Wednesday, December 7, 2016

What Women’s Ministries Lack - Kelsi Klembara

The lights in the large auditorium dim as quiet worship music plays in the background and a hushed buzz spreads throughout the room full of women. I look hesitantly at the two women sitting next to me. The speaker has just told us since Christian sisterhood is all about authenticity, it’s time to spill our guts to a neighbor we’ve never met. I’ve been through this before: share your story, make sure to emphasize the sin that used to be in your life and the growing holiness that is taking it’s place. That’s encouragement, right? I guess only if you can prove it.
The women in front of me are both moms from a city on the opposite side of the state. They are quiet and sweet. They tell me they have recently started a ministry together for the homeless in their community. They are working on making it sustainable while raising their own families, keeping their houses clean and caring for their husbands. And yet, they don’t know if it is enough. It’s as if a physical weight rests on their shoulders (which are quite literally sagging) from the guilt that what they are not doing constantly outweighs everything else in life. They ask for prayer to be able to do more and be more.
This post first appeared on

Monday, December 5, 2016

Deconstruction? Or Integration! - Cindy Brandt

Sometimes it feels like people view my deconstruction as exchanging one outfit for another. Like I took off my conservative clothing and put on a new progressive/liberal label. 
But it is so much more than that. 
It's like I was merely a shadow before--ephemeral, flimsy, like a ghost. Slowly, and with intention, I've become less and less satisfied with a limited capacity to feel, and instead demanded solid flesh and blood, with a fullness to see, touch, sing, love and make things; to feel my heart pulsating to the beat of my very own rhythm; to move through the world wildly whole. 
So much of my spirituality was conjured up out of thin air. I knew the right things to say, the right way to pretend to feel, the right time to do the right things. But those experiences floated through my previously ghost-like self. I never engaged with it, wrestled with it, made contact with my body/mind/soul.
Slowly, I'm learning to pull together loose molecules, scattered pieces of myself, and knit them into integrity. I started to demand truth and authenticity and beauty and refused to pretend for anything less than that. People began saying I'm liberal or progressive and I said, okay! Whatever this is, this is what I want. In fact, I simply cannot ever settle for less, or go back to the way it used to be.

The Gift of Time - Greg Albrecht

Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near.—Isaiah 55:6
Time is the enemy of teachers, speakers and preachers—we are always battling with the clock. In the context of formal church services, this battle goes back to the so-called olden days when preachers walked up and took their place behind the pulpit. At the beginning of the sermon an hour glass of sand was turned on its end. The passing of time was determined as small quantities of sand passed from the upper chamber, which at the beginning of the hour was full, to the lower chamber. 

When the last grains of sand filtered through the hour glass into the lower chamber, the sermon was finished. Or not, in some cases! But, preachers were on notice—those who consistently ignored the passage of time did so at their own risk. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

"A More Christlike God" for Chronic Suffering - Testimonial by Amber Hamilton

I stumbled upon Brad Jersak's A More Christlike God through an interview he did with Peter Enns about the book. 
I grew up in a Christian home. My parents used to be on staff with para-church ministry to youth, and my dad is now leading the men's ministry at a church in Baltimore. 
This past year has brought an immense amount of suffering to our family (my husband and I have 4 boys) and shattered everything I have ever known or thought about God. I have listened to several of Brad's podcasts and have read A More Christlike God. I have to say it couldn't have come at a better time. 
My dad went through a similar journey several years ago and almost lost a previous job because he said, "I will never again tell a kid God was mad at them and that Jesus had to 'save' them from Gods wrath." 
All that to say, I am so grateful for this book and the journey that brought it about. It has brought refreshment to my soul and in Brad's words, "I don't hate God anymore." 
Brad, thank you for sharing your journey and what you have learned. I have passed several of your podcast interviews along to my dad and he is so thrilled that others are preaching this! I look forward to studying more of your stuff!

Friday, November 25, 2016

Understanding Theological (and Political) Anger - Brad Jersak and Floris Kersloot.

The following are my takeaways from advice I received from my psychologist friend, Floris Kersloot. The topic was on how to understand and respond as peace-builders when faced with angry reactions over theological (or political) convictions.  

Even when (and especially when) sharing something so basic and central to Christianity as "God is love" or "Jesus calls us away from violence into cruciform enemy love," we often see people of faith and good will triggered into what seems like inexplicable anger and defensiveness. For theological perspectives to cause angry reactions rather than lively discussions should seem strange. What 'code' might we find that unlocks the closed door of reactivity and opens the door to authentic dialogue? 

Normally, emotional reactions ask for an alternative emotional response. For example, fear asks for assurance, grief asks for comfort. What does anger ask for? Understanding. This can be very difficult to offer when someone is freaking out at you. But it is growing edge of those who would be peacemakers. Not to answer reactions with reactions, but with 'the other cheek' of understanding. How so?

We ask (ourselves or the other), "Where is the anger is coming from?" It's not simple disagreement. Something is happening at the heart level ... there's a backstory of some sort. Usually the anger arises from some deeper need or longing or fear. 

From there, we might explore the possibility that we share a common longing or concern, even with someone on the opposite end of the theological (or political) spectrum. [We ought also critique and transcend the spectrum itself]. For example, the shared longing between me and my wackiest (;-) friends might be our hatred of injustice and our desire to see the world set right. On that level, we might communicate this common ground by sharing stories that energize these longings and emotions. The exchange of understanding at that point defuses the anger. Our heart has been heard.   

Perhaps then the real debate can begin. For example, we may still disagree on HOW injustice can be (has been) addressed and what it takes to heal the world. We may still disagree on how it will happen, but by understanding that we agree that it should, the discussion may move from heat to light if we are willing (some are not if the real issue is ego-centric -- 'I need to be right'). 

Some of my friends (still friends and not angry) continue to differ because we operate on different assumptions. These too can be shared. For example, our perspectives are so often informed  by assumptions about how we read the Bible. In such cases, we ought to say, "we have such different ways of approaching and interpreting this text," rather than "you are unfaithful" or "unbiblical." When I accuse someone of 'literalism' and am accused of 'liberalism,' neither of us feel understood and anger lurks. But if we understand that neither of us intends to throw the text under the bus, maybe we'll stay cool enough to actually look at it together. Then maybe we'll avoid the presumption of those who wanted to prematurely separate the wheat and tares (Matthew 23:24-30), heeding instead the advice of the Master that says we're not wise enough for such us/them discernment. Better that we grow together until the harvest.  

We can also share how we'd like to be understood. For example, I would like to be understood this way: my perspective begins at the cross as a revelation of the nature of God as self-giving, radically forgiving, co-suffering love and the power of the resurrection to overcome evil with good. And these are to be transposed into the life of daily discipleship through the transforming grace of the Holy Spirit. 

By taking the permission to share this, I must also be willing to give that same permission. "How do you like to be understood." You can see then that this is not merely about sharing information, but actually co-ministering understanding to our longings and desires, fears and wounds (before anger pre-sabotages communication). Here's a basic test: am I moving toward love or moving away from it? Am I deconstructing an idea, or am I tearing down a person? Am I building my ego by winning an argument, or building a relationship by listening as carefully as I'm telling?

Blessed are the peace-builders; they will be called sons and daughters of God.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Thankful For What? by Greg Albrecht

For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with streams and pools of water, with springs flowing in the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.
  When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. He led you through the vast and dreadful desert, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. He gave you manna to eat in the desert, something your fathers had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. You may say to yourself, "My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me." But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today.—Deuteronomy 8:7-18
The national holiday of Thanksgiving, observed in October in Canada and November in the United States, can be a time for us to take a careful look at how God works in our lives. This holiday can also remind us how God feeds us with the spiritual food we need. Sometimes he feeds us with spiritual food we don't always expect or want, but it is, nonetheless, spiritual food we always need. Thanksgiving is a wonderful time for us to carefully look at God's gracious work in our lives, even when his gracious work may offend our religious sensitivities, even when his love overwhelms the status quo of what we think God ought to do and ought not to do. 

On the surface, Thanksgiving is devoted to giving thanks for our food, our shelter, our health, our clothing. Thanksgiving reminds us of a time when our ancestors lived on the edge, a time when severe hunger loomed on the horizon.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Salt & Light: Not a New Law - Eberhard Arnold

The Sermon on the Mount by Miki Goodaboom -
Editor's note: When approaching the Sermon on the Mount, two opposing ditches need to be avoided. One is adopting the Sermon as a new Law (to attain righteousness); the other is rejecting it as an impossible Law (negated by grace and the Cross). In the following excerpt, Eberhard Arnold steers between these errors, urging us along the grace-empowered Jesus Way. In that sense, the Sermon on the Mount is Christ's version of Paul's "fruit of the Spirit" (Galatians 6). It is the life of Christ-in-me, lived by those who "abide in the Vine" (John 15). 
"For through the Law I died to the Law so that I might live for Go. I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ lives in me. And the life I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave his life for me." (Galatians 2:19-20)  
That life, the salt and light life in Christ, was described for us by Christ himself in this Sermon as the foundation for Christian cruciform discipleship.

Excerpt from Eberhard Arnold's Salt and Light: Living the Sermon on the Mount (Plough Publishing House).

Not a New Law

How do we respond to the Sermon on the Mount? The Sermon on the Mount is the first step on the way to discipleship. ... If we fully grasp the Sermon on the Mount and believe it, then nothing can frighten us -- neither our own self-recognition, nor financial threats, nor our personal weakness. 

The dedication demanded in the Sermon on the Mount is not a new law or moral teaching. Instead it is forgiveness. Its vital element is the light and warmth of the Holy Spirit. Here is Christ: the essence of salt, and the strength of the tree that bears good fruit. The Sermon on the Mount shows us the character of a community, which shines like a light for the whole world. 

The Sermon on the Mount is not a high-tension moralism, but we must grasp it as the revelation of God's real power in human life. If we take our surrender to God seriously and allow him to enter our lives as light, as the only energy which makes new life possible, then we will be able [empowered] to live the new life. 

If we see the Sermon on the Mount as five new commandments, as the Tolstoyans do, we will fall right into a trap. For in his book My Religion, Leo Tolstoy lists the commandments of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount as five new laws: peacefulness with others, sexual purity and marital faithfulness, the refusal to swear oaths, non-resistance to evil, and love for one's enemies. But Jesus shows us that the clarity and demands of the old laws are not weakened by his coming into the world; instead they are infinitely sharpened. Moreover, these are only five examples -- there could be five hundred or five thousand -- revealing the powerful effect of God's work in Christ.

His righteousness, his justice, is better than anything scholars or theologians could offer. It is something absolutely different, and it does not depend on moral intentions and good ideas. The righteousness of the law can be fulfilled only through a new, organic way of living, through a life from God that flares up like light and sears and purifies like salt. It is like a flame that shines, like the sap that pulses through a tree. It is life!

Spoken Oct. 27, 1935, at the Rhรถn Bruderhof.