Sing Along with Me

By: Janet Mendenhall

She wheeled herself up to her designated table in what for this hour would be a makeshift church sanctuary, though the occasional clatter of dishes and faint smells of Sunday lunch gave away its intended use.  I was looking for an unclaimed chair and greeting my fellow congregants as I wound my way through the labyrinth of wheelchairs and walkers.

I have been visiting and worshipping at the nursing center in my neighborhood for several years now, and have come to know many of the residents’ names and even some of their stories. I have my favorites:

• My 90-year-old friend who after several recent falls is madder than a hornet that she has been slowed down by a wheelchair.

• My 87-year-old former nursing school instructor who misses no opportunity to hug, reminding anyone who will listen of the study done by North Carolina nurses that claims a dose of 12 daily hugs is necessary for us to thrive.

• The former Colorado history professor and my current movie buddy who is somewhat limited by serious injuries suffered on Colorado black ice.

All of them encourage and inspire me on a regular basis.

However, I didn’t recognize the woman who stopped me and quietly said, “I am so glad you’re here today. I can’t see very well any longer, and even with my glasses, I can’t read the words in the hymnal, but when I hear your voice, I can remember the words and sing along.” I smiled. I am known for my strong alto voice in that service, but this was the first time I had thought about it serving this particular purpose. I introduced myself and settled into the chair nearest her. I don’t know how I had missed meeting her before, but I was thankful for today’s introduction.

After the service, I wheeled the former nursing instructor back to her room, sang my twice-weekly offering of “What A Friend We Have in Jesus,” her favorite hymn of which she apparently never tires, and headed out the door with easily the prescribed quota of hugs.

My new friend was parked just outside the door and struck up a conversation with me. She described her sadness at losing her mate, her failing health, her relocation to the nursing center. She told me how she had prayed that she would die, how she felt like 87 years was a good, long life and how tired she was. But she hadn’t died, she said.

And now she was feeling like she needed to make good use of the time she had left. It would not be in her nature, and would require mustering up her courage, but she was pondering running for the presidency of the residents’ organization at the nursing center. There were folks there without advocates, and she thought she could lend her voice to make things better for them. She envisioned herself rolling down the hallways, poking her head into each room and visiting with everyone to see what it was that could be done to make their home even better. Were people getting adequate care? Was everyone comfortable with the surroundings? Was everyone’s voice being heard? She was going to pray about it some more, but felt certain there was more for her to do than to just rest and long for her life’s end.

I thought about our conversation as I walked home. I am not 87 years old, but sometimes I feel tired; too tired to keep trying to make this world a better place. And often, I feel like giving up. But if my friend can overcome her fear and fatigue and run for president, I think I can press on as well.

There was a song in my heart as I turned the corner toward home, and I said aloud, “I am glad you were there today, my new friend. Sometimes my eyes don’t see things as clearly as they should, but when I hear your strong voice, I can remember the words and sing along.”

Attack on poverty:  A page from God’s playbook

By: Steve Holt Sr.

The food was late arriving at my place setting.  And when it finally arrived, it was a salad!

But all that is to be expected when you attend a fundraiser for a nonprofit, especially one aimed at helping the poor.  The five hundred or so of us weren’t there to eat.  The occasion was a fundraiser for a local organization that serves the poor in my home town. The campaign is entitled “Beyond Charity, a Vision for the Future.”

The real food at this luncheon were the insights and information shared by eight speakers from a variety of organizations whose missions intersect with some of this city’s poorest citizens.  Each panelist had his own idea of what the major issues are regarding poverty and how the people of our fair city might come together to address those issues.  A few examples:  the police chief called for a detox facility, the mental health advocate stressed the importance of programs for those suffering more serious mental issues, a doctor who sees a large number of poor women in his practice said sex and contraceptive education would make a big difference, a successful entrepreneur pointed out the importance of hiring people with limited skills and checkered pasts, the city councilman talked about synergy and the importance of working together to address the issues of homelessness and poverty, the representative from the local school district noted that education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty. There was no doubt that the panel participants care.  The fact that the mayor served as moderator gives you an idea of where this city’s administration is regarding the welfare of all our citizens.  I was impressed and challenged.

The problems of poverty are real, they are deep, and they affect us all as reflected in crime statistics, increase of single parent families, withering neighborhoods, run-away drug abuse, rising costs of goods because of theft, and more.  The most unfortunate result of poverty might be what it does to the human spirit. Poverty destroys hope, happiness, and will.

But the idea that holds the greatest possibility for permanent reversal of poverty—people of means actually moving to impoverished neighborhoods to live among and love the folks who live there—was barely mentioned.  People touching people instead of people throwing money at the issues from safe, well-to-do neighborhoods makes a difference in both long-time and relocated neighbors.

Where this has been practiced, real and lasting changes have begun.  And the changes work both ways—both rich and poor sharing from their respective wealth of experiences, knowledge and gifts, and in the process, simply loving each other, bring blessings beyond measure to all.

Why is this simple concept so often missing in the discussions about what to do about poverty?

The luncheon’s opening invocation, Bible references from several panelists and occasional hearty “amens” from the assembled made the luncheon a decidedly faith-centered event.  Several churches hosted tables for their faithful and friends.  Perhaps, then, you will excuse this paraphrase (with liberties) of Philippians 2:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being able to afford any neighborhood he wished, did not consider himself worthy to live any place he wished.  Instead, he gave himself up and chose to dwell among people who were so unlike himself. And moving to that needy neighborhood, he took on the identity of the poor, isolated, forgotten, abused, maligned people who lived there, thus submitting to his Father’s wishes.  As a result, his Father rewarded him handsomely with new friends, new perspectives, and contentment beyond measure.

 

The point is that God dealt with the dire human condition (far more serious than poverty), not by isolating himself behind the vast expanses of space, but by leaving the safety and comforts of heaven and choosing to dwell among a vastly different neighborhood…a neighborhood so hostile that it eventually cost Jesus his very life.

Perhaps it’s time for we who call ourselves disciples of Jesus to take a page from God’s playbook by moving into neighborhoods that need us, to live with people we desperately need.

And perhaps that’s what neo-restoration is really all about.

(Disclaimer:  I confess that I currently live in a comfortable, safe neighborhood—if, indeed, anyplace is safe—surrounded by giving neighbors who keep their yards up.  But, I’m seriously rethinking all of that. I’ll keep you posted.)

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Steve Holt lives in Texas. His recent book, “Intentional: In Jesus’ name we play,” tells the story of a fictional wealthy professional basketball superstar who moves to one of the poorest neighborhoods in America to connect with the people who live there and the hope and renewal he brought.  Contact him at sholtsr@gmail.com.

Two Heads are Better than One

By: Janet Mendenhall

They are my friends. And in a way, they are my neighbors. But they were also squatters. It is true that they had been squatting on the porch of a condemned house down the street from me. A few were actually living on that porch, while others just spent parts of the day there hanging out, sharing stories and a beer or two. Sometimes I would visit with these friends as they walked through the community garden where I was weeding. Or I would have a chat with them as I was walking by the porch. I have had breakfast with some of them at Breakfast on Beech Street, and we have lunched and worshipped together at City Light Ministries.

The group had been congregating at houses closer to the corner convenience store that specializes in 40-ounce bottles of beer and cheap cigarettes, before being forced down the street one house at a time. This house was recently selected, and its overgrown shrubs and bushes provided shade and camouflage for the illegal campsite on the porch. This house also had next-door neighbors who complained loudly enough to rouse the interest of a reporter at the local television station, who was loud enough to shake up the city’s code enforcers. Within days the shady camouflage was cut down and the ragged remnants of the squatters’ makeshift quarters tossed in a waste bin. The squatters were warned by the city’s code compliance officer not to return. And just like that, they were gone.

I watched the news story as they interviewed my squatter neighbors, some of whom struggle with mental and physical disabilities, and I was both sad and frustrated.  I love my friends who gathered at the corner of my street. They are kind and compassionate and loyal and helpful to one another. But they were there illegally, and sometimes messy and noisy and not respectful of their neighbors. There was always tension for me as I visited my friends at the corner and saw the mess that was theirs. I remarked to the corner community once about cleaning up the area, which was met with cheers and jeers but mostly ignored. I never knew quite how to respond to the situation. Consequently I didn’t do much, except continue to listen and receive the prayers and blessings and hugs and laughter they would offer me as we met and to lament the tenuous conditions of their daily life and the hopelessness I felt regarding a solution.

The news story was of course posted online as well as shown on the evening news. It was the comments posted in response to the story that frustrated me. They weren’t surprising. They were in fact, expected. They came in the standard two sizes fit all:

  1. Throw them in jail, those lazy, no-good squatters, or
  2. Leave them alone; they are people too, just like you, and we are called to love and be kind to all people.

And then follows the yelling back and forth. We have become accustomed to polarized posts that defend one’s position so loudly that there seems no hope for any listening, and certainly no resolution. I know this.  Lately, I have read these comments on everything from Syria to suicide, Iraq to immigration, gun control to gay marriage. You have, too. Maybe you have made some.

Recent research has shown an actual, observable difference between the brains of those who typically support and vote for conservative ideals and their liberal counterparts. In that study published in 2011 in Current Biology, conservatives were found to have larger right amygdala, an area of the brain associated with fear, which some would argue may provide this group with a keener response to threats and signs of danger. Liberals were found to have a larger anterior cingulate cortex, which might be linked to an enhanced ability to handle change and uncertainty. A number of other research projects point to differences in the way the two groups respond to stimuli and the neural mechanisms that are triggered in certain situations. These seem to indicate a biological and psychological basis for the different ideologies of these two groups. The research is not conclusive, and it could be with regard to the structural differences that these changes occur over time as a result of a person’s thinking.

But it is interesting to consider the possibilities:

What if it isn’t about who has the right answer or the most compelling argument?  What if we are intentionally wired differently? What if two heads really are better than one – particularly if they are different? What if as God’s people with the help of his Spirit we can come together as one people? What if we can model seeing our differences as the completion of one another?

What if together we use our big amygdala AND our big anterior cingulate cortex to strive to build one kingdom, where rather than just argue about squatters and other such matters, we create space for both groups’ big ideas to work together toward a fuller life for all of us?

Iv’ry Tower

By: Steve Holt Sr.

When I was in my mid-teens, Dad decided to build a motel.  He had built houses before, but this was his first venture into a project of such magnitude. I watched as the Iv’ry Tower Inn took shape from the ground up to become the premier “motor hotel” in our small but growing town.

Since our family traveled a lot, my dad took notes at every motel we stayed in to record those amenities and features that stood out so that he could incorporate them to enhance a traveler’s stay.  For examples, the Iv’ry Tower was one of the first motels that featured an “endless loop” hot water system so that travelers would not have to wait for their bath water to warm up.  He selected the best mattresses he could find and replaced them at the first hint of sagging.  There was always free, fresh coffee in the lobby.  The motel’s restaurant was the first in the area to feature Colonel Sander’s Kentucky Fried Chicken.  And the $3.99 all-you-could-eat Sunday brunch buffet was the best in town.

I started working at the motel when I was about fifteen years old doing a variety of odd jobs, one of the oddest being driving through the parking lot of our biggest competitor, the Holiday Inn down the street, counting the cars and reporting my findings to dad.

There were many nights when the Holiday Inn had twice as many cars as the Iv’ry Tower, and on other nights, we had a few more cars than the big “franchise” hotel.  I often wondered why anyone would want to stay anywhere other than the Iv’ry Tower.  We had the best service, the best amenities, the nicest swimming pool, and the best restaurant.  We cared for the traveler.  Our rates were better.  It was the traveler’s home away from home, offering all that anyone could possibly want and need while on the road.

I remember becoming quite angry when anyone suggested that the Holiday Inn was the best motel in town.  I mean just because the place had world-wide recognition, was part of the number one motel chain in the world at the time, was considered by some to be the only place to stay when on the road, was easily recognized by the “great sign” out front…none of that mattered.  Dad’s place was a better idea because it focused on the comfort of the individual traveler.  “If they only knew…” I would lament.

If they only knew.

My affections for the Iv’ry Tower Inn were, to a much lesser degree, pretty similar to my love for God’s church—greatest idea ever!  The church—the repository of the redeemed—was made to perfectly fulfill a human being in virtually every way, designed to nurture, encourage, guide, and protect.  It is a place of grace and latitude, receiving its charter from none other than the Loving Shepherd, Jesus, himself.  Among  fellow saints, weary travelers receive the strength and provisions to continue the journey.  With locations around the world, pilgrims are nudged forward, often carried the last mile or two when the going is too tough for some.

I envision a community that, when working as it should, enjoys the “favor of all the people,” as it did when first born. I imagine a community to which people flock—like the ark—for refuge and safety.

Why, then, are people settling for less in a traditional religious institution that calls itself “church”? If people only knew, they wouldn’t be lured away by the name recognition and familiar design of institutional churches with their fancy buildings, large congregations, elaborate music, hip preachers, and programs for every demographic. Rather, they would find what they seek—and so much more— within the comfortable confines of God’s purposed group.

It’s not that institutional churches are all that wrong, it’s that they are so far from being all that God wants for his community. In God’s family, every voice is heard, every gift is encouraged and used, every need fulfilled.  In God’s family, the direction for the group is determined by listening to the voice of the Father together and joining God in his work, together—no child is left behind.

There are wonderful, godly folks who choose the institutional brand of church. And they aren’t bad people for doing so. They’ve just settled for less, and I’m truly sorry for them. They’ve opted for the known, the safe, the secure, the familiar, and in most cases, the comfortable.  It’s like their attitude is “Oh well, we’re here; it’s not so bad.  So, let’s just stay with what we know.” And they never come to know what they are really missing.

Through his family, the multi-faceted wisdom of God is laid bare for all to see.  Here, the world gets a glimpse of how people, so different from one another, co-exist and move toward a common goal. Here, the world gets to see all the ways God does his work of loving, feeding, guiding, and nurturing human beings. Here, the wisdom of “little ones” is esteemed as highly as the “learned.” Here, scripture is not just talked about; it’s lived out. Here, the needs of those not yet in the community are tended to as purposefully as those in the community.

God’s design holds the possibility of a “vital family within easy access of every person on earth.” God’s group is easily reproducible. It is simple, transportable, and fluid. God’s church can function fully with as few as two and clearly demonstrates the maxim that “less is more.” It costs nothing but blood—his blood—to maintain. God’s church is the only great leveling presence on earth where human beings find equality, purpose and meaning.  Only God himself determines membership.

If only they knew…

Comfort Food for Thought

By: Janet Mendenhall

We are creatures of comfort. Our bodies want to be comfortable: air conditioning, beds and pillows that note and remember our sleep habits, fabrics that wick moisture away, cars with seats that massage and conform to our bodies, shoes filled with gel.

I remember when it became popular for young folks to exclaim, “Awkward!” at, well, awkward moments in their lives. Perhaps naming it before someone else could name it for them  took some of the sting out of the discomfort of the moment. We do not like awkward encounters, moments, or conversations, and generally go out of our way to avoid even the slightest chance of them. We do not like being uncomfortable.

We can purchase our way into complete physical comfort. And, unfortunately, it is almost as easy to ensure our social comfort. We do this by avoiding people who make us uncomfortable: people with different backgrounds, values, ideas, beliefs, even skin. We have become good at separating ourselves from folks not like us. We can move to the other side of town, not go to “those” schools, not play at that park, not go to that church, not shop at that store, not go to their party.

We have convinced ourselves we deserve to be comfortable. Advertisers have added their persuasive pitches. We have shared our secrets to coziness, lulling one another into a comfortable stupor. Even the church has often validated our quests for individual comfort: homogenous Sunday School classes, traditional or contemporary services, and separate outreach ministries.

I don’t see Jesus seeking comfort. Instead I see: catnaps in capsizing boats, tables of tax collectors, parties with prostitutes, challenges from church leaders.

And a well-side chat with a Samaritan woman.

His encounter knocks me out of my carefully constructed comfort zone.

Jews and Samaritans were not on cordial terms to say the least. There was much animosity and disagreement in religious thought. Jews, as the apostle states, had no dealings with Samaritans. None. And she was a woman. Jewish men did not speak to women in public.

And so Jesus greets this Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob. Awkward. Perhaps. But we can learn three helpful hints from Jesus for finding comfort in an uncomfortable encounter

Potential discomfort one: He is tired and thirsty and has nothing with which to draw water and so he asks the woman for a drink.

Hint one: When encountering folks who are different from you, perhaps marginalized and maybe even skeptical of you, acknowledge your own weakness and appeal to their strengths. Jesus was thirsty and needed her help.

Potential discomfort two: After Jesus reveals what can only be supernatural knowledge of this woman’s past and current life, she supposes Jesus to be a prophet and poses a theological question regarding the distinction between the worship of the Samaritans and the Jews. Jesus acknowledges the difference, but quickly moves toward language that is inclusive and inviting and focuses on a new reality regarding a unified worship.

Hint two: It is fine and even helpful to acknowledge differences, but it is better to move quickly to areas of common ground and the hope of a spirit of unity.

Potential discomfort three: The woman believed when Jesus revealed his identity as the anticipated Messiah and hurried to tell the folks in her town. They came to Jesus and asked him to stay with them. He stayed for two days and shared his heart with them. Many heard and believed in him.

Hint three: Don’t hit and run. Stay and arrange more conversations. Get to know them. Build a relationship. Share your heartfelt words of truth.

Are you a creature of comfort? Before you plump up your pillows and plop on your Posturepedic, take a water break and have an uncomfortable conversation or two. It might be the most refreshing thing you do.

 

 

Worth It

By: Laura Callarman

Just under a year ago, an opportunity arose for my husband Rosten and I to attend a house church conference. It was at no charge, I might add, because some already paid for spaces opened up at the last minute. So we went. But I in particular went only begrudgingly. You see, I was burnt out on ministry. Skeptical. Cynical. And oh so weary. Not at all in a good place spiritually. I’ll confess: my main motivation for going was a free trip to the mountains of Colorado to relax and escape the heat of the summer.

Not exactly a promising beginning.

As I entered into a weekend’s worth of putting up with a conference in order to take advantage of the scenery, I would never have envisioned what would happen over the course of those four days—and the many days that have followed.

You see, God showed up and changed our lives. (It’s probably more accurate to say that we finally showed up to God so that God could change our lives.) And the good work that God began in us that one weekend last summer has continued on, day by day, bringing us to some amazing places.

As I entered into that weekend, I would never have envisioned Rosten quitting his full time job as a result of what God was drawing us into. I would never have envisioned living for nearly a year on the minimal income that substitute teaching and a few other odd jobs could provide so that we could have the freedom to go where God called us, whenever God called us. I never would have envisioned us using that freedom to live in a small town in the rural Midwest for a summer. I never would have envisioned being encouraged and even commissioned by our community of believers at home to leave home—to leave them in the midst of some exciting times and some difficult times—so that we could pour ourselves into work half a continent away. And given some of the emotional baggage I’ve carried over the years, I certainly would never have envisioned myself working eagerly with leaders and members of a traditional church, much less a Church of Christ, to pursue Kingdom growth in their midst.

Yet here we are, in Sullivan, Indiana, all of those things having come to pass so that now we find ourselves concluding nine very formative weeks’ worth of time using our own gifts as we walk alongside the amazing body of believers at Westside Church of Christ. The Spirit has done some astounding things in our lives and theirs.

And all I have to say is this: God is good, and it was worth it.

It was worth submitting myself to the possibility that God might have something more in store for me in Colorado than I’d anticipated. It was worth the many times of prayer and conversation Rosten and I shared as we tried to decipher what God desired for us. It was worth every phone call we had to make to our sometimes bewildered parents to tell them about the next step of faith we were taking. It was worth the months of very frugal living and the way we had to humble ourselves with every seemingly meaningless job we had to take, draining as they were. It was worth submitting ourselves again and again to the process of discerning wisdom and God’s calling with our own faith community. It was worth the many challenges of life away from home for two months. It was worth every fear, doubt, and argument, though I’d venture to say there could’ve been far fewer of those if we’d consistently chosen faith and love rather than control and fear.

It was worth it despite these difficulties, for God has again and again shown compassion and kindness to us as we’ve been amply provided for, surrounded countless times by supportive and loving Christian community, and drawn further into Kingdom work that fits who we are. But it was also worth it because of these difficulties, for through them we came to see the reality of ourselves much more clearly and came to know our loving and gracious God so much better.

My testimony, then is this: when, despite seeming impediments and challenges, we have taken the risk of trusting God and going where God leads us, we’ve been blessed by the ways God uses us, grows us, and transforms us—sometimes through pleasure and sometimes through pain. It has all been worth it. And though I can safely say that I have no clue what the upcoming year will hold, I trust that my life and future are safe in the hands of the God who wisely knew I needed so much more than just a relaxing weekend in the mountains.

I Love America, but…

By: Steve Holt Sr.

I love America.  But I am, first and foremost, a citizen of a Kingdom that is not built on man-made ideals, is not dependent on any “ism” to thrive, is not vulnerable to a more powerful army, and doesn’t encourage nationalistic arrogance.

I love liberty.  But I love the freedom found in this Kingdom most—a freedom not won through the futility of war. It wasn’t negotiated through the political scheming of men and women. It is granted to each and every person who realizes and accepts the reality that our freedom cost God everything.  This liberty frees us to give all, love unconditionally, grant mercy to all and gratefully receive everything as a gift.

I love the U.S. flag, but let’s face it; it’s just a piece of cloth fashioned by a seamstress.  Thousands upon thousands who died so that we can fly the flag didn’t give their lives for that piece of cloth.  They died for an ideal, a political system, a way of life or some other factor that will never compare in value to even one of those who lost his/her life.

I love independence.  But I love interdependence more.  I dream of a world in which people get along despite their differences because they respect one another, they need one another, they share a loyalty to an ideal that is loftier than party, pleasure, or personal agenda.

I love progress, but not at the expense of exhaustible resources, wildlife, clean air, my sanity and fellowman’s wellbeing.

I love air conditioning, a comfortable home, good food, nice clothes and a reliable car.  But I must learn not to be dependent on any of these things, nor to consider them entitlements.

I love safety.  But I realize safety is never guaranteed.  Stuff happens to good, bad and indifferent people indiscriminately. I have no unalienable right to safety and know that no army, police force, neighborhood, fence, or weapon can fully protect me from personal harm.

I love the church.  But I hate religion.  The only measure of God’s church is the height and weight of a believer.  The effects of church as God intends can’t be seen, only sensed.  Religion boasts, manipulates, condemns, takes, controls, and fights to preserve itself.  I hate religion.  I really do.

I love family.  But I really love kinship formed out of mutual respect, devotion to the Father, and is inclusive, welcoming and nurturing.

I love the USA.  But I love planet Earth more, where, from space, you can’t tell where one nation begins and one ends.

I love Americans.  But I love the family of mankind most.

I love Facebook, texts, Tweets, emails, phone calls and blogs.  But I love seeing you face-to-face more.

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Steve Holt Sr. lives in Abilene, TX.  His new book, Intentional, In Jesus’ Name We Play offers a glimpse into life in a Kingdom not of this world.

The Most Evangelistic Thing

By: Laura Callarman

“The most evangelistic thing the church can do today is to be the church—to be formed imaginatively by the Holy Spirit through core practices such as worship, forgiveness, hospitality, and economic sharing into a distinctive people in the world, a new social option, the body of Christ. It is the very shape and character of the church as the Spirit’s ‘new creation’ that is the witness to God’s reign in the world and so both the source and aim of Christian evangelism.”  (Bryan Stone, Evangelism After Christendom, 15.)

The most evangelistic thing the church can do is be the church. I don’t know how this claim strikes you at first glance, but let me tell you, when I first read it a few years ago, I was blown away. You see, I was in the midst of a four-year master’s degree focused on learning all the ins and outs of Christian ministry and mission. I’d dedicated years of my life to studying about evangelism, and I intended to devote my life to engaging in it in one way or another. And here was Bryan Stone telling me that the best thing we could do to fulfill Jesus’ instructions to spread the gospel and make disciples was simply to be. Not to have a missional program in place or to go on mission campaigns around the neighborhood or the world. Not to strategize and plan, to plot ideas and measure outcomes. Not even to figure out the most socially acceptable way to share the good news of Jesus with people in their various cultural contexts. But rather to just be. What in the world did Stone mean by that?!? And why, despite their dissonance with much of the other training I’d received (both in school and throughout life), did his words resonate so deeply with me?

Perhaps because of the dissonance and the resonance both, those words stuck with me. I kept turning them over again and again in my mind and in my heart. I pondered their meaning and I considered their application. And I found wisdom in them, particularly when I looked around me at the utter failure of traditional practices of “evangelism,” practices that rarely bring the true good news that they claim to. (“Evangelism” is Greek for “good news,” but more often than not our evangelistic practices are more expressive of judgment, condemnation, and exclusion than any actual good news.) When it came to winning the hearts of people to Christ, there just had to be something more, something better than that which I’d seen taught, modeled, lived—and, all too often, completely (and understandably) rejected by those who did not know Christ. And as I pondered his words, I realized that Bryan Stone was on to something.

Over the years since I first read Stone’s assertion, I’ve become utterly convinced that he’s right. I’ve seen it. Yes, I’ve seen the miserable failure of traditional models of “soul winning,” as I’ve just mentioned. But it’s not just that that’s convinced me. It’s that I’ve seen the kind of evangelism Stone describes work. He says that the best thing we can do to share good news with others is to be people who’ve been transformed by good news and are thus an inviting alternative way of life. And I’ve seen that happen.

I’ve seen the church be all that it was called to be and designed to be, and I’ve seen people be transformed by it. I’ve seen lives permeated by God’s good news in ways that many would consider peculiar or even unnerving, but it’s because as Christians we’re called and enabled by the Spirit to be people who live in such love and trust and forgiveness and grace that we look very different. And I’ve also seen some who had written off or given up on Christianity take a second look because they see the transformed people of God and they’re intrigued and drawn in by the enduring witness that that life-giving transformation is.

In short, I’ve seen a new creation emerge in the lives of both individuals and communities, and I’ve seen that new creation bring new life, new hope, and new joy to all people—Christian and non-Christian alike.

I’ve been re-evangelized with this gospel of love and meaning in deep relationship with God and God’s people, and it’s my hope and prayer that all people can experience this. Because, let me tell you, it’s a lot more uplifting and exciting than anything else I’ve ever experienced in life. It’s true good news: God is love, Jesus is Lord, the Spirit is our trusted companion and guide, and we are people transformed in relationship with this God! And that is worth joining in on. Come along with me for the journey!

the call to NATIONALISM 

By: Brian Scott

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A prophet once said that the one who trusts the Master will be “like a tree planted near water. It spreads out its roots by the river; and it does not even notice when the heat comes. Its foliage is luxuriant; it does not worry during a year of drought, it just keeps on giving fruit.”

For the remainder of the discussion, the tree will be serving us as a sign of Messianic Nationalism. The tree is one plant, composed of various parts. Beginning as a small seed, invisible within the earth, it establishes roots. As the roots feed that seed, it sends forth a shoot which springs up from the still quiet earthy expanse out into a bustling new time and place. The trunk thickens as roots and branches reach further into earth and sky. As the root system keeps drinking from the continual stream this tree becomes mighty and robust with leaves. Thousands of branches of all sizes now engulf the sky thick with a hundred shades of green, yellow, and red. Finally it reaches its goal. During the most hopeless drought it perseveres cleaning the air, producing leaves that heal the nations [a new fruit to harvest at the end of each month], and offering shade to the weary traveler. This towering oak is Messianic Nationalism.

Screen Shot 2014-07-02 at 2.01.07 PMStokely Carmichael is a Trinidadian born Black American who lived from 1941 to 1998. He contributed greatly to the American Civil Rights movement as a community organizer, philosopher, author, and public speaker. Carmichael became involved with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee [SNCC] as an undergraduate attending Howard University at the age of 19. He later went on to serve as the SNCC chairman in the subsequent years. Stokely Carmichael is also credited with coining the term “Black Power” and he filled that phrase with socio-economic and cultural substance, from his study and practice of community organizing, which birthed a movement.

Stokely expressed his deep devotion to the peoplehood of blacks in the U.S. by endorsing,

“a call for Black People to unite, to recognize their heritage, to build a sense of community… to begin defining their own goals, to lead their own organizations and support these organizations.” 

The previous essay addressed how the body of believers was never meant to think of themselves as a collection of individuals, but as a People. Consider the possibility that what Carmichael was suggesting for the benefit of black America is a great template for continuing our discussion on Messianic Nationalism.

This quote begins with a call for a people to unite. It has already been recounted how the Messiah’s dying prayer was for the unity of his people. The remainder of the quote can be read as elaboration and implications of what it would mean for his people to unite. First of all, he says unity means recognizing their heritage [their roots]. Then, he mentions the building of a sense of community. This might also be described as a shared identity [their seed]. Next, Carmichael says they are to “begin defining their own goals.” They must understand their purpose [their trunk]. It cannot be dictated to them by other groups. And then finally, he mentions the need to “lead their own organizations” and “support” those organizations. This can be taken to mean that a nation of people must have a culture, customs, and traditions which organize, structure, and sustain their life together [their foliage and fruit].

These seem to be necessary elements of peoplehood. Every nation and tribe has had to establish these things for themselves, but to the extent that a group outsources the management of their heritage, identity, purpose, culture, and sustenance to the surrounding society, they cease to be a unified people.

 

We Are Not All Peas in a Pod

By: Janet Mendenhall

I am perplexed by my peas. Purple hull peas are my one selfish endeavor in the Valley View Community Garden. I plant most vegetables in the community garden because I know the neighbors will use them, they are hardy enough for the West Texas heat and are easily identified when ready to harvest. I plant purple hull peas because in my opinion, they are the crowning crop of the garden.

The peas were planted 12 inches apart, coinciding with the drip holes on the drip tape that irrigates each row. I planted them at the same time and to the best of my ability at the same depth in the soil. They are all equally exposed to daily sunlight. And so I have been perplexed watching them grow. As I walked through the garden today, a few of the pea plants still look like the bean sprouts in the Dixie cup you planted in first-grade science class. And the largest plant is in full bloom and sporting a pod or two. The other plants fall somewhere in between on the pea-plant-growth spectrum. I am expecting a good crop of peas. I am hopeful for more blooms and eventually more fruit to appear. I am encouraged by the plant whose fruit has already begun to ripen, and resisting the urge to be worried about its immature neighbors. But I do wonder.

I wonder how we think about those around us, as we look up and down our rows. If we see ourselves as fruitful folks stuck amidst Dixie cup seedlings; are we boastful or judgmental?  Are we quick to question, “If I am producing fruit now, shouldn’t you be as well? What is wrong with you? Too lazy to grow? Too stubborn to do your part? We had the same start, after all. We have had the same chances to grow and to thrive, the same access to resources.”

Or so it appears.

I don’t know what is different about my pea plants. But there is something. They appear to have had similar opportunities for growth, yet they are not growing similarly. There could be things that I do not know about these plants and things I cannot see that are affecting their growth.  Maybe there was less nourishment in the specific place in which some found themselves planted. Perhaps something was discarded in their spot that was unhealthy and not supportive of a strong start. Someone might have walked across the soil after planting and that bit of trampling applied enough pressure to make breaking through the surface to the sunlight more difficult. I do not know what has slowed the growth of some, but I do know they are growing. And I am hopeful that with access to nourishing resources, in good time, they will produce fruit.

As I look around, I am reminded of my peas. I see sprouts and blooms and even some pea pods. And I remember that even when it seems each of our places of growth is equally full of opportunities and obstacles, all probably aren’t.  And with cheerful expectation, I nurture and cultivate good fruit in my spot and up and down my row. I can’t wait to share in the bounty of the harvest.