’ve ever been to the conference, Ann has been the emcee from the beginning and you’ll recognize her face and lovely Irish accent).

Around 2 years ago Mike, Ann and their two children Michael and Jane were sent by Antioch to Kijabe, Kenya where Anne works in advocacy and Mike works as an orthopedic surgeon. They recently returned home for a brief stay in order to tell stories, increase the profile of the work being done in Kijabe, rest and raise funds.

I thought it would be fun to do an interview with Mike & Ann because I believe in them and their work as much as anyone else I know.

KW: What is the history of the medical work in Kijabe?

M&AM: AIC Kijabe Hospital was founded in 1915 and is a 280-bed multi-specialty facility in rural Kenya. Nestled in a small village on the eastern escarpment of the Great Rift Valley, this African mission hospital has grown to provide an extraordinary range and quality of services to some of the most vulnerable patients in Africa.

The hospital was originally established as a small clinic to provide good health care for Kenyan and missionary families. Despite being located in a rural village, it has grown to become a major Kenyan referral hospital with over 700 Kenyan employees. Of the twenty six consultants (doctors) at the hospital, half are Kenyan and half are ex-pat missionaries from England, Australia, and the USA.

Incongruously, this rural hospital has become one of the leading training centers in East Africa. Licensed training programs mentor the future leaders of medicine in East Africa and beyond. Programs include medical and clinical officer internships, five-year residencies in both general surgery and orthopedic surgery, fellowships in pediatric surgery, pediatric neurosurgery, and soon reconstructive plastic surgery, and paediatric acute care, as well as a family practice residency program.

Kijabe Hospital is literally the city on a hill which cannot be hidden. It serves as a beacon of Christ’s hope and love for vulnerable patients from Kenya, South Sudan, and throughout East Africa. Patients come to Kijabe Hospital knowing that they will be treated with love, compassion, and dignity, regardless of their ethnicity, faith background, or ability to pay.

KW: Please describe your ministries at Kijabe Hospital.

Ann:  I was tasked with establishing a Resource Mobilization Department within the hospital. My work includes communications through website development, newsletters and social media, as well as grant-writing, fundraising, and donor acquisition and appreciation. This allows Kijabe Hospital to communicate its vision and alert people to the needs that exist for equipment, personnel, and capital improvements. My desire is to see collaboration between individuals and institutions all over the world, engaging and investing in the Spirit-filled work that takes place at Kijabe Hospital.

Mike:  My work is to head up the orthopaedic surgery department at Kijabe, and to train and disciple surgical trainees within our five year orthopaedic surgery residency program. In addition, we have the opportunity to travel on outreach trips to provide medical care, surgical training, and shine Christ’s light in some of the darkest corners of the African continent.

KW: What are some of the things Americans don’t understand about the medical needs in East Africa? 

M&AM: Most Kenyans living outside the major cities have little or no access to quality medical care. Rural health clinics may have no doctor or nurse on staff, and frequently have little medicine in stock. Simple medical problems such as an infected cut, ear infection, or broken bone escalate to life and limb threatening conditions due to lack of medical care. For trauma, such as car accidents, there are only 40 orthopaedic surgeons to serve 40 million people. Kenyans constantly suffer or die due to lack of trained medical providers. The fortunate few may be able to borrow money, or sell livestock or land, to travel for days to get to a functioning hospital.

KW: What has been the most impactful thing you’ve experienced since being in Kijabe?  

In Africa, the distinctions between the physical and the spiritual, the natural and the supernatural, become blurred. Patients presenting with a medical condition or injury come in carrying tremendous spiritual burdens as well. Deformity, birth defects, and illness are often seen as a curse to be feared as much as a medical condition to be treated.  As westerners, with cultural and language barriers, it can be difficult to decipher the patients’ cultural, social, and spiritual backgrounds. It has been amazing to see the Kenyan and western staff, the medical and chaplaincy staff, work together as an holistic team. We believe this is a vision of the “Kingdom Come;” different parts of the Body of Christ in action here on Earth. We have seen patients refuse life-saving surgery, or refuse to hold and love their baby with a birth defect, until a spiritual stronghold was identified and broken through fervent prayer by the medical and chaplaincy teams. Patients are often released from spiritual bondage as well as having their medical conditions treated.

KW: What are the most helpful ways people can be involved with you in the work you’re doing, or become supporters of your ministry in Kenya? 

There are many levels of answers to this question, but first and foremost, we need prayer. We are continuously comforted and strengthened by the prayers of hundreds of people around the world. The struggles in Kenya are often as much spiritual as they are physical. Prayer has become our daily bread:  it sustains us on an hourly basis.

As long term missionaries to Kijabe Hospital, we are required to depend upon the Body of Christ for our living expenses. Our monthly budget is set by our mission agency, Serge, formerly World Harvest Mission.  This has been an incredibly humbling experience, recognizing that we are completely dependent upon more than 100 individuals, families, and churches who sustain us. It is impossible to do this ministry in isolation, as we recognize that collaboration is the essence of missions. Partners in our ministry support us through recurring monthly tax-deductible donations through Serge. We invite you to prayerfully consider partnering with us in our ministry in Kenya, by visiting our donations page.

Finally, Kijabe Hospital is energized by Christian doctors coming to do short term missions. This brings new ideas and enthusiasm to the medical trainees, and allows the long term Kenyan and missionary doctors to take much-needed breaks. Please email our medical director, Dr. Mardi Steere, at meddir.kh (at) gmail (dot) com, if you are interested in short term medical missions.

KW: How would people find out more information and stay updated on your life in Kenya? 

Please feel free to email Ann at annmoran2002 (at) yahoo (dot) co (dot) uk, or Mike at kijabeorthopaedics (at) gmail (dot) com. We would love to hear from you and answer any questions you might have.

We regularly update our blog documenting our triumphs and struggles here in Kenya.  Please visit at www.marasafari.org.

For more information about Kijabe Hospital, please go to www.kijabehospital.org.

KW: What do you hope is the lasting impact of your ministry in Kenya?

Ann:  It is a privilege to tell the story of this incredible place. The story of what happens at Kijabe Hospital on a daily basis needs to be shouted from the rooftops as a picture of God’s immeasurable power and the advancement of His Kingdom here on earth. It is my hope and prayer that many more people will hear about God’s work at Kijabe and will be excited to partner with the hospital in various ways.

Mike:  My greatest joy is coming alongside the next generation of Kenyan, Christian medical leaders, and training them to be orthopaedic surgeons. Our prayer is that they will be well trained medically, and also discipled in stewarding their talents for God’s kingdom. Many of our Kenyan trainees feel the call to serve the vulnerable in Kenya, and some have even traveled with us to surrounding countries which have far greater medical and spiritual needs. These young doctors will in turn train and disciple the subsequent leaders in Kenya and beyond.

The Justice Conference 2015 Announced

For all those who have been asking about info on The Justice Conference for 2015—check out the Press Release below and share it with your friends. I’m excited about the conference moving to Chicago, the continued live stream options and the recent hire of a new Executive Director for the conference: Mark Reddy. Mark is an Aussie with a long and successful background in media, events, entrepreneurship and more. See you in Chicago next June!

————————————————————————————————————————————

WORLD RELIEF HOSTS FIFTH ANNUAL JUSTICE CONFERENCE IN
CHICAGO AND VIA SATELLITE LOCATIONS ACROSS THE COUNTRY

Bestselling author, speaker and humanitarian, Bob Goff, will give opening day keynote with featured music artists, Rend Collective

BALTIMORE – August 12, 2014 – World Relief, an international relief and development organization,
announced today that The Justice Conference will be held June 5 – 6, 2015 at the Auditorium Theatre in downtown Chicago. The Justice Conference, which is held in a different city each year, is a movement of students, teachers, business people, parents, artists, social entrepreneurs, pastors, advocates and academics with a shared concern for biblical and social justice, the vulnerable and the oppressed.

The two-day agenda will feature internationally acclaimed speakers who will be paired with musical and other performing artists who have given their talent to “creative advocacy.” Bestselling author, speaker and humanitarian, Bob Goff, will kick off the fifth annual conference with a keynote speech, accompanied by featured music artists, Rend Collective. Also participating in the conference will be Eugene Cho, lead pastor of Quest Church in Seattle and co-founder of international anti-poverty movement One Day’s Wages and Micah Bourne, a globally known spoken word poet.

“Over the last four years, we’ve watched the movement grow and build momentum from coast to coast, quickly becoming one of the largest international gatherings on social and biblical justice,” said Stephan Bauman, president of World Relief. “The Justice Conference has become an important platform, not only to discuss current issues of injustice, but to inspire acts justice and motivate social change that can impact the world. We’re excited to finally bring the movement to the mid-west, and look forward to another inspirational weekend in 2015.”

Since its inception, The Justice Conference has gathered more than 10,000 total attendees from a diverse array of cities and countries. Previous locations the conference has been held, include: Bend, Ore., Portland, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

For more information or to learn how to become a Partner Site for the event simulcast, please visit www.thejusticeconference.com.

400,000


Photo Credit: Brody Swisher, Creative Commons

One of the coolest things about Antioch has been our choice to meet in the high schools of our city.

We are a church called to love and serve our city and not simply to entertain expenses and programs that benefit church-goers. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, “The church is only the church when it exists for the benefit of others.”

By meeting in high schools, it ensures that 100% of the rent from Antioch goes directly to the Bend-La Pine School District. More specifically, three quarters of our money goes to the district and one quarter directly to Bend High School—which allows the school to spend money on the facilities and on programs it otherwise wouldn’t be able to fund. I like to think there are a lot of trumpets in music programs, uniforms for sports teams and supplies for teachers floating around because we exist in our city.

Just this past week, we crossed the $400,000 mark in support for Bend schools and school programs.

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a pretty cool milestone!

Eleanor Roosevelt’s Prayer

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, wife to President Franklin Roosevelt, was a strong leader, politician and justice-advocate. She was the chair of the first UN Commission on Human Rights and oversaw the creation of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. You can read more about that process in A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

This prayer is her nightly prayer and I find it to be an inspirational reflection as we strive to live for Christ in the world.

Our Father, who has set a restlessness in our hearts
and made us all seekers after that which we can never fully find,
forbid us to be satisfied with what we make of life.

Draw us from base content and set our eyes on far off goals.
Keep us at tasks too hard for us
that we may be driven to Thee for strength.

Deliver us from fretfulness and self-pitying;
make us sure of the good we cannot see and
of the hidden good in the world.

Open our eyes to simple beauty all around us
and our hearts to the loveliness men hide from us
because we do not try to understand them.

Save us from ourselves and show us a vision of the world made new.

Ed Underwood on Finding God’s Will

Ed Underwood leads Church of the Open Door in Southern California. His blog, edunderwood.com, focuses on radical faith and radical hope in Jesus Christ. He is passionate about authentic leadership, community, discipleship and practical Bible teaching. “My mission,” he says, “is to help you walk with Jesus with more passion, live for Him with greater confidence and give your life away to Him and others with extraordinary joy.” Ed has written three books: When God Breaks Your Heart: Choosing Hope in the Midst of Faith-Shattering Circumstances, Reborn to Be Wild: Reviving Our Radical Pursuit of Jesus and the recently released The Trail: A Tale about Discovering God’s Will.

KW: Based on your many years of leadership and discipleship, what have you learned about God’s will?

EU: I’ve learned that discerning God’s will has everything to do with relationship with God and nothing to do with formulas or performance. The one constant in the lives of those who live with confidence that they are in God’s will and also experience Him showing up in their lives in tangible ways is that they qualify as those Jesus would call His friends in John 15:5; they are deeply in love with Him and trust Him enough to do what He says. They are people who get it—that the largest blessing of being in Christ is a deep and abiding friendship with the Son of God.

KW: How did you discern the 8 principles for finding God’s will that you present in The Trail?

EU: I’ve been teaching expositionally for over 30 years. By expositional I mean going through the books of the Bible verse-by-verse. As I’ve been studying through these books I noticed a pattern. Often a verse that I thought I was familiar with, even a verse that I had memorized and used in discipleship, was actually a verse or a passage teaching us how to determine God’s will for our lives. One prime example would be Romans 12:1-2, those believers who respond to God’s mercy by giving Him their lives will know His good and perfect will.

As the pattern developed I set aside a folder in my files marked “God’s Will.” Eventually I was able to categorize these verses and passages under eight principles. From that folder I developed a series on how to discover God’s will. I’ve taught the principles for years, in churches, at conferences, and in Bible Schools, Colleges, and Universities. It’s one of those series that people respond to dramatically and positively. I get responses like, “I never understood how to discover God’s will before.” So, I wrote a book presenting the eight principles, but decided to write a different book that stories the principles. Hence, The Trail.

KW: What’s the biggest misconception people have about God’s will?

EU: The biggest and most damaging misconception people have about God’s will is that discerning it is possible through some formula that they must get right. This saddens me because I’ve seen so many sincere believers over the years make some of the most ill-advised decisions because they have fallen victim to formula-Christianity. That is, some weirdo has taught them, “If you do this, then God will tell you exactly what to do.”

KW: Along those lines, are there common ways as Christians we miscommunicate when teaching others about God’s will and divine guidance?

EU: Apart from the formula-Christianity I just talked about, the second most common mistake comes from performance-driven Christianity. This is the teaching that if you perform for Jesus, then He has to help you in whatever way you demand. It isn’t about a sovereign and loving God guiding you and caring for you, it’s about you being good enough so that God has to do what you want Him to do. And, since Jesus refuses to be tamed, these people inevitably throw up their hands and conclude that God doesn’t guide His people.

KW: In what ways do we often get God’s will wrong?

EU: One way that we’re all susceptible to is to manipulate our thinking so that we conclude that what we want is God’s will. One example I’ve seen over the years is people moving to a new place. They are absolutely certain that it’s God’s will for them to move to a better climate, a less-expensive area, or to their dream geographical location. But, when we consider what God says about our lives and especially what the Bible teaches about community and the guidance that He provides through discipleship and spiritually mature people speaking into our lives, they have totally missed the way God could guide them. It could very well be that God wants them to move, but when they leave community out of it, they are living unprotected by one of God’s primary provisions for us as believers.

KW: Why did you decide to write the book as an allegory?

EU: The primary reason is the power of story. I know that in my own life I remember stories far better than principles. This story thing must be special because it’s the way the Lord Jesus chose to teach. You never read of Jesus saying, “Okay, disciples. Sit down and I’m going to teach you the three reasons you should read the Old Testament.” Story is life, and Christianity is life.

The other reason is that it intrigued me. I have been messing around with writing fiction for years. I had about six chapters of fiction finished on a book I was writing for young men based upon my experiences as a wildland firefighter.

Finally, I’ve often led a group of Christians on the same trek Sam takes the couple on in The Trail. It’s provided some awesome opportunities for mentoring because up there, in the high country, because they’ve been dependent upon me in ways that have given me access to their lives. I’ve just seen the Spirit work of there because, as Sam says repeatedly in the book, “The high country humbles a person.”

KW: What’s one piece of advice you’d give to someone struggling to find God’s will?

EU: Begin with deepening your relationship with God. Those believers who are intimate with Christ are the ones who will recognize His guidance when it comes. And, with my view of spiritual maturity, this will have everything to do with not only knowing God’s Word but also living in community. One of the constant threads of advice in the Scripture when it comes to discovering God’s will is to relate deeply not only to Christ, but also to His people.

KW: What is your hope for those who would read this book?

EU: My primary hope is that the reader would begin to live expectantly. By that I mean that they would anticipate the God of the universe showing up in their lives in ways that the Scriptures tell us to expect Him to guide. A secondary hope would be that this little book would protect readers from the dangers and disappointments of formula Christianity. And, of course as it is with all of my books, I’m praying that this allegory will draw readers into deeper relationship with our Lord Jesus.

The Justice Conversation


I received an email from a pastor friend this morning. He had seen a tweet in his feed and he wanted to know how I would respond.

The tweet read:

“Social justice without rooted incarnational presence is merely social arrogance.”

My answer was short and sweet:

“Not sure I know him, but outside of the rhetoric the statement doesn’t make much sense. Is a fair immigration policy for our country arrogance? Are civil rights arrogance? There’s a category fallacy and false dichotomy going on here.

I think it would be better to say, ‘Social justice is a necessity in God’s eyes and he loves our imitation of Christ through incarnational presence.’”

I get a lot of emails and correspondence about how to understand biblical justice and some of the pervasive confusion that exists around words, concepts and categories in this arena. I think the person who posted this tweet was trying to say that close and personal is much more authentic than distant and impersonal, but in promoting one idea over the other he made the mistake of confusing categories and terms and dismissing something—social justice—that is much broader than charity or benevolence.

We can have a lot of different philosophies on how to enact social justice, but the phrase itself—like money or power—is neutral to our political stance and simply means justice in society for the vulnerable and oppressed. As such, there are all sorts of systems, policies and laws that would technically fit under the umbrella of social justice, whether good or bad. Justice in society speaks to an environment in which we live, social justice does not always mean me doing something for another.

Certainly love is best manifest when it’s personal and close, but it doesn’t mean I’m unloving if I’m not geographically present with someone. Stating a preference for the highest example of something doesn’t allow you to undermine the category in which the example sits—that’s a category fallacy.

That would be like saying a mother hugging a child is better than the love of a mother for a child. Hugs are an expression of the love of a mother. The two things are not either/or. One is an example of the broader category in which it sits.

Incarnational presence, likewise, is an example of biblical love and just relations and therefore cannot logically invalidate the latter.

One of the things I’m really excited about is that the conversation around a theology of justice is happening in dynamic and rich ways across the globe in churches and seminaries alike these days.

Just recently, I had the pleasure of co-teaching a class on Biblical Justice with my friend Gerry Breshears at Western Seminary. In the class we were able to help graduate students think through the issues of biblical justice and its ramifications for ministry and the church. And in two weeks, over forty students from around the country will be in Bend, Oregon for the residency week of the Kilns College Masters program on Biblical and Social Justice.

A lot of confusion around justice still exists but I’m excited about the momentum of the conversation seeking to clarify such an important, deep, and theological subject.

Daddy’s Little Girl


Photo Credit: Allison Harp

I sat in a dentist’s office this week for the fourth round of tooth extractions.

It wasn’t for myself, but for my daughter.

On this visit, she had her eleventh and twelfth teeth pulled—“The most any kid has had in 25 years of practice,” said the dentist.

I don’t usually cry or get too sentimental, but watching my little princess lay in that chair trying to be brave, but with tears creeping down from the corner of her eyes, choked me up and kept a frog in my throat for a half hour.

I have four daughters and it is experiences like this that keep me well acquainted with the strength and power inherent in a father’s protective love for his children.

The dentist visit, however difficult, had elements of what should be in it.  I was there for my daughter. She was able to see that I was standing beside her through the appointment. I was able to hold her tenderly afterward and kiss her forehead. She was able to see my affection and hear my voice telling her how “brave she was” and how “proud I am.”

It reminded me of something my friend John Sowers says in his first book called Fatherless Generation. John is an expert on fatherlessness in America and runs The Mentoring Project that pairs children of single parents with mentors.

John’s words have etched themselves in my memory: “Fatherlessness wilts the dream of being Daddy’s little girl.”[1]

Pain is horrible. Both hard for children and hard for parents. Pain, however, is an opportunity—while the TV is off and the need for love is high—for children and parents to deepen their bond.

The eleventh and twelfth tooth extractions were tough on my little girl and surprisingly emotional for me. But the pain created space and opportunity for deep connection. My daughter got a heavy dose of feeling like Daddy’s little girl that afternoon and evening.

I was there. I was strong for her. I was as tender and loving as I could be.

And I’ll be there again for the thirteenth and fourteenth teeth when they are pulled and my little princess adds to the record she holds at the dentist’s office.

Fatherlessness wilts the dream of being Daddy’s little girl. Pain and presence build it.

My heart goes out to all the little girls who will never know the specific quality of a father’s love—that they will find elements of it in the love of others and ultimately find its truest expression in the love our Heavenly Father has for us.


[1] Fatherless Generation, pg. 55

Family Verse

This is Sam Palencia, one of Antioch’s summer interns. Sam is an amazing artist and does custom lettering for all sorts of projects. You can check her website out here.

This is a project Sam did for our family of Colossians 1:9-12, our family verse:

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 

Blessed to have such amazing Antioch interns.

Blessed to have so much artistic talent around Antioch.

Blessed to have good friends with generous hearts.

Tithing and the Pursuit of God

One of the things that has been a challenge for me in the Christian world is hypocrisy and how certain subjects get abused and end up becoming a barrier to community. For me, money is toward the top of the list.

It’s not my favorite topic to talk about but the leadership at Antioch asked me to speak on a theology of money and stewardship this week. Below is my best shot at a comprehensive treatment of tithes, firstfruits and offerings. I also tackle some common objections: “Isn’t tithing abolished with the Old Testament law?” “Shouldn’t our money go to people not pastors?” and “I prefer giving to non-profits, not church.” If you’re able to watch the below, I’d love to hear what you think. You can email me at ken (at) antiochchurch (dot) org.

Rediscovering Worship

[Partially adapted from Chapter 14 in Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live and Die for Bigger Things]

One of the key insights of the Protestant reformers was that worship didn’t happen only in church—it happened during the week as well, when believers worked as bakers and builders to the glory of God. And one of the enduring legacies of the Catholic and Orthodox churches is the care and craft focused on worship in church, from ritual to liturgy to the very architecture of the church itself.

Unfortunately, today many American Christians are caught between these rich traditions, not benefitting from nor being transformed by either. We can often equate worship narrowly with Sunday morning music. At times we’ve lost the scriptural depth that speaks to how we approach and worship God through our everyday actions.

Isaiah 58 is a case study in how God defines worship—and it might just change the way we understand both worship and justice. It stands as one of the few passages in Scripture that directly challenges and confounds some of the very actions we deem most righteous and good: prayer, fasting, and seeking God.

The whole of Isaiah spans the Assyrian and Babylonian exile and this particular chapter was written to the community of Jerusalem after they had returned home. The people were in the middle of an economic depression, trying to resettle themselves and rebuild their community. Families were broken, relationships were fractured, and trade wasn’t booming. The Israelites were refugees returning to their homes, unsure about their future and their ability to even survive.

We begin with God speaking to Isaiah:

“Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the house of Jacob their sins.
For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them. (Isaiah 58:1-2 NIV)

Despite their seeming eagerness to come near, God wanted them to know there were serious sin issues. Yet in the verses that immediately follow, Israel spoke back to God, defending themselves against the charge of sin. In fact, Israel had a complaint about God’s seeming lack of attention regarding their fasting.

‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’ (Isaiah 58:3 NIV)

The Israelites were humbly praying and fasting, seeking God and trying to reestablish their relationship with Him. But God wasn’t responding, and He was about to tell them why:

Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists. (Isaiah 58:4 NIV)

The Israelites neglected each other as they prayed and fasted and asked God to deliver them from the difficult issues that came from having lived in exile. Israel was approaching worship as a way to get what they wanted: God’s attention and blessing. That relationship was shortcircuited, however, when Israel failed to reflect God’s character either to its own society or to the surrounding culture.

When we focus our worship on what we want, we’ll become nothing more than consumers.

Israel was going through the motions of worship—fasting, praying, and so on—without any foundation or motivation beyond their desires. They were seeking God daily in order to be blessed by God, yet God was asking them to worship in order to be a blessing to others.

Israel’s behavior was so distasteful to God that He railed against their broken sense of worship:

Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying on sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord? (Isaiah 58:5)

Couldn’t we easily substitute our familiar, post–New Testament worship practices, like fasting, singing, worship nights, and Christian concerts, into that verse? Do we fast to manipulate God or to humble ourselves?

It’s crucial that we understand the kind of worship God desires. He told Israel in the next several verses of Isaiah 58 what sort of worship pleases Him:

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? (Isaiah 58:6-7 NIV)

God seems to be saying that the purest form of worship, the worship He finds most pleasing, is justice. If so, does that change the way we think about the word worship?

What if Sunday morning was the prelude to what the church does during the week? What if musical worship was the warm-up to the melody of our justice throughout the week? Isaiah 58 seems to be suggesting that God is more concerned about how we spend our scattered time than our gathered time.

The real impact of the church will be felt, for better or worse, where it connects to the messiness of the remaining 166 hours in the week.

God’s concern about how we spend our scattered time means we can’t enter fully into relationship with Him unless we are living justly. The next few verses of Isaiah 58 speak directly about God’s desire to restore the relationship broken by injustice:

Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. (Isaiah 58:8-9 NIV)

The end of this section is particularly powerful: “He will say: Here am I.” God’s desire is so strong for us to love our neighbors and promote shalom that injustice is an insurmountable barrier to healthy relationship with Him.

As Isaiah 58 nears its conclusion, God continues to promise His people blessings that were contingent on the people’s actions.

If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday. (Isaiah 58:9-10 NIV)

God wanted the nation of Israel to “spend themselves,” to give their lives away for the hungry and the oppressed.

If pursuing justice is a necessary component of worship, does that change the way we should think about worship pastors? Anyone hiring a worship pastor expects that he or she can play a musical instrument, sing, and blend various styles of music together in a way that will please the congregation. Those are valid concerns, but are those ultimately worship concerns?

With the way Isaiah 58 defines worship, there is a sense in which everyone is a worship leader. If every Christian in the world were living with exactly the same amount of faith as you are, would God applaud? When your neighbor is looking for something better out of life, are you providing a true alternative?

Your worship is your leadership. It is your influence. It is your mission. Your worship is how people will perceive you and it is ultimately where people will follow you. Does your life inspire worship?

In many ways, Isaiah 58 boils down to this: to give our lives away is true worship. Like Israel, we are a people of exile, in desperate need of restoration. Our world is in ruins around us, but God promises that in true worship “ancient ruins” will be rebuilt and that we will “raise up” the foundations of many generations (v. 12). We find our greatest joy and fulfillment by worshipping God in right relationship, as we pursue His purposes in our broken world.

Perhaps today it is time to take the simple step of asking God what He would have us do, even as we sing in worship. Jesus says in Luke 19:40 that if we are silent about God’s glory, the very stones will cry out in praise. God doesn’t ask merely to hear our songs in worship—He asks us to hear His song that is meant to be sung among every tribe and nation, among poor and rich, among healthy and sick.

Justice Awakening with Eddie Byun

Eddie Byun is the Lead Pastor for Onnuri English Ministry (OEM) in Seoul, South Korea and is Professor of Practical Theology at Torch Trinity Graduate University.  He is author of Justice Awakening: How You and Your Church Can Help End Human Trafficking. He is married to  Hyun Lee, and has two children, Emma (who went to be with the Lord) and Enoch Justus. 

KW: How were you awakened to the injustice of human trafficking?

EB: I first found out about human trafficking by reading David Batstone’s book Not for Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade–and How We Can Fight It. I still remember the feelings of shock, anger, and sadness finding out about this evil. I was so surprised at how big this issue was globally (with some 27+ million enslaved) and I was also surprised that I had not heard of it before (this was a few years back now). But the moment I found out of this issue, I knew in my heart that my church and I had to get involved in bringing this evil to an end.

KW: What are the circumstances of trafficking and sexual exploitation in Seoul, South Korea where you and your church serve?

EB: Most of the victims are women and girls, although recently more boy victims are starting to show up.  Many are runaways who came from broken homes with abuse being a part of their lives from a young age. And in one of the largest red light districts in Seoul, about 80% of the 400+ females who are forced to work there are orphans. They get up picked up by traffickers through deception or because of debt bondage. Estimates have 350,000 to over 1 million women forced into sex slavery in South Korea.

KW: What is one of the biggest misconceptions people have about this issue?

EB: One major challenge for the Korea is that many people think that these women want to be in the industry, make a lot of money in it, and that they enjoy this lifestyle. But in reality, no girl in any country around the world dreams of becoming a prostitute when they get older. Difficult and dark circumstances have led them to this place and they need the truth of the gospel to speak into their lives.

KW: How has your church been involved in the fight against human trafficking?

EB: There are a number of things that we do as a church to fight against human trafficking. We began a ministry in our church called HOPE Be Restored (which stands for Helping the Oppressed and Prisoners of injustice Escape and Be Restored) which seeks to mobilize our church members to take practical action steps to end human trafficking. One thing we do is pray and find ways to get the church to pray more for these issues. We do prayer walks, create prayer guides, and have seasons of prayer for our church to end slavery.  Another part of ministry seeks to raise awareness through teaching, education, and movie screenings to let the public know about this evil. We also have a networking team that connects people of influence from all walks of life to do their part in this fight, such as police, lawyers, teachers, CEO’s, etc. to utilize their sphere of influence in making an impact where they are. We also serve aftercare centers and provide counseling and mentoring for the victims as well as teach them new job skills to start a new future. There are more things we do that are outlined in more detail in my book Justice Awakening.

KW: What is your hope for you, your church and the larger Body of Christ in the fight against human trafficking?

EB: I think a big mental hurdle for many is thinking that NGO’s, non-profits, or the government are the solution to this problem. In reality, because it is a sin issue, and a spiritual issue, the Church is one that should be leading the charge in bringing about change and solutions.

God’s solution for the problem of human trafficking is the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Church. It is the gospel that gives true freedom for the core issues that drive this industry. Everyone is enslaved to the sins of lust, greed, or self-hatred and only the gospel of Jesus Christ can set everyone free from the things that bind them.

My hope is that the Church would awaken from its slumber, see these people with the eyes of God, love them with His heart of justice, and pursue it will all that we have. We alone have the true solution to the problems that drive this industry. And I believe one of the reasons why human trafficking has gotten so large and so widespread, is because the Church has been absent in this fight for far too long. This darkness has spread because the light has stayed hidden under a bowl.

It’s time for the Church to rise up and lead this fight, because if we, the Church, are not the preeminent leaders in this fight for justice, then we are letting the world look more like Jesus than we do. It’s time for that to change, beginning today.

If God Provides, Why Is There Still Famine?

A Prayer for the Church

Guest Post by Mark Charles

Below is a prayer a friend of mine asked me to help him for a new hymnal he was edited. The prayer reflects the theme of immigration and indigenous peoples, and our hope is that this prayer helps those who pray it to feel more fully a part of the all “from every nation, tribe, people and language” who are gathered around the throne of the lamb (Revelations 7:9).

A Prayer of Indigenous Peoples, Refugees, Immigrants, and Pilgrims

Triune God
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
We come before you as many parts of a single body.
You have called us together.
From different cultures, languages, customs, and histories. . .
Some of us indigenous – peoples of the land.
Some of us refugees, immigrants, pilgrims – people on the move.
Some of us hosts, some of us guests, some of us both hosts and guests,
All of us searching for an eternal place where we can belong.

Creator, forgive us.
The earth is yours and everything that is in it.
But we forget…
In our arrogance we think we own it.
In our greed we think we can steal it.
In our ignorance we worship it.
In our thoughtlessness we destroy it.
We forget that you created it to bring praise and joy to you,
and you gave it as a gift,
for us to steward,
for us to enjoy,
for us to see more clearly your beauty and your majesty.

Jesus, save us.
We wait for your kingdom.
We long for your throne.
We hunger for your reconciliation,
for that day where people, from every tribe and every tongue
will gather around you and sing your praises.

Holy Spirit, teach us.
Help us to remember
that the body is made up of many parts.
Each one unique and every one necessary.
Teach us to embrace the discomfort that comes from our diversity
and to celebrate the fact that we are unified, not through our sameness,
but through the blood of our LORD and savior, Jesus Christ.

Triune God. We love you.
Your creation is beautiful.
Your salvation is merciful.
And your wisdom is beyond compare.

We pray this all in Jesus’ name.
Amen.

Originally published in Lift Up Your Hearts, by Faith Alive, 2013.

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