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Why I Think Doubt is Necessary

Photo Credit: Dru, Creative Commons

Faith isn’t destroyed or diminished by doubt. The opposite is true: faith is the answer to doubt.

When you are in the desert and are dying of thirst, collapsing in the sand won’t take you to water. When you are drowning in the ocean, becoming motionless won’t save your life. Why when we are doubting do we often believe that bringing our Christian walk to a halt will provide us with answers? We get hung up by our doubt, refusing to move forward until we have answers.

Sometimes we inadvertently or even deliberately hit the brakes to create distance between us and God. That’s why turning to sin in the midst of doubt is such a bad idea. The progression often goes like this: we get hurt and say something like, “I am really struggling with my faith. I need a break from church for a while.” Usually that also means a break from prayer, a break from the Bible, and a general break from our Christian community and even our moral code.

But if we were to be honest and say what’s really going on, it might sound more like, “I’m not sure God exists or loves me. So I’m going to isolate myself from Him, His Word, and all the people I know who believe in Him. Instead, I’ll turn to the things I know will give me satisfaction and pleasure until I feel happy enough to believe in God again.”

How can we expect to find God by deliberately pushing Him away?

We all understand that cheating on your spouse isn’t going to solve marital problems. It may bring satisfaction for a while, but it certainly won’t fix any problems. Instead, it will most likely be catalytic in the ultimate destruction of the marriage. Our relationship with God is no different.

Throughout Scripture, God never challenges whether doubt should exist. It is the one point of unity between us and God—the recognition that we struggle with faith, belief, and trust. Where we differ from God is what we think should follow doubt. We think the burden rests on God to erase our doubt. God knows that the burden rests on us to continue to trust and wait on Him, even in our doubt.

Our programmed response to confusion is doubt, while the Psalms teach us to respond to confusion with faith. We think doubt demands an answer. God thinks doubt demands faith.

We look at doubt and think it needs an urgent resolution. God looks at doubt and thinks we need patience and endurance.

It could be said that when we think doubt is the problem between us and God, the reality is that an absence of faith or trust might be the real problem.

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


Here’s a brief discussion about doubt that I had with Tony “The Beat Poet” Kriz in his Off the Highway blog series.

Living Justly: An Interview with Jason Fileta

Micah Challenge is a global Christian campaign to end extreme poverty. Inspired by scripture, guided by the Holy Spirit, and covered in prayer they advocate for a more just world. Extreme poverty and hunger will not be overcome by securing more food, but by securing more justice. It is for this reason that they engage in transformational advocacy, which is the process of challenging ourselves and our leaders to change behavior, policies, and attitudes that perpetuate injustice and deny God’s will for all creation to flourish. They recently released a book called Live Justly to encourage the church in this endeavor. Their Director, Jason Fileta (@fileta), discusses the organization and their book in the interview below.

KW: What is the inspiration behind Micah Challenge and the book Live Justly?

JF: Micah Challenge was born out of a desire to see justice permeate the structures and systems of society that impact the most marginalized communities.  Micah Challenge was launched by Rene Padilla, the Argentinian theologian, alongside of christian leaders, pastors, and community developers in the Global South. After decades of Kingdom minded community development their was a keen sense that the decisions made in the halls of power, often in the Global North, impact the very villages and communities they live and work in. Simultaneously, there was a sense that as evangelicals we had largely lost the sense that living justly was central to discipleship. So, Micah Challenge was launched to hold the most powerful to the interests of the vulnerable through advocacy, and to come alongside the church and disciple people towards living justly.

Live Justly, the book, emerged 9 years into our work.  We had seen justice become somewhat of fad, and too often simply an “action a year”. Our desire was to uncover the biblical concept of justice, and inspire people to actually LIVE justly.

KW: How would you summarize your beliefs and philosophy about living justly?

JF: Living justly can at times feel like a burden, or set of rules, rather than a part of being a disciple. By anchoring our desire to pursue and live justly as a response to who God is, and what God wants for our world, there was much freedom. Being an active citizen and advocating to my leaders for justice became an act of worship, not duty. Buying fair trade became not a chore, but an act of defiance to an unjust system that grieves God, and an act of proclamation that there is a better way. Living justly must come out of of a posture of worship–otherwise, these lifestyle choices so easily become a set of rules and regulations that create what I call “Justice pharisees”….you know the type. The freedom to let every aspect of our lives reflect our kingdom priorities as an act of worship—from our purchase to our prayers is the core of living justly. It brings us closer to God. It helps us testify to who God is in a broken world, and it unifies our passion to follow Jesus with our passion for justice.

KW: What are some of the biggest obstacles you find about moving from caring about justice, to actually living justly?

JF: The biggest obstacle encountered is that living justly is by it’s very nature counter cultural. Our lives are sustained by the oppression of others. This is a fact, one that is deeply troubling, but is also very hard to see. The dominant American culture does not lead us to consider the person who sewed our clothes, or who is fleeing from a war we started as our neighbors. Too often we let this dominant culture influence our finances and even our prayers! Once we become aware or how counterculture living justly can be, the cost is often too great. This is why Live Justly is so focused on the things we already do, and infusing those decisions with Kingdom values. We all buy food, pray (I hope), have relationships, etc. By beginning to infuse these actions with God’s values and justice we see change–in ourselves and in our world. This gives us the courage to take some of the bigger, scarier steps towards living justly.

KW: Are there a few practical tips you can offer to help on this journey?

JF: Take on the journey prayerfully. It’s not an easy study. It will force you to really look at your life, your decisions, and convict you in different ways. Incorporating daily prayer is crucial as you work through what it is that God is trying to show you through the ten sessions. We absolutely believe that justice is part of the very nature of God, so a deep, personal encounters with God are critical for this journey.

It’s also important to take this journey as a community. We believe that we cannot live justly without seeking authentic community, and we have group questions for discussion and activities particularly so you can process as a part of a community. It’s not that you can’t do this study on your own, you certainly can, but it helps to have a group of justice-driven people around you going through the same information and life changes. Many hands and many voices are what will change systems and structures that are unjust, and authentic community is essential to keep us all on a just pathway.

Finally, don’t let other people tell you how you should be experiencing Live Justly. While we want you to do this within community, we strongly believe that it is the Holy Spirit who convicts. God may speak through others, but really pray about the action and decisions you want to make regarding what you’re learning in Live Justly, and don’t let the convictions or decisions of others define how you respond to the study.

KW: How did you decide to focus in on the 6 topics of Advocacy, Prayer, Generosity, Consumption, Relationships & Creation?

JF: We wanted to engage people in practical ways. These 6 topics are biblically based and represent a different facet of life in which we make daily decisions. The symbol of Live Justly has a circle around it, and that was very purposeful. The circle represents the holistic nature of living justly. If we are incredible advocates, but do so at the expense of our personal relationships, then the circle is broken. If we are compassionate to the impoverished, but fail to challenge unjust structures that cause their oppression then too, the circle is broken. The circle represents a holistic, unified lifestyle of justice within the 6 areas explored in the study.

KW: Can you give an example of how you address each of these different topics?

JF: We address each topic in a way that is practical and can inspire action. For advocacy we challenge the reader to look at how our policies here in the United States affect people around the world. We then give the reader the tools to take action to support good U.S. programs and policies. With prayer we explore the power prayer holds and seek to inspire intercessory prayer for big issues. Consumption and generosity specifically look at how and where we’re spending our money. Every dollar you spend is a vote for the kind of world you want, so our values should be reflected in our spending. Therefore we should be giving more, consuming less, and when we consume we should ensure our purchases are ethical ones.

Authentic relationships are at the heart of living justly, so we need to ensure our relationships with our family and friends reflect this. We also need to realize that we can’t truly help the impoverished if we do not know them, so we should make sure we give ourselves opportunities to get to know those most in need in our communities. Lastly, God has given us the task to take care of his creation, and we have not historically done a great job at that. As Christians we need to ensure we’re taking creation care seriously and incorporate practical things like recycling and taking public transportation when we can. They’re small changes that can have a huge impact.

KW: What has encouraged you most since live justly has been released?

JF: I’ve been most encouraged and excited about the amount of energy and unity I see forming around the study. In the NGO world there have often been massive walls between those of use doing advocacy, community development, and direct service. Live Justly seems to be breaking down some of the walls because organizations for from each of these sectors are eager to use the study with their supporters. My prayer is that we can continue to see a unification around pursuing God’s Kingdom and his justice rather than our own kingdoms. The Christian NGO world has a lot to learn about living justly in relationship to one another, and I hope Live Justly can help bring more unity.

KW: What has surprised you most about the response to the book?

JF: I’ve been most surprised by the international interest in Live Justly. I wrote this book for a US audience because that is who Micah Challenge USA is working with, but we’ve sold books in 10 different countries. A church in Belfast Ireland went through the study as an entire church this past summer, 2,000 Nigerian youth are going through the study this summer as part of a mobilization effort to seek peace and environmental protection in Nigeria, and schools in both india and the dominican republic have lead students through the study. I’m amazed at the hunger the church has to be challenged, to live authentically, and to see justice done!

Kilns College Spring Banquet

Anyone who knows me knows how excited I am about Kilns College these days. There are a lot of cool things coming up that are fun to think about and talk about. The annual Kilns College Spring Banquet is one of those times when I get to share my excitement and the vision for the college. If you live in the Northwest and would consider coming, check out the invite below or click here to get more info and register. If you don’t live in the nearby, we’d love for you to consider making a donation toward our work or joining one of our graduate programs. Feel free to email us if you’d like to get more information.

In the Name of Love

Guest Post by Peter Heltzel

U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday” was my High School anthem in Mississippi in 1984. Playing it loud at pep rallies, it incited our school spirit, but there was something revelatory about the song; it unveiled a dark undertow of human discord and suffering that we could relate to, especially my African American friends. With the driving momentum of a military march, Bono’s clarion call protested British troops shooting 26 unarmed civil rights protesters in Derry, Northern Ireland on January 30, 1972. America’s Bloody Sunday was in the deep South, down in Selma, Alabama on Sunday March 7, 1965, when hundreds of men and women, black and white, walked resolutely over the Edmund Pettus Bridge to meet a phalanx of Alabama State Police and Selma law enforcement under the command of Sheriff James Clark.

In a storm cloud of tear gas, the marchers were brutally beaten back with billy clubs. A man bashed in the head, a woman thrown to the pavement, black bodies strewn across the bridge, the blood of the martyrs flowed into the Alabama River crying out about racial injustice in the South. Named after Senator Edmund Winston Pettus, a former Confederate Brigadier General and Grand Dragon of the Alabama KKK, the Pettus Bridge traversed the chasm of our country’s racial divide. Courageous and committed mother Viola Lee led the march for her son Jimmie Lee Johnson, murdered by Officer James Bonard Fowler while participating in a peaceful voting rights march, unarmed, in Marion, Alabama on February 18, 1965. Viola wanted to march her son’s brutalized body to the State Capital in Montgomery to awaken the conscience of the nation, but James Bevel, Director of the SCLC Selma Voting Rights Campaign, persuaded her that focusing the march on Voting Rights would be more strategic.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led the march in Selma, joined by a growing group of student activists like my colleague Rev. Eleanor Moody-Shepherd, an African American student at Alabama State University, who joined the 5 day, 54 mile march down Route 80 to Montgomery. The march inspired President Lyndon Johnson to sign the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965, and while we celebrate that legislative victory, the work of justice and the fight to register people of color to vote continues.

The first week of April I take our New York Theological Seminary students down to Selma for an intensive course called “Going Home: Southern Religion and the Civil Rights Movement.” We walk the freedom trails from pain to promise—together, seeking to bridge the black-white divide. I’m always shocked at Selma’s Voting Rights Museum by a video of Sheriff James Clark who, when asked if he had any regrets about the police brutality of that bloody day, shows no remorse, stating he was following the laws of the Constitution of Alabama to use force when necessary to subdue the citizenry. Like many white people, Sheriff Clark simply does not get it. Race matters in America. In 2014 at least 56 unarmed black people were killed by police officers, more than all the other races combined.

As an anti-racist/pro-reconciliation Minister in New York City from Vicksburg, Mississippi, I renounce the sin of racism, committing myself to following black leadership in the #blacklivesmatter movement as we continue to advocate for legislation to end racial profiling, demilitarize our police and establish a real living wage for all. While violence begets violence, Dr. King argues, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.” Given the racial strife in America, we need the strength to love as we struggle for justice and strive for reconciliation. “Early morning, April four, Shot rings out in the Memphis sky, Free at last, they took your life, They could not take your pride,” sings Bono in another U2 classic “In the Name of Love.” From Selma to Syria, Derry to Donbass, a growing group of ordinary citizens are rising up in the name of love to end the violence. We will keep meeting. We will keep marching. We will keep moving until we see “justice roll like a river and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).

I Think I Hate Reading the Bible (Please Don’t Tell Anyone!)

Photo Credit: Olga Caprotti, Creative Commons

Guest Post by Ben Larson

I’ve been reading the bible almost every day since I was very young (with the exception of three or four years of doing my own thing in college). Sometimes I read a lot; sometimes I only read a verse or two, but I try to maintain the discipline of cracking it open for at least a minute or two every day.

And I’m going to be a little vulnerable here: sometimes it really feels like a discipline.

I’ve often felt insecure talking to Christians that are in a season in which they love reading the bible. They’re learning something earth-shattering with every word, jumping around between twenty different bible studies, and talking about what they’re reading with everyone they meet. My experience with bible reading often leaves me feeling a little less enthusiastic, and I sometimes feel like an outsider or somehow “lesser” than people that are really into it.

And don’t get me wrong: I love reading! I’m almost always in the middle of reading between three or four books. In fact, sometimes reading other books helps fuel me for bible reading. When I was in my teens, my bible was a KJV bible (written in the 1600s), so I would warm up for reading it by reading Shakespeare…it was easier to understand the Elizabethan English of the KJV if I preceded it with a few intriguing scenes from Romeo and Juliet or Macbeth. Now I spend around an hour reading every night before I go to sleep – after about two minutes of reading the bible.

Maybe bible reading has become more tedious for me because I’ve been reading it every day for the last twenty years. But whatever the reason, sometimes I just really don’t feel like reading scripture. Which makes me feel like a lousy Christian.

I know spiritual discipline isn’t about legalistically following God’s rules or feeling lousy about ourselves, so a few times over the years I’ve deliberately taken a break from bible reading, just to get healthy about it again. And I’ve discovered something fascinating: within days I begin to feel disconnected from God, disconnected from my own spirituality, and bitter about the rest of my Christian practice. I start to resent other things that are important to me: church, relationships, serving, prayer, simply loving others.

Even if I’m not learning something transformative every day, the discipline is somehow aligning me spiritually with God in a direct, measurable way. It’s kind of spooky, really. In a way, I would say that bible reading has become the front lines of my spiritual life. When I begin to lose the battle there, I begin to lose my focus on Christ in every other area of my life.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that bible reading isn’t optional. Ezekiel and I are joined at the hip, for better or worse. And, for me, hating something I do every day isn’t an option either. So here are some tricks I’ve developed over the years to grease the gears and make it easier to enter into bible reading and get excited about it:

(1) Buy a new bible. I have mixed feelings about this one, because it’s so American. But at some level, I am a product of my culture, and if having a new bible that’s a little more exciting to read or crack open or toss in the passenger seat on my way to work helps, I’m all for it. Plus I bought a new bible two weeks ago and it’s really helped, so I felt like I had to share.

(2) Read twice a day. Sounds counter-productive, right? But the nice thing about reading twice a day is that I can skip reading once if I’m exhausted or just need a break, and sometimes that’s enough to break the monotony and get me back on track. I’ve been reading right after I wake up and right before I go to bed for years now, and another side affect is that bible reading feels a little more like normal daily life – like brushing my teeth – which has helped it to feel less like an interruption.

(3) Stop. It really is okay to stop reading the bible for a while. I won’t judge you, God won’t hate you, and you can always start reading again. I recommend replacing it with something else that maintains the reading habit unless the reading is the thing you need a break from. Maybe a devotional, a prayer book, a spiritual development book, or even – God forbid – fiction. And whether you replace it with something else or not, I definitely recommend setting a specific time for the break, rather than leaving it open-ended. That’s how you “accidentally” go months or years without reading the bible.

(4) Go to your favorite books. There are a lot of really cool read-the-bible-in-a-year (or even ninety days) programs out there, which can be really helpful if you’re a new Christian or simply desire to develop a holistic picture of the bible. But the downside is that – at least for me – they can make us feel like we’re supposed to be cycling through the entire bible every year. Then I find myself poring over never-ending personnel rosters in Numbers for weeks, ready to set my bible on fire and never open it again.

I do think everyone should be familiar with the whole bible, not just pick their favorite books and camp there, but that doesn’t mean I need to slog through Levitical law every February – especially if bible reading has become difficult or legalistic for me. My go-to books are Ruth, Esther, and the story of Samson in Judges. Whatever biblical books speak your language the most, don’t be ashamed to retreat to them when you’re feeling spiritually dry…in fact, that’s probably when you need them the most.

(5) Do a guided study. Nothing brings bible passages to life faster than understanding more of the history, cultural context, and intention behind them. If you’re a natural scholar, this can actually help a lot. Or it can make bible reading feel like schoolwork, which might be worse. But if it works for you, go for it!

(6) Read with a friend. If you’re an extrovert, bible reading by yourself might feel a little bit like you’ve been locked in a closet until you’ve finished your homework. Meet up with a friend, find a way to talk about and externalize what you’re reading. It might help more than you’d expect!

(7) Switch up the routine. Sometimes the very “routineness” of bible reading becomes the source of tension. Switch to reading at a different time of the day. Or read for longer sessions once a week. There are no rules and no one is watching you, so find a rhythm that works for you.

(8) Be honest. Our spirituality will only be as authentic as we are. Be honest about what you struggle with. Talk to God about it. Talk to other people about it. You’re not the first person who has wondered whether we needed all sixty-six chapters of Isaiah. There’s no sense in pretending it’s easy when it’s not.

The last thing I’d leave you with is a simple reminder that the bible is a gift. God is mysterious, and spirituality is a strange journey sometimes. Even though bible reading can sometimes be tedious, I am truly grateful for the thousands of years of writings from imperfect people like me to illuminate, encourage, and course-correct along the way. I don’t think I could do it on my own.

“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” – Romans 15:4-6

Meet HD Weddel

I can’t remember when I’ve been as excited for something new as I am for the upcoming Master of Arts program in Innovation and Leadership beginning this fall at Kilns College! Not only is the topic relevant, but the new adjunct faculty we get to incorporate is mind-blowing.

If you have been waiting to move to Bend, here’s your excuse.

If you have been waiting to go back to school and get your masters online, here’s your chance.

If you are a teacher, non-profit leader or pastor and are hungry for growing in leadership, creativity and a theology of influence, this is your time.

Look no further than HD Weddel, this past year’s Principal of the Year in Oregon, for reason to sign up now.

HD is currently a consultant for new Public School Administrators across the State of Oregon and was previously the Principal of Bend High School from 2005-2014. He was the Administrator of the year for Bend LaPine Schools and Principal of the Year in the State of Oregon in 2014! Prior to his years in administration, he was a public education teacher for twenty-four years and coached various sports. He also served as the chaplain for Oregon State University football for ten years.

Learn more about the Master of Arts in Innovation & Leadership from Kilns College here.

Want to Hear from God? Slow Down.

A new piece I wrote for RELEVANT Magazine wrestling with some of the ideas brought up in The Grand Paradox was just published. Check out the brief excerpt below and read the rest on their website.


Deadlines. Relational drama. Global injustice. Multiple jobs. Financial stress.

Life is relentlessly difficult and moves insanely fast. The world is changing and evolving every moment and the pressure to keep up, stay current and get ahead can be all consuming.

Can I hear God’s voice above all the noise?

One of the most significant challenges of our rapid culture is the sense of urgency it creates.

Urgency is good for getting things done. A healthy sense of urgency helps us to be focused and productive.

Urgency, however, is less suited for reflection and rest. In many ways, it is at odds with waiting on the Lord, seeking God in silence and solitude, and meditating on Scripture. Urgency has a powerful magnetic pull that can keep us from hearing God.

Read the rest of the article here

On Bamboo, Justice, and Spiritual Disciplines

Guest Post by Dr. Amy Stumpf

Six stalks of bamboo sit on my desk. Three are just regular bamboo stalks that grow straight up. The other three are slightly more expensive “lucky” bamboo stalks that have grown in some decorative shapes.  That bamboo didn’t just randomly grow into an artistically twisted pattern. I suppose that long ago, in its younger days as a bamboo sapling, a bamboo engineer tied the new shoots onto a form. As the shoots grew, the new growth was tied and tethered to the desired form. And now the result is a stalk of bamboo that looks like the form (in my vase, a heart and a spiral) rather than a straight stick. I call this curly bamboo my “spiritual discipline bamboo” because it reminds me of the nature of the spiritual disciplines. If we are to grow, against our nature, into the likeness of Jesus Christ, we have to tie and tether ourselves to His form.  The disciplines are those ties and tethers that hold us to the form of Christ so that we grow away from our natural bend, into Christ’s supernatural bend. The form is Christ; the ties are the disciplines.

As I think about the various “ties” and “tethers” that the Bible teaches, of course the traditional disciplines of prayer, scripture intake, meditation, worship, tithing, service, fasting, come to mind. But I have become increasingly troubled that we have long neglected or categorized as something other, the biblical discipline of justice seeking. When I review the lists of disciplines presented by the “spiritual discipline gurus” like Donald Whitney, Richard Foster, and Dallas Willard, I see nowhere “justice seeking.” I’m sure they would all be in favor, even wildly enthusiastic, about justice. Who doesn’t love justice? And I am not saying that Christians aren’t getting serious about doing the works of justice; in fact, the works of justice seeking are on the rise – I work with college students, and they ALL want to be activists and world changers. But I am saying that we have usually failed to understand justice seeking as a spiritual discipline.

When we do see justice seeking as a spiritual discipline it elevates and enriches our work. A spiritual discipline requires practice, patience, and intentional submission of the discipline to the Holy Spirit so that it becomes transformative and not just sentimental. And most maturing Christians don’t think that the disciplines are optional, or some have the “gift” or “calling” of a discipline, and others are off the hook. No, we think the disciplines are necessary for all followers of Jesus Christ, as a means of bending us into the likeness of Christ. No Christians should look like wild bamboo.

Understanding justice seeking as a spiritual discipline can also help dissipate some of the suspicions that still linger over the issues of justice. Not infrequently I encounter people who are concerned that my enthusiasm about activism may be a mark of liberalism. But when justice seeking is not focused on the “good cause” but a means to focus on the Good Shepherd, then justice seeking can no longer be relegated to some form of radicalism.

Throughout the scriptures, seeking justice is a primary way that God’s people practiced and established their bend toward God. Most every time God is dealing with His people’s spiritual disciplines of prayer, worship, giving, serving, and other disciplines that bent them toward piety, He also strongly connected it with justice seeking; and when they bent away from justice seeking, God said they were falling away from Him (for example, Is. 1:15; Amon 5:21-24).

In a “cool to care” generation where justice seeking is popular, we would do well to remind ourselves that it is not just a fad or justifiable moral indignation; it is an enduring spiritual discipline. Justice seeking transforms our hearts to resemble God’s heart. The disciplines are a means to “train yourself for godliness” (1 Tim 4:7),” and the Bible is clear that seeking justice is a demonstration of God-likeness, exhibiting his character and work of “right making.” The habitual practice of overcoming our own inertia, our own limitations and business, and focusing on the concerns of God, causes us to develop eyes, ears, hands and hearts that look more like Christ’s. We grow a bit more on the “form” because justice seeking is regularly tethering us to that form.

When we see justice seeking as a spiritual discipline rather than a “ministry”, it subtly changes our expectations. We do justice seeking not because that is the best God can do for the world (though, of course, He does use it for the good of the world). We do it because it forms and re-creates us into beings who are more compatible with our God, and who develop a desire to live in a reality that is dominated by His ways. That desire will be fulfilled in heaven. But in the meantime, we do well to fall in love with all that the new creation will be – a community of justice and peace.  As important as outcomes are, especially in freeing those who suffer terribly, we realize that justice seeking is ultimately NOT about outcomes for victims; it is about inward transformation of the seekers. Perhaps this is why Christ insists on using His people for the work. And as a spiritual discipline, justice seeking is a lifetime exercise, not a weekend experience.  You would think me a very poor Christian if I said “Oh, hey, next weekend I am going to pray – isn’t that cool?!” because you would be thinking “Doesn’t she pray every day, even multiple times throughout the day?” And yet I cannot tell you how many times justice seeking is an annual excursion rather than a habitual way of living and loving, of earning and spending.  The disciplines require ongoing attention and regular practice if they are really going to tether us to Christ’s likeness. I don’t suppose my bamboo engineer just tethered the bamboo for a day or two each month, and expected the baby stalk to end up curly.

Clearly as a spiritual discipline, justice seeking requires…DISCIPLINE. Often justice seekers lack discipline. We are drawn to and motivated by the hype, the drama, and sensationalism, but we aren’t quite as convinced that daily study and, heaven forbid, drudgery, be part of the work. Often justice seekers haven’t studied, equipped, practiced, or given their best excellence. We want to show up and be effective. But undisciplined efforts simply will not make a dent against the disciplined expertise of abusers and exploiters, who go to great lengths to develop their skills of abuse and terror.

Categorizing justice seeking as a spiritual discipline also provides a corrective to a bad habit that justice-seekers have – we often think we are RESPONSIBLE for bringing about justice. But God has taken responsibility for that enormous task. Justice seeking as a spiritual discipline rightly puts the responsibility for “getting the job done” right back on God, who has taken responsibility for justice making since that ignoble Fall; and it restores justice seeking to its rightful place, not as “responsible” but as “responsive” to God’s interests and movements.

Often I see justice enthusiasts (and I am one of them, to be sure) using the spiritual disciplines to get ready to do the work of justice, and that is a definite MUST, since it is a direct clash with the powers of darkness. But consider making “justice seeking” one of your intentional daily or weekly spiritual disciplines. How can I seek justice today and tether myself to the form of Christ so that I grow more like Him?  We don’t want to be enthusiastic stalks of bamboo, growing like crazy, but not growing into a form. Justice needs more than our passion, it needs discipline.

Walking with God – Part 1

I don’t post a lot of sermon videos, but when I found myself toward the end of this one wishing my daughters were in there to hear it, I realized it was that good.

Do yourself a favor, watch this one all the way through.

The Just Shall Live By Faith

A common theme in the Old and New Testaments is that “the just shall live by faith.” Why is it that the just person must live by faith?

It is simply this: if we are not looking out for ourselves, then we have to trust that God is looking out for us. If—in following Christ’s call on us to give our lives away on behalf of the voiceless oppressed—we have to put ourselves in places and situations over which we have little or no control, then we have to lean into God’s sovereignty. If God’s direction takes us through unhealthy or dangerous paths, we can only move forward in full reliance upon Him.

It is a paradox—albeit one clearly stated by Jesus Himself and later by His disciple John and His apostle Paul—that the person who wants to find true life must first be willing to lay it down, to die to self. But the blessing in the paradox is this: as we give over control to God, He will look after us.

“The just will live by faith” simply states the obvious: that if I live outside of myself, if I live to give and serve, if I think of others as being as important as myself, if I live for justice—what ought to be—I have to trust that somehow I am going to be taken care of. I have to believe that it truly is better to give than receive, and that God really does watch over and sustain the just.

This is not to say that God’s will for our individual lives is of supreme importance, much less that obedience to His call will mean that He preserves us from sickness, suffering, or even death. But we can be assured that only as we take our rightful place in His master plan can we find the path to all the blessing He has in store for us.

Eleanor Roosevelt, who spent her later years immersed in the creation of a document that furthered the cause of justice all over the world, prayed the following prayer every night:

Our Father, who has set a restlessness in our hearts and made us all seekers
after that which we can never fully find, forbid us to be satisfied with
what we make of life. Draw us from base content and set our eyes on far off
goals. Keep us at tasks too hard for us that we may be driven to Thee
for strength. Deliver us from fretfulness and self-pitying: make us sure of
the good we cannot see and of the hidden good in the world. Open our
eyes to simple beauty all around us and our hearts to the loveliness men
hide from us because we do not try to understand them. Save us from
ourselves and show us a vision of a world made new.

Jesus is out to set our world right. Because our world is not right, we are faced with the tension of the way things are (truth) and the way they ought to be (justice). In Christian discipleship, therefore, joining Jesus’ justice project means stepping out in faith and relishing the paradox—finding our lives as we’re giving them away.

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

What is Lent?

Guest Post by Pete Kelley

After years of joking with my Baptist friends about ‘giving up Lent for Lent’ and ‘fasting from fasting’, I now find myself a firm believer in the observance of the season of Lent.

About 10 years ago I decided to give Lent a try and I haven’t looked back since.  It has become a season I enter into each year with fear and trembling, but at the same time joyful hope.  For me, food has always been more than food, so fasting in a significant way requires me to relearn how to receive life directly from Christ. It’s a painful but deeply rewarding experience every year.

While Lent is sometimes considered by Protestants to be a “Catholic thing”, the reality is that followers of Jesus from all traditions of the faith have been observing Lent ever since the earliest days of Christianity as a way of growing in their faith and expanding their capacity to receive and give the love of God.

For a point of reference, early Christian leaders discussed the practice of a season of fasting before Easter during the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, which makes the idea of Lent at least as old as the doctrine of the Trinity.  Lent is not just a “Catholic” thing; it’s a Christian thing.

If you’re not familiar with Lent, here are a few basics on what Lent is, what Lent is not and why to observe Lent.

Lent is: 

A six-week season in the Christian calendar prior to Easter. Officially, Lent is comprised of the 40 days before Easter, not counting the Sundays, or 46 days in total. The word “Lent” comes from the Old English word for “spring”.  Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter.

A time for spiritual growth. In the ancient church, Lent was a season for new Christians to be instructed for baptism and for believers caught in sin to focus on repentance. In time, all Christians came to see Lent as a time to be reminded of their need for self-examination.

A time to create space for God through fasting. Lent is meant to reflect the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert fasting and resisting temptation prior to His ministry. By practicing the spiritual discipline of fasting, we follow Jesus into the wilderness, resist temptation and pray.

A time of preparation. In Lent, we prepare for a jubilant celebration of the resurrection and its promise of new life. Turning from the old self at Lent and experiencing a dying of old ways prepares us to truly experience the joy of Easter.

Lent is not:

A biblical requirement. Christians are free to observe it or not, as they feel led by the Spirit and according to the practices of their particular family and church.

A way to earn more of God’s love and grace. God already loves us more than we can imagine. His grace is given freely without regard to what we do. That’s the definition of grace. So, we must not think of Lent as a time to earn what has already been given to us in abundance. Rather, it is an opportunity to open our hearts to receive more of God’s grace, to grow in God’s love for us, and to share his grace and love with others.

Why Observe Lent:

Lent exposes our idols.  This is pretty embarrassing, but when I fast from food, I sometimes find myself searching for pictures of food online – looking for the comfort, security and pleasure that food gives.  Fasting quickly exposes those things in our lives that we look to for what only God can be.

Lent trains us to suffer well.  As followers of the Suffering Servant, we shouldn’t be that surprised when pain, loss and rejection come our way, but many Christians find themselves unprepared to “rejoice in all kinds of trials” because we have grown accustomed to comfortable lives.  Fasting is a season of voluntarily discomfort that prepares to us experience God’s presence when true suffering comes our way.

Lent builds our “no” muscles.  Following Jesus requires us to say no to many things in order to say yes to Him.  No to that impure thought.  No to holding that grudge.  No to the drink that would be one too many.  The discipline of fasting strengthens our ability to say no, not just to things we are fasting from, but also to other temptations and impulses.

The Grand Paradox on Religious News Service

I was recently interviewed about The Grand Paradox by Jonathan Merritt for a Religion News Service post on Faith and Culture. Jonathan is a columnist and the author of several books including his latest, Jesus Is Better Than You Imagined. You can read more by Jonathan on his blog and follow him on Twitter @JonathanMerritt. Below are the first few questions from the interview and a link to the full text.

RNS: You say that following Jesus is awkward and is supposed to be. Explain.

KW: The very nature of faith is tension filled. Walking by faith is foggy, unclear, and rarely comes with a sense of what the outcomes are. Just think of a time when you closed your eyes or were blindfolded, needed someone to steer you, and were groping with your arms for any wall or door jam that would tell you where you were. We don’t like tension so we look for ways to relieve it. Choosing faith, however, is choosing to stand in the tension and wait for God to be the resolution to the awkwardness we feel.

RNS: How are God’s ways “contradictory?” Doesn’t this create a hurdle for those who see faith as rational and logical?

KW: There are many paradoxes in scripture. Because of our intuitions, expectations and how we’ve been socialized, the ways of the world are counter-intuitive to God’s ways. In faith, we give to receive. We die to live. We lose our life to find it. The weak will be strong. Suffering can be a blessing. The last will be first. Faith embraces paradox and trusts that God’s ways are indeed the best. 

You can read the rest of the interview here.

Not Your Normal Book Trailer

A friend of mine from Detroit created this 45 second book trailer for The Grand Paradox. He was the bass player in the “Free Credit Report dot Com” commercials of a few years back. He’s funny.

Anyway, this is definitely a new genre of book trailer video. (*WARNING* Don’t watch right before lunch).

Nicholas Wolterstorff on Justice, Art, Love & Human Flourishing

I am often asked who has had the greatest theological influence on me.  As far as my Theology of Justice, it’s pretty easy.  No modern thinker has had a greater impact on the foundations of my thinking in justice, shalom and the beauty of God than Nick Wolterstorff. He is one of America’s preeminent Christian thinkers and his distinctions and clarity of thought are unparalleled.   It has been a privilege to get to know and interact with him. I pray you’ll catch a glimpse of his unique and significant contribution to the conversation on justice in the interview below.

Background: Dr. Nicholas Wolterstorff (Retired in June 2002) was Noah Porter Professor of Philosophical Theology, and has taught at Yale since 1989. Previously, he taught at Calvin College, the Free University of Amsterdam, and the University of Notre Dame and has been visiting professor at several institutions. He has received many fellowships, including ones from the NEH and the Danforth Endowment. He is past President of the American Philosophical Association (Central Division) and serves on its publication and executive committees.

KW: What originally motivated you to begin writing on the subject of justice?

NW: It was two existential experiences that led me to begin thinking, writing, and speaking about justice. The first occurred in September, 1975. I had been sent by the college at which I was teaching, Calvin College, to a conference on Christian higher education in Potchefstroom, South Africa. Present at the conference were Afrikaners, along with some scholars of color from South Africa, quite a few Dutch scholars, and a few from North America, Asia, and other African countries. The Dutch were very well informed about apartheid and very angry; they seized every opportunity they could find to castigate the Afrikaners. After a few days of intense back and forth, the people of color from South Africa began to speak up. They told of how they were systematically demeaned by apartheid, and cried out for justice. It was that cry coming from those people that opened my eyes and ears, heart and mind, to the importance of justice.

The other experience took place a few months later, in May, 1976. I attended a conference on Palestinian rights held in one of the western suburbs of Chicago. There were about 150 Palestinians there, most of them Christian; and they too cried out for justice.

It was the cries coming from those two oppressed people, the people of color in South Africa and the Palestinians, that moved me to start thinking, speaking, and writing about justice. I tell the story of these two “awakenings” in more detail in my book, Journey toward Justice: Personal Encounters in the Global South (Baker, 2013).

KW: What are the biggest misconceptions people seem to have about the words justice and love?

NW: One misconception that many people have about justice is that, when they hear the word “justice,” they automatically think of criminal justice. But criminal justice, important as it is, cannot be the whole of justice. Criminal justice becomes relevant when there has been a breakdown in justice, a violation of justice; it becomes relevant when someone has treated someone else unjustly. That implies that there has to be a form of justice in addition to criminal justice, a form of justice that, when it’s violated, criminal justice becomes relevant. I call that other form of justice, primary justice. Primary justice is basic. The point of criminal justice is to maintain and secure primary justice. The relation between justice and love is also commonly misconceived.

The most common misconception is that these are pitted against each other. If you act out of love, you won’t be doing what you are doing because justice requires it; if you act as you do because justice requires it, you are not acting out of love. No doubt part of what encourages this view is the identification of justice with criminal justice. But consider primary justice. I hold that Scripture clearly teaches that love is not in tension with primary justice but incorporates it. One way of expressing your love for someone is seeing to it that they are treated justly. The second of the two love commands that Jesus issued, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” is a quotation from Leviticus 19. If you read Leviticus 19 and take note of the context in which the command occurs, what you see is that the love command is preceded by a number of more specific commands, including commands to do justice.

The main point of my book, Justice in Love (Eerdmans, 2011), is that when justice and love are rightly understood, love is not in conflict with justice but love incorporates justice.

KW: How do you see the role of justice and proper function playing out in the development of happiness and human flourishing?

NW: What one also finds in Scripture is that justice is over and over connected with what the Old Testament writers called, in Hebrew, shalom. In most English translations of the OT, shalom is translated as “peace.” I have come to think that that is a very poor translation. Shalom is flourishing, flourishing in all dimensions of one’s existence: in one’s relation to God, in one’s relation to one’s fellow human beings, in one’s relation to the natural world, in one’s relation to oneself. And over and over when the prophets speak of shalom, they make clear that shalom requires justice. Human flourishing requires that we treat each other justly.

KW: How do the concepts of art, beauty and goodness intersect with justice and education?

NW: Art and justice, beauty and justice, are often seen as different spheres of life having little or nothing to do with each other. That’s due, in part, to how we think of art. Most people, when they think of art, think of museum paintings and sculptures, concert hall music, and so forth. I have just finished the manuscript for a book that I call Art Rethought in which I argue for expanding our perspective on art; I talk about memorial art, about social protest art, about work songs, and so on. In all three of these, justice lies at the very heart of that form of art. That’s obviously true for social protest art. But it’s also true for memorial art. The point behind a memorial is to pay honor to someone who merits such honor; to pay honor to someone for their worth or dignity is to treat them justly. And as to work songs: what strikes one in the testimony of those who sang work songs while working, especially under oppressive conditions, is that it was an expression of their human dignity; they refused to be reduced to animals. In expressing their dignity, the singers were treating themselves justly.

These comments only touch the surface of the relation between justice on the one hand, and art and beauty on the other. In my home city of Grand Rapids, Michigan there is a wonderful organization called the Inner City Christian Federation. ICCF builds and rehabs houses in the inner city. And it insists that every house it builds and rehabs be beautiful—not elaborate beauty, simple beauty. It sees that as part of doing justice to those who live in the inner city.

KW: How have you seen the conversation on justice change over the course of your teaching career?

NW: When I first began speaking and writing about justice in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, I found very little interest; audiences for my lectures were invariably small. Things have changed drastically; witness 5,000 people showing up for the 2012 Justice Conference. The attitude has especially changed among young people; I had the impression that the average age of those who attended the 2011 Justice Conference was about 26. I don’t know what accounts for this change. But it has been wonderful for me to watch it happen and to be part of it. I hear some people expressing the worry that justice has become a fad among young people. I’m not sure that’s true. But if it is, I can think of worse fads!

The Justice Conference 2015 in Chicago

Pictured: Ken and Mark Reddy in the Auditorium Theatre

I just returned from a great trip to Chicago where I was able to tour the historic Auditorium Theatre, the site of The Justice Conference 2015. The Auditorium Theatre, designed by the firm Adler and Sullivan, was built as part of the rebuilding work after the Great Chicago Fire and finished in 1889. The building is one of the most historic and beautiful buildings I’ve been in. I can’t wait for everyone to experience it!

It was also great to meet with Mark and Vicki Reddy, the Executive Producers of the conference who just moved to Chicago from Sydney, Australia. Mark & Vicki are amazing folks and come with decades of experience. Their passion for promoting a Jesus+Justice conversation in the church is inspiring. (They also have pretty cool accents!)

At the conference this June, we’re going to have some pretty cool Kilns College events at the conference. More details on these events and opportunities will be forthcoming. However, one of the events will be an exclusive event for those who have applied and been accepted to one of the Kilns College grad programs–distance or onsite–by the early admission deadline of May 1st.

If you’re thinking of applying, now is the time!

To register for The Justice Conference, click here.

To get more information about Kilns College Master of Arts degrees in Social Justice and Innovation & Leadership, check out the website and be sure to let us know if you’re going to be at the conference so we can meet you and keep you informed about the Kilns events.

Why I’m Giving Up Peace for Lent

Guest Post by Jon Huckins

The violence of our world seems to be spiraling out of control. Every news outlet is filled with the latest tragedy and for many, the violence has struck closer to home than they ever imagined. Sadly, much of the violence is being done in the name of religion. Religion — at its best — is designed to be a conduit for right relationship. At it’s worst, used as a tool for manipulation and violence. While the former is certainly happening, the latter appears to be one step ahead at the moment.

If ever there were a time where the work of peacemaking seemed soft and unrealistic while proposing some kind of fairy tale future reality, it is now. If ever there were a time to set aside the way of reconciliation for the way of revenge, it is now. Peacemaking appears to be a royal waste of time reserved for the ignorant idealists.

Yet, if ever there were a time the exact opposite case could be made, it is now. In recent history, there has never been a time peacemaking is more necessary. In fact, the moment we deny the necessity for peacemaking, we deny the very mission of God and the vocation of God’s people. God’s work is peace — the holistic repair of relationship — and the vocation of God’s people. We aren’t pawns in a divine drama that will end in an atomic holocaust allowing us to apathetically put our hands up in resignation because “everything is going to hell.” No, the Jesus’ Community is to announce the reality of God’s kingdom and participate in God’s activity of making all things new. And not just in some future world, but NOW.

Where do we start and how do we keep hope in a world of war? 

We need to give up peace for Lent. 

When the world is filled with violence, it is easy to get so caught up in evaluating and critiquing big picture, systemic issues (and the figure heads they represent) we often don’t make any effort to look inward; to do the hard work of unearthing the lies we believe about God, ourselves and others. The “peace” we need to give up for Lent is the pseudo-peace that says we are immune from contributing to the violence we see around us. When we tell ourselves that all the violence in the world happens “over there” because of “them,” we give ourselves a free pass from confronting our own evils that overflow into the world. 

To wage peace, we must first (and continually!) wage war on the evil within that keeps us from embracing our vocation as ambassadors of reconciliation (II Cor 5).

Our prejudice.

Our isolation.

Our “othering.”

Our paralyzing fear.

Our stereotypes.

Our insecurity.

Our need for revenge.

I was recently sitting with a friend, a leading Muslim scholar and teacher, who adamantly denounced the corrupted definition of “Jihad” proposed by extremists and amplified by our fear-funded news-outlets. He said, “True Jihad is simply to face the evil within so that we can better reflect love to the world around us.” I was deeply convicted both of my falling pray to stigma and stereotype and by the long process inward that would be required to face the evil within.

Jean Vanier, practitioner and seasoned guide on Christian community, says, “We create enemies because we haven’t confronted the enemy within us.” This begs the question, who are the “enemies” I have created as a result of my inability to face the “enemies” within?

This week is the beginning of Lent, a 40-day pilgrimage of introspection, repentance and re-alignment that leads to Holy Week on the Christian calendar. It is a season of confronting the evil within so we can wage peace in the midst of a broken world. It is a season of reflecting on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and acknowledging the decisive peace God waged in Jesus. The evil has been dealt with and the Kingdom has broken through. It is now our job to acknowledge and live into the reality of a Kingdom of peace despite the kingdoms around us that promote the opposite. The Jesus Community is called to be Salt and Light in THIS world, not some distant-future reality. It is to live as a reminder of the way things were meant to be all along. To seek the holistic repair of relationship. To be an instrument of peace.

During this Lenten season, may we turn our sights inward and confront the evil within that keeps us from embracing and living out the decisive peace waged on the cross and embodied in the resurrection. 

May we put to death the evil that creates and confronts “enemies” with revenge and be resurrected with the weapons of transformation, reconciliation and sacrifice. 

May we seek the forgiveness of those we have harmed — near or far — and repent (turn) toward a life that reflects the one we follow. 

Stephan Bauman on Changing the Way We Change the World

Stephan Bauman is president and CEO of World Relief, a leading international relief and development organization. He is also a poet, ordained minister, and strategist who considers his African friends his most important teachers. Stephan and his wife, Belinda, live near Washington, D.C. with their sons, Joshua and Caleb. His new book, Possible: A Blueprint for Changing How We Change the World was just released.

KW: Stephan, what’s your story? How did you become President of one of the larger Christian relief and development organizations?

SB: I am not a likely Nonprofit CEO. I grew up in Wisconsin without much interest in justice work until my wife, Belinda, suggested we volunteer in Africa. I resisted for three years until I finally agreed to go for 6 months. I was surprised to learn that a primary need was not medical personnel, experts or technicians as I expected, but actually leaders and strategists like me. We resigned our jobs in the US and stayed for six years. The rest is history.

KW: What are some of the biggest things you’ve learned about changing the world after your years of experience living overseas and working in relief and development?

SB: Belinda and I learned the hard way. Africa changed us more than we changed it. But along the way, we gained some valuable insight, much of it from our African friends. How we do things is as important than what we do, and how we see those who suffer makes all the difference. Very rarely is someone truly helpless. More often than not they are the most important change agent for their situation and their community.

KW: How do you encourage people who feel too overwhelmed by the thought of changing the world?

SB: Too often people exclude themselves from the idea of changing the world. “I am just an artist,” someone might say. “I am just a mom,” or “I am only an engineer,” say others. But Jesus didn’t call the well-known and well-connected but, instead, ”…all who have faith in me” to “do the works I have been doing…” (John 14:12). Overcoming injustice today requires far more than the aid worker, minister, politician or professional. Today’s movements—whether to end hunger, abolish trafficking, or stamp out extreme poverty—are fueled by storytellers, artists, entrepreneurs, students and bloggers. We’ve entered a new age of activism, and it’s inspiring, impactful, and invigorating.

But doing justice is only as good as the people who do it. The question I am asked most often when speaking about hunger, war, trafficking, disease, or poverty is what can I do? I’ve never been asked, who must I become? Doing good well is important, but who we are is equally, if not more, important. We have the opportunity to choose to live lives of radical surrender and sacrificial love, making heroes of others, not ourselves, and honoring God along the way. This is the hard work of justice, but also the most enduring and life-changing.

KW: Can you summarize the principles of your blueprint for becoming a world-changer?

SB: In brief, we need to undergo three shifts. First, we need to recover our calling. Too many people still believe calling is only for a select few yet God calls everyone. Second, we need to reframe the problem. Some of us may approach poverty or injustice as impossibilities while others tackle symptoms instead of causes. It’s important to understand the root causes in order overcome injustice. And, third, we need to understand our role in remaking the world. Extraordinary progress has been made by surprising people, that is, not just the professional. “There are no ordinary people,” says CS Lewis. Everyone can bring change.

KW: Your book has a very hopeful title, Possible, is there one story that summarizes the hope you feel about the work we’re called to as Christians working for justice?

SB: Belinda and I first met singer/songwriter Josh Garrels the year before last. When we mentioned the Democratic Republic of Congo. His response: “Where’s Congo?” Less than two months later Josh gave away all his albums through Noise Trade, a music sharing site, to help the plight of women in Congo. Over 160,000 albums were downloaded, the largest in Noise Trade history, and more than $70,000 was donated to charity. In his own words:

When confronted with such a massive crisis that is being ignored globally, I was left with the overwhelming impression of those in the midst of the suffering…being relatively “voiceless.” And this begged the question: if I’ve quite literally been given a “voice” to sing, speak, write, and have some measure of influence in my own media-driven culture, why would I remain silent?

KW: Many people wouldn’t know that you are a poet—what have you found to be intersections of art, creativity and justice? Is there a favorite poem of yours you could introduce and share?  

SB: One of my favorites is called “Do We Dare?” which was performed by Micah Bournes on his recent album. You can listen to it at

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