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*NEW ANTIOCH SERIES* Lessons from the Desert

The desert is metaphor throughout Scripture for scarcity, real or imagined.  Deserts can be spiritual, emotional, financial, etc. – places where our perceived lack of abundance produces anxiety and brings out the worst in us.  It’s the place where all is stripped away and we are reduced to the basic elements of trust.  As much as we resist the desert, God uses it as a purifying pathway to produce mature faith in us.

* New series begins January 4th at Antioch in Bend, online or via podcast


UPS just delivered 100 first run copies of #TheGrandParadox to our doorstep (2 weeks earlier than expected!)

About a dozen friends helped make this two-year project a reality. It wouldn’t be near as good without their help and encouragement. Thank you Ben Larson, Rick Gerhardt, Tabitha Sikich and Emily Hill.

Also blessed by Don Jacobson and Thomas Nelson (Matt, Adria, Kristi and gang) for taking me on.

Books hit bookshelves wherever books are sold and ship from Barnes and Noble or Amazon by the launch date of January 27th. I’d be honored if you could help by pre-ordering now or signing up to be a part of the Book Launch Team for a free book and perks using the fields below.

Photo Credit: my photographer wife Tamara who took the delivery and made the book seem much cooler with the help of Ashlin!

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Tyler Braun on Why Holiness Matters + A Giveaway

Tyler Braun is a writer, worship leader, and pastor from Oregon where he lives with his wife Rose and son Judah. Tyler writes about Millennials, God, faith, church, and theology and has been featured in various publications, such as Relevant Magazine and Christianity Today. He is the author of Why Holiness Matters: We’ve Lost our Way–But We Can Find it Again.

**If you’d like to enter to win a copy of Tyler’s book Why Holiness Matters, please respond in the comments section and I’ll choose a winner by January 9th! Please be sure to include your email address.**

KW: How would you best describe the holiness of God?

TB: When I first heard the term “mysterium tremendum et fascinans” (fearful and fascinating mystery) it seemed, to me, the best used in describing God’s holiness. Rudolf Otto brought this idea to light in the early 1900s, and I think it captures the essence of God’s holiness.

God is fascinating in that his holiness pushed him closer to us, becoming God-incarnate, through Jesus. God is fearful because he has wrath for those who are disobedient. And all this is surrounded by mystery, meaning we cannot fully grasp God (“his ways are not our ways”).

KW: Is holiness primarily an individual venture or corporate venture?

TB: Easily the most overlooked piece of pursuing holiness is it’s corporate need, but holiness should be seen as both an individual and corporate venture. I say both because in the Scriptures we see God act in wrath against disobedience toward both groups and individuals (examples being Uzzah and the Ark, Ananias and Sapphirah, and the cities of Sodom and Gommorah). Similarly, our lives cannot be so easily cut up into individual and corporate pieces. God sees it all and wants us to be allowing his holiness to shape us in an individual sense and corporate sense.

KW: What should churches be doing to connect with more Millennials?

TB: My worry when people ask this question is that they’ll build a church dead-set on reaching a certain age group, and in the process they end up becoming a store dispensing goods for Millennials. That’s a vision of church I don’t find to be compelling.

I think at their core Millennials desire to be known and to know. Meaning they want to have a piece of the pie. I’m not talking about handing over all the decision making power in your church to them, I’m talking about extending a genuine hand of friendship and allow that to lead to a deeper connection within your church body.

As with any age group Millennials have their own unique set of desires, but I believe it flows from meaningful connection, building to something they would call true community. Don’t worry about the unique set of desires until you’re willing to reach out to them without a set agenda.

KW: What is most frustrating to you about the faith of the Millennial generation?

TB: I see a general feeling of casualness about sin with Millennials. I say that because I often sense something similar within me. I recognize my own sin nature, so when I commit sins, or just as bad, choose not to do the thing I know God would have me to, I generally brush it aside as no big deal. And all this stands in opposition to how God views sin and how he’s repulsed by it. I’m not saying God is repulsed by us, but our actions often say how little we value honoring God with our lives.

KW: When people focus on obedience do you see it result in isolation or renewed relational engagement most often?

TB: Clearly it would be hard to say that focusing on obedience only results in one action or another, but more often than not, I see people move toward isolation. This isn’t all bad, if Jesus is our ultimate example, he would often move away from his public ministry to spend time in meditation and prayer with God the Father. He would isolate himself in order to be built into. I think the problems arise when this becomes the primary way of associating with obedience. An obedience only lived out in isolation is not what God intends.

A healthier attitude is to allow those times of isolation to give us the energy for renewed relational engagement. I think that’s obedience in a fuller sense.

KW: How are God’s justice and holiness inter-related?

TB: If we understand God’s justice to be his desire to make all things as they should be, I see it that his holiness informs his justice. God doesn’t just have love, he has holy love. God doesn’t just have justice, like many of us would say we value justice within the world, God has holy justice.

Creating Space

Photo Credit: Bradhoc, Creative Commons

Guest Post by Leroy Barber

Yesterday I talked to friend who is a white male middle-aged leader in the non-profit world and he confessed that in his inner circles there is no one who is black, and for that matter, no one of color. In his lament he was truly confessing and wanting to repent. He wants to start again.

The big question then is how. How does a white man in his 50s make new friends? It’s hard for anyone to look outside their social circles for new friends, and this is especially hard for middle-aged folks like me.

This is one of the most insidious things about racism in America. We are not friends, nor do we fully know how to engage with people outside our circles. This has caused injustice to burn out of control, racism to run rampant, and we are left paralyzed when it comes to practical ways to recover.

So how do you make friends, and friends with people of color, if you find yourself in the same place as this man? I think there are ways to start.

1)    Read books written by people of color and discuss them

2)    Routinely go shopping in a mall or store on the other side of town

3)    Watch different TV shows

4)    Listen to a different radio station

5)    Go to a different coffee shop

6)    Go see movies with a mostly black cast

7)    Attend a black church routinely (once a month or quarter)

8)    Give to an organization led by a person of color

9)    Go see a play written and performed by people of color

10) Visit the African American museum close to you

11) Go to a sporting event with a person of color at your place of employment

12) Take your church small group to a protest or rally

13) Set up regular prayer time with a person of color

14) Put your kids in an activity where they will interact with children of color

Please don’t get me wrong, we have some very deep problems and concerns to get through as it pertains to racism and injustice and these things are by no means the answer. I do however believe they may at least move us a step closer in understanding, and create space for new friendships and relationships to emerge across existing lines. This is not meant to be a checklist—and any steps should be taken authentically, not mechanically or as a means to an end—but ideas to begin engaging from a different place.

Lastly, may I also offer a final piece of a advice. Working in a place where you are “serving” people of color is not necessarily the best way to establish a relationship. I have nothing against serving, but the power dynamics created don’t make space for friendship very easy.

Here are a few book suggestions if you want to check them out:  The New Jim CrowForgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised FaithRace MattersThe Autobiography of Malcolm X and The Cross and the Lynching Tree.

Kicking Your Critics Out of the Arena

Photo Credit: Wolfgang Staudt, Creative Commons

Guest Post by Andrea Lucado

Brene Brown, much like Taylor Swift, really speaks to my soul. I talk about her here a lot, and a friend recently introduced me to a fabulous talk Brown gave at a conference for creatives. You can watch it here.

In it, she uses the metaphor of a coliseum-type arena as the place where we display our work, art, ourselves. The place where we must be vulnerable and put it out there. Whatever “it” happens to be. In the audience of the arena are many people, including the critics. Brene says that there are always four internal critics present in our arena:

  1. Scarcity – which asks, “What am I doing that’s original?”
  2. Shame – which says, “You’re not enough. Who do you think are trying to act like you belong here?”
  3. Comparison – Does this one even need an explanation?
  4. Fill in the blank

Only you know who occupies seat number four, and I think the critic in this seat rotates depending on what you’re up to in the arena. I imagined one particular person in my fourth seat that I had almost completely forgotten about. My 12th grade math teacher.

I went to a small Episcopalian high school and one of its (many) traditions was The Senior Chapel Talk. The entire school attended chapel every day at 10 a.m., and at some point during the year instead of our chaplain speaking, a senior would get up and give a 15-minute speech. I was very nervous about my chapel talk. I liked theater and choir and performing, but when it came to being on stage and acting like myself, I was terrified and had little to no experience.

I remember my dad sat down with me at our kitchen table and helped me write my Senior Chapel Talk. Then I practiced saying it aloud in front my mirror about 17 times. When the day came to give my talk, my mouth was dry and my hands were shaking, but I got through it and was so relieved when it was over. After chapel I had math class, and the first thing my teacher said when she saw me was, “Wow, I’ve never heard anyone give a speech so fast!” I was mortified. I was so nervous I didn’t even know I had talked fast and flown through my speech. Her comment echoed in my head for a long time, and since that day, I’ve always told people I that hate public speaking and I’m terrible at it.

We have so many voices like this don’t we? Maybe we have some we’re not even aware of that are taunting us from the nosebleed section, and we’re listening to them even though they’re mean. In her talk, Brown suggests replacing these voices with kind, trusted ones. With the people who love us and cheer for us no matter what and with a picture of the strong person we know deep down we’re capable of being.

One way of conquering my math teacher’s voice was volunteering to do chapel for the company I used to work for. I had 15 minutes (again) and the crowd would be 20-30 people. It sounds small but it was a really big deal for me. And you know what? I was ok. I received kind feedback and I even enjoyed the experience.

Sometimes you have to do the thing that one person told you weren’t good at in order to kick them out of your arena. They don’t belong there. Don’t let them have a seat.


Photo: Walter Brueggemann interviewed by Don Golden at The Justice Conference 2012

Blessed and humbled to receive the below review on The Grand Paradox from someone I respect and whose opinion I value greatly.

Question: What do Soren Kierkegaard, C. S. Lewis, Abraham Heschel, Dwight Moody, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Reinhold Niebuhr, Evelyn Underhill and John Paul II all have in common? Answer: They all make an appearance in and contribute to the present book by Ken Wytsma. Wytsma has taken many rich voices of the Christian tradition and has processed them through his well-informed passionate faith with a keen eye on the practical consequences of such faith for life in the world. Wytsma connects the dots between tradition, faith, and practice in a compelling way that readers will find fresh and enlivening.

Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary

Reconciliation in the Manger

Adoration of the Shepherds by Rembrandt

Guest Post by Bishop Philip Wright

“From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.”  2 Corinthians 5:16-19

This chosen passage of scripture might not readily sound like one that belongs to the season of Christmas given the almost romantic attachment we have to the scene of the manger, the shepherds in the field, the choral angels, and the star in the East, thanks to popular Christmas card covers. However, in actual fact, this passage contains the very essence of the Christmas message; the Good News – the Gospel.

In much of the Christian world, what is commemorated every December 25th is a decisive moment in earth’s history when God entered that history like never before; to usher in, like never before, His act of redemption. The birth of the Christ child, the incarnation of the God-man, was to ultimately lead to that awesome scene on calvary’s hill when it appeared that heaven and earth had violently met, and the forces of evil staged their greatest attempt to undermine the purposes of God.

In the midst of this event that we must assume was of cosmic proportions, God was doing His thing; God was securing humanity’s redemption which we now have the opportunity and privilege to receive, and also in which we can now participate. God, as St Paul puts it, ‘was reconciling the world to Himself’ in the life of Jesus even as it tragically ended on the slopes of calvary, and God was doing so in a manner which defies human logic and comprehension.

So the baby in the manger was born to one day restore the relationship between God and humanity (and all creation, for that matter). The baby grew up to show us through his life, message and ministry, what that restored relationship with God (reconciliation) looks like in real terms. In the Gospel narratives we see Jesus, on a daily basis, mingling with the poor and outcast, bringing hope to the despondent, healing and making whole those broken in body, mind and soul. So often those individuals touched by Jesus had become the ‘victims’ of marred and shattered relationships, not the least of which was their relationship with God Himself. No small wonder then that, before healing many of them, Jesus would say, “your sins are forgiven”, meaning, ‘your relationship with God has been restored.’

This same Jesus, the God-man, the baby in the manger, now looks to you and I who desire year after year to celebrate his incarnation, to do the same. He looks to us to live out this life of reconciliation with each other – on a daily basis. Once again, St Pauls gets it right when he says, ‘All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.’

Indeed, we have been given both the ministry and the message of reconciliation to share with the world. It is a world so desperate for such a message and ministry. The stories that make the daily news headlines, the circumstances under which too many people live in too many parts of the world, the conflicts among individuals, communities and nations, the barbaric actions of misguided and evil groups and regimes, the pictures of the suffering of the innocent; these all undeniably point to a hurting and fractured and sad world. Into such a darkened and desolate world must shine the light of the Gospel of Christ. We are those Gospel-bearers when we do what God has called us to do.

May the gifts we share this Christmas and throughout the rest of our lives be not only those that come wrapped in paper and perhaps placed under the Christmas tree, but more importantly let them be hearts ready to forgive, ready to receive forgiveness, ready to embrace reconciliation; and may such hearts be wrapped with the very love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Mary of Bethany

Christ in the Home of Mary and Martha by Pieter Aertsen

So this was a message I’ve been waiting to teach for years.

I believe, I truly believe, that outside of John the Baptist, Peter and Paul, Mary of Bethany is possibly the most important, and oft neglected, personal story in the New Testament.

Her story goes far beyond the “Mary and Martha” tagline we usually attach to her and she shows up in more places in scripture than we realize.

Hers is a story of gender equality, pure devotion, exemplary worship, friendship to Jesus and, ultimately, honor. Jesus himself tied the telling of his gospel to the repeating of her story.

All of this is why we named our eldest daughter, Mary Joy.

I could keep going, but I’m hoping you might take the time to watch the sermon video below.

The Table Series Part IV :: Dinner with Mary and Martha from Antioch Church on Vimeo.

The Mothers of Jesus

Guest Post by Daniel Hill

Introductions matter.

If you have a great story to tell, the opening is so important. That’s true whether you see you a great movie, read a great novel, or listen to a great story being told.

Introductions matter.

When a classical piece of music is written, the opening is not finished until the end. The overture is the first piece of music that you hear, but it is usually the last piece to be written by the composer because its purpose is to include the themes that will appear later in the opera.

Introductions matter.

Nowhere is this truer than in the Christmas story. Christmas is the introduction of God in human form, and the way Jesus introduced himself sets the stage for the rest of the story. His narrative is much like a classical piece of music. When you listen to the overture you can already hear every note that is coming later on.

Where does Matthew begin the story of Christmas? It’s an intriguing choice: his introduction is found in the genealogy of Christ (see the full account here).

Without a proper lens to interpret it, Matthew’s introduction can come across as rather boring. Who wants to read 17 lines of an ancient family tree? Let’s get to the good stuff, right?

Yet there must be something so significant here (or more accurately multiple significant things). Why else would one begin the story of God’s entrance into humanity with a family tree?

If we take a step back in history, we quickly remind ourselves why a genealogy was significant. In the ancient times of this text, personal resumes were unheard of. You didn’t list your personal achievements to gain any sense of social status. The only thing that mattered was who your parents and grandparents were. So Matthew speaks the language of the culture when he introduces Jesus through a family tree.

Beyond affirming the historical reality of Jesus the person, Matthew must have wanted us to see something about God when he listed this genealogy. What was he hoping his readers would notice?

Let’s start with what would have been most noticeable to first century readers: there are five women.

I’ve done my fair share of studying of this passage, and nearly everyone I’ve read starts here. Women were never included in genealogies. Not in religious ones, and not in secular ones.

One might argue that part of the reason for this was practical in nature – generational wealth was passed on exclusively from father to son. Yet the reasons for excluding women from family trees clearly go beyond practicality. Women were not valued. They had very little social status, and therefore they were left out of the genealogy. The genealogy was part of the resume, and it was common practice to highlight the highest status names in family tree.

But now, here comes Jesus, And he is going to carefully choreograph his entrance into humanity.

And when he introduces himself, what does he do? He doesn’t just list one woman – he lists five: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and of course Mary.

Each of these women has a fascinating story but for the purposes of this blog, lets take a step back and look at it from a big picture lens.

Jesus could have introduced himself anyway, and this is how he chose to do it. If this genealogy is the overture of the symphony, then what themes are Jesus establishing from the very beginning?

Among others, the inclusion of five women in his family tree must mean:

All people matter.

All people are created in the image of God.

All people are included in the family of God.

And as true as each of those statements are, it still probably doesn’t go far enough in highlighting the nature of the barrier-breaking that Jesus was about to embark upon. He entered into a society where women were second hand citizens, but that’s never how he treated them.

Jesus continually went out of his way to value and esteem and highlight women. He treated them with love, respect, and honor. He chose them as his disciples. He relied on them for financial support. He chose women as some of his closest friends.

And he made sure that his mother – and four of her grandmothers – were listed in his genealogical resume.

May we remember the radically inclusive nature of our Savior this Advent season. May we remember the way that Jesus refused to settle for societal views of status, and instead honored both women and men for the precious human beings that they were – created in the image of God and worth honoring and celebrating.

Why Education?

I often get asked, why education?

Why a Christian grad school focusing on theology, justice and leadership studies? Why sink time, energy and money into something like that—aren’t there enough schools out there?

The answer is that education, and Kilns College specifically, is not just a project that takes time, energy and money; but, rather, it’s a passion, a conviction and a calling that commands my life. I believe education is not just a good thing, but a necessary thing.

Only a culture privileged enough to have government supplied education through 12th grade and an abundance of academic institutions to go farther and deeper takes education for granted. I have met men and women from around the world where education (and certainly quality education) is scarce who know that at a deep level it isn’t just one good thing among many, but that it is indispensable. This is true for gaining wisdom, knowledge and maturity and it is true for advancing in business and creating vocational opportunity. It is also true for theology, history, religion and faith—Christianity becomes a cut flower the minute we disconnect ourselves from the deep and sustained teaching of scripture, church history, and the intersection of faith and culture.

I believe in education. I believe in quality and advanced Christian education. I have given much of my adult life tirelessly to advance it.

Unfortunately, like the seeds sown in spring, the fruit of education is always farther down the road and manifests in a different season. It’s hard to demonstrate its value on the spot, in the moment, or on demand. Education is less a felt urgency than a needed priority.

Because it doesn’t register as a felt urgency—a burning building—education is one of the hardest things for which to raise capital and development funds.

No school is able to operate purely as a business; government schools are government funded. State schools are subsidized. Private schools depend heavily on grants, endowments and alumni associations.

Likewise, Kilns College requires outside help from those who recognize the value of education.

Kilns College needs thoughtful individuals who recognize many of the urgent problems we long to address are best dealt with through education—through the training of Christian men and women, through equipping more effective and efficient engagement in culture locally and globally, through investing into the future of the church and future leaders. Isn’t that how Jesus dealt with the house on fire when he walked Palestine?

Certainly Jesus helped and healed, but primarily he was a Rabbi… a teacher, a professor. In fact, Jesus was teaching “advanced” or graduate studies to twelve students within the Jewish system of his day. He was dealing with the contemporary by investing into the future.

As the end of year approaches, I’d humbly ask you to consider partnering with us… our vision at this point far outstrips our resources.

I know of very few organizations who know how to invest and stretch a dollar like Kilns College.

Would you consider joining us with a Year End Tax Deductible Donation?

[If you would like more information about our distance learning options, click here.]

Living the Questions

Photo Credit: Gwenael Piaser, Creative Commons

This article was recently picked up by a syndicated blog – you can read the post here, or below.

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

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

To wait on the Lord.

To pray our pain.

To accept confusion.

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

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

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

This holiday season, I find myself struggling to accept this as much as I have in a long time and to ground myself once again in “living the question.”

My heart hurts with the brokenness, pain and anger that characterize race issues in America and the tilted scales of justice so many experience.

My mind shuts down over global issues of war, terror and gender violence at the root of so much injustice in the world.

My soul aches for the man who called today about his nephew shot in Afghanistan, the biopsy report I received yesterday of a mother from church and the father who passed away today leaving behind a son and daughter both under the age of three—who will never have a concrete memory of their dad.

One of the things that typifies being a child is that you are often sheltered from the weather outside—from the scary, the messy and the sheer magnitude of evil and suffering.

When, as an adult, I find myself wanting to whitewash the issues, push them down below my conscious thoughts, or squeeze them out with holiday shopping and movie watching, I realize I’m simply wishing to be a child again.

The will to hide from the world.

Saint Paul said, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.”

I’m struggling. I know others are struggling. I know many are struggling far greater than I.

Choosing faith, despite the messiness of life and the mystery of God, however, is the essence of biblical trust. It is the faith in the “not yet” of many of God’s promises about His reign of justice and commitment that every tear shall be wiped away.

Paul continues, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love… but the greatest of these is love.”

Life is relentlessly difficult.

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

But the term Advent points to the coming of Christ into the world. The one bringing peace to the world was needed then as now.

Ours is to engage.

Ours is to stand together in solidarity.

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

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

And ours is to lament with the Psalmist crying, “Come, Lord! Come.”

Pastors, You’re Doing a Great Job

Guest Post by Andrea Lucado

I’m the only member of my immediate who has never worked in full-time ministry. My little sister, her husband, my dad and my older sister’s husband have all been in or are in full-time ministry. By default, my older sister and mom have also practically been on the church staff full time, as ministers’ wives will understand.

Because of this, I’ve observed a lot about pastors and their jobs and their lives. Part of the reason I’m not in full-time church work is because I know it is very very hard and, honestly, I don’t think I’m cut out for it.

In ministry, the line between work and personal life is almost invisible. That means, you are always on. Responding to a text from a distressed teen after 10pm, going to a graduation party, attending a wedding for a couple in your congregation—these are all good things and normal to the average eye, but in many ways, they are also your work. Going to stuff and having intentional conversations, it’s your job, so you have to be extra good at it. You have to be on.

My job is easy. I work during the day; I shut it off at night. I go to a party if I want to and I don’t go if I don’t want to. And if I go and don’t want to be there, I’m lame and talk to one person and leave. I’m allowed to do this, to make my social life what I want it to be. But for pastors? That’s not really a luxury.

I’ve heard crazy stories about pastors being asked to lunch by members of his congregation only to be berated for his last sermon. I’ve seen people saying mean things about pastors on the internet, shaming them for their mistakes. Getting mad at them for being human and broken, like the rest of us. (To that, all I have to say is, he probably has a daughter, and she could go without seeing and hearing cruel things about her father online.) I’ve seen hints of defeat and tiredness in so many pastors’, youth leaders’ and ministers’ lives. I’ve talked to friends who have felt burned out and depressed. The call to ministry is truly a unique call, and the work of pastors takes more from them than regular types of work.

I sat down with my dad recently to interview him for a story in a magazine. It was fun and weird to really ask my dad about his job. We don’t do this often as children, ask our parents about their day-to-day work, how they got to where they are in their careers. We care more about their job as our parents than we do about their jobs out in the world. My dad has been in full-time ministry for about 37 years. That’s a long time, but there is nowhere he would rather be. He had funny and positive stories to share. It made me think about other kind, humble pastors I’ve come across. For them to still have a positive attitude so many years into the ministry, I’m finally starting to feel blown away by that.

Everyone wants everything from his or her pastor. The single people in the church want to feel included. The married people want to feel included. The children want to feel included. The teens want to feel included. We all want our pastors to give us this special place, just for us. I’ve seen my family members get pulled in different directions and I’ve seen this happen to my friends. Rather than seeking out a place to serve on our own, we want our church leaders to do it for us. When they could really use a note of encouragement, we send them an email criticizing how that weekend’s youth retreat went. They rarely receive encouragement from the people they need it from the most: us, their congregation.

So right now, I’d like to say something to the pastors I know and to the pastors I don’t. You’re going a great job. Truly, you are. You made ten people happy last week and that left two people grumbling in the corner and that’s ok. Don’t worry about them. Don’t about us. We’re grumblers and we’re good at it. I consider your job sacred. Really. I couldn’t do it. Most of us couldn’t do it. Thank you for doing it. For listening to us and reading all the emails and creating lessons and sermons that impacted our lives. Thank you for studying scripture and reading the theology books that I don’t understand. Thank you for being at our stuff and being there for us, our friends, and our kids. Thank you for going to the bedsides of the dying and the baptisms of the living. I don’t know all that you do when you step off the pulpit, how much your job continues throughout the week, but know that your job as a spiritual leader is considered great, and you are doing a great job at it.

The Grand Paradox

Can you do me a favor?

I’ve been pouring my heart and soul into a book project where I tried to distill all of my passion and thinking from two decades into a book on the pursuit of God and the nature of Christian spirituality.

It has been a long and challenging experience. It has left me at times exhausted and wondering if I needed to learn fully many of the lessons in the book before it launches this January.

It has also been refreshing and humbling. Many of those I would call friends have had a hand in helping refine and develop the text. And many whom I deeply respect have been willing to put their name to it by way of endorsement.

Here is a note that just came in from Nicholas Wolterstorff:

Many of those who write about faith have an idealized version
of faith in mind, which they describe in cliché-ridden language
that makes those Christians who do not experience such faith feel
either guilty or angry. In The Grand Paradox, Ken Wytsma talks
about actual faith, not idealized faith. The faith of which he
speaks is not only for  our messy world but also of  our messy
world—while yet trusting and revealing God. Thoroughly honest,
never evasive, free of clichés, deeply Christian, encouraging
rather than scolding in its tone, it is the most perceptive and
helpful discussion of faith that I know of.

Nicholas Wolterstorff, Noah Porter
Professor Emeritus of Philosophical
Theology, Yale University, Senior Research
Fellow, Institute for Advanced Studies in
Culture, University of Virginia

So, the favor I was asking: would you consider joining through one of the following ways?

If you’re a blogger, would you consider joining the Launch Team by filling out the form below?

If you’re a pastor, would you consider doing a sermon series on faith based around the themes of the book or gather a small group to study it?

If you’re looking for last minute Christmas presents, would you consider pre-ordering the book on Barnes and Noble or Amazon and wrapping the order confirmation as a gift or using as a stocking stuffer? (One of the biggest pieces of getting a book picked up and in stock are based off of consistent pre-sales across many zip codes.)

More than any of that, however, would you be willing to help pray for me and the launch of this book that it might help some people on their faith journey and may serve in some small way to glorify God?

Name *


Email *

Blog *


@twitter username *


Joyful Are Those

Photo Credit: The World of Banksy Art

Guest Post by Emily Hill

This year I’m sensing and processing the season of advent in a way that I never have before.

My soul is filled with mourning and grief over racial injustice in our individual lives and in our nation. The evidence and emotion in this area are building and I wonder when we will reach the tipping point. When will all of the outcry lead to a change? In addition to this, my heart is heavy with the continued violence against women around the world and aches with those who are suffering in their daily lives and relationships.

During this longing and pain filled season I find myself drawn to the Beatitudes—though it might not be a typical text for advent.

I’m asking anew, what does this familiar, beautiful text really mean? How do we interpret them and how do we apply them? The late theologian Glen Stassen argues that they are far from being high-minded ideals that we must strive for or legalistic requirements, as some Christians interpret them. Rather, consistent with Old Testament understanding, prophetic writing, and the life and ministry of Christ, they are the proclamation of the good news of the reign of God.

He writes, “The Sermon on the Mount is not first of all about what we should do. It is first of all about what God is already doing. It is about God’s presence, the breakthrough of God’s kingdom in Jesus. It is about God’s grace, God’s loving deliverance form various kinds of bondage in the vicious cycles we get stuck in, and deliverance into community with God and others.[1]

Based on his research about the original Greek words and the context of their use in relation to the reign of God throughout scripture, Stassen translates the Beatitudes this way:

Joyful are those who are poor and humble before God,
for theirs is the reign of God.
Joyful are those who are deeply saddened to the point of action,
for they will be comforted.
Joyful are those whose wills are surrendered to God,
for they will inherit the earth.
Joyful are those who hunger and thirst for restorative justice,
for they will be filled.
Joyful are those who practice compassion in action,
for they will receive God’s compassion.
Joyful are those who seek God’s will in all that they are and do,
for they will see God.
Joyful are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Joyful are those who suffer because of working for restorative justice,
for theirs is the reign of God.
Joyful are you when they criticize, persecute, and
slander you, because of me.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in God.
For in the same way they persecuted the prophets before you. [2]

Those who are poor and humble before God are not rewarded because being poor and humble is somehow more virtuous. Rather, they experience joy because God is acting on their behalf. The poor and humble, those who thirst for justice, who are moved to compassionate action, who seek peace and restoration, are joyful because God is gracious and God is acting to deliver them.

This is the good news. It’s not about what we do, but what God is doing already. Joy, peace, comfort, and God’s presence are the promises of the kingdom. Though it’s ultimate fulfillment is yet to come, it is not a future action alone, God is acting now and delivering now. He is giving joy, peace, and fulfillment now.

The good news of Christ, our hope in the advent and in our present struggles, is that Christ is delivering us. He is making all things new.

Hope in the promise is the anchor for our souls. But it is an active hope, not a passive hope. God calls us to live in accordance with the promise and bear witness to his reconciliation in the community of the church in the world. When I’m lost and overwhelmed I need to live expectantly. I need to look for God’s work of deliverance and how I can act alongside it.

This is a truth we can put our faith in as we wait for the birth of Christ and the coming of justice: God is working. Though the work of racial reconciliation is difficult and overwhelming, I can be assured that God is at work and I can look for ways to participate with him.

When we act faithfully in accordance with this truth, God reveals himself to us. By participating in his kingdom we find our truest joy.

Joyful are those who are deeply saddened to the point of action, for they will be comforted.
Joyful are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Joyful are those who suffer because of restorative justice, for theirs is the reign of God.

So in this season of longing and anticipation, I pray for more of God’s deliverance for you, for me, and for the world. I pray for more of God’s joy and comfort. I wait expectantly and I pray for the ability to act expectantly.

[1] Glen H. Stassen, Living the Sermon on the Mount (San Francisco: Wiley Press, 2006), 8.

[2] Stassen details the research behind his translation in Chapter 3 of Living the Sermon on the Mount: A Practical Guide for Grace and Deliverance.

Until Hope and History Rhyme

Photo Credit: Jon S, Creative Commons

Guest Post by Todd Deatherage

Some days I have to steel myself just to read the morning paper. Today’s front page includes a story about reputable scientists suggesting global warming trends are worse than previously thought. They are predicting that one-third of the western Antarctic ice shelf may be gone within the next 100 to 200 years, raising global sea levels by 11 feet.

The civil war continues in Syria. More than 2 million people are displaced from their homes, and it’s winter again. ISIS militants control vast swaths of Iraqi and Syrian territory, and historic communities, including ancient Christian ones, are being uprooted and destroyed.

Here in my homeland, black and white Americans continue to experience a shared history in very different ways. Racism, that pernicious legacy of our national ‘original sin,’ continues to pass down in mutated forms from generation to generation. The death of black young men at the hands of law enforcement officers is, tragically, nothing new but has broken through into the national discourse, at least for the moment.

Laying my paper and the urgent crises of the day aside, I turn to an Advent reading. In this I begin to make the shift from the immediacy of time and place to a more cosmic and timeless view, to the God who came near to bring healing and redemption. If done properly, this is not escapism.

This yearly journey of Advent takes me into the dark world of first century Palestine, to a specific time and place not entirely unlike my own. A vast empire exacted both order and its own will on the Mediterranean world. Ruthless displays of empirical power were often used to frighten and intimidate. Religious leaders were doing what religious leaders often do, reducing God to a small container, and one of their own making, obscuring the view of the God of mercy and justice and human flourishing. Ethnic and tribal identities distorted the brotherhood and sisterhood of all humanity as image bearers of God. Old hatreds and prejudices went unquestioned.

Into the mud and muck of this specific time and place, the eternal God made himself known in the person of Jesus, the Christ. We were given the gift of the Divine coming, the beginning of our rescue.

The Word became flesh. As a consequence, we now know what it looks like to love and forgive enemies, to submit and serve, to identify with the marginalized and powerless, to put aside prejudices, to recognize our neighbor as anyone in need, and to live counter to the prevailing culture of the day.

This is the Gospel, and it is good news for the ages. None of this absolves me of my own implication in the front-page news of today. Advent reminds me that in every age, the brokenness and darkness threaten to overwhelm, yet there are also men and women who desperately want the world to be different, to be the way it was meant to be.

Advent stirs in us that holy desire for the world to be made new. To go through the Advent season with a sense of both longing and expectancy is to learn to live in the messiness of today with a sense of hopefulness.

A properly observed Advent does two important things. One, it prevents a descent into despair because we know that the God who came brought with him the announcement of a different way of doing business, a kingdom built on true shalom, one in which—to borrow from the Irish poet Seamus Heaney—hope and history will rhyme.

Second, a properly observed Advent helps us resist the temptation to skip fully ahead to the end with him, and by that I mean to that day when all things are made new. This is of course the day we all long for, the day when that which existed in the creation of the world is fully restored.

But the God we serve took on the form of a man and, standing somewhere outside the village of Bethany, wept over the death of Lazarus his friend, and then again on the Mount of Olives over the brokenness of Jerusalem. He spent his time with the poor in spirit and the outcasts. He healed diseases and afflictions.

Advent teaches us how to live as we wait. To know that because the world’s brokenness, as well as our own, breaks the heart of God, it must break our hearts, too. It implicates us in the way things turn out and teaches us to live differently, to fully embrace values of that kingdom which has come but not yet fully. It affirms our hearts’ longing for rescue, our cry, “O come, Emmanuel, and ransom us.”

But it also pushes us on into the Bethlehem stable, into Samaritan villages and over to Jacob’s Well, to the homes of tax collectors, to dark Gethsemane and beyond. It is into these places that Emmanuel came.

Advent compels us to go with Him to the enslaved and the captive, to the occupied and the terrorized, to the impoverished of body and spirit, to those without access to justice, to the sick and to the voiceless. To Ferguson and Appalachia. To the slums of Mumbai, the Nineveh Plain, and the Gaza Strip.

It pushes us to join with God in his redemption of the world, to bring renewal, restoration, and healing, to shine light in the darkness.

A day will come when Emmanuel will make hope and history rhyme at last. But Advent reminds us that we are not alone in our present troubles. God is with us this day, too, and he invites us to labor with him this day in his vineyard.

Learning to Ask for Help

Photo Credit: Keoki Seu, Creative Commons

You can say that I’m “type A.”

My mom likes to show me the note my 2nd grade teacher (to be later repeated by my 3rd, 4th and 5th grade teachers) sent home to her gently asking her to remind me that the teacher was the authority in the class, not me.

I have always been assertive. I tend to make quick decisions and I lean forward into life pretty naturally as a leader.

As a result, I’ve found that my answer to most difficulties in life that deal with time or too many challenging circumstances usually takes the form of thinking through time-management.

How can I make myself more efficient?

How can I reorganize my schedule?

What systems or structures could I change to increase output or decrease redundancy?

How can I better optimize things to stay ahead or stay afloat?

Because of the way I’m wired, this last stretch of life has been hard for me.

I’ve found that, even with my best effort at time-management, I haven’t been able to go it alone.

I’ve been starting to ask for help lately.

Asking for help, however, seems like admitting failure. It makes me feel like I’m making a public declaration that I’m not smart enough or competent enough to figure out or handle my own stuff.

At least that’s how it makes me feel.

But is asking for help really failure? Despite my natural inclination to feel that way, I obviously don’t think it is.

There are times when grace is best shown, not always in giving, but sometimes in receiving.

There are times when grace is more fully manifest, not in our strength, but in our weakness.

There are times when people feel most connected to us, not in our independence, but in our dependence on them.

There are times when we learn best, not because we’re out in front of life, but because we’re behind in life.

There are times when things need to be cut from schedules, not because it’s easy or logical, but necessary. (Pruning is something I’m learning God sometimes forces on us.)

I’ve always known that strong personalities help get things done, but I’m now learning (as Michael Jordan once learned) that strong teams are what’s needed for true success.

Because of life demands, ministry demands, health issues, energy and time constraints, I’m learning to have to ask for help.

I don’t like it, but maybe we’re better when we ask for help?

Re-Post: My Top 5 Christian Books

This was one of the better received blog posts over the last year so I thought I’d share it again in case you need some holiday gift ideas!

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.

Unleashing Hell

Photo Credit: Pete, Flickr Creative Commons

Guest Post by Josh Butler

We are the ones, not God, who unleash the destructive power of hell in the world.

Many people think of hell as a place God creates to torture sinners. But in the biblical story, we are the authors of hell’s fury. On massive structural levels like sex-trafficking and genocide . . . on intimate, personal levels like pride, lust, rage and greed . . . the wildfire of our sin sets God’s good earth aflame.

Let’s take a quick look at hell as a destructive power.

A Destructive Power

Fire is used as a metaphor in Scripture for the damaging nature of our sin. There are other ways fire is used (I explore these more fully new book), but this is a good place to start. Isaiah says that “wickedness burns like a fire,” unleashing destruction in the community like the burning down of a forest. (Isaiah 9:18)

The community is like a forest; sin is like a fire.

Hosea says the hearts of wicked rulers burn “like an oven whose fire the baker need not stir.” As they plot their wicked plans for the community, “their passion smolders all night; in the morning it blazes like a flaming fire. All of them are hot as an oven.” (Hosea 7:4-7) And the community is reduced to ashes.

Our red-hot sin leaves a trail of devastation in its wake.

In a passage that is particularly illuminating for our purposes here, James makes the same point:

“The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. (James 3:5-6)”

James tells us just as a small spark can burn down a forest, so our little tongue can unleash destruction. And when it does, notice where James says our tongue’s destructive power comes from: it is itself set on fire by hell.

Hell’s destructive power is unleashed through us. So . . .

  • When my coworker gossips in the neighboring cubicle, she is more than being annoying, she is breathing hell into the office.
  • When pride and rage fuel genocide, war-zones and conflicts around the world, this is more than an unfortunate reality, it is the wildfire of sin tearing heaven and earth apart.
  • When lust and greed build systems of sex-trafficking, pornography and forms of entertainment that exploit women and children, this is not only a heartbreaking tragedy, it is the power of hell unleashed in our world.

So what tools has Jesus given us to push back the flames?

Holiness and Justice

Jesus has given us holiness and justice as tools for the task.

Jesus confronts our tendency to ignore justice. When some Christian streams think of the power of hell, we envision Satan and his demons flying around in the air, trying to get us to use a Ouija board, go to a séance, or join a New Age cult. This assumption is disastrous because it strains out a gnat and swallows a camel; it misses the obvious. We assume God only cares about “spiritual” things, and “spiritual” things are assumed to be those that have nothing much to do with everyday, physical life.

This distracts vital time, energy, and resources from the more pressing, concrete, physical arenas of our world where Jesus says the power of hell has been unleashed.

Reclaiming this language has rhetorical power. Samantha Power, one of the world’s leading scholars on genocide, has titled her influential book on the subject A Problem from Hell. I don’t know whether she merely uses the phrase for its rhetorical power or if she truly believes in the spiritual framework the title suggests. But either way, her terminology is correct.

Genocide is a problem from hell.

There is a spiritual side to the most pressing problems of our world today that Jesus calls his followers to recognize.

Jesus also confronts our tendency to ignore holiness. I’ve worked alongside many Christians who labor tirelessly against war, conflict, and genocide in our world on a social level, while being prideful and self-righteous at home. Or who are passionately active in ending sex trafficking on a social level while being womanizers and greedy consumers in their personal lives. Jesus stands against us.

When rightfully battling the wicked tree of injustice in our world, we must not wrongfully ignore the wicked root in our own hearts.

Jesus raises the bar and calls us to a different kind of discipleship, to the pursuit of holiness. The classical language of vice can help us here, identifying things like lust, anger, greed, pride, gluttony, laziness, and envy. Like a “vice grip,” these are the ways that hell gets its tightening hold on our lives.

These are the sparks that start the wildfires. The poisoned wells that pollute the river. The roots that give rise to the noxious weeds.

These are areas where Jesus wants to heal us, to snuff out the wicked sparks that lie inside of us as he reconciles us to himself.

Let Me Heal You

Fortunately, Jesus’ question for us is not, “Are you good enough to get into my kingdom?” It is rather, “Will you let me heal you?” The Great Physician loves to heal, the Lamb desires to forgive, the King offers amnesty to all who will submit to the power of his life-giving reign.

And we need this healing, because we are the agents of destruction, the architects of demolition, who unleash hell’s wildfire flame into God’s good world.

There is good news for our world aflame: God is coming as King to establish his redemptive kingdom. He will kick out and contain the destructive power of hell that has raged like a wildfire for far too long. And there is more good news: God loves us all, rebels that we are, and wants to forgive us. Even though the power of hell has its roots in our wicked hearts, God wants to heal us and get it out.

God wants to shape us as agents of holiness and justice in his world today, prepared through the power of his Spirit for the life of the kingdom to come. 

This excerpt used with permission from Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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