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From the Archives: Don’t Go to Antioch!

I just discovered an old copy of Antioch: The Magazine while cleaning my office! The magazine morphed and changed over the years but it’s goal was to provide a behind the scenes, detailed glimpse at the life of Antioch. The article below is one of the very first things I wrote for Antioch and appeared in the first edition of the magazine.

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Church, for me, was always a lot like kissing your sister… you could do it, but who’d want to?

Coming to a deep understanding and love for the church has been one of the hardest things in my life.

I still remember when my thinking on church began to crystallize. My boss, Luke Hendrix, said to me soon after I started leading a college ministry that “the church is God’s Plan A for reaching out to and healing a broken world and there is no Plan B.”

That thought has always brought me back when I start to get down on church. Churches throughout history have communicated the truths of God, started orphanages, reached out to the sick and needy, made advancements in science and medicine, looked after the elderly, started schools, provided community and so much more. The little local church of committed believers seeking to love God and love others, whatever its faults, has continued through the centuries to be at the forefront of culture, learning and humanitarian aid.

There are many worthwhile projects and endeavors in which we can participate, but long after we have gone and projects have changed, the local church will endure, multiply and continue the missio Dei (the mission of God).

Understanding the Church

That the church is God’s Plan A brings with it two values that I hold at the core of my being.

First, Christians were designed to be a part of a spiritual family just like they were designed to be a part of a natural family. God doesn’t want spiritual orphans any more than he wants children to be without parents or siblings. We were created for community and for relationship.

What this means is that we will never be more ourselves than when we are knit into the fabric of a local spiritual community (church). Paul expresses this clearly in speaking of the church community as a body of interdependent parts. We need the other parts and, likewise, are needed by the other parts.

If church is important to us then it is important that we value her. And if we are important to the church then it is important that we commit to her.

Secondly, the church is better seen as an organic movement carrying on the redemptive purposes of God than as a static business or institution. We were put here to make a difference and to invest ourselves with everything we have in serving God and loving others.

What this means is that church doesn’t exist purely for me. The church should be centered on the missional purposes of God rather than the ego-centric purposes we would often have for her. In other words, the church exists to help me serve God rather than merely serve me.

This is nothing short of revolutionary! If church is about impacting the world and not just about me, then the needs of the world take precedence over my own personal needs and wishes for my spiritual community or family. Church isn’t a country club; it’s a highly effective tool.

Letting Go of Me

What results from the two values (commitment to church and commitment to mission) are the two seemingly contradictory disciplines of committing to a specific church and letting go of church.

The first is a commitment to be more than a bystander or consumer and become an active and integrated part of a local church body. It is the difference between a glove that merely goes where the body goes and a hand that is organically attached to the body.

The second commitment is to realize that there is something bigger than our own local church family. The kingdom of God and the needs of the world should keep us from trying to build little empires or to care only for the welfare of our church body.

In this vein, I love what David Penman writes, “No local church can afford to go without the encouragement and nourishment that will come to it by sending away its best people.”

The thought echoes the heart of the second commitment and the mantra attached to the name of Antioch… that we would be willing to take the best of what God gives us and give it away.

We developed the saying above from the example of the original church at Antioch (written about in Acts 13) who took the best of what God had given them—Paul and Barnabas, and gave them away—sending them on mission to help others.

The first commitment calls us to do the difficult thing and love the local church enough to be married to her. The second commitment calls us to do the even more difficult thing and love God more than our marriage. The first says be passionately concerned for your local church…the second says be more passionately concerned for a needy world. One says grab, cling, struggle and build while the other says let go, release, submit and give away.

The first without the second puts us in the awkward spot of thinking we can protect our sand castles.

Don’t Go to Antioch

The reflections that I’ve had on the church over the last decade have led me to hope that my generation will give their lives to the local church. I care so deeply that people are committed to a church that it doesn’t matter to me where they go… so long as they go somewhere and get deeply involved in that community. There have been plenty of funny moments when I’ve told people, “Don’t go to Antioch!” No one church family will fit everyone—the goal should simply be that everyone has a family.

I also want to care more about what God is up to in Central Oregon and the world than just what he is up to in Antioch. I want to hold things loosely and be willing to send people and resources away—even if it hurts, even if they are friends, even if it doesn’t serve me.

Ultimately, if we embrace the disciplines of committing to a church and also letting go of church, we should be able to build sand castles as well as let them go.

We should be able to love Antioch and also be able to say, “Don’t go to Antioch!”

Time to Re-Place the Gospel


Photo Credit: Pedro Szekely, Creative Commons

Guest Post by Tom Rowley

Heretical though the title of this essay sounds, there’s no need to warm up the tar or pluck the chickens. The heresy lies not here, but rather in a truncated Gospel, which has effectively dis-placed the good news of Jesus Christ.  It’s time to re-place it.

Place Matters

For reasons I do not fully understand, the Gospel preached from the North American pulpit has largely begun with sin and ended with forgiveness, which, to be sure, are absolutely essential elements. But the Bible contains more. A lot more. And what’s left out of this CliffsNotes version is also essential: namely creation and new creation, garden and city, the orthodox beginning and end. In the Bible, place matters—both as part of God’s very good creation and as the arena in which we encounter the living God. In the truncated Gospel, place is irrelevant.

A friend who leads another Christian environmental organization tells a story that illustrates the point. At a church meeting to discuss the various ministries of the congregation–evangelism, poverty, hunger, homelessness, adoption, etc—each was written one by one on a white board. All eyes then turned to him, the “environment guy” as they asked him how and where the environment fit in. “It’s the whiteboard,” he said, “the context for all those other ministries.”

Sadly, the consequences of a “dis-placed” Gospel are all too familiar and all too painful.

The creation groans with mass extinctions, pollution, desertification and more. People, most profoundly the poor, suffer the results along with our non-human fellow creatures. And our Gospel witness is tarnished and even our relationship with Christ is strained by our lack of care for His creation.

What if it were different? What if we Christians stewarded the creation as we were assigned in Genesis? What if we celebrated (not worshiped) the creation as the lovely handiwork of a loving Creator? What if we re-placed the Gospel? Doing so really isn’t that hard. Even the simple steps of learning where our food comes from, where our trash goes and the names and needs of the birds, bugs and botany in our backyards goes a long way. Plus, it’s a great way to get the kids outside and away from their addictive electronic gadgets.

The Potential Impact

And as for impact, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public life, 247 million Americans identified themselves as Christian in 2010. Estimates put the number of evangelicals alone at some 90 million. And every single one of us lives in a specific place. A place where people and plants and animals and forests and fields and streams all need our care. All need the restoring love of Jesus Christ, who we are told in Colossians created all things and through his sacrificial death on the cross redeems and reconciles all things to God.

Worldwide, the potential gets even more impressive, more hopeful. Our sheer numbers—2.18 billion—are one reason; but our locations—our places—are even more eye opening. The 2013 article in Oryx: The International Journal of Conservation, “Biodiversity Priority Areas and Religions—A Global Analysis of Spatial Overlap,” by researchers Mikusinski, Possingham and Blicharska shows a remarkable co-location of Christians and places high in biodiversity and therefore in need of protection. Using data from the World Religion Database and seven methods of identifying critical biodiversity regions, they found that Christians were the dominant religious group in all seven types of regions. All seven.

The Real Problem

Findings like that combined with the growing realization among secular environmentalists that technical and regulatory fixes will not, in fact, fix our environmental challenges lead to astounding quotes like this one heard on BBC Radio by Gus Speth, whose environmental resume runs for pages and includes such stints as founder of the World Resources Institute, co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council and Dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies:

I used to think that top global environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address these problems, but I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy and to deal with these we need a spiritual and cultural transformation and we scientists don’t know how to do that. 

The need is obvious, the invitation has been given, the people are in place and the first steps are easy. What are we waiting for? It’s time to re-place the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Put out the fire and let the chickens go.

Jonathan Wilson on Reclaiming the Doctrine of Creation

Jonathan R. Wilson is Pioneer McDonald Professor of Theology at Carey Theological College. Before joining the Carey faculty in 2006, he was Professor of Theology and Ethics at Acadia Divinity College (2003-2006) and Professor of Religious Studies at Westmont College (1989-2003). A native of Oklahoma, he is ordained by Canadian Baptists and pastored in Western Canada from 1978-1986, where he also earned an M.C.S. from Regent College and an M.Div. from Regent-Carey. He has a Ph.D. in theology from Duke University (1989). Among his books are God’s Good World: Reclaiming the Doctrine of Creation (Baker Academic), Living Faithfully in a Fragmented World (Cascade),  God So Loved the World: A Christology for Disciples (Baker),  A Primer for Christian Doctrine (Eerdmans), and Why Church Matters: Worship, Ministry, and Mission in Practice (Brazos). Jonathan’s teaching invites followers of Jesus Christ to connect how we live with what we believe.

KW: In your book God’s Good World: Reclaiming the Doctrine of Creation you talk about some of the effects of a poor understanding of the doctrine of creation. Why do you think Christians have lost sight of its importance?

JW: We began to lose sight of the importance of the doctrine of creation when the rise of the sciences seemed to offer more understanding and control of the material world. We have to submit to another power and source of life if we believe in “creation” (or better believe in the Father, Son, and Spirit as Creator). So abandoning “creation” gives us the illusion of control over life. As this illusion of control over our destiny collapses, we become more and more a culture of death and power.

KW: How would you explain the importance of the doctrine of creation to those who assume that it only has to do with creation care?

JW: “Creation care” is inextricable from a mature and robust doctrine of creation. When we care for creation we are caring for things that are made through and for Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:15-20), so we care for creation as an act of love for Christ. But the doctrine of creation doesn’t teach us just to keep thing as healthy as we can while we await the return of Christ; the doctrine teaches us to locate all of God’s work and our lives in the story of the redemption of creation. So we must learn also to locate beauty, work, bodily life, and all other things within the story of creation being redeemed. Thus, every bit of our lives becomes a testimony to God’s good world and the gospel of Christ. (As your next question indicates, I argue that we must keep creation and redemption together.)

KW: In your book God’s Good World you talk about the dialectic of the Kingdom – can you summarize that and its implications for how we understand creation?

JW: Well, dialectic may seem like a bit of jargon, but I use it deliberately to slow readers down. I am attempting to get us to see two truths: (1) creation without redemption has no purpose or meaning; (2) redemption without creation has no reality. We don’t really know what “creation” means if we don’t know that it is redeemed in Christ. And we don’t really know what “redemption” means if we don’t tell it as the completion of God’s creating work.

KW: Can you give one or two examples of the difference a better understanding the doctrine of creation can have for a believer?

JW: If we had a better understanding and practice of the doctrine we would live in such a way that people would ask us why we are so hopeful. And we would be able to tell them a beautiful, glorious, overwhelming story of hope. We would also begin to see that the work of the Spirit in the church is meant to be the primary sign of the redeemed creation. This is because in the church our created differences that alienate us and make us enemies—all of these are being reconciled in Christ. (This leads us into all kinds of justice issues and practices.)

KW: What implications do you think it has for Christian communities and for justice?

JW:  I think that the cry for justice is the work of the Spirit inside and outside the church. This is an invitation to rediscover some of the lost depth, breadth, and height of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In order for God’s people to be faithful in our account of justice and witness to justice, we must be grounded in the gospel of the redemption of creation in Jesus Christ as the work of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Only then may we resist other accounts of justice that fall short of good news. Thus, in all of our work for justice and in the way we work for justice, we must pray to be faithful to this gospel and discern together (that is, argue, debate, agree and disagree) the path of faithfulness. We will also be sustained in faithfulness when we appear ineffective and useless. Justice is the promise of God, present now, to which we bear witness by the way we live and speak.

Preaching to the Affections

Guest Post by Rick McKinley

When I first started preaching I spent a lot of time pointing out what we did wrong and what we should do right. This approach starts with the assumption that Jesus died for us, rose for us, and reigns for us, and if he did all that then we should obey him. If we replace the bad things we do with the right things he calls us to do then we should be ok. But Jesus doesn’t work like that.

I think a lot of preaching goes the direction of focusing on behavior even if we don’t intend it to. The central task of preaching is to see hearts changed by Jesus. That means that the heart is the core of the matter. If we want to see lives remade by Jesus, then we can’t simply preach to behaviors or we will create a new breed of Pharisees.

If we are going to preach to the heart then we need to preach to the affections. The affections are the desires longings and appetites that produce the behaviors that we call sin. But sin is much bigger than our behaviors. So we have to dig a little deeper to get to the affections, but if we do, it will not only change how we preach but how our preaching changes others and us through Christ.

There are a few things I have learned about preaching to the affections.

1. We have a worship problem, not a will problem

We are all worshipers and we all worship someone or something other than Jesus.  If we are going to preach to the affections, then we have to hold that as a conviction. The heart wants what it wants and the will follows. That is why it can be dangerous to preach to the will because people begin to worship their own correct behavior and not Jesus. They will trust in doing the right things instead of trusting in the One who is righteous. When that happens, a very good thing like right behavior becomes a very bad thing like an idol. If you start with a worship problem, not only do you avoid creating Pharisees, but you capture the heart and can help people see Jesus as the best object of worship.

 2. Confront sin as self-love

Whenever we confront sin as a behavior problem we miss the sin beneath the sin. At the core of the problem is love of self over love for God and that is a huge problem. When preaching to the affections we will need to redefine sin for ourselves. It is not just a moral failure, but at its center is an absence of love for God and the belief that I have to love myself through this or that thing. Take the rich young ruler as an example. You could preach that as don’t put money before Jesus. But you would miss the bigger issue and totally miss the affections. Love of money was the manifestation of the rich young ruler’s love of self. It gave him security and identity and power – all of the things that he ultimately believed Jesus couldn’t give him. So he walked away. Because our affections are just as strong as the rich young ruler’s, we will always be tempted to believe that money is better than Jesus, but it’s not. Love of money is love of self, and only Jesus can set us free from that by changing our hearts so we are free to love him.

3. Preach the beauty of the Triune God, the face of Jesus

Preaching to the affections will require the preacher to believe that Jesus is more beautiful and satisfying than all of our lesser loves. And we get the privilege of delving into the mystery of the God who is love within the relationship of Father, Son, and Spirit, then proclaiming the goodness of that God in the face of Jesus. We are called to the type of joy that gets to point out the all-surpassing beauty of Jesus week in and week out. He is not only better than say, money, but he is the object our hearts were made to behold. When we show people the attractiveness of this God, then we show them the best and most beautiful and most life-giving One to worship and to love because he is so desirable. Strong attraction to Jesus should be the aim of our preaching to the affection. Jesus is so much better.

4. Compel with Love

The love of God is the center of our Bible and of God’s very being. The good news is that we get in on that by being united with the Father through the Son by the Spirit. It is a white-hot, furious love but it is safe and good. Show them the deception that hides behind the lies of lesser loves, but don’t stop there. Compel them with the love of Christ. The Christ who loves the Father, the Christ who loves them with a relentless love, the Christ who loves their spouses and children and coworkers and neighbors, the Christ who loves the least of these. Preach that love.

 

Bonhoeffer as a Corrective Voice

One of the things I love about Dietrich Bonhoeffer is the corrective role his words seem to be within the current context of the American Church.

In that vein, his writings can truly be called ‘prophetic.’

Bonhoeffer’s small book Life Together is a great example.

To a culture consumed with individualism, consumerism, materialism and too often treats God as a magic eight ball for whatever our current needs, wishes or fears are… the excerpt below stands as strong medicine.

“It is not that God’s help and presence must still be proved in our life; rather God’s presence and help have been demonstrated for us in the life of Jesus Christ. It is in fact more important for us to know what God did to Israel, in God’s Son Jesus Christ, than to discover what God intends for us today. The fact that Jesus Christ died is more important than the fact that I will die. And the fact that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead is the sole ground of my hope that I, too, will be raised on the day of judgment.”

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible

Ed Underwood on Finding God’s Will

What is the most important truth in finding God’s will? from :redux on Vimeo.

The Art of Complex


Photo Credit: Peter Zoon, Creative Commons

I have a friend named Tsh who is helping a lot of people with her new book Notes from a Blue Bike: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World.

Most of us need help simplifying our lives—from too much clutter, stuff, entertainment, commitments and a host of other consumeristic desires.

The idea that we could begin intentionally separating ourselves from stuff and obligations that are weighing us down is exciting. But we have to remember that simplifying our lives is a means to an end, the end being that we become more committed to following Christ and the things He is calling us to.

Paul wrote from prison that he was being poured out like a drink offering (2 Timothy 4:6) and urged us to offer ourselves as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1). David’s obedience led him to the life of a fugitive and servant to a foreign king (I Samuel 19 & 27).

Sometimes the simplicity of obedience and the unity of our calling before God produces a rather complex result for our daily lives.

When there is too much trivial stuff that occupies our lives and robs us of peace, joy and contentment we need to simplify. But it’s also true that many of us who are trapped in trivial pursuits haven’t yet found our calling or occupied ourselves with the work God has for us.

We need to read Tsh’s book Notes from a Blue Bike. Tsh’s message of simplification, intentionality and the pursuit of more meaningful engagement with life is prophetic.

We also need to read Brother Andrew’s God Smuggler or Fox’s Book of Martyrs.

Tsh doesn’t talk about simplicity for simplicity’s sake. She is writing to help us find the freedom to pursue God more wholeheartedly.

Brother Andrew and many of the Martyrs in Christian History remind us that the pursuit of God, in the end, might mean more complexity or even greater difficulty and suffering than super simple or peaceful lives.

In fact, maybe the best recipe is to read the two categories of books together—pursuing the art of simplification with an eye to what God could do in our life if we were fully submitted to him. We need to think about how to disengage and then reengage; how to simplify and then obey.

Tsh is a friend, and if you were to ask she would say simple living isn’t an end in itself. She defines simple living as living holistically with your life’s purpose (not a checklist of things to get rid of or say “no” to). It’s something we pursue to create time for more meaningful things in life: family, travel, Christian calling and mission.

The danger with making an idol of simplicity is that we can swing from busyness to solitude without any reference to God or his will for our lives. Simplicity and complexity are adjectives to describe time, space and organization—but they’re not virtues in themselves.

The virtues scripture gives us are faith, hope and love. Sometimes faith, hope and love need the room that simple living brings. Other times, faith, hope and love lead us into a complex web of obedience and trust, not knowing why we experience difficulties, suffering and stress in life but believing they are somehow part of God’s journey for us.

Many of us need to pursue simplicity. Others may need to embrace complexity. In all things, as Christians, we are to live our lives in submission to Christ, the head of the Church, the Lord of our lives and the King of his kingdom—and we find the greatest meaning and blessing in submission to him regardless of whether it leads to simplicity or complexity.

How Jesus Handled Change


Photo Credit: Mark Crawley, Creative Commons

τὰ ὄντα ἰέναι τε πάντα καὶ μένειν οὐδέν
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“All entities move and nothing remains still.” – Heraclitus (as quoted in Plato’s Cratylus)

One of the constants in life is change.

The pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus famously stated this saying, “No man ever steps in the same river twice.” Reality is in constant motion. The flow of water makes change visible, but change exists in all arenas of life whether we perceive its effects or not.

People age.

Relationships evolve.

Circumstances progress.

Institutions transition.

This fact brings up an interesting question, “How did Jesus handle change?” One of the most interesting things I see in the life and ministry of Jesus was that he often ignored it.

When he was a boy, his parents and community left Jerusalem at the end of a festival, but he stayed in the temple talking theology. When Lazarus died, Jesus took the long way home. When Judas abandoned the disciples to betray him, Jesus sat in a garden all night praying for strength.

It seems that Jesus was more concerned about shaping reality than reacting to circumstances. I take this to mean Jesus was more attuned to character than change.

The surprise is: character doesn’t bend or change to circumstance as much as it—over time—bends reality around itself. Change is a constant, but character is a force.

Proverbs 11:25 states, “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” The writer seems to be talking about a kind of Christian Karma—the idea that right action affects the future.

Paul points out this truth about character in Galatians when he writes, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.”

Our inputs into the world influence many of the outputs into our life.

Using Jesus’ words about blessing those who persecute you, Paul argues further along this point in Romans writing, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” (Romans 12:20)

The point, don’t focus on how your enemy is changing you, focus on how you can transform them.

Our character might not change the present, but it shapes the future. My love for my enemy doesn’t erase the record of how we became estranged, but it can breathe life into future reconciliation.

Jesus faced the uncertainties of life and the reality of change with deep and abiding character.

Another way of saying this is that Jesus had a sense of mission and priority. He was more concerned with being right than being predictable or doing what was expected of him.

Some of the best examples of this come from the book of Luke. In Luke chapter four, we see the story of Jesus healing people all night long at Peter’s house. It states, “At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place.” While praying, the people found him and tried to get him to return and stay with them. But he said, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” (Luke 4:42-43)

When a new queue of folks had lined up in the morning and needed his help, he left. His time was up.

His mission was calling him.

It didn’t matter that it wasn’t fair to the people who just arrived to be healed. Jesus had to be obedient to what he knew was right, not what others expected.

In another story, Jesus heals a man possessed by demons. Luke then writes, “The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” (Luke 8:38-39)

Isn’t that crazy? The man “begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away.”

All throughout the New Testament and church history we think the whole game is to choose to follow Jesus. In this story, a man asks Jesus if he can follow, and Jesus says “no.”

It might have been the deep emotional or relational issues the man needed to address that kept Jesus from adding him to his group of followers. It could have been that Jesus had bigger plans for him witnessing in his city to the authority of Jesus. We’ll never know Jesus’ reasons for sending the man home, but in the story we see Jesus having a clear sense of what is right, what is on mission and what he should do regardless of what seems logical, fair, or loving to others.

I see two aspects of character in the life of Jesus: the resolve and inner strength to stand his ground despite circumstances and a clear decision-making framework based on his mission and calling.

Nobody ever steps in the same river twice.

Change was as much a part of Jesus’ world as ours.

Jesus shows us a way of staying the course, however, despite the prevailing winds. What should be true about my character and what is true about my calling can give me strength to affect my circumstances as much as they affect me.

How would Jesus handle change?… often by ignoring it and always by keeping his eyes on his Father and doing what he was sent to do.

Knowing God Part V: Your Brother’s Keeper

Knowing God Part V :: Your Brother’s Keeper from Antioch Church on Vimeo.

A Lifestyle of Enough

Guest Post by Eugene Cho

A few years ago, my wife, Minhee, and I made one of the hardest decisions we’ve made thus far in our marriage and in our calling as parents.

In our hope to honor a conviction of the Holy Spirit to give up a year’s salary, we had begun the two year process of saving, selling, and simplifying in 2007. Our goal was to come up with our then year’s wages of $68,000 – in order to launch a movement called One Day’s Wages. With only a few months left to come up with the total sum, we were a bit short and decided to sublet our home for couple months and asked some friends if we could stay with them on their couches or their guest room.

Needless to say it was a very humbling time.

Our instruction for ourselves and our children were very simple: Each person gets one carry-on bag for their belongings.

I still remember crying the night I told our kids of our plans. This wasn’t what I had signed up for. This was by far more difficult that I had imagined; I felt I had failed my wife and children. I felt like a deadbeat. A failure.

Had I known, there is no way in Hades I would have agreed to this conviction.

But as I look back now, I’m incredibly grateful for this experience. We simplified our lives and sold off belongings we didn’t need. For about 2 years, we agreed as a family not to buy anything beyond our necessities.  When we stayed with friends, we were reminded what was most essential in our lives:

Our Faith and Hope in Christ.
My marriage.
My children.
My community.

In our 2500+ square feet homes, it’s so easy to get lost in our stuff, our possessions, our rooms, our floors, our gadgets, our TV sets, our personal music listening devices, our tablets, our books, our whatevers, etc.

We can get so lost in our stuff that we forget – or take for granted – the most important things: relationships.

Now in our present day, I worry that the invaluable lessons we learned during our season of simplicity may be getting lost on us – again.

Every three years I take a sabbatical with my family. I treasure that time away. During that time we try to sublet our home – if we can find renters we trust. While it’s not something we particularly want to do, it’s an important source of income that allows us to travel without financial worries. But in order to sublet the home, we have to minimize and clean up the home.

A few months ago (before we left for our 7000+ mile road trip), we couldn’t believe how much stuff we’ve accumulated since we gave up our fast of  “not buying anything beyond essentials.” We couldn’t believe the stuff we’ve accumulated in our closets, our garage, our toyboxes, our offices, etc. And to be honest, the stuff we’ve accumulated in…our hearts.

And this is from a family that takes great “pride” in simple living!

Again, I’m reminded of the great power in the story of Jesus. There are so many things that compel me about Jesus but one of them is what I call the story of downward mobility.

It completely contradicts the movement of upward mobility that is pervasive in our culture. We want to upgrade everything at every opportunity:

We want the bestest, the fastest, the strongest, the mightiest, the largest, the mostest, the most horse powerful-est, the beautiful-est, the most blazing CPU processer-est, and the list goes on and on…

Even as I’m typing this on my lethargically slow netbook, I want…I need…I lust…for the latest Macbook, ultrabook, superbook…

But I digress.

Upward mobility never stops. Because we go through this cycle constantly. And the powers to be know this.

The incarnation is the story of how Jesus humbled himself and chose not to exercise his divine rights and, instead, took on flesh and bone to simultaneously assume full humanity – being fully God but also fully man. Born in a manger to simple commoners, he assumed a simple lifestyle as a carpenter and throughout his life, he owned nothing except the stuff he traveled with.

It’s the story of downward mobility.

This is a lesson and a story we have to all get behind. This is the Jesus we have to get behind – not the Jesus of bling bling, the Jesus of total prosperity theology; a Jesus of exclusivity and elitism; a Jesus of total health and prosperity, or the Jesus of “send $49 and we’ll mail you this special anointed cloth.”

It’s not to suggest that we have to adopt a lifestyle of poverty but rather…a theology, praxis, and lifestyle of enough.

We have enough.
We are blessed and blessed immensely.
God has given us enough.
God is our enough.

I’m reminded of the wise words of G. K. Chesterton: There are two ways to get enough: one is to continue to accumulate more & more. The other is to desire less.

So true. So true.

Perhaps, an easy and one (more) step we can take to grow in “our lifestyle of enough” is to simply give away our birthdays or to consider how we can creatively celebrate the Christmas season in parallel to Jesus’ model of downward mobility.

The Story of One Day’s Wages from One Day’s Wages on Vimeo.

Another Way for Africa


Photo Credit: Socially Responsible Safaris

Guest Post by Heidi Wright

Sometimes I just want to retire and bake cookies. I really think I’d be be happy doing that. But my heart is still in Africa and God has given me so many experiences that I can’t keep to myself.

My husband and I moved to a remote village in Uganda when I was 25. I was young, naïve and ready to change Africa. For three years we lived in a village with no running water, no electricity, and no other Internationals.

My first month there I thought I would teach the women in the village to speak English, because obviously everyone wants to learn English, right?  They all started laughing at the first sentence out of my mouth and I thought to myself, Who do I think I am? Over the years I actually developed relationships with these women. We nursed our babies together. We pumped water at the well together. We experienced new life together—and the sadness of life lost too soon.

Life there was hard. Experiencing life, motherhood and womanhood in that village was an experience that shaped me and my view of Africa significantly.

After three years we moved back to the states for six years before moving to Nairobi, Kenya. As expats in Nairobi we lived the life opposite of village life and met entirely new groups of people. We had a gardener, twenty-four hour security guards, housekeepers, and our kids went to an international school.

In that time we got to know our staff and their families, I saw how hard they work and learned their views on political happenings. I learned to see things from their point of view—where guards are working from 6am to 6pm and are happy to have that job. They don’t want people to give them money, they want jobs, they want investment in their country, they want a way to take care of their kids.

Those two drastically different lives have given us a new perspective of Africa from when we first moved there. We got to know people and live life with people on all levels—from women in poor villages to expats. Those real encounters moved me from thinking I can go to Africa and save them, to a more authentic, relationship-based view. They gave me a new heart for engaging, learning and contributing.

I see the huge potential of people: educated, empowered, passionate and actively engaged in their country.

There is so much to learn about a country and its people. If we start from a position of learning, we are in a much better, more authentic, nuanced and informed position. Our lives become focused on real people rather than quick-fixes. Through my experiences I’ve discovered local businesses that truly make a difference; businesses that provide sustainable employment, responsible development, and promote culture. More and more, this is one area where we feel called to engage.

For example, Amani Ya Juu is a great fair trade sewing and economic development program for marginalized women in Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, and Liberi. They emphasize ethical business practices and harmonious relationships among various people groups and religions. Their products create sustainable incomes for women to help support their families.

Another great way to invest in Africa is through Socially Responsible Safaris. Tourism is one of the fastest growing aspects of the global economy and ecotourism, when done well and responsibly, can have a significant positive impact on a country. Socially Responsible Safaris bring positive economic benefits to local communities, involve environmentally sensitive accommodations, off-set carbon emissions, and generate meaningful relationships with host communities, schools and orphanages along the route.

Socially Responsible Safaris allows visitors to get a small glimpse of many aspects of Africa – poor people and wealthy people, incredible natural wonders and beautiful culture. These are the experiences that teach us we don’t go to Africa to fix things, but to learn how to engage with what is already going on there.

Americans often feel like we have to start our own organizations on our own terms, but there are already so many good things going on.

I don’t live in Africa anymore but I recently took a group of women to Kenya and Ethiopia to share my experiences with them. I wanted to take people who wouldn’t go on their own, to go on more than a tour and more than a mission trip. We visited women’s projects, prayer groups, sewing groups, and microfinance groups. Women have a unique ability to relate to each other even when they have diverse backgrounds and everyone came back with a new perspective and new experiences.

This type of experience is what I feel like I can offer. I can show people the country, make connections, facilitate a brief education, help them learn what they can do, and give them handles for deepening their engagement.

As much as I want to stay home and bake cookies, I know I’m called to more than that right now. For now I want to help lead people toward another way of engaging with Africa.

Charles Marsh on Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer


Photo Credit: Gudron Senger

Charles Marsh is the Commonwealth Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia and director of the Project on Lived Theology. His latest book is Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and he is the author of seven previous books, including the memoir The Last Days, and God’s Long Summer: Stories of Faith and Civil Rights, which won the 1998 Grawemeyer Award in Religion.  He was a recipient of the 2009 John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in the Creative Arts and named the 2010 Ellen Maria Gorrissen Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin.  He has also served as the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Visiting Professsor at Humboldt University in Berlin. He lives with his family in Charlottesville, Virginia.

KW: There have been several biographies of Bonhoeffer, including the first by his friend and student Eberhard Bethge and one more recently by journalist Eric Metaxas. What made you feel the need to spend so many years to produce a new one? What sets this biography apart from the others?

CM: I’m pleased that Eric Metaxas has inspired such a spirited and intense conversation on Bonhoeffer’s life and legacy. Nevertheless, I wanted to tell the story afresh, as that of a deeply human figure and not merely just a saintly one, and to do so relying primarily on new archival discoveries, as well as interviews and primary documents. In fact, while I was working on my “Strange Glory”, I took all the Bonhoeffer biographies in my library and hid them in the basement. I did this so I could re-imagine the narrative arc, which was my main concern. The arc, the plot and the cast of characters in Metaxas’s biography all rely on Eberhard Bethge’s magisterial 1969 landmark biography. And this has been the case with all other Bonhoeffer biographies. I felt it was time to wrestle Bonhoeffer free of his best friend’s protective grasp, to re-examine all his relationships and his actions.

My colleague Victoria Barnett, who is the director of the Committee on Ethics, Religion, and the Holocaust at the U. S. Holocaust Museum in Washington and General Editor of the 16-volume Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, told me many years ago that though she’d spend years of her life translating thousands pages of Bonhoeffer’s writings and read every word he’d ever written, she still really didn’t know who he was. I’ve tried to get at this elusive mystery of character.

KW: In recent years political partisans have tried to claim Bonhoeffer for their own causes. What do you make of that?

CM: The attempt to squeeze Bonhoeffer into our ideological box of choice does a grave disservice to his legacy. Bonhoeffer’s life and thought exhibit above all an uncommon generosity and openness to the world. His more popular works make biblical faith intelligible to believers and nonbelievers alike—The Cost of Discipleship, Life Together, books written amidst the chaos and fury of the Kirchenkampf—and do so without reducing complex ideas to clichés or pious talking points. No other Christian thinker crosses quite so many boundaries while yet remaining exuberantly—and one must always add—generously Christian. This is why his has story has attracted both liberals and evangelicals, Catholics and Protestants, Christians and Jews, church-goers and secularists alike. What all admire is Bonhoeffer’s indisputably authentic witness. But it’s human nature to imagine that someone we admire but see everything just as we do, and that has certainly happened with Bonhoeffer.

KW: In 1934, Bonhoffer called himself a pacifist. But by 1940, he had joined the conspiracy against Hitler, conferring God’s blessings on tyrannicide. What changed his mind?

CM: His brother in law, the conspirator Hans von Dohnanyi, used his position at the Ministry of Justice to obtain the Nazi confidential records and compile a “Chronicle of Shame,” a day-by-day listing of war crimes, military plans, and genocidal actions and policies, the full realization of which made clear to Bonhoeffer that his principled commitment to pacifism must yield under these extreme circumstances to actions intended to “kill the madman”, Hitler. Still, he understood the gravity of taking a life, even that of a brutal tyrant. His decision most certainly also involved a “sin and sin boldly” proposition, risked in fear and trembling, and in hope of forgiveness.

KW: Bonhoeffer’s first visit to America in 1930-1931, to study at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, was not one he embarked upon with great enthusiasm. He even considered his visit to America as “one more jaunt in his privileged life.” But . . . it was his first exposure to the authenticity and vitality of the worship experiences he witnessed in the African American churches that changed all of this, and proved to be a great turning point in his faith. What was the significance of these encounters?

CM: This was singularly transformative period for Bonhoeffer, this year as a visiting student at Union Theological Seminary in New York. When he arrived in Manhattan he was a straight-arrow academically ambitious twenty-four year old assistant professor with two doctoral dissertations under his belt. The trip was really a lark for him, something to pass his time. But when he left New York ten months later, he possessed a bold new understanding of his vocation as pastor and theologian. “It was the problem of concreteness that concerns me now,” he wrote. What happened?

In America he journeyed into new regions of experience: into the tenement buildings of New York, into the Harlem Renaissance, into the Deep South weeks after the Scottsboro Boys went to trial, and into a six month immersion in the black church. He engaged the National Women’s Trade Union League and the Workers Education Bureau of America; wrote notes on the labor movement, poverty, homelessness, crime, and the social mission of the churches. He met with officials from the American Civil Liberties Union, the nation’s premier defender of civil liberties which after its founding in 1920 had focused heavily on the rights of conscientious objectors and on the protection of resident aliens from deportation. And in the spring of 1931, he and a graduate student from Calais, France–who would later take part in the French Resistance –took a road trip together that carried them through the heart of Jim Crow South.

In these unfamiliar regions, among a nearly forgotten generation of American radicals and reformers, he found the courage reexamine every aspect of his vocation as theologian and pastor and to embark upon what he would call “the turning from the phraseological to the real”.

KW: Yet he remained critical of Christianity in America? Could you say a word about this?

CM: Suffice it to say, he was underwhelmed by what he experienced as the lack of intellectual seriousness among American Protestants. “Is this a theological school or a training center for politicians?” Bonhoeffer asked Reinhold Niebuhr after a class at Union Theological Seminary. But despite his numerous grumblings over American Christianity, it is undeniable that Bonhoeffer was moved and inspired by the social theology of Reinhold Niebuhr and company, by theologians who engaged the social order with civil courage and ultimate honesty—who insisted that the enterprise of theology required maximum attention to race, politics, literature, social justice, citizenship and the complex realities of the day. He would never again consider theology to be an activity confined to the academy, but part of the lived life in Christ.

KW: What’s the most surprising thing you learned about Bonhoeffer during your research?

CM: That Bonhoeffer’s most provocative insights lie not in the answers he gave on matters of faith and doubt in the modern age, but in his courage to ask to ask the difficult questions; “Who is Christ for us today?”, “Are we still of any use?” “What is religionless Christianity?”, “Who am I?”

KW: “Religionless Christianity” has caused always stirred controversy. What did he mean by it?

CM: Karl Barth, the theologian who influenced Bonhoeffer more than any other, had flummoxed his liberal Protestant contemporaries by claiming—as he put it bluntly—that “Jesus has nothing to do with religion.” Bonhoeffer’s late, fragmentary mediations on “religionless Christianity” trades, in some measure, on this rather forthright evangelical conviction; that religion is based on humanity’s search for God, but Christianity begins with God’s reaching out to humankind. So “religionless Christianity” means relationship with God without the entrapments of religion.

Nonetheless, it is undeniable that aspects of Bonhoeffer late meditations move in new and quite daring directions. “I am living, and can live, for days without the Bible,” he said. But when he opened his Bible again after an absence, he could hear and experience the “new and delightful . . . as never before.” “Authenticity, life, freedom, and mercy” had acquired a new significance for him. A worldliness heretofore unknown was unexpectedly refreshing his spiritual being, and with it he felt a growing aversion to all things “religious.” What a glorious discovery, the vast new spiritual energies he was feeling! It was an impulse to let things take their own course and try his best not to resist. It was his first intimation of spirituality outside the church.

KW: What else struck you?

CM: On a more mundane level, I was surprised to discover the extent of his sartorial refinement—he kept a detailed account of his wardrobe and went to quite extraordinary lengths to ensure that his friend Eberhard, the son of a country parson, was similarly furnished with the best dress shirts, ties, suits, furs, and outfits for special occasions. This—and other earthy details—added color to the story; not even the great Protestant martyr could have too many pairs of shoes.

KW: What would you ultimately like readers to take away from your book?

CM: Above all, I want the reader to be swept up into an engaging and vivid narrative that follows the journey of this golden child of the Berlin Grunewald as he struggles under the impress of horrific historical events to see clearly, to act courageously and the live life to the fullest. I want the story to inspire and move, delight and surprise, but to appear finally as an artful telling of a beautiful and righteous life.

Knowing God Part IV: Worship and the Idol of Pain

A Story of Mud, Protest & Justice

Photo Credit: Peter Burgess, Creative Commons

Guest Post by Kent Annan

The rain roars down. That season has arrived. The rain might as well be tears, drenching hundreds of thousands of people in tents and under tarps [after the earthquake here in Haiti].

I’m back staying with the Woshdlo family [I used to live with] as I check on the rebuilding progress in our nearby schools. The family is all in one home talking and telling stories while waiting out heavy rain. The provisional house is holding. Père, the grandfather, comes and goes in these times. He won’t sit for too long. Having lived on this plot of land for sixty-seven years, he is long past letting rain paralyze him, even if he understands that the rest of his extended family prefers to stay dry.

Eventually he comes to get me. It’s late and everyone is ready to sleep. Though I could find my own way, Père wants to escort me to the little room in the provisional tin house where I’ll sleep.

We slog together through mud and water at least a foot deep. It’s slippery, so I lose and then retrieve a flip-flop a few times. Occasional lightning makes the path clear. We arrive at the little porch of the house and I’m getting ready to go in when Père stoops down to where he had put a bucket of water. Suddenly my foot is cradled in his hand and he’s gently washing off the mud.

I protest. No, I’ll do it. No, please don’t, Père. But there’s something holy about it. Of course I think of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet and their protesting. I’m humbled to silence. Père isn’t doing this because he’s subservient or feels like he has to. For more than seven years I’ve watched his humility, generosity and kindness.

The fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22 have seemed too soft and too reinforcing of the status quo to me since realizing what the world is like. “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” is a great list, but not enough. It should also include, based on other parts of the Bible, “risky compassion, discomfort with the comfortable, defiance in the face of injustice.” Read in a middle-class church, the original list can just strengthen self-satisfaction and complacency. Sure, it’s not easy to be all those things in your marriage or with colleagues or neighbors, but it’s a lot easier than giving up what I have to engage with people who are poor or challenging the very systems that help make life good for my family. The fruit of the Spirit—the fruit of being shaped to be more like Jesus—has to be more revolutionary.

I think about how I’m supposed to follow Jesus to love more—but then of course here I am, humbled and being loved far more than I can love. In thirty years, when I’m Père’s age, I hope I’ve become a little of the man he is. I look up to him in every way. I balance now on my clean foot just inside the doorway as he washes the mud covering my other foot.

He is full of dignity, confidence, stubbornness. He gets angry and yells at himself or just in general or occasionally at the grandkids when they’re disobedient—but always still with a twinkle in his eye.

I don’t want my soul shaped by the market or the latest technology or pride. I don’t want my ambition or my fears to shape me. I want to make a difference and support the right causes, but they’re not enough either.

Let the philosophers and scientists and skeptics mock; even though I’d like to be more sophisticated—and it is more complex than this— I’ll just say what’s true as I’m here in the rain with Père: I believe in Jesus in part because Père believes. And I even believe in that revolutionary kingdom that Jesus says has come and is coming in and around us.

The same was true many a morning at 5 a.m., when only the roosters and Père were awake and I laid in bed in this house listening for an hour as Père prayed to God, asking for his provision (even for me and my family) but mostly thanking God in prayer and in song.

On Love and Atheism


Photo Credit: JM Scott, Creative Commons

I was recently asked whether love was something atheists could actually have in their evolutionary worldview. If so, what would it be and how could they account for its existence?

Atheists can believe in love as part of conscious thought and something they think developed through evolution as a survival instinct to do with the herd, the collective and group behavior. In other words, it is one of the virtues that emerged over time through the survival value it conveyed.

Or if you’re an extreme atheist and deny free will, then you may attribute love to more animalistic drives, responses, inputs and outputs etc.

From a Christian standpoint, however, love is love whether it is from a Christian or an atheist.

The Christian believes people were created in the “image of God” (the Imago Dei) and thus are capable of love even if they are apart from God or don’t believe in God. It is a potential that exists for all people because of how we were created. Love, therefore, is a part of what is called natural grace, which means common to all men, rather than special grace, which refers to the things we believe are common only to followers of Christ.

The Christian teaching is that a relationship with God in Christ allows us to experience true love, find greater motivation for love, and grow into the ability to love in more sacrificial ways than we would without God.

In other words, love begets love and grace begets grace.  We literally love because God first loved us.

This doesn’t mean that all people who call themselves Christians are loving and that people who are not Christians are unloving. In fact, Jesus’s parable of the Good Samaritan uses an outsider as the example, the one who demonstrates love, contrary to the insiders who don’t demonstrate love.

Love is a virtue.  It is common to all men and women and we all have the potential of being loving.  Our relationship with Christ is something that, in addition to other things, should grow our virtues, inform our virtues and motivate our virtues.

Another way of putting it: since Christians are given commands by God and atheists deny any kind of higher authority – there is no excuse for a Christian without love while there is no necessary reason for an atheist to love.

This is an ethical statement and not a statement of fact. It is about the logically necessary duties or obligations of Christians and Atheists within the respective ethical and moral systems of each worldview – not whether a certain Christian or atheist can or does have sacrificial love.

Todd Deatherage on Emphasizing Human Dignity in Conflict

How do we emphasize human dignity within conflict? from :redux on Vimeo.

A Plurality of Voices

Photo Credit: Gilberto Agostinho, Creative Commons

Guest Post by Luke Suciu

As a youth pastor I frequently get asked by parents, “What are some issues the students are dealing with in their faith?” and while I am convinced that the removal of obstacles does not equal the presence of faith, I believe the question is a good one. My dad is a pastor, and he always jokes with me that when he was in seminary he was told he only needed to know two things to be a pastor: his position on divorce and remarriage and whether he was going to use the NIV or KJV. Now the humor (or ignorance depending on which angle you look at it) of the position of the Christian seminary in the ‘80s is stunning and if we never ask ourselves the question “What are the new issues?” we are left with an aggressively mediocre approach towards things that can get in the way of faith. With that assertion, that we should be frequently reexamining the issues that our faith encounters, the rest of this blog post will be dedicated to what I believe to be the biggest obstacle to faith in the lives of middle and high school students: an early exposure to a plurality of voices.

Young people are exposed to more voices earlier in their life than ever before. We live in a world where there is a constant stream of people screaming advice. There is always another TED talk to listen to and another blog to read (the irony that I am currently adding to the cacophony of screaming heads is not lost on me) and they all speak as if they have the absolute authority of a medieval monarch. “7 Things That Will Fix Your Depression.” “The 3 Practices That Will GUARANTEE College Acceptance Letters.” “Why Vassals Shouldn’t Have Rights.” Okay maybe I made the last one up, but you get the idea. Scroll through your Facebook feed and keep track of how many status updates and posts are offering the mystical piece of advice to cure every problem you currently have. It never ends. Life has been reduced to a deluge of advice where everyone is a self appointed prophet. Conclusions about difficult issues are constantly asserted as if years of research and depth of thought are backing the conclusion. Ken Wytsma has already dealt with some of these issues in a post he wrote for the Huffington Post titled Are We Talking Too Fast? and while this is not a specifically generational issue I believe this reality has had a profound impact on young people.

Most young people do not have the developed sense of skepticism that the adult world seems to ingrain into the very fabric of existence. There is something beautiful about this naivety, about the ease of belief that comes with youth. It reminds me of the film “The Invention of Lying” where everyone in the world has no ability to lie. Until one man figures out how to lie and everyone believes everything he says simply because they have no reason to doubt anyone who makes any positive statement. Now indulge me for a moment and attempt to imagine the reverse situation: everyone can lie except one person, who uncritically believes what everyone else says. Now give that person internet access, let them watch the evening news, or listen to a few politicians debate. What would they walk away with? This is hyperbole but only slightly (in all fairness this post is dedicated to adolescents and most young people do not watch political debates, but they do watch the Disney channel and in my mind it is generally a toss up as to which medium will produce more blatant lies). We hand our teenagers smart phones, with outright access to the entire sordid history of human thought, and then wonder why they are rebellious or how they developed a self-refuting worldview. Most thirteen year-olds have not developed the ability to discern which people, which blogs, and which videos are credible; it is all just a giant wash of suggestions to be accepted and attempted. As much as I love Google that is not where I want my middle school students to turn when they have questions about sexuality, truth, or why their friends cut themselves. The pluralities of voices are all given equal weight with devastating results.

Before I go any further: I am not advocating for absolute isolationism of children until they turn eighteen when we throw them to the wolves with a handshake and an un-encouraging “Good luck.” Rather, that we as people of faith have bought into a culture that is systematically providing wrong answers and it is time to reconsider the absolute access to the world that we give to young people. 

I am also not advocating that anyone should exclusively read or listen to people that they agree with across the board. Rather, that handing your ten-year-old “Mein Kampf” (which is rather mild in comparison to many things you can find on the internet) in the interest of exposure could be a bad idea for someone of that age. 

The question then remains: What are we to do about this new obstacle our culture presents to the faith of young people? We are not going to be able to reverse the totality of western culture, and even the most careful parents will not be able to make sure that their child never hears from an erroneous voice. There are times when this battle can feel like we are standing underneath a waterfall asking it all to go back up. Is there more of an answer than simply “Try to be careful what you children watch, read, and listen to?” I am by no means an expert on parenting or young people and this is a far more complex question than my two simple suggestions are going to solve, so all I can offer is a starting point from what I have learned in my experience as a youth pastor.

If you are a parent do not simply teach your children the decisions you have already made: teach them how to make decisions. Give them the tools to equip themselves to be discerning people. Our world will present new problems and if we make all the decisions for them eventually they will be left knowing their position on divorce and remarriage and NIV or KJV but nothing else. Before children are given unmitigated access to the world give them the ability to differentiate the good from the bad.

If your child is older and has already been given access to too many voices too early they generally respond in one of two ways: I) accepting everything they hear (truth is relative) or II) rejecting every voice trying to speak into their lives (becoming their own arbiter of truth). In either case the parental response is the same: speak truth and be consistent. No child who has grown up in the overly saturated advertisement world is going to be tricked into thinking faith is cool enough. Faith cannot be cosmetically fixed to look more attractive, simply speak truth and be consistent.

Parenting will never be easy and faith is never guaranteed. If you are a parent trying to help develop faith in your adolescent I beg you to continue the through the difficult journey (as someone who had two godly parents I can promise you it makes a difference). Be careful what voices you allow to speak into the life of your child, teach them how to make decisions, speak truth,  and be consistent.

When Immigration Takes a Human Face

Guest Post by Jon Huckins

I recently looked out my front door and saw a woman sitting on the stairs of my patio. She was out of breath, sweaty and had a large basket next to her full of cans and plastic bottles to be recycled. She looked desperately in need of some rest and refreshment. I’m pretty good at ignoring people in need (sadly), but when they come to your physical doorstep, I couldn’t imagine not stepping outside to check on this woman.

Opening our front door, she looked up at me with a bit of concern on her face thinking I might ask her to get off my patio. To calm her nerves, I simply sat down on the steps next to her and we exchanged warm smiles. Because she offered me a greeting in Spanish, I quickly realized she didn’t speak much English and I gave my best shot at speaking in Spanish. Over the next 10 minutes, we simply sat on my patio overlooking the main street of our neighborhood that runs in front of my house. Sometimes we talked, sometimes we just sat in comfortable silence. Her name was Conchetta. Finally, I asked if I could get her some food and a cold drink and she quickly said, “yes.”

After taking in some needed nourishment, Conchetta, offered me a warm smile filled with the richness of humanity and gratitude, and leisurely went back to work assembling the best of our neighborhoods “trash” so she could bring some life to her family.

Our faith community has spent a lot of time over the years becoming students of our neighborhood. As a result, we discovered that roughly 60% of our neighborhoods’ residents are Latino (most are Mexican because of our proximity to the border) and a high percentage of those are undocumented. In fact, it’s a safe assumption that my new friend, Conchetta, is undocumented.

As the “immigration issue” continues to be discussed in our country, for me, it is becoming much less of a political talking point and much more about genuine, human relationship. They are my friends. They are my neighbors. They are humans beings who live with the same needs, desires and aspirations as the rest of us. They have kids, grandkids, parents, brothers and sisters. They are children of a God who reigns over a global kingdom. A kingdom that was inaugurated in a Jesus who spent his life crossing borders to tangibly love the outsider and remind them of their sacred identity as sons and daughters of the Father and citizens of his kingdom. In the context of relationship, like I now have with Conchetta, “they” become “us.”

Obeying the greatest commandments of loving God and neighbor leaves my faith community and me with no choice but to pursue this issue with radical love and moral obligation. This isn’t yet another political debate to be waged in such a way that widens the partisan divide. It is a human reality with human implications that the Jesus Community must be waging peace right in the middle of.

May we walk with our friends — whether immigrants, ex-convicts, orphans, etc. — out of the shadows and into our homes, around our tables and begin co-creating a better future in the neighborhoods, cities and world in which we have each been entrusted.

Here are a few suggestions of things you can do to get involved:

1. Build friendships. Friendship not only humanizes issues, it moves us to action.

2. The Evangelical Immigration Table is a great organization that offers resources, spiritual disciplines and tangible actions around a biblical view of immigration.

3. Walk with your immigrant friends towards citizenship. There are courses we can take (offered by World Relief) that give us the credentials to offer immigration counseling that is desperately needed by those seeking citizenship.

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