United is changing the way they do their frequent flyer miles.
I just received an e-mail from the company saying they are changing their mileage program in 2015. It’s not that significant in my life, but I’m fascinated with mileage programs and I love dreaming about where airline miles could someday take me.
The e-mail detailing the change (and greater challenge to earning miles) messes with something that has been constant and exciting to me for years.
It was one small reminder the world is changing all around us.
More significantly, this past week I’ve been tuning into CNN daily to find updates on The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an extremist group associated with al Qaeda, which has taken over Tikrit and Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, and is now pushing toward Baghdad. Their goal of redrawing maps and creating a new caliphate or Islamic state that encompasses parts of Syria and Iraq, is huge change.
Closer to home there have been two school shootings in the Pacific Northwest in the last two weeks—Seattle Pacific University and Reynolds High School outside of Portland. Though statistics on the number of school shootings vary based on definition, CNN reported there have been 15 school shootings since the Newtown shootings in December 2012—that makes one shooting every 5 weeks. That doesn’t count shootings at malls, movie theaters and other shooting altercations at schools.
I heard last night of a fourteen year-old who is obsessed with Russia’s incursions into Ukraine and daily searches out news stories for updates. For him, this story is scary, significant and somehow connected to his very young life.
Less dramatic, but possibly just as significant are the demographic shifts taking place across the globe.
For example, the World Economic and Social Survey released by the UN in 2013 estimates that “more than 6.25 billion people will be living in cities by 2050. Between 2000 and 2050, developing regions could add 3.2 billion new urban residents, a figure larger than the entire world’s population in 1950.”
Similarly, technology and innovation in the business sector is happening at a dizzying pace. According to futurist Jim Carroll, recent research indicates that 65 percent of current preschool students will work in a job that does not yet exist and roughly 60 percent of Apple’s revenue is currently generated by products that are less than four years old.
Alvin Toffler in his modern classic Future Shock, written in 1970, defined “future shock” as “the dizzying disorientation brought on by the premature arrival of the future…it is a time phenomenon, a product of the greatly accelerated rate of change in society.”
In many ways, the current rate of change in society is creating future shock for many of us.
I used to think older generations disliked change. I’ve since realized that we all struggle with change. Fourteen year olds don’t like change and I don’t like change.
How do we deal with significant and constant change in the world?
How do we deal with the ugliness in our backyard and on the other side of the world?
How do we deal with suffering in the world?
First, the constancy of God is a hallmark of Christian belief.
The Old Testament prophet Isaiah says, “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.” (Isaiah 54:10)
Peace is something we don’t have in the midst of change, but peace is the goal and what God’s covenant insures. Over fifty times in the Old Testament we are admonished to “fear not.” Jesus spoke “peace” into the cracks of greatest stress with his disciples. Three times after his resurrection—as all was changing around his followers—Jesus said, “peace be with you.”
As in scripture, the greatest changes in the world today demand the strongest reminders of God’s faithfulness and covenant of peace.
Second, God is a god of peace who loves his creation and, likewise, we too are to be peacemakers who love God’s creation. Though God is constant, we were never promised an idyllic world in this age. Most of life isn’t going to reflect a stable small town existence with county fairs over lazy summers. Much of life is in flux and will remain in flux.
Peace is something we are to actively work for in the midst of chaos and change, as God carries out his plan for the new creation. James says, “Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness (synonym of justice).” (James 3:18)
Peacemaking and sowing is our active response to a turning world in need of stability and hope.
Peacemaking is the response to our lament, frustration, righteous anger, and confusion. It is our way of actively spreading seeds of faith, hope and love.
You can’t settle into life.
One of the problems we encounter in contemporary culture is that there are too many fourteen year-olds and eighty year olds watching news stories and somehow thinking their ultimate peace is dependent on geo-politics in Eurasia or the small things in our own lives we can’t control—like United changing their frequent flyer program.
As St. Augustine wrote over sixteen hundred years ago in book one of his Confessions, “You, O God, have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless till they find rest in you.”
As Christians, the witness we have to a changing world is that through it all we remain anchored by our belief in the compassion of God; we fix our eyes on the author of our faith, and we lean heavy into our call to be agents of redemption, reconciliation and peace in the world.
All around today there is change—big change—and change can be scary.
The best of life, however, doesn’t result from periods of stasis devoid of change and filled with comfort. Rather, it comes as I find stability in God’s covenantal love and as I am actively participating with him in the rebuilding of shalom—suffering the pains of this world, transforming them as I’m able, and realizing in compassion that often what many are facing is more unjust than the change that’s occupying me.
 Futurist Jim Carroll: (http://www.jimcarroll.com/2011/10/keynote-feedback-some-mind-blowing-stats/#.U5ntY5RdXQk)
Photo Credit: Tamara Wytsma, with our dog Charity
What is the difference between buying a painting, building an addition on your house, or getting a dog?
The answer is simply that we would get the dog for a wholly different reason than the other things – and that is for relationship. We get a dog because it is “man’s best friend;” because it can love and be loved.
God created men and women in this world because he wanted more than just a painting that is beautiful or a remodel that is useful. Rather, God desired relationship.
Here’s why I love dogs… they remind me that at the heart of what’s meaningful in the universe is relationship.
Guest Post by Roy Goble
Jim Collins writes great business books that explore new ideas, make us think, and ultimately strengthen our management skills.
But like most management gurus, his ideas can be overly simplified. To be fair, perhaps it’s his readers who are overly simple and we miss some of the nuances of his ideas.
Today I want to explore the Collins maxim that we need to “get the right people on the bus.”
The idea is summarized this way: if you want an organization to succeed, then you have to hire the right people for the job. Put them in the right position to maximize their strengths and success is infinitely easier. In other words, get the right people on the bus.
Sounds obvious, right? Well, maybe.
After decades of managing people in both for-profit and non-profit organizations, I think the simplicity of the idea is misleading. A few reasons why below.
First, getting the “right” people on the bus is never simple. Some are beyond our networks and unreachable. Others command more money than we can afford. Like traveling with a tour group, you will never get everybody you want on the bus at the same time.
Second, we misunderstand “the right people” to mean “the best people.” But you will never have an all star team. Somebody else will always be brighter, more talented, or harder working.
Finally, and this is the most important point to me, sometimes our real job is to work with the wrong people on the bus. Collins defines success as organizational profit, which is appropriate for his books. But is that really the main goal we want to pursue?
I tend to see the people I work with as works in progress (and I’m sure they look at me the same way). We find ourselves working with people who are hurting, confused, and weak. Frankly, they can be the misfits of life. A good boss or colleague does not kick them off the bus, but will instead help them grow stronger.
Doing so takes time and energy, which (in the efficiency model of business) is a drain of resources. From a bottom line perspective such effort for the weaker team members is wasteful. Ultimately, the thinking goes, it will harm the financial achievements of the organization.
But are the financial achievements of the organization the standard we really want to embrace as success? Should we kick the misfits off the bus in an effort to attain greatness for an organization? Do we want to live by the adage that to succeed we must have “A” people around us or the whole team is compromised?
A lot of companies follow that guideline. Ruthlessly. And you can see the incredible financial results in companies like Google and Apple, to name just two.
But that’s not for me. I’d rather look at the people on my team, understand their weaknesses, and invest in their lives. I’d rather spend time serving my colleagues than serving my organization. Ten years from now I should care less about whether the organizations around me are thriving and more about whether the people around me are.
Obviously I don’t want to be naive here. A business needs to be profitable. A non-profit needs to have an impact. And I’m not pure in heart; I can and have been ruthless (which I often regret). There is a balance we must strike, and sometimes we do need to kick people off the bus.
But I don’t think we should be so cavalier about it. I doubt if Collins does either. In our race to “greatness” we tend to simplify his thoughts into a heartless matrix of efficiencies that discounts the human spirit.
Having the right people on the bus is great advice. But sometimes the right people on the bus are those who need us more than we need them. Eventually you will have to work with the “wrong” people on the bus. In my way of looking at things, being good to them is the real path to achieving greatness.
Photo Credit: Benoit Courti
Guest Post by Ben Larson
What are you giving your life to? This is a question I’ve made a motto for myself lately. The older I get, the more I realize how little time and money I will be able to leverage during my lifetime. So I’ve made this question a mantra, and I use it to evaluate new commitments, expenditures, and projects before I give away the resources God has entrusted to me. Below are a few of the questions that have been haunting me lately.
Am I giving my life to Netflix? Sometimes I get excited about a new movie or TV show and get sucked into a black hole of media consumption. It’s hard not to spend two or three hours a night (which is a part time job) watching a new addicting show, especially when Netflix makes it so easy. My evenings with my wife (or even my piano) are precious to me, and I get a little sick when I think about how much of myself I’ve given away for cheap entertainment.
Am I giving my life to my stomach? I recently developed a dairy allergy, which was traumatizing for a guy who was raised on milk, bologna sandwiches, and tacos. But in dealing with the diet change over the last month, I’ve saved hundreds of dollars and lost thirty pounds, and I’m suddenly free from chronic pain that has plagued me for years. I had no idea how unhealthy my diet was and how desperately I was throwing money at my stomach.
Am I giving my life to my gravestone? I’m an artist living in an American Idol culture, which means I’m constantly living underneath the pressure to do something important. Something that will last. Something that will change the world or at least grab its attention. Oh yeah, and get rich doing it. But then I listen to my friends talk about drawing or singing with their kids, and it makes me wonder if I’ve bought into a cultural misunderstanding about the purpose of art. Or life. And I wonder if having a really cool gravestone and leaving behind an epic Instagram feed is worth the effort.
I’m trying to be better about evaluating the patterns I allow in my life, both at work and at home. And I’ve had to be ruthless with some things I love. But even after a month, I can say I’ve never felt so intentional about my relationships with my family, friends, and God. I think I might be onto something.
How do you think that question would transform your life? What are you giving your life to?
I was recently asked what Christian books have had the biggest impact on my life. Like many people who enjoy reading, I can trace a lot of my thinking and worldview to a few key books that I read at just the right time or were simply so powerful they forever shaped my thinking. Below was my response to the Top 5 Christian Books that have changed my life:
Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold, by C.S. Lewis – This was C.S. Lewis’ favorite among his own writings. He wrote it later in life and it shows a deep understanding of our self-deception and the ways in which self-interest often masquerades as love of others. It’s a fictional myth that may lull you to sleep a bit until you get to the last third of the book and realize that Lewis has been setting you up the whole time. The back third of the book is some of the most genius thinking and writing that I’ve ever come across. Especially if you are an intuitive personality, you don’t want to miss experiencing this book at least once in your life.
Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life, by Henri Nouwen – Simply put, there is no other book that better articulates the felt quality of loneliness as the first third of this short work by Nouwen. If you are a single adult, struggle with loneliness, or want to have a deeper understanding of Christian community then this book is a must read.
Fear and Trembling, by Søren Kierkegaard – This short treatise on the story of Abraham & Isaac from the book of Genesis has shaped my understanding of faith more than any other book. In fact, I could easily say no work outside of the Bible has so shaped my adult life as this one. Kierkegaard, a Christian philosopher and one of the fathers of existentialism, can be a bit challenging to read so make sure you are committed to reading this before you start. If you stick with it till the end, it will change your life.
Christ the Center, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer – This book was compiled after Bonhoeffer’s death from the notes of students who were part of his lectures on Christology at the underground seminary at Finkenwalde. It’s an obscure book, short and easy to read, in which Bonhoeffer changes the starting point of how we try to understand Jesus from speculation to submission. The philosophical turn Bonhoeffer employs has profoundly influenced my ability to articulate a view on the authority of scripture that begins in faith and submission as a way of moving toward understanding.
Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God, by Dallas Willard – There are a lot of great works on prayer, such as Madame Guyon’s Experiencing God Through Prayer and some of the more popular work by Philip Yancey, but no book on prayer I’ve read has dealt as directly with my desires, doubts and fears as poignantly as Dallas Willard’s treatise does. The late Dallas Willard taught philosophy at USC and has a way of making distinctions, clarifying concepts, and demonstrating truths that empower and equip a person to understand and take hold of all the promises on prayer discussed in the New Testament.
Do you have any titles to add to the top Christian book list? If so, feel free to add your recommendations and thoughts in the comment section below.
Photo Credit: RJones, Creative Commons
Guest Post by Paul Louis Metzger
How manifest was Jesus’ destiny as King of God’s kingdom? Not very. Unlike America’s destiny which was proclaimed or made manifest to the nations as exceptional and second to none, Jesus’ kingdom was not very visible or exceptional by human standards. After all, John the Baptist only knows Jesus is the Messiah because of the Spirit’s descent as a dove upon Jesus at his baptism of repentance in the wilderness (See John 1:33).
A dove? A baptism of repentance? In the wilderness? (See Luke 3:1-22) It is not how I would make my introduction if I were destined to be king. I would make sure my destiny was made manifest to all in very clear terms, kind of like Caesar who paraded the Pax Romana in triumphal procession or American General and later President Andrew Jackson, who championed American exceptionalism in his military exploits in the Floridas (See the discussion of Jackson in this article on manifest destiny).
To me, it is striking that Luke’s Gospel portrays John’s ministry and Jesus’ baptism against the backdrop of the Roman Empire and its regional governmental representatives as well as the high priesthood (Luke 3:1-2). The Word of God does not come to John in the city, but in the wilderness (Luke 3:2). It is not that the city is evil in and of itself, for God’s prophets of old and Jesus himself loved Jerusalem in spite of its rebellion against God (Luke 13:34). Rather, it is that God often works initially outside centers of power (outside as well as inside cities) to bring spiritual reform to a generation.
What kind of spirit brings spiritual renewal and lasting peace? The spirit of the age, whether it be the Pax Romana (Peace of Rome) and Pax Americana (Peace of America), that often rule by retributive power and pride, or the Spirit of God who rules redemptively in grace, gentleness, and humility? The Spirit of God descended on Jesus as a dove. As with the significance of the dove in Genesis 8:11 and Matthew 10:16, the dove in Luke 3 signifies peace, innocence, and gentleness.
What does the Spirit as a dove signify for Jesus’ kingdom mission? What does the Spirit do? How does the Spirit operate? The Spirit who descended upon Jesus as a dove was the same Spirit through whom Jesus was conceived and born of the virgin peasant girl, Mary (Luke 1:35), rather than by Caesar Augustus’ wife, Julia Augusta, or JFK’s Jackie Kennedy. It is the same Spirit through whom Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil in hunger and weakness, not strength (Luke 4:1-2). Lastly, it is this very same Spirit who rested upon Jesus to liberate the poor and needy and welcome the outsiders into his kingdom (Luke 4:16-29) rather than exclude them and weigh them down in despair with the oppressive burden of nationalism and empire.
All too often today talk of being missional reflects a different spirit than that of the Spirit who descended on Jesus as a dove in the wilderness. Yes, the Spirit is creative, but not showy. Certainly, the Spirit descended at Pentecost through tongues of fire and caused those gathered there to speak in various tongues. But the Spirit proclaimed the crucified and risen Jesus of Nazareth (See Acts 2), not Ricky Bobby’s eight pound six ounce baby Jesus of infinite consumer appeal or Rambo of blood and gore glory. The Spirit does not showcase justice, either, where the poor are made the victims of celebrity charity. Rather, the poor as well as the lame and also repentant tax collectors and prostitutes are those among whom Jesus lives. They are his friends.
Who do you and I befriend in our missional sojourns? What destiny are we seeking to manifest? How do we discern the Spirit of Jesus’ kingdom from the empire spirit of the age? Which spirit fills us as we engage in mission?
Guest Post by Justin Kron
Pentecost. Confession: It’s not one of those days on the Christian calendar that I’ve given much attention to. The day often comes and goes without any tangible acknowledgement. Maybe the same is true for you too.
As a follower of Jesus I certainly understand the theological significance of it. It’s the day in biblical history when we recognize that the Holy Spirit—one of the three persons of the Godhead—made a special appearance 50 days following Jesus’ death and forever altered the way we interact with our Creator and He with us.
Nevertheless, Pentecost does not get near the attention that Christmas and Easter get, which is kind of ironic considering that Jesus had a lot to say about the immediate and eternal benefits of having the Holy Spirit in our lives, including the incredibly radical statement that He—the Spirit—would not just be with us, but in us.
I’m still trying to get my head around the practical implications of what it means to have the presence of God in me, but I do know this—if I had any reason to believe that God was obsessed about restoring humanity’s broken relationship with Him by sending His Son to be with us, then He’s even more obsessed about doing so by sending His Spirit to be in us.
Bottom line: Pentecost is first and foremost about relationship.
If I’ve learned anything about the God of the Bible it is that He is consumed with being in an unadulterated relationship with His beloved, just as He was with Adam and Eve before things went south because of their decision to rebel against the guidelines He had given them.
The story of the Bible is one that acknowledges that God ordained that those who live in the world should not only submit to their Creator, but to His guidelines and instructions for living. Doing so leads to life and freedom. Not doing so leads to death and bondage.
It’s the same reason why it’s always a good idea for someone to learn the rules of the road before getting behind the wheel of an automobile. Driving a vehicle without knowing the laws or deciding that red means go and green means stop is a recipe for disaster. Sometimes I wish I could write my own laws and force others to follow them (e.g., slow drivers should not be allowed on the road when I’m on the road), but that’s a recipe for disaster too, so I’ve succumbed to the reality that it can’t be my way or the highway.
Not only have I succumbed to this reality, but I’ve embraced it as a necessity that enables me to reach my intended destination safely.
In Jewish tradition it is understood that Pentecost, which is the name that Greek speaking Jews in the first century called the pilgrimage festival of Shavuot (Leviticus 23:15-22), was not only an opportunity to thank God for the wheat harvest, but for the gift of the Torah—God’s “rules of the road”—that He gave to them at Mt. Sinai.
The Bible doesn’t explicitly make this connection between Sinai and Shavuot, but the circumstantial evidence is incredibly strong, including the fact that the Israelites arrived to Mt. Sinai during the month of Sivan when Shavuot is celebrated (Exodus 19:1). They also declared at that time that Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Deuteronomy 8:3).
Another compelling indicator of the Sinai to Shavuot connection is found in Acts 2:41 following the Apostle Peter’s challenge to the people in Jerusalem on that day to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit by repenting of their corrupt ways, accepting the forgiveness provided through the sacrificial death of Jesus at Calvary, and declaring their allegiance to God by being immersed in water. We read:
Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. [Side Note: Archeologists have discovered 48 mikvaot (ritual baths) near the main entrance to the Temple mount in Jerusalem, which is most certainly where these baptisms would have taken place.]
The fact that about three thousand embraced Peter’s message on Shavuot/Pentecost is the primary indicator of the Sinai to Shavuot connection, because in Exodus 32:28 we are told that a similar number—about three thousand—died at that time because they chose to play by their own rules and follow their own path rather than follow God’s instructions.
Pentecost thus becomes one more reminder that we all have a choice to make: Embrace the Word of God and the One who put flesh on it (John 1:14) and we will experience life, or reject the Word of God and we will experience a U-Haul load of stress, anguish, despair, isolation, and even death.
I’ve been on both paths and time and time again I have experienced what God revealed through the Prophet Isaiah:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (55:8-9)
So whatever Pentecost has been to you, I pray that today, and every day thereafter, will become your Pentecost moment; a moment of surrendering yourself to the ways and presence of God that lead to and produce life.
It’s one of the most exciting times of the year at Antioch – the summer interns have arrived.
Before planting Antioch, I worked for almost a decade with college and singles as well as spending several summers in leadership at a youth camp in the San Bernardino mountains outside of Los Angeles. The internship idea was a simple one to provide a platform for Antioch to stay engaged with college students and for college students to have a life changing summer – much like summer camp counselor experiences were for me.
We began the internship at almost the same time that we planted Antioch in an attempt to offer a progressive context where students could gain hands on experience in ministry from a new and creative church plant in the heart of the Northwest – the most unchurched part of the country.
The internship is in its eight year and, including this summer’s 18 interns, we’ve hosted 153 interns since 2007 including 18 year long residents, undergrad and graduate students, from 51 colleges and universities around the country. The interns help keep up the energy, they minister, ignite and champion the mission and vision of the local church. Our community loves pouring into the interns and the interns also make a lasting impact on Antioch and locally here in Bend.
Welcome to the Summer Intern Class of 2014
John Sowers is an author and the President of The Mentoring Project, a movement rewriting the fatherless story through mentoring. He wrote the critically-acclaimed, Fatherless Generation: Redeeming the Story, (HarperCollins, 2010.) His second book, The Heroic Path: In Search of the Masculine Heart, was just released.
John received the President’s Champion of Change of Award at the White House for his work with fatherless youth, and his work has been featured by CNN, Maria Shriver / NBC, Fox News, RELEVANT Magazine, Air-One, Christianity Today and others. He received his Masters of Divinity from Trinity in Chicago and his Doctorate from Gordon Conwell in Boston.
KW: Can you describe an event or experiences that led you to the need to write a book about recovering masculinity?
JS: When my twin daughters were born, I was thrilled but afraid. I felt exposed. That night, I wrote it down in a journal. I looked around for models – for man guides – looking for help and guidance. I realized my generation has rare few elders, no rites of passage and no framework for masculine initiation. We don’t even have language for it.
KW: What are some of the cultural events that have shaped the current issues with men in America?
JS: I think there are several cultural events shaping our ideas of masculinity.
One is the single-parent household – a generation is growing up fatherless. This is the first fatherless generation since WW2 – except those guys left to do something honorable – to save the world from a tyrant. The fathers are leaving out of selfishness, in the name of convenience. Many of them go on to create another “franchise family” in another city, then repeat process. Children aspire to be what they see – and if all they see is on television or in music, there are rare-few examples.
Another is the post-industrial revolution – men used to work closer to home, work with their hands and invite their children into the work. There is nothing wrong with modern technology – but now many men commute hours to work – via car or plane – and boys are never invited into work.
A third is the cultural idea that boys can drift in perpetual “adult-lescence” into their teens, twenties and thirties. We have flipped the work/responsibility/reward model. Now, reward is valued over responsibility – not only reward but instant reward. Culture has made it the norm for boys disengage and sink into their smartphones or video games – unable to have dinner conversations or engage in a household chores without sinking away. Not only are they are addicted to reward / games / media – a false affirmation – but the outcome is an addiction to disengagement. This sinking continues into adulthood.
Lastly – it’s easy to make fun of the pop culture stereotypes. Huge Pickup Truck Guy. Gym Guy. Fantasy Football Guy. Video-Game Guy. MotherBoy. These stereotypes exist because we have no elders – no one showing us what a man really is. At times, I have been each one of these guys. And we have all types of random ideas filling the void.
KW: Who are some of the men you look at in the book for examples? Why did you choose them?
JS: I include several men who I look to as “Man Guides.” One underrated group of men are the men in my imagination. I say up to a third of your Elder Circle can exist in your mind. (No more than a third.) The main content of the book hinges on a “conversation” I had with these men of the past – the then atheist CS Lewis and the catholic Tolkien, as they argued about myth. They spoke to me and helped show me the mythic path towards manhood. This same path has been written and spoken and sung for generations – and it is true, especially as it points to what Tolkien calls, the One, True Myth – where history and legend have fused. Their conversation shaped the book.
KW: Can you briefly articulate the wild, masculine heart of God’s intentions for men?
JS: In terms of God’s wild heart – I don’t talk about that in the book. I do talk about the steps Jesus took from the ages of 30-33, from carpenter to Messiah, from village under water, into wilderness and back to the village. There and back again. When he returned to the village – he was no longer the carpenter from Nazareth. (Theologically – he never changed or never changes – Hebrews 13:8) But these mythic steps were his steps into his Messianic purpose. It was his time. These mythic steps are walked by every hero from history and legend, and they are our mythic steps into the wild masculine.
KW: How do women fit into your view of masculinity?
JS: Women play a key role in masculinity – women can: awaken a man, help a man, love a man, seduce a man, shipwreck a man, or tether a man to boyhood. One of the key steps away from the village is a step away from women, especially from mom’s house. This was a step Jesus took – as the Son of Mary, when he came out of the water, the Father said, “You are my beloved Son.” In every man’s life, there must be movement from the house of the mother to the house of the Father. Only then can a man move from the passive receptivity of boyhood into the life-giving initiation of manhood. The right woman, when the man is ready to marry, can compel a man forward unlike anything else in Creation.
KW: What message do you want men to take away from your book?
JS: I pray the mythic steps of Jesus – from carpenter to Messiah – create our framework for masculine initiation. The steps Jesus took were intentional. John the Baptist was right, Jesus needed to be the baptizer, not him. But … it is critical Jesus still took these steps. He stepped away from the village and under the water. Jesus was identified and empowered and transformed. He confronted the enemy in the desert – then returned to the village to save it. This is the Heroic Path.
Lastly, I think a lot of people get intimidated by “Man Books.” I do, too. These books usually point us to bravado – the tough guy that beats his chest and eats red meat. Bravado is really just enthusiasm on testosterone. Bravado is not all bad – but it’s not the end game. It is important to be resilient and “buck up” sometimes, but when a book or even a manhood movement is built on bravado – it is only surface-level, lacking the depth for sustainable transformation. I hope people don’t lump me into that category because there is a bear on the book cover.
Photo Credit: The SOLD Project
Guest Post by Rachel Goble
A few months ago Newsweek posted this in depth article calling Cambodian anti-trafficking and human rights activist Somaly Mam’s story into question. Recently, a statement was issued that she had resigned after a private investigation into the validity of the story she has been telling about herself and some of the girls she works with. I have followed and been inspired by Mam’s work over the years, and this news both saddens and disappoints me. I do not know the truth, only what I read online about other’s speculations. I do know that her story brings to light some important points about the non-profit world and how we tell story. As the President of a small grassroots Non-Profit, The SOLD Project, I can empathize with the fine line between telling stories in a simple way that donors will be able to understand, and meeting the demands of many donors/investors who want to hear the worst. This article is less a response to Mam directly and more of a collection of thoughts on what it means to remain truthful storytellers in a world that uses emotions and marketing to gain customers and donors. I hold no official view on Somaly Mam – but I do have many strong thoughts and beliefs on the importance of not only telling our own truth but also the truths of those we seek to serve.
1. Storytelling // Storytelling is at the heart of any successful non-profit. Whether it’s through film, articles, interviews, photos, blogs or email newsletters – telling story is vital to the life of a non-profit. Story invites people (donors, volunteers, etc) into the work and creates connectedness between donors and the individuals the non-profit serves. This allows the work of the non-profit to be communicated to the masses and reach corners of the world that the non-profit staff or constituents might not be able to. But HOW we tell this story is up to the discretion of the non-profit leaders. This ability to tell story is a double edged sword. On one side, it can provide transparency and create a visual to allow donors to feel connected. On the other side, the story can be manipulated and the truth stretched. This tension is very real and something that we at The SOLD Project experience regularly. For example, it’s always tempting to portray things ‘perfectly’ or use emotion to manipulate the audience. It’s also tempting to over simplify and create ‘easily digestible stories’ for people. Often times the newsletters we send out are very simplified versions of very complex stories. We are working with people, after all. Our general rule of thumb when simplifying and telling story is to ask ourselves if the story would make the constituent proud. Could you show them their film, read them their story, or share their picture with them and see their eyes beam with pride that, yes, that is their story, their picture, their life? And could that person then be proud to share it with the world? If the answer to that question is yes, then you are telling story with dignity.
2. Everyone Wants a Success Story // The non-profits want to tell their success stories. The donors want to hear the success stories. And the higher the highs and lower the lows, the better the story. But is this reality? High’s and low’s are never the full story: Honoring the complexity of real life is what creates results on the ground. Would you want someone to look at your life and only see your great successes and great failures, or would you want to be known along the journey? I would assume the latter. Success stories are why we do what we do, and why donors invest. They are the stories we celebrate and are inspired by. There is nothing wrong with this, but it is important to be aware of the temptation to go beyond the truth in these moments. It is also important to let the truth be the truth. Specifically in the Anti-Trafficking world, the stories that have been told are the ‘big’ success stories. From Dateline to Somaly Mam’s stories to IJM’s re-usage of the footage from the Cambodian raid that shows underage girls that was taken almost a decade ago. We use and re-use these ‘big’ stories because they are what generate donors and involvement. I often remember what IJM President Gary Haugen once shared about the road to justice being tedious and difficult- and this is the truth. For me, these are the stories that inspire me. Let’s celebrate the success stories but give space for the failures as well. Let’s view success as progress, not as an end goal. My hope is that non-profits will continue to take the higher road in telling their stories with these truths in mind, and that donors will continue to cherish THESE stories and be weary of the ones that seem too perfect or too dramatic.
3. Emotions Create Donors // There are many different ways to generate emotions – from inspirational videos to sharing difficult stories. When we were filming for our Travel With Us piece early last year, our hope was to not only inspire our donors and volunteers but also to inspire our students in the process. Before each shoot we would explain what we were doing and why we were doing it. For example, when our student falls during the dance, (spoiler) she was acting. I had talked with the students about the importance of getting back up again after we fall – whether figuratively or literally. She fell with the understanding and courage of a young woman that wanted to inspire others to get back up. Capturing and sharing emotion through story is extremely important. But again, it can also be manipulated. There are endless articles, classes, degrees, and corporations that focus on the art of storytelling. Stories are a strategy often compiled by trained craftsmen that know the right ingredients to produce the outcome they want. I love the art of storytelling – but I do not like the art of dishonest storytelling. Overemphasizing the dramatic for the sake of “a good story” can easily become dishonest.
4. Having a Personal Mission and Knowing Your Limits // Knowing your limits and articulating where you draw the line in your (or your non-profits) storytelling is extremely important. In early 2013 I was traveling with some dear friends and filmmakers to create a film celebrating The SOLD Project’s five year anniversary. All of us had the same mission: to showcase the work of SOLD and celebrate what we had accomplished in the last five years of prevention work. We were doing so through the story of one young girl in our program, “Mai”. In our month of filming we often came to points of tension: the filmmakers wanting to tell the best story, and me wanting to do it with the utmost dignity. I knew my limits – that I would never manipulate Mai’s quotes to dramatize the story. That I would allow her low moments to be a part of the film. That we would share her story as though it was on-going, not complete (because none of our stories are complete). We would tell her story in a way she would be proud of. In other words, I wanted to make the film for Mai. Not for the donors. The filmmakers, trained in the art of storytelling (and very good at their jobs, I might add) wanted to create the film for the donors. This is their job. And they’re good at their job. But it is my job to create a film I can show to Mai. The donors come second (sorry, donors).
I do not know what was true or false in Mam’s story. But I do hope that this unfortunate occurrence calls non-profits to a higher level of transparency. To cross the fine line of honesty and dishonesty (or overly dramatizing) can lead to disrespecting the victims who truly have suffered, betraying the public trust, and discrediting (in the case of Mam) what might have been much needed work because that line of truth telling was crossed. Telling story with dignity requires inviting people into the messy, admitting we don’t have it all figured out, and trusting that the work you are doing is more important than the fame of doing the work. I hope that this encourages both donors and non-profits to seek progress not perfection and stories that bring dignity not dollars.
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.
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!”
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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