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Create an Open Space to Experience Life Together

Guest Post by Melissa McCreery

If I’m being really honest with myself — something I try to do from time to time — sometimes I don’t like women very much. Now I know what you’re all thinking. Um, but aren’t you a woman? Yes, I am. And while I like myself just fine (more or less) and I like my friends and my mom and a number of other amazing beauties in my life, I just don’t love women as a whole— the group of them.

And I know for a fact I’m not alone. Yes, I’m looking at you. You, who always has a very convenient reason to not attend the yearly (or heaven forbid monthly) women’s event at your church. You, who would rather go with the guys to the baseball game than your second Mary Kay party of the year.

All too often, us women do a far better job of tearing each other down than building each other up. We compare ourselves to each other and beat ourselves up if we come up short. We judge ourselves based on how we measure up to our Pinterest selves — (come on, you know you do!) We can be too harsh and too quick to judge (ourselves as much as others). Rather than celebrating in each other’s successes and triumphs, we notice every stumble and flaw.

I’m know I’m guilty of this.

So imagine my surprise when I felt God tugging — in his still and sure way— on my heart, and convicting me about my love/hate relationship with my gender. I’ve since found myself repeatedly drawn to women, so many of whom are leading voices in Kingdom work.

God created women in his image — So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27). We— each of us — have a specific role to fill in this world. One centered on the unique gifts and passions God gave us. One focused on love and leadership and service and affirmation. While our specific callings and passions may vary, in order to fulfill our calling well we need a community of women (and men) to support, encourage and affirm us. We need churches and ministries that do the same.

I’m incredibly fortunate and beyond blessed to be able to travel around the world for my job, and can I tell you something I’ve noticed? While there are many universal characteristics of women all around the world (there’s a reason Maybelline is sold in more than 129 countries worldwide) I think those of us in the United States have a few things to learn from our peers around the world, who have overcome the isolation and fear of transparency and built beautiful, safe open spaces for honesty and collaboration.

On a recent trip to Jerusalem, I met a group of women who were members of The Parent’s Circle — an organization for Palestinians and Israelis who have lost a direct member of their family to the conflict permeating the Holy Land. As I sat across from these women, I couldn’t even begin to imagine walking in their shoes. Israeli women who have lost their sons, daughters and husbands at the hands of Palestinians were cooking, working, sharing, and laughing (yes, laughing!) alongside Palestinian women who had lost their sons, daughters, and husbands at the hands of the Israelis. Together, they are working to create an open space to dialogue about the conflict in the region and to promote peacemaking efforts. Together, they are loving one another and loving their communities. Together, they are living life.

I can say the same of the women of Musalaha — non-profit organization that seeks to promote reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians, as demonstrated in the life and teaching of Jesus.

I can say the same of the women I met in Phnom Penh, Cambodia who were survivors of sex trafficking and chose to face their demons and work alongside other women to share their experiences and to rehabilitate young girls just recently rescued from that life.

Can I say the same of myself?

Can you say the same of yourself and your community?

I think in many cases I can. I’m optimistic and encouraged by gatherings such as The Well Conference, Kilns College, and others around the world that are creating space for women (and men) to grow and flourish.

And if these women around the world can come together in community and in Christ— through some of the most horrific circumstances, I have hope that we can bridge the divide between mothers and those of us who are not; between stay-at-home moms and mothers who work outside the home; between democrats and republicans; between those with means and those struggling to pay their bills; between Christians and non-Christians.

If a self proclaimed “Avoider of Women” such as myself can be transformed and inspired by women around the world, and prodded to share in this crazy journey with others, then there is hope for all of us.

Women, let’s embrace the open spaces in our lives that allow us to be honest and brave and compassionate. Let’s collaborate and grow and learn together.

Missionaries of Mercy: Evangelicals and Catholics for Justice

Guest Post by Peter Goodwin Heltzel

“Writing theology is like writing a love letter,” said Gustavo Gutiérrez, the author of A Theology of Liberation, on Wednesday May 6th at Fordham University in New York City. As we passionately write love letters to our beloved, so we should write theology passionately about our God. Merciful love is the heart of the Gospel and is expressed in the way that we care for our neighbor, especially the poor.

“A poor church for the poor,” is the manifesto of Pope Francis, who has tapped into the prophetic fire of Liberation Theology to revitalize the Catholic Church. Pope Francis has invited Father Gutiérrez to speak on Tuesday May 12th in Rome at the Caritas Internationalis Assembly, a gathering to discuss Catholic relief and development work. The Catholic Church is claiming its prophetic vocation, a transformation that has been inspired by a faith-rooted, grass-roots theology of liberation in the Americas.

Growing up in poverty in Peru, Father Gutiérrez heard the cry of his people and knew he must respond like God, with compassion and love. Climbing Mount Horeb, Moses found the burning bush out of which God declared his compassion, saying, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering” (Exodus 3:7). God heard the cry of captive Israel and promised their liberation. God’s liberation of Israel from Egypt was heard as Good News by the poor in Latin America and by African American slaves in the United States.

“The God of Exodus is the God of history and of political liberation more than he is the God of nature,” writes Gutiérrez in A Theology of Liberation. Throughout Scripture, we see God’s merciful love for the poor and oppressed demonstrated through Spirit-led eruptions of freedom in the travail of history. God loves all people and longs to see them flourish. When Israel disobeys the ten commandments, God raised up prophets to call them back to communion with God. The prophet Micah sums up the prophetic imperative: “What does the Lord require of you, O mortal? But to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).  In a Hebrew chiasm is a literary device used by poets that unveils the main idea in the middle. Tucked between justice and humility, merciful love is at the heart of Micah’s message and is at the heart of Jesus’ teaching of Kingdom of God.

Mercy reveals a deep mystery of the Triune God. Walter Kasper, Pope Francis’ favorite theologian, writes in his new book Mercy“Mercy expresses God’s essence, which graciously attends to and devotes itself to the world and to humanity in ever new ways in history. In short, mercy expresses God’s own goodness and love. It is God’s caritas operativa et effectiva. Therefore, we must describe mercy as the fundamental attribute of God.” As God’s love in action, mercy embodies God’s compassion for all creatures.

How are we as evangelicals doing in our ministries of love and justice? As I argued in Jesus and Justice: Evangelicals, Race and American Politics there has always been a vibrant stream of prophetic evangelicalism in the United States, grounded in the faith-rooted struggle to abolish slavery. Evangelical theologian Ron Sider writes in “An Evangelical Theology of Liberation”:

“Wesley, Wilberforce and Charles Finney’s evangelical abolitionists stood solidly in the biblical tradition in their search for justice for the poor and oppressed of their time. But 20th century evangelicals have not, by and large, followed their example.”

Why is it that our evangelical forbearers fought so courageously to abolish slavery? Jonathan Blanchard, the founding President of Wheaton College (my alma mater), represented the Ohio State Anti-Slavery Society as a delegate to the 1843 World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, England. Charles Finney, the President of Oberlin Seminary, used to sign people up for the abolition movement during the altar call when he was inviting people to come to Jesus. Since Jesus proclaimed a message of “liberating captives” (Luke 4:18) these evangelical abolitionists sought to continue Jesus’ ministry through liberating slaves. Prophetic evangelicals of the 19th century understood that evangelism must walk hand in hand in with justice.

Without “skin in the game” in the struggle for racial justice, white evangelical attempts to convert people to Christ ring hollow.

In the early twentieth century, evangelicalism experienced what David Moberg calls “The Great Reversal,” retreating from its commitment to social justice into a fundamentalist cultural isolationism. During this period there was also a transformation in evangelical eschatology. Post-millennial theologians like Blanchard and Finney thought their activism was helping to usher in the Kingdom of God on earth, while early twentieth century fundamentalist embraced a pre-millennial dispensational theology that taught a “rapture” from the earth, which was going to burn as part of God’s redemptive plan.

After World War II, a group of neo-evangelical leaders like Billy Graham, Carl Henry, Harold Ockenga, and E.J. Carnell began to forge a more irenic evangelical vision of transformation, institutionalized at Christianity Today, Fuller Theological Seminary, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and Park Street Church in Boston. While arguing for a more socially engaged evangelicalism, their theology leaned toward the “Old Princeton” theological vision of B.B. Warfield and Charles Hodge. Caring for the poor, racial reconciliation, and economic justice were not the top priority for post-war neo-evangelical leaders.

Ron Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger  was a wake up call to evangelicals to end their consumptive spending habits and commit themselves to caring for the poor. Sider was the first white modern evangelical to develop an evangelical theology of liberation from the subject position of the poor. Concerned about the dichotomy between evangelism and social concern, Sider sought to forge a prophetic evangelical vision that shared God’s love with all people and cared for the community of creation.

On November 23, 1973 in a YMCA Hotel on South Wabash in Chicago, Sider gathered evangelical leaders across the spectrum for the Thanksgiving Workshop on Evangelical Social Concern. Neo-evangelical leaders like Carl F.H. Henry, Vernon Grounds, and Frank Gaebelein gathered with prophetic evangelicals like Donald W. Dayton, Sharon Gallagher, Wes Granberg, William Pannell, John Perkins, Eunice Schatz, and Jim Wallis, who had launched The Post-American magazine which would become Sojourners at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in 1971. Theologians from the Peace-church traditions who attended included Dale Brown, Samuel Escobar, and John Howard Yoder, whose book The Politics of Jesus was a manifesto for the prophetic evangelical movement.  The spirit of revolution was in the air in the 1960s and 1970s with the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the peace movement, and the environmental movement inciting social upheaval in the US. In November 1973 the Watergate Scandal was being discussed every night by Walter Cronkite on CBS Evening News. Amidst the travail and turmoil, conservative and progressive evangelicals crossed their boundaries to seek common ground and co-authored The Chicago Declaration for Evangelical Social Concern which expressed a strong evangelical commitment to racial, economic, gender and environmental justice.

With the eruption of the #BlackLivesMatter movement in America today, it is an opportune moment to cross boundaries once again. As a missionary of mercy, Father Gutiérrez crossed boundaries to care for the neighbor, especially the poorest of the poor in Peru. As a missionary of mercy, Ron Sider crossed boundaries to help the evangelical world unify its commitment to evangelism and justice.

Gutiérrez writes, “A spirituality of liberation will center on a conversion to the neighbor, the oppressed person, the exploited social class, the despised ethnic group, the dominated country…Our conversion to the Lord implies this conversion to the neighbor. To be converted is to commit oneself lucidly, realistically, and concretely to the process of the liberation of the poor and oppressed…To be converted is to know and experience the fact that, contrary to the laws of physics, we can stand straight, according to the gospel, only when our center of gravity is outside ourselves.”

In this passage, Gutiérrez is deepening our understanding of conversion. While we as evangelicals often think of conversion as an individual experience of accepting Jesus as our Lord and Savior through an act of faith, Gutiérrez challenges us to see conversion as a process that transforms all dimensions of our life, including how we treat our neighbors. A spirituality of liberation, calls me as a white evangelical man to be converted to “the process of the liberation of the poor and oppressed.” In the United States, this means whites, like I, need to have the compassion, courage and humility to be converted to our neighbors, our black and brown sisters and brothers. The experiences of blacks and whites in America are vastly different. Given the legacy of slavery and segregation in America, a disproportionate amount of African Americans become trapped the violent system of poverty, and as whites we need to do our part to help them out.

There are signs of hope. Catholics and evangelicals are joining together in the fight to end poverty and racial injustice through Christian Churches Together in the USA (CCT). A creative faith-rooted organizing, Ron Sider played an important role in the establishment of CCT in 2001, the largest ecumenical fellowship in the US, that includes Evangelical, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Pentecostals, historic Protestant, and African American churches. In 2014, CCT resolved to “encourage Christian communions, denominations, and organizations to promote realistic and ambitious goals for ending poverty in our country and worldwide – perhaps joining the world community in working to end extreme poverty and hunger by 2030 and helping to make hunger and poverty a priority for the U.S. government by 2017.” The poor are crying out and churches are responding in seeking new collaborative ways to address the scandal of widespread poverty in the United States and around the world.

In the spirit of Micah and Mary, Jeremiah and Jesus, Gutiérrez and Sider, let’s pray that God’s Spirit will empower evangelicals and Catholics to be Missionaries of Mercy to all God’s children in the community of creation.

Why forgiveness is the most exciting word you know. (Seriously!)


What a tired word. It lacks energy. It sounds like it has a “hmphh” in it. It lands like a thud.

For Americans, who love everything to be moving forward—new stuff, exciting and heroic stuff—forgiveness sounds about as exciting as going to the library. It feels old. It looks backward. It’s slowing down to fix what’s broken. It feels sticky.

Perhaps, forgiveness is something we misjudge because we misunderstand it.

In fact, if we are to recapture the wonder of grace and the beauty of peace-making, there are three things we must embrace about forgiveness.

1. Forgiveness paves the way to better realities

In the book of Daniel, we see something really interesting. Daniel, who had been a young boy when Israel was sent into captivity in Babylon, prays to God confessing, “We have sinned and done wrong… because of our unfaithfulness to you.” (Daniel 9:5,7)

Daniel wasn’t the reason Israel was punished. He wasn’t even alive during the reign of evil kings like Jehoram or Jephthah or during generations of idolatry, during injustice and apathy toward foreigners, the poor, the widow and the orphan.

Yet, Daniel accepts the sin of Israel as his own. He doesn’t play the victim. He doesn’t talk about fairness. He doesn’t point fingers. Daniel, like Jesus, is willing to take the sin on himself knowing hatred and the cycle of violence stop when the righteous are willing to lay down entitlement.

Forgiveness creates new realities. Forgiveness is the only bridge forward when all is broken and beyond repair.

My friend Todd Deatherage, a former State Department worker, leads educational trips to Israel and Palestine to introduce men and women to true peacemakers. He understands this. So do other peacemakers in conflict-ridden places around the globe where things seem intractable. They labor not to prop up or help one side win, but give their lives trying to help both sides win. Forgiveness is the only way to find a win/win when decades of hatred have accumulated. Hatred and violence end when forgiveness cuts the Gordian knot.

Easy? No.

Necessary? Yes.

We don’t always get a clean slate to start with—certainly not in a place like the Middle East—so forgiveness is the healing balm.

Likewise, by the time most of us reach adulthood (or our 30s and 40s), there will be dozens of relationships we wish we could start anew. We long for fresh starts. We have a choice: we can run from broken relationships. We can think they’re all behind us. Or, realizing that life is messy and people make mistakes, we can begin to learn the art of starting over through the application of grace.

This was Jesus’ message, which is why he told us to “pray for [seek the good or redemption of] our enemies.”

2. Forgiveness alone allows for transparency and freedom

Another important aspect of the prayer of Daniel is that Daniel has no ego he’s protecting.

The close of his prayer reads, “We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.” (Dan. 9-18-19)

In talking to God, Daniel is perfectly comfortable accepting the messiness of human life as something he’s a part of, not distinct from. He accepts the redemption of things as being God’s work, not his heroism.

In doing so, Daniel is the picture of humility. He is the kind of person God can bless, raise up and use. Daniel, unlike those in the King’s court around him, would be free from tribalism and vendettas if blessed with influence by God.

There’s something dangerously beautiful about a man or woman who is open and transparent enough to not only own their own faults, but those of others as well. Someone who cares about the flourishing of the community more than his own. Anyone who is that humble or self-effacing has nothing to hide.

Jesus ended the teaching of the Lord’s Prayer with the words, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Interestingly, he immediately followed it with the commentary, “For if you forgive those who sin against you, your sins will also be forgiven.”

Jesus builds into the heart of his message the idea that the state of our relationship with each other speaks directly to the state of our relationship with God.

Grace and forgiveness free us from the burden of secrecy, the deception of pride and the stench of bitterness. They allow us to be fully human—as God intended—naked in his presence and moldable as clay.

The giving and getting of forgiveness does for us spiritually what breathing oxygen in and out does for us physically.

3. Forgiveness is at the heart of justice

This one might be a bit controversial, but I believe forgiveness is at the heart of justice. This sounds crazy to someone who has been the victim of extreme injustice—say losing relatives in the Holocaust or experiencing racial injustice in the Deep South—but at the end of the day, for there to be justice (or things put back as they ought to be), there also must be forgiveness.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean there are no consequences for the wrongdoer, but that we’re willing to see the wrongdoer reconciled and redeemed.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean we ignore systems and structures that unjustly advantage a few while marginalizing those on the edge, it means we realize there will be no true justice if we can’t address or heal the brokenness in how we see and treat each other. It is a fact that the oppressed often swing to becoming the oppressor when they achieve power. It is forgiveness that breaks this cycle.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu showed a higher way in leading the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa at the request of Nelson Mandela. For true justice (things working as they ought to be), forgiveness had to flow between the two parties at enmity.

Forgiveness being at the heart of justice is probably best demonstrated by Jesus.

Jesus carried his cross to Golgatha to die for the sins of the world that the world could be forgiven. He forgave those who put him on the cross. He forgave the convict hanging next to him. And, because of the cross, he is willing to forgive us and the enemy you believe is unforgivable.

Forgiveness may be a tired word, but it shouldn’t be.

Forgiveness is the secret that allows us to forge a new future, become more human and have an active part in building a better world.

[This post originally appeared on the Storyline blog.]

Antioch Internship Application Deadline – May 1st

Guest Post by Pete Kelley

In Luke’s account of the Last Supper, Jesus tells his disciples in his parting address, “I am among you as one who serves.” This statement not only redefined power and greatness in a way that went against everything in the Roman empire, but also gave his disciples a glimpse into the upside-down nature of the kingdom of God: the Creator and Redeemer of the universe washes the feet of sinners.

This summer, a couple dozen 20-somethings will be following Jesus to Bend, Oregon to live among us as ones who serve.

Now in its ninth year, the Antioch Summer Internship program has drawn nearly 200 students from colleges and universities all over the U.S. and Canada who give an entire summer to serve alongside our church community in Bend. The Internship program is an immersive discipleship experience in which 18-24 year old students gain skills, knowledge and values that contribute to their formation as disciples of Jesus and helps prepare them for kingdom work in which every sphere of society, wherever in the world they end up.

The interns have the opportunity to do real ministry while they are in Bend, both in the church and toward the city. One of the largest ministry initiatives Antioch has birthed, The Justice Conference, was actually originally inspired and launched by a group of Antioch interns. In that sense, interns not only have the opportunity to participate in God’s mission in the city while they are here, but they also have the potential to be involved in the formation of kingdom work that will last long after they are gone.

In a city that many look to for what they can get out of it, we follow a King who himself came into the world “not to be served, but to serve”.

In a Northwest culture that is largely post-Christian, non-churched and religiously-unaffiliated, a group of young people showing up and asking how they can live among the people of Bend as ones who serve is a powerful signpost to our city that there is a new king in town.

While many are worried about the future of the Christian faith in this country, we at Antioch have seen first hand and celebrate that the King is on the move and he’s raising up young people across the world who are devoting their lives to the work of his kingdom in Bend and around the world. If you’d like to join us, check out more information and apply online (by May 1st) here!

Why We Have to LEARN to Change the World

One of the main things I try to teach when I’m speaking on a theology of justice is that justice isn’t just something we do, rather we’re supposed to become just and righteous people who do just and righteous things. Somehow in our fast-paced, modern culture we can get overly focused on the adventure or urgency of addressing national or global injustices.

Another way of saying this is that justice isn’t a cause, it should be a lifestyle.

As I speak with people about justice, I sometimes hear a variation on this: “I want to be a modern-day William Wilberforce. I’m going to end slavery in my day.”

Perhaps, instead of wanting to do like Wilberforce, we should spend more of our energy trying to be like Wilberforce.

Wilberforce began thinking and praying about the abolition of the slave trade in the 1780s, first bringing up the issue in Parliament in 1787 when he was twenty-nine.

On July 26, 1833, Wilberforce was told that a bill would certainly pass that would abolish slavery in the British Empire. Three days later, Wilberforce died. He was seventy-three.

Wilberforce was constant and measured in his resolve to end slavery. He dramatically changed the world. He is widely credited with being a major force in ending the slave trade and abolishing slavery in the British Empire.

Do you believe he regretted giving his life to a cause that took a lifetime to achieve? I don’t.

Justice doesn’t have a finish line, and neither does education.

We never reach a point where we cannot learn, where ceasing to learn would make us, or our world, better. It takes perseverance to walk the road of justice, and we cannot know where or when—or if—it will end for us.

Nicholas Wolterstorff, a professor of theology at Yale, stated, “We [institutions of higher education] must not just teach about justice—though we must; I mean we must teach for justice. The graduate whom we seek to produce must be one who practices justice.”

Do you want to change the world? In a cultural climate where it’s far easier to cast stones and critique, let’s instead choose to engage.

This isn’t something we accomplish overnight. It’s not about one-time actions, but about our calling. It’s not about single events, but about a lifetime of faithfulness. Learning to change the world is rarely easy or convenient—it can be complex, costly, and messy. With so many injustices confronting us at home and abroad, these times can seem overwhelming . . . but they don’t have to overwhelm us. Let’s not let what we cannot do interfere with what we can do.

What will we decide to do with the time and opportunities we’ve been given? It isn’t enough to say we want to change the world. To change the world requires knowledge and skill, as well as dedication, which is why the motto of Kilns College is learn to change the world.

[If you’ve always dreamed of getting your Masters degree and want to learn more about the programs at Kilns College and our our new degree in Innovation & Leadership].

Scot McKnight on A Fellowship of Differents in the Local Church

Scot McKnight is Professor of New Testament, Northern Seminary, in Lombard Illinois. He and Kris have been married for over 41 years, they have two children and two grandchildren. Scot is an author of more than fifty books including the recent Kingdom Conspiracy and A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together.

KW: What personal experiences have shaped your view of the local church?

SM: I grew up in our local Baptist church – Sunday morning for Sunday School class, Sunday sermon, frequent Sunday meal with families in the church, and Sunday evening service followed by youth group. Then there was Wednesday night prayer meeting followed on Thursday night with choir practice (my mother was the director, my father sang, my siblings and I were carted along – and we found things to do in the church or, in the summer, in the schoolyard next to the church). We were the first to arrive at church and often the last to leave.

As a college student I was an associate youth pastor for about two-and-a-half years.

We have always gone to church; never in our life were we not attending a church.

We have participated in Baptist churches, non-denominational churches, Brethren assemblies, a megachurch (Willow Creek), and Anglican churches.

My church experiences are probably normal: some churches were good and others not as good; some times I was in a critical mood and others times in a receptive mood; we’ve never participated in a perfect church. That has shaped me immensely.

I have learned from each and am grateful (mostly) for each!

Finally, though at times I have wondered if the Lord might call me into pastoring, I am settled into being a professor and sometimes preacher and knowing hundreds of pastors as friends.

KW: What do you think are some of the biggest misconceptions people have about the local church?

SM: Most “misconceptions” are far more often “disappointments” with churches folks have been part of. Perhaps the misconception is that all churches are like the one in which they experienced something that turned them off from the church.

Perhaps the biggest is to expect too much of a local church, to idealize it, and therefore to experience something less and be disappointed and then develop the misconception that churches don’t live up to the ideals. I have often said “if we expect less we will get more.” (We will get what the church really is.)

Churches are not designed for the perfect and holy but for the imperfect and sinful. This is not to accept mediocrity in the Christian life but to confess that no matter what church we find it will be imperfect because it is made of the imperfect or not-yet-perfected people in it. Grace is the foundation of the church.

KW: Why do you think so many evangelicals are leaving the local church? Are there reasons you disagree with?

SM: I have to say that the numbers indicating leaving are not there, as shown in the statistical studies of Rodney Stark (Baylor), Christian Smith (Duke/Notre Dame), and Brad Wright (U Mass). People are not leaving today any more (perhaps less) than they have done in the last century. We often hear about church exoduses but the numbers aren’t there and I am compelled to say that as often as I get a chance.

That being said, there are reasons people leave that I disagree with: as divorce is easy so leaving church is easy. The rugged commitment to one another that ought to shape a person’s commitment to a church has been transcended today by seeing church as a place to go to hear a sermon and get something, and if the sermon isn’t good enough or if the person is not getting enough out of it, they pack up and move on. This denies the fundamental commitment to one another in the New Testament church as a fellowship. Leaving a church needs to be experienced more like a divorce than a change of scenery.

KW: Why do you think the church is such a dominant shaping force in how we come to understand Christ?

SM: We learn all we learn in the context of others. We learn to do math through our family or school; we learn to read from parents and siblings and we learn to read by reading what people give us to read and that kind of reading shapes what we know about reading. I could go on like this but the point is probably clear:

What we learn we learn in context.

The great sociologists Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann, in their magnificent book The Social Construction of Reality, called this early phase of learning primary socialization. What they taught us though was more than that we learn from our parents, churches, siblings and schools as a kind of primary socialization.

What they taught us was this: what we absorb in primary socialization becomes the real world to us; it is “reality” and it is the true reality we know. Just thinking about this shakes me to the core about the importance of family life, school life, and church life.

Now to church: the church is the spiritual/religious/Christian primary socialization and thus the primary construction of reality for us.

Yes, we learn about the Christian life in the home but the home is not the fullness that the Body of Christ is, which is a fellowship of different folks but includes our family.

So, we learn the Christian life as a primary socialization process in the church.

KW: What do Christians miss if their church is a fellowship of sameness rather than of differents?

SM: Most churches are not entirely the same – for there will be age and economic and education differences. But if we are all the same in a general sense – ethnicity, educational expectations, economic levels, theological articulations, etc – we will not learn to experience the fullness of God’s work in this world. Our church will be stunted and our growth of learning from and growing from differences will be stunted.

Let us put it this way: some day the church will be engulfed in the kingdom of God, in heaven. When that day arrives, all Christians will be together and for many of us that will be the first time we worship and dwell with those who are significantly different. We will be on a steep learning curve that was supposed to happen on this side of heaven.

The challenge of ethnic, economic and educational diversity in our churches is that we need to understand others, we have to learn to love those who are not like us, and we will need to learn to fellowship with, cooperate with, and make decisions with those who are not like us. That’s hard, hard, hard. That’s the church.

If Kris and I can make all the decisions, things go easier; if I make all the decisions, or if Kris makes all the decisions, things go even easier; throw in Jay and Susan and Amanda and Erik and Katie and Jon and Bob and JoAnn and Lesley and Gil – and now we’ve got people with different ideas and desires and hopes and theologies. It’s messy and hard and challenging. That’s the church. This is what God wants and why God gives us the Spirit – to transcend difference and to transform us into loving people.

The church is about knowing others, loving others, and transcending other-hood in a unity in Christ.

KW: Do you have any recommendations for Christians and churches who desire to take steps toward becoming a more diverse fellowship of differents?

SM: First, the pastors and leaders must establish a pattern and example of meeting with others who are not like them in the community and persons in the church should intentionally act to include others in fellowship situations such as coffee, meals and other outings. Second, churches should become aware of the differences, value the differences, and establish the value of differences related to who gets to be at the decision table, who gets to be on the platform, and who gets to do what. As the church does this everyone should discuss what they are learning, and finally, keep doing it. Time will create a fellowship of differences.

KW: What excites you most about the growing movement for unity, equality, and diversity in churches?

SM: There is a growing hope for boundary-crossings, but this may be the biggest challenge the American church faces – because it permits choice on Sunday and which church to “attend” (notice that inadequate word) and hence we have institutionalized choice of same-ness and like-ness – is to deconstruct sameness for the glory of different-ness.

What excites me is that this is what God wants and what the Spirit empowers us to do. But we must surrender.

KW: How does A Fellowship of Differents build on or interact with your previous book Kingdom Conspiracy?

SM: That book sought to show that Jesus’ kingdom vision was for the church, at the local level and universal level, to become a counter culture that embodied rule under Christ. In other words, it sought to show that kingdom is church life.

A Fellowship of Differents fills that picture out by showing how the kingdom-church reality under Christ reshapes the Christian life into a life that focuses on grace, love, fellowship, holiness and a life that flourishes with one another.

Being INTENTIONAL About Honoring Others

Saturday night I had the privilege of being at one of the best fundraising galas that I’ve ever been to.

Melissa McCreery and the team at Kilns College put on a fantastic event in Sunriver at the historic Great Hall with some of the most beautiful timber as structural support and roofing, and with one of the most sublime atmospheres of lights, candles and wine glasses (lots of wine glasses).

The event met our fundraising needs and it was also an amazing time to hear from new faculty, HD Weddell, and be entertained by good friend and adjunct professor, Leroy Barber.

I had a chance to share the vision of the college and I also had a chance later to communicate the various financial needs and investment opportunities.

Something interesting happened, however.

In the rush to get everything communicated and to have it all come off right, I mentioned several professors while missing two professors—both good friends and both co-founders of the college.

I was reflecting today on how I missed an opportunity to honor them, and, perhaps, might have even dishonored them.

But how could that be?

If I were going to start with a list of people to thank so that I KNEW they’d be honored, I would have started with these two (and Melissa mentioned above).

So, again, if these people are at the top of my heart list, why did they end up left out as I was talking?

I think the answer is simple: we tend to honor urgency more than we respect longevity and loyalty.

When I’ve traveled to Africa, I’ve noticed something really interesting in remote villages and cities teeming with energy. When someone gets up to give a speech, they list off and show respect to a host of individuals before they get into their speech. I’ve seen it in Uganda, Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya and Ghana. Those worthy of honor in other cultures seems to receive the respect they’re due.

Now I know some of this can be political—a form of patronage, but I think a lot of it is cultural.

I believe urgency is less of a driver than in the United States and respect more of a driver than here.

I think it’s reflected in my thinking above… “these two guys would have been honored if I had made a list.”

But why didn’t I make a list? And why do many of us often not make a list of those to honor?

Again, because we’re caught up in the urgency of many other concerns and the thought of beginning my talk time with a slow and methodical mention of others never comes to mind.

I regret missing the chance to show two long time friends how much they mean to me.

The lesson for me is bigger than last night, however. The lesson is that I need to slow down and be more intentional about honoring those who deserve it. I need to be intentional enough to be respectful.

My friend Stephan Bauman who lived in Africa for many years and now leads a global relief and development organization called, World Relief, calls his African friends his greatest teachers.

What I great picture. There is much we can learn from other cultures.

Maybe the Kilns Banquet was the impetus I needed to join Stephan and be taught by my African friends how to build community and depth of relationship by intentionally honoring others.

(Dedicated to Mike Caba and Rick Gerhardt: two giant men of faith who have been instrumental in most of the blessings God has brought my way.)

Love Stands in the Middle

Guest Post by John Sowers

When I finished my doctorate in Boston, my head was full of ideas. I wanted to do something to help fatherless kids. Fatherlessness was crushing my close friends and my generation. And I see it every day. In blogs, tweets, movies. The other day, LeBron James tweeted about how he cries when watching Will Smith rant about his dad in Fresh Prince. A lot of people cry over it. Me too.


Something. I researched statistics, obscure studies, and learned mentor strategies. I read every book and article, attended seminars, roundtables, and spoke at conferences. People listened and nodded. I had the ideas, and not only ideas; I had burning passion and drive. I wanted to do something. Something. So I started in Los Angeles and created a mentoring organization.


One day, Kari, now my wife, asked me, “Who are you mentoring?” (No one.)

I had mentored before. I was a youth pastor in a former life. I’d mentored kids in Chicago. Hung out with another group who called themselves Misfits. But I was not mentoring anyone when she asked. Kari secretly prayed I would be. Shortly after, a single mom in our church approached me and asked me to mentor her son.

Before that moment, I was standing on the outside. I was speaking, learning, teaching, and advocating for mentoring without actually doing it. In anthropology, there are two types of field research: Etic and EmicEtic researchers make their observations from outside the culture. Emic researchers get up-close to local customs, traditions, and beliefs.


To be Etic but not Emic. To attend endless conferences, read endless books, buy endless t-shirts. To dump cold water on our heads, take a selfie and hashtag it. To be about the latest ideas, like those on Mars Hill, to be waiting to see something new, like the newest post or picture online. Ideas, when used this way, can be very self-indulgent. All the while, we remain outside the issue, and quite possibly, outside of our own story. But the great ideas – love, justice, intimacy, reconciliation – require something of us.

The people I see changing the world are doing it quietly. They have tenacity. They have the courage to move to the middle: A mentor-hero named Jill. Brothers Jed and Jacob. A policeman named Cube who serves inner-city youth. Tim and Tyler, who took a burned out, horror-filled building and turned it into a place of healing. Three girls who gave up everything to love and mentor orphans in South Africa. None are celebrities. They don’t have many social media followers. They don’t brag about it.


As Donald Miller writes in Scary Close:

“When the story of earth is told, all that will be remembered is the truth we exchanged. The vulnerable moments. The terrifying risk of love and the care we took to cultivate it.”

Love requires us to take that terrifying risk. To take that first dangerous step into the frigid waters. To move from head to heart and hands. To move from the outside to the inside, from Etic to Emic. Love requires us to stand in the middle.

Impacting A Generation for Justice

Photo Credit: Matthew Chu, for The Justice Conference Asia 2014

Two years ago this May I traveled to Hong Kong for the first time in my life. It’s an amazing city with as much diversity as anywhere in the world (and more skyscrapers than anywhere in the world). I was being hosted by friends at The Vine Church in the Wanchai district of Hong Kong who founded and were hosting the first ever The Justice Conference Asia.

As I get ready to return to Hong Kong for the third time later this month, I can’t help but remembering the early vision. After the inaugural event in 2011, I sat down with my friend Erin Lytle to codify the thoughts and goals of The Justice Conference. I wrote that we wanted to reach and educate tens of thousands of men and women over the next decade with a balanced and theological message of justice. Our goal was simply to impact a generation for justice.

In a few weeks there will be an inaugural The Justice Conference Australia (check out this recent Melbourne radio interview with me and Eugene Cho discussing the conference) and later this month our friends at The Vine Church will be hosting the third conference in a row in Hong Kong.

The conference in Hong Kong, in many ways, has been one of my favorite events. There are men and women from over forty countries, many for whom their second language is English. The overall spirit in the air is one of the most intense atmospheres of unity that I’ve ever experienced. Unlike American events where many people often skip break out sessions or spend time with their friends over coffee long into the main sessions, the people that come to the conference in Hong Kong are intent on attending every single session and showing up on time. They are zealous about learning, zealous about participating, and ultimately, zealous about justice taking root in deeper ways in the countries they call home, and with the people that they love.

This June, The Justice Conference as a movement will have passed 20,000 attendees with nine overall conferences on three different continents.

Being associated with World Relief and The Justice Conference has been one of the most gratifying and exhilarating things in my life. It is incredibly humbling to be part of something that, in Nicholas Wolterstorff’s words, is “helping to change the moral vocabulary of the church.”

If you can get to Melbourne or Hong Kong in the month of April, be sure to check out their info above. If not, make sure to go to the main conference website and try to join us in Chicago, June 5-6.

Why Education is Important to Pursuing Justice

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” This statement is attributed to Nelson Mandela, and it describes why, in 2008, we founded Kilns College in Bend, Oregon.

Kilns is a unique startup—a community of learners united around a single purpose: understanding and teaching how to live out God’s call to justice. What we’re about is an educational experience that is laser-focused on building students’ capacity and equipping them to give their lives away. Some schools define success by how many graduates they place in jobs at Fortune 500 companies; we want to place our graduates wherever God is calling them.

My vision of an excellent educational experience is this:

  • An affordable college whose faculty are devoted to inspiring and equipping its students through educational excellence, dialogue, service, and identifying and developing gifts and talents.
  • A welcoming community in which fellow students mutually support each other and live life together as friends and confidantes.
  • A creative collaboration between individual passions and God’s wisdom and calling.

We started small: just four night classes to allow people with nine-to-five jobs to enroll, and a handful of part-time students. As I write this, however, Kilns offers a Master of Arts in Social Justice and is launching a Master of Arts in Innovation & Leadership this fall! Both programs are available in person in Bend, Oregon and online.

Education is a vital piece of pursuing justice over a lifetime. As our engagement with justice deepens, we begin to see that further schooling is often needed to be further equipped.

Sometimes the most urgent problems are the ones requiring the most study.

We are challenged constantly by what’s been called the “fierce urgency of now.” Statistics are batted around. Celebrities take up causes and jet to all corners of the globe. Every new injustice we hear about is billed as the one cause we should act on.

Can we really say that education or learning is valuable when presented with a list of emergencies? I’d be troubled if I saw a paramedic open a medical book at the scene of a head-on collision. Isn’t the time for learning behind us, and the time for action at hand?

One of the first things we want in a professional—whether a doctor, lawyer, teacher, or plumber—is education and experience. Yet one of the first things we expect from ourselves is action.

The professions I listed are all complex, and we agree that training and education are critical to their success. How equally complex is fighting injustice in our communities and across the world! Shouldn’t we expect to need education if we attempt such a complicated and messy undertaking?

Many people striving to give their lives away understand this and have chosen to educate and train themselves. Doctors, agricultural scientists, policy lobbyists, police officers, immigration lawyers, trauma therapists—all of these have invested time and money and considerable energy into preparing themselves to serve.

Education can do more than teach us to care about injustice—it can equip us to do something about it.

During World War I, C. S. Lewis left Oxford University to join the British Army. Universities faced the very real question of why students would stay in school and study while their friends fought in the trenches.

Years later, on October 22, 1939, Lewis lectured at St. Mary the Virgin Church, Oxford, on the necessity of education in wartime. This lecture later became an essay titled “Learning in Wartime.”

In this essay, Lewis suggested that we misunderstand present wars, injustices, national debts, and other crises as new situations that make the pursuit of education less worthy or important, while in reality there are always situations that seem to be urgent and that battle for the focus of our souls. A literal war—or the felt need of a particular injustice—will simply make this ongoing reality feel more pressing.

In that context, he diagnosed three impediments to education:

  • Excitement: we can feel the need to respond to the latest crisis, but Christians are called to pursue the task at hand to the glory of God and to be fully present with what is set before us. Sometimes that task is education.
  • Frustration: we live in awareness of time’s constraint, but refusing to start for fear we won’t have time to finish is not the right response. Instead we are to focus our energy on today, since that is all we are promised.
  • Fear: war reminds us of our mortality and our ability to suffer — and this is proper. War should sober us to the work at hand and prepare us to pursue our calling with courage instead of cowardice, even if that calling is education.

Education is a means, not an end. We don’t enroll in formal education ad nauseam as a way of escaping life. Rather, we educate ourselves in order to become equipped to respond wisely to God’s calling. As French theologian Bernard of Clairvaux said, “There are those who seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge; that is Curiosity. There are those who seek knowledge to be known by others; that is Vanity. There are those who seek knowledge in order to serve; that is Love.”

Partially excerpted from Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live and Die for Bigger Things.

Love Conquers All

Guest Post by Rev. Peter Goodwin Heltzel

“Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit. The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:1-8

On this Holy Saturday, we remember the death of Jesus. With Jesus’ heart-wrenching death on the cross his disciples entered darkness and his mother Mary experienced overwhelming grief. This year our country grieved the loss of precious and priceless friends and family. We witnessed young black lives lost before their time. We have entered a dark night of the soul. Yet like Jesus’ disciples, we should take heart that even in death, Jesus was an evangelist of love, ever seeking the least and the lost.

St. Peter writes, “For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead” (1 Peter 4:6). Ancient Christian tradition believes that when Jesus died, he descended into hell to bring the good news to the captives there, and liberate them to join him in Paradise.

Many evangelical Christians struggle with Jesus’ descent into hell and do not celebrate Holy Saturday.  My friend Wheaton theologian David Lauber, author of Barth on the Descent into Hell: God, Atonement, and the Christian Life, sees at least two reasons for evangelical resistance to Jesus descent into hell.  First, it lacks biblical support; some will even go as far as to say that the “He descended into Hell” should be removed from the Apostles’ Creed, because this is nowhere to be found in the Bible. Second, some treatments of Holy Saturday and the descent into hell lean towards universal salvation, and evangelicals get very nervous when people start talking about Jesus emptying hell – the harrowing of hell – or Jesus experiencing the fullness of hell in our place so that all people are spared of eternal torment in hell.

As I look at Holy Scripture, I see clear evidence of Jesus’ evangelical calling, including preaching to the dead. Early in his earthly ministry Jesus anticipated his preaching to the dead when he said: “Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live” (John 5:25).

Jesus’ death is a descent, a descent into the very fires of hell, so he could save the just souls who had died before he lived.

Theologian Karl Barth writes, “It is a serious matter to be threatened by hell, sentenced to hell, worthy of hell, and already on the road to hell. On the other hand, we must not minimize the fact that we actually know of only one certain triumph of hell – the handing over of Jesus – and that this triumph of hell took place in order that it would never again be able to triumph over anyone. We must not deny that Jesus gave Himself up into the depths of hell not only with many others but on their behalf, in their place, in the place of all who believe in Him” (Church Dogmatics II/2, p. 496). Jesus’ descent into hell brings the Gospel message of salvation to all people of all times and places. Jesus’ death on the cross and descent into hell unveils his victory over sin, death and the devil himself.

By descending into hell on Holy Saturday, Jesus liberates the saints of old, including Adam and Eve; thus, breaking the curse that has bound sinful humanity since the Fall.  Thus Christus Victor is victorious over sin, death, the devil and the curse. Nothing shall separate us from the love of God revealed in Christ Jesus, not even the gates of hell shall prevail against the love of our Lord. Jesus Christ is an evangelist of love, who has a heart to save every single person in the world, be they black or white, female or male, gay or straight, dead or alive. Since we as evangelicals put a priority on world evangelization, understanding Jesus as an evangelist of love to the living and the dead is the Christological heartbeat of evangelicalism.

On Holy Saturday it may look like death has the last word, but Jesus’ harrowing of hell shows that Love always has the last word. Love in the face of empire, in the face of oppression, even in the face of Death itself. The core message of Easter is that Love conquers all. All comfort can be found in our God, who is Everlasting Love. So let’s love like God. As St. Peter exhorts us: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).

A.J. Swoboda on Faith in the Darkness

A. J. Swoboda (PhD, University of Birmingham) teaches theology, biblical studies, and Christian history at George Fox Evangelical Seminary in Portland, Oregon. A. J. started and serves Theophilus Church in urban Portland. He is the author of Messy and is the coauthor of Introducing Evangelical Ecotheology and the recently released A Glorious Dark — a book that embraces the tension between what we believe and what we experience, showing that it is in the very tension we seek to eliminate that God meets us.

KW: What personally drew you to write on this theme?

AS: A two-year struggle with alcohol.

Interestingly, “darkness,” is a rather important image a serious reader can’t overlook in the overarching story of Scripture. As we delve into it, we discover that the Hebrew word for darkness (arafel) is mentioned some fifteen times throughout the Old Testament Scriptures. And, paradoxically, over half of these references are directly related to God’s immediate presence. To draw out an example, we find an interesting interplay in Exodus 20:21 between God and darkness when Moses enters into the arafel, the darkness, and within, has an encounter with God. Oftentimes darkness is indicative of God’s presence—God is in the arafel.

Still, the image of darkness rolls out even more through the New Testamnent. Of course, Jesus lay in a tomb of darkness on Holy Saturday. Yet within that penetrating darkness, a glorious resurrection would soon take place. It is true: “in God there is no darkness at all.” (Jn. 1:5) But, the opposite isn’t true; God can enter the darkness and break through its hollow trappings. In anyone’s life, there are so many aspects to my existence that seem so hard, challenging, and “dark.” But the good news is it is there, in the darkness, that resurrection can happen.

Over the course of a short two-year period I wrestled with a struggle with alcohol. It was anything but easy. But, in the midst of the struggle, I met God.

I write on this because I think God can be found in the darkness.

KW: Why did you choose to frame the ideas in the last three days of Holy Week?

AS: What has historically been called the Triduum serves, in my mind, as a perfect way to imagine the full-bodied life of following Jesus. On Friday, Jesus dies in a horrific, painful, unjust execution. On Sunday, Jesus raises from the grave in the triumph of resurrection and joy. And on what I call “awkward Saturday,” Jesus sits in the tomb in the mystery, ambiguity, and uncertainty of the day in-between.

I don’t believe we have the right to pick and choose the days we selectively wish to live into. The follower of Jesus is invited to walk through all three days.

This is, of course, hard to do. We love to embrace the parts of God that we like and reject the rest. So, in effect, we choose to love God on our own terms. “God, I’ll love you if I get x, y, and z.” But in the end, the Triduum does not allow such prejudice. For to love God on the basis we get what we want it to effectively give God a prenuptual agreement.

That isn’t love. Love is falling head first into who the person is, not who we want them to be. The Triduum forces us to deal with all the difficult and joyous things of God.

KW: What do you think we miss if we only focus on one of these days? How does that affect our faith and daily life?

AS: Ask the person who gets everything they want.

One of the paradoxes of the human existence is that the people who actually get everything in life they want—the cars, the success, the homes, the 401(k)—can often be the least satisfied. How could this be?

It is really hard to convince a people who, as consumers, have everything they want at their fingerprints that they need to pick up a cross and follow daily. Consumers make really lousy disciples. Why? Because they are constantly unwilling to give up the very thing Christ is asking them to. When we focus on the one day we want (for instance Sunday), we will eschew all forms of pain and suffering. And, in the end, we will end up looking down on those who do suffer and have pain as though they don’t believe or have faith that is misaligned.

Jesus was the most faithful person in history and died with nothing. Everyone had left him. He had no possessions. Even his clothes were taken. And yet he was the most satisfied.

The last thing we need is a God who gives us everything we want and is rather willing to give us exactly what we need.

KW: What would you say to those currently sitting in the awkwardness of Saturday?

That Saturday is as important as Sunday and Friday.

Sit there. It is an important day. In my experience, those drawn to Saturday tend to be the smart, critical folks who believe in the mind as a faculty given by God. I agree. A Saturday person asks questions, they relish ambiguity, the love the mystery of it all and are cool sitting in it.

But, and this is my challenge, we aren’t meant to live in Saturday forever. One of my favorite philosophers once said that deconstruction is a good place to visit, but it makes for a diabolical home. I agree. It is good to sit in Saturday—ask questions, ponder, wonder, enjoy the uncertainty—but don’t stay there forever.

We are created by God to find. Everyone in our culture seems to embrace wholeheartedly this idea that being a spiritual seeker is good. Fine, seek, they would say. But, the minute someone claims to have been a spiritual finder, they are arrogant, closed-minded, and bigoted.

I believe that the gospel invites us to actually seek for the purpose of finding. Seeking to seek isn’t true seeking.

KW: What practices or disciplines have you used to help navigate the glorious dark that is faith?

AS: Read authors you normally wouldn’t read.

Develop friends you normally wouldn’t befriend.

Ingest parts of the Bible you normally wouldn’t chew on.

And, mostly, entertain the idea that Jesus is always going be bigger and more mysterious than you ever imagined.

It is helpful to recognize that following Jesus is hard mostly for the fact that Jesus is wild, not caged. Jesus, one finds, isn’t tame. He isn’t docile. God is feral. This wildness of truth can’t be trapped into words or phrases or idioms; truth is the very wild God in Jesus. Yes, words can convey and convince people of the truth. But words are not a zoo where we cage the wildness God. I like the words of Richard Baxter, the famed Puritan father. Baxter had a way of describing the beauty and wonder and wildness of Jesus. He once wrote: if it fits in a spoon, it can’t be the ocean. Did you hear that? It’s a beautiful idea—Baxter’s point was that God can’t, God won’t, and God shan’t fit into our perfectly crafted spoons. God can’t be contained by the boxes of our words, our ideas, or our theologies. Truth goes beyond all that stuff. God’s bigness is always bigger than our spoons.

Truth is like a shark. In the words of Norm from the movie Jaws, truth always “needs a bigger boat.”

KW: Why did you write this book?

AS: Two reasons.

First, I wrote this book so that my three-year-old son will someday know that God invites him–all of him—into his life. Not just the parts that he thinks God will like. God wants all of him. The dirty parts too. I want him to read this book someday and know God is wildly in love with him; all of him.

Second, I suspect there is a whole group of Christians in the world who have been dupped into believing that Christianity exists for them to hide the reality of their broken lives. I think we we will use Christianity either to: 1) put on make-up so that we look like nothing is wrong, or, 2) take off our make-up to enter the presence of the Almighty as we are. Christianity is not a way to photo-shop the pain out of our life.

I want my reader to take off their make-up and come.

He wants to dine with us all over again.

Removing Our Leaven

Photo Credit: Ohad, Creative Commons

Guest Post by Justin Kron

Most people have heard of the tradition of Spring Cleaning.  Its origin is most likely associated with Jewish people who would thoroughly clean out their homes and their diet of leaven (anything made with yeast) prior to the festival of Passover; a holiday that commemorates the exodus of the Israelite slaves from slavery in Egypt some 3500 years ago.

In many Jewish homes this practice of removing and refraining from eating leaven during Passover is still followed today, and like most Jewish traditions the physical picture can be a pathway to understanding a spiritual one.

In the Torah we learn that leaven (aka, yeast) was associated with sin.

[The grain offering] must not be baked with yeast…Like the sin offering and the guilt offering, it is most holy. Leviticus 6:17

The absence of leaven, therefore, was associated with holiness, or that which is without sin.

While there are instances in the biblical narrative when leaven is used to paint a positive picture of a spiritual reality (e.g., the expanding nature of the kingdom of God), it was particularly associated with behavior that was destructive.  In the New Testament we see both Jesus and the Apostle Paul use leaven in this way:

Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1).

Your boasting is not good.  Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?  Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast – as you really are.  (1 Corinthians 5:6-7a).

And herein lies the deeper spiritual reality that we are beckoned to consider.  We have leaven that needs to be cleaned from the homes of our hearts and the crevices of our own souls.  We know this about ourselves.

But let’s be honest about our leaven.

Removing our leaven is not our natural inclination. 

If given the choice, we would rather point out someone else’s leaven that needs to be removed rather than dealing with our own.

In fact, it’s quite likely that we’re in denial about how stale and moldy our leaven has become.  Therefore, it is necessary to identify and acknowledge that your leaven really is that bad.

Your jealousy, your greed, your insecurity, your irresponsibility, your dogmatism, your priorities, your vanity, your racism, your insensitivity, your busyness, your rage, your addiction, your pessimism, your stubbornness, your apathy, your laziness, your self-absorption really is that bad. In fact, it’s so bad that you’re probably thinking right now about all of the other people who struggle with the aforementioned issues rather than focusing on your own.

This leads to another reality about removing our hearts of leaven.

Removing our leaven is not a job we can manage on our own. 

Getting rid of my leaven requires help.  But many of us don’t want help because it means confessing that we have it to begin with.  This brings us back to the original sin in the Garden of Eden.  Pride.  Pride is the desire to be autonomous; the desire to go it alone.

If you’re familiar with the story of the Exodus, then you know that the Israelites backs were up against the Red Sea as the Egyptians were closing in to recapture them.  There was no way out.  So once again, they cried out to God for help.  It was a call of surrender, for there was no hope apart from divine intervention.

So it is with our leaven.

Cleaning the home of our hearts requires outsourcing. You need help. I need help.

This is one of the core reasons why people turn to Jesus.  He promises help.  If Moses is the divine instrument in the Exodus story that God uses to free the Israelites from physical slavery in Egypt, Jesus is the divine instrument in our story that God uses to free our hearts from the bondage of sin.

Jesus, speaking of himself as the Son, said—

Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.  Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:34-36).

Jesus promises freedom from our leaven.

This is what John was speaking of when he said—

Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).

Jesus came to help us get rid of leaven, every last crumb of it.

A Cordial for Healing

Often God blesses us by giving us what He knows we need to live effectively and fulfill the calling He has for us. Both Lewis and Tolkien have interesting ways of expressing this in their two famous book series, The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Father Christmas meets the Pevensie children and provides them with the items necessary to carry out their calling as kings and queens of Narnia: a sword for Peter, a bow and arrows for Susan, a bottle of healing cordial for Lucy. As you might guess, each uses his or her gift wisely and at critical points in their subsequent battles.

Their brother Edmund isn’t there, because he has been taken in by the charm of the evil White Witch. What gift does he receive from her? Candy. This is a gift that consists of momentary pleasure, instant gratification, and nothing that will actually prepare him for his role as a future king. Because of his decision to leave his siblings and follow his own desires, Edmund has to wait much longer to receive his true gifts

Frederick Douglas once said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” To me this is wisdom. To avoid landmines is a lot more efficient (and pleasant!) than picking up the pieces after hitting them.

In The Fellowship of the Ring, the elven queen, Galadriel, provides to Aragorn a sheath for his great sword, to Legolas a bow, to Sam a box of elven earth for his garden, to Gimli a lock of her hair to remind him of his reconciliation with the elves, and to Frodo a vial of starlight to keep him safe in the darkness of Mordor. All of these items had great significance and lasting value, particularly in the eyes of the gifted.

Both Lewis and Tolkien had a rich theology of blessing. They illustrated well that the best gifts are not luxury items or “cotton candy” pleasures, but rather the specific items we need to succeed in our calling. The best gifts equip us to accomplish the tasks and live the lives that God has for us.

It is an interesting question . . . If I looked for God’s hand of blessing set in my context, what would He give me? Would it be wisdom for parenting? Would it be endurance to bear up under stress? Would it be patience or grace for the day’s interruptions?

What would God give you that would enable or enhance your success in ministry, family, or His calling on your life?

Additionally, Jesus tells us an astounding truth: the more we use the gifts God has already given us, the more gifts He will give. In Matthew 25, Jesus tells the parable of the talents (an ancient form of currency). In this parable, before a rich man goes on a long journey, he entrusts three of his servants with money. He gives one servant five talents, another two talents, and the last servant one talent. While their master is gone, the first two servants invest the money and double what he had entrusted to them. The last servant buries the money in the ground, knowing that the master will demand it when he returns.

When the master returns, he is pleased with the first two servants, who multiplied their monies, but he is furious with the last servant, who buried his one talent. He was outraged that the servant didn’t even bother to do the bare minimum with the money—put it in the bank, where it would earn interest. He takes away the one talent and gives it to the servant who has ten.

“Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them” (Matthew 13:12). He who has much will be given more—because that servant is using it well, or in other words, using it for the kingdom, justice, and will of God in this world.

Stewardship begets blessing.

Just as the behavior of children and employees either earns or forfeits trust and responsibility, our stewardship of God’s gifts will elicit His rewards or His disappointment. Being faithful leads to blessing (and blessings take many forms).

Faithfulness with what we have is one of the surest ways to experience a greater blessing from God.

Picture a classroom of second graders for a moment. Imagine there’s a difficult child bullying his fellow students and disrespecting the teacher. I cannot affirm that child. Even if I know his story, that he came from a troubled home, and want to comfort and encourage him, there is nothing in his behavior that I could encourage. I could love, I could forgive, I could listen, but I could not affirm the behavior. Affirmation, after all, is a form of encouragement.

Sometimes I think God is desperately waiting for us to give Him one small indication of obedience so He can pour out His full measure of affirmation, encouragement, and blessing. A father cannot encourage a wrong heart, but delights in affirming whatever good he can. In time, the nurturing of small acts of obedience gives rise to the fullness of character and blessing.

Partially excerpted from The Grand Paradox: The Messiness of Life, the Mystery of God, and the Necessity of Faith.

The Conversation on Race, Story and Justice

Photo Credit: Robert Martinez, Creative Commons

Guest Post by Leroy Barber

The Justice Conference is meant to foster deep conversations on the things that matter to the heart of God. It seems that in today’s world the conversation on race seems to be getting lost and I am not sure this is a good.

In Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow she warns that the idea Americans are past issues of race in our society is a very dangerous position.

So many people among the white majority tell me, that they are tired of talking about race. As an African American man, I find it kind of funny that the folks who are the least threatened by the negative outcomes of racism are most tired.

Why are people tired of discussing race? Is it because we refuse to make the needed changes that would help the problem or do we feel guilty?

Does the anger that comes along with the discussions frighten us?

Are we tired of explaining the same thing again and again? Do we feel misunderstood?

Have you lost too much and the pain of talking about it is too much to deal with?

Where can we go with the conversations? Native Americans still suffer major devastation in a lot of communities. African Americans and mass incarceration is one of the most dire justice issues of our time. Many latinos are intimately connected to immigration and the challenges it brings to families and communities. And Asian communities still have very little voice in many arenas.

We are tired, but we will only drive ourselves further into the morass if we don’t talk.

There is something we can learn here from South Africa. Bishop Tutu and the priority he put on story is a significant lesson that emerged from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The commission just opened venues for people to tell their stories—no matter how atrocious they were. People were allowed to process them openly for months and they listened to those who were hurt and those who committed the inhumane acts.

Perhaps we need this kind of activity. Maybe we don’t need more debate at this point, but for stories to be told.

Let’s create space for people to talk and for people to listen.

Stories from those who are hurt and stories from those who hurt others are important to tell and to hear.

As Americans we love to solve problems—but race and racism seem to be problems we cant solve. Maybe we have tried too hard to solve problems and we should just stop and let people talk and listen to each other.

Tell your story. We will listen.

Share your pain and we will acknowledge it.

In any case, we cannot sit around and let racism go underground when so many are still hurt everyday by its insidious nature.  There are too many discrepancies in education, housing, job opportunities, and rates of incarceration that play out along racial lines that we can’t be silent.

Neutrality allows the racist to get comfortable is his or her position and actually grow into deeper postures, a little joke here and there eventually turns into beliefs and decisions that hurt people.

The progression is subtle but the repercussions are toxic.

Even though we’re tired we have to keep talking even when it gets uncomfortable. Even when it’s awkward we have to speak up on the little things that can become lethal if they go unchallenged.

I’m excited to be co-hosting the race and reconciliation pre-conference track at The Justice Conference this June in Chicago along with Ken Wytsma. Our goal is to sink deep enough into theology that our understanding of God will shape and form our understanding of everything else—especially when it comes to race, forgiveness, equality, solidarity and reconciliation.

I look forward to having you join us for this much needed conversation on race, story and justice at this poignant moment in history.

For more information on The Justice Conference, visit

Prayer for Peace: Reflections from the Holy Land

Melissa McCreery and Tamara Wytsma by the wall dividing Israel and Gaza in Netiv Ha’Asara.

Guest Post by Melissa McCreery

I wrote the prayer below while sitting on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, reflecting on a week filled with some of the most uplifting conversations and experiences, as well as some of the most devastating, that I have ever experienced. A week that seemed to flirt with the line between joy and sorrow, hope and hopelessness, compassion and contempt.

I took this journey with 25 other amazing women, led by The Telos Group. Telos is a genuinely pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian, pro-American, and pro-peace (yes, it’s possible!) nonprofit leading pilgrimages in the Holy Land, with the vision of bringing awareness to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and placing voices, thoughts, experiences and PEOPLE to the conflict…so many beautiful people. Kilns College is leading a trip with The Telos Group in November 2015. If you’re interested in attending, email us to get more information or reserve your spot.

After spending eight days in the Holy Land, I am only starting to even begin to comprehend the history, the people, the conflict and the deep emotion found there. This prayer is an honest cry to God, as I wrestled with all that I had heard, seen, witnessed & experienced.

Lord, You are here

You are here on the shores of Galilee

You are in the walls of Bethlehem

and the stones of Jerusalem

You are here in the darkness of our pain.

You are here in the lament of the widows — their husbands lost to violence, to a hatred that breaks your heart

You are here, in the eyes of an Arab child, a refugee in his own land, the only home he’s ever known a cinder block locked behind a fence

You are here, in the quiet prayers of your children

and in the loud shouts at the Western Wall

You are with the Rabbi, with the Priest and the Imam.

You are with us all

In this land of bright moons and subtle stars, of rolling hills and quiet deserts

Of calls to prayer and songs of Shabbat

You shed a tear for the deaths of innocent lives, lost to a violent act

You shed a tear for the misguided and desperate young boy who claimed those lives

You lament with us and our despair

You cry, even as we cry out to you

“God, why? Why the hatred? Why the vengeance? Why the killing of your children, of your sons and daughters?”

And through it all You are faithful and Your love endures.

You are the Prince of Peace

You give hope to those who have no reason to hope

You bring peace to a land riddled with agony and to hearts that weep

And your faithful reminders can be found everywhere…

In the beautiful green hills of the Holy Land

In the fragrant aromas wafting out of a young Israeli mother’s kitchen

and the similar smells — of cardamom and cumin and za’atar— coming from the kitchen of her Palestinian neighbor.

In the farmer, planting and re-planting his fig and olive trees in the red earth of his family’s farm.

In the warm embrace that spans generations, genders and ethnicities

You smile as we refuse to be enemies; refuse to succumb to the lies of the world

You laugh with us as we experience the smells, sights, history and people of this land; as we gain a glimpse of what you see in each of us

And then, in your still comfort and warm embrace, you speak to us

You lead us and guide us

You love us… Always always, you love.

And now so must we.

Four Ways to Help you Walk in the Tension of Faith

While in grad school, I ran across the author Henri Nouwen, who articulated the tension—or paradox—of faith as well as anyone I have read.

His answer, unlike most I have heard, does not whitewash the messiness of life or explain away the mystery of God. Rather, Nouwen wrote that an essential part of life is learning to “live the questions” faith engenders.

To wait on the Lord.

To pray our pain.

To accept confusion.

Nouwen’s answer resonates with the honest picture of faith I see in Scripture. Life is, as stated by my Old Testament professor, relentlessly difficult.

Life is messy. God is mysterious. And accepting this tension-filled truth, no matter the circumstances, is the pathway to peace.

Jesus promised suffering in Matthew 16:24, and as testified in Scripture, those most clearly called by God and most definitively used by God are often given the most challenging circumstances.

Life is messy. God is mysterious. And accepting this tension-filled truth, no matter the circumstances, is the pathway to peace.

With all of the difficult issues and disturbing events in the world, I find myself struggling to accept this as much as I have in a long time and to ground myself once again in “living the questions.” As tempting as it is to simply whitewash the issues, push them down below our conscious thoughts, or squeeze them out by binging on TV or movie-watching, as Christians, we can’t afford to do so.

Choosing faith, despite the messiness of life and the mystery of God, is the essence of biblical trust. It is the faith in the “not yet” of many of God’s promises about His reign of justice and commitment, that every tear shall be wiped away. Paul writes, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

It’s not that the world is messy so we should leave it that way. It’s not that the world is messy and I can’t be a part of fixing it. But the messiness of the world elicits questions that God may or may not give me answers for. And so—in the midst of confusion, mess and pain—walking by faith means that I walk with the questions.

Here are four ideas to help us learn to live the questions in the midst of the messiness:

1. Read books that don’t claim to answer all the questions.

We all love self-help books and manuals that promise resolution to the problems and difficulties we’re facing in life. These books are simple, easy to read and give us lots of things to do.

While this kind of literature has its place, make it a priority to add to your yearly reading books that don’t set out or promise to resolve all the tensions you’re facing.

Whether it’s a biography of Francis of Assisi or a novel like The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, find and read literature that acquaints you with the messiness of life and gives a subtle glimpse of the simple beauty faith presents when it flowers amidst the confusion and chaos.

It’s also important to read from authors you might not entirely agree with. Find voices who challenge your assumptions and contribute different perspectives.

2. Pray long enough that you’ve run out of things to say to God.

Much of prayer is precipitated by our desire for answers from God. We seek reasons for the trials we’re enduring and resolution to the challenges behind which we don’t see any purpose.

Praying long and slow allows us to run out of words … run out of anxiety … run out of demands. After time, whether a half hour or half a day, we begin to ease into the realities with which we’re confronted. We begin to open ourselves up to hear the questions God would have us ask and to see the additional realities we’ve been selectively ignoring.

In the end, solitude, silence and long prayer results in a full conversation with God. Like the biblical figure of Job, we may not get direct answers to our petitions, complaints and requests, but we will be answered, nonetheless.

3. Find your place in creation.

Psalm 8: “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained, What is man that You are mindful of him?”

Soaking in the beauty and magnitude of the Creator’s handiwork, David finds himself struck with awe. He wonders how the God who made everything in the universe could be interested in him. David’s trust in God isn’t the result of getting all his questions answered, but actually comes from discovering a question to which he has no answer.

Nature or creation can have a steadying effect on us. In many ways, it is where we can gain the greatest sense God’s presence.

4. Get your hands dirty.

The messiness of life and the intractable nature of global injustice can often paralyze or cripple us. We can retreat, put up walls and stand helpless on the sidelines feeling like it’s all too big, too scary and too confusing to do anything.

As Christians, we can’t shrink from pain, we can’t gloss over the struggle of others in order to maintain our illusions and distance, we can’t hide or pretend.

Jesus valued those who loved and served without question and without reservation. We might not have answers, but we can love.

Find a nonprofit. Engage immigration reform in your community. Gather a group of friends to read, study and brainstorm ways to engage locally and globally. Make a friend who doesn’t look like or think like you, and learn to build bridges. Give financially to an organization making a difference—it doesn’t fix everything, but it’s something. Wage peace.

As we grow older and grow up, as Christians, we can’t shrink from pain. We can’t gloss over the struggle of others in order to maintain our illusions and distance. We can’t hide or pretend.

Ours is to engage.

Ours is to stand together in solidarity.

Ours is to suffer forward (is that not what biblical faith is?).

Ours is, as Nouwen said, “to learn to live the questions.”

Living the questions doesn’t mean ignoring the problems, it simply means choosing faith, hope and love despite not having all the answers.

Partially excerpted from The Grand Paradox: The Messiness of Life, the Mystery of God, and the Necessity of Faith.

Should Christians Who Are in Debt Give to the Lord’s Work?

Many people who want to give charitably and tithe to the local church have been asking me recently what my thoughts are on how to navigate giving versus debt reduction. It’s challenging question that I’ve been asked a lot. This time I reached out to one of my mentors – Ed Underwood – with the thought that he would have wiser, more seasoned reflections. As a result, he wrote the post below sharing some of his thoughts that I think are a helpful conversation starter regardless of where you land on the topic.


Guest Post by Ed Underwood

After conversations with hundreds of Christian seeking guidance concerning their finances, one question occurs more frequently than any other: Does God want us to give to the Lord’s work even when we’re deep in debt? 

The underlying assumption is that God is more displeased with debt than He is with Christians who do not engage in their community responsibilities to support the work of the local church. The presenting strategy is, “We need to get our finances under control, then we’ll have enough to give.”

One well-meaning believer pulled me aside after a sermon on stewardship to remind me that a believer should live free from the love of money. I agreed with his statement, but then I asked him some probing questions: What’s the difference between a believer who loves to spend their money and a believer who loves to save their money? Isn’t it possible that both could be putting their trust in money rather than the Lord? Wouldn’t that make them both idolators?

Jesus said plainly in Matthew 6:19-21 that our heart follows our money. It’s not the other way around. It isn’t that I should get my heart right and then I can invest in His kingdom with pure motives. It’s that God knows our flesh is hardwired to trust in money. So, the flow of our money not only reveals what we really believe about our security and happiness, it also pulls our heart toward the final resting place of our money. And that’s true whether the final resting place is an impulse buy that brings temporary happiness or a savings account that makes us feel secure.

I’m unsettled with the “Christians are inferior if they have debt, tear up your credit cards for Jesus” crowd. There are relatively few passages in Scripture that tell followers of the God of the Bible to live debt free. Admittedly, there are verses in Proverbs teaching us the wisdom of managing our money. But this concentration on living debt free as the number one priority of our relationship to our money before God seems to me to be a decidedly first world concept.

For most Christians in our present world and through church history, the pressing problem for them is to find the money to survive. Yet, God is asking them to invest in His kingdom from their poverty. An idolatrous heart is relying on money rather than God. For some reason we’ve decided that those who are building portfolios are more spiritual than those who are living beyond their means.

The solution isn’t to replace one idolatrous view with another idolatrous view. The solution is to change our idolatrous heart. I believe that the only way to rescue, deliver, or save my idolatrous heart from the love of money is to invest in Jesus’ kingdom. When I send my money to my church, a missionary, or a work bringing healing in the name of Christ, my heart follows. I start thinking about the church or the missionary or the work instead of what I could buy or how I could invest.

When someone asks me the question, “Should I give to the Lord’s work even when I’m in debt?” I answer, “Yes, you should.” I know that the only hope for their idolatrous heart is to start investing something in what the Lord is doing on earth. It may only be $20/week, or 4% of their income. But it’s a start on the path toward healing.

Question: How have you seen your investments in the Lord’s work change your heart and your attitude toward your money?

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