Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

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.

 

No “I” in TEAM

Kobe Bryant, aka: The Black Mamba, entered the National Basketball Association in 1996 at the age of 18. He is arguably one of the best and most dominant individuals to have competed in the league.  In two consecutive seasons Kobe Bryant led the entire NBA in scoring. He is the runner-up [behind Wilt Chamberlain] for most points ever scored in a game by a single player. And he was awarded the “Most Valuable Player” for the 2007-08 season.  Also, Bryant had his best 3-point shooting playoff season in 2003, his most steals per game during the 2004 playoffs. In 2006 he averaged more minutes per game and a higher shooting percentage than any of his other playoff performances. And he had his best free throw percentage and averaged his most points per game during the 2007 playoffs. The Las Angeles Lakers are the second most winningest team in the NBA with 16 championships, and Bryant contributed five of those over the past 15 seasons

Although the afore mentioned achievements prove that Kobe Bryant should be considered among  the best, none of those outstanding performances took place during the five championship seasons.  It was not when he played best that the championships were won, it was when the team played best.

“There’s no ‘I’ in TEAM”, is a familiar adage that reveals a TEAM to be a cohesive unit made up of cooperating parts or players. The fact that the Laker’s championship seasons alternated with Kobe Bryant’s seasons of personal triumphs illustrates the TEAM principle at work.

Vine Deloria Jr. says it like this,

“[a] conglomerate of individuals, [is] not a people. Being a people is more a state of mind than it is a definable quality. Indians had it and now they began to give much consideration to strengthening that state of mind…

Most conglomerate organizations function like a basketball team full of young ambitious Black Mambas. Each part operates independently with its own set of interests. Sub-businesses within a conglomerate will often even compete with each other while working under the same parent-company umbrella. Deloria is suggesting that people can operate under a single banner without truly being a people. And the deal-breaker is their state of mind. In the United States today, individuals and households of believers often relate to each other with a conglomerate state of mind. Each one looks to their own self-interests, only collaborating under the Church “umbrella” when it does not threaten to impede their personal interests and autonomy. But what if there is no “I” in CHURCH? The Laker’s team had a collective goal, but that goal was not to help Kobe Bryant set records and get championship rings. It was Kobe Bryant’s purpose in the NBA to help the Lakers win championships together. We’ve got to start realizing that each one of us is a piece of the whole.

It’s written that, “Once you were not a people, but now you are…a holy Nation, a People for him to possess.” Even if we thought of ourselves as self-contained at one point, we chose to make a change our outlook when we decided to follow Yeshua on the path he walks. We are not our own, we belong to the Master, and to his People. Even within myself, I feel something resisting and rejecting the fact that I belong to others. But it is still true, and we’ve got to help each other learn this. As we get into exploring what Messianic Nationalism it is important to realize that this philosophy, this way of life will require a reorientation in our state of mind, from individualism to collectivism. We share a King, so we are not a religious institution of fair-weather individuals, we are a Nation!

When Hurting Helps

Guest post by: Rosten Callarman

(The title of this post is a play on the title of a book called When Helping Hurts, by Corbett and Fikkert. This excellent book describes the ways that common practices in the world of Christian missions can cause more harm than good. This post is not about that book…I just like a good turn of the phrase.)

I am sitting in a large circle of seminarians (graduate theological students), their professors, and various people connected to their seminary. As is the case in many seminaries across the country, the majority of students and professors are male, with one female faculty member and a small number of other women, some students and some spouses.

The speaker, an Orthodox priest, has just concluded his talk on what sustains his faith and the floor has been opened for questions. Excellent questions, all of them, but my mind is wandering. I think about how I would answer the same questions. I think about what I might have said had I been asked to speak. I think about a paper I wrote when I was in seminary. I think about dinner.

And then I realize something. Except for three professors, the only people who are asking questions are women.

***

My wife was the speaker before the Orthodox priest. She was asked to give a short devotional talk between the two main speakers for the day, and she rocked it. Her talk was about the sustaining and redemptive power of vulnerability, and she posted her notes for that talk on this blog. The day after the post went live, she received an e-mail from a minister who said that this blog post had sparked an amazing conversation with one of his congregants, conversation about the nature of church and salvation, and had been a catalyst in the deepening relationship between the minister and this congregant.

She received high praise for the talk at the retreat. But let me restate that last point just to make sure I’m being clear. It wasn’t my wife’s talk that sparked transformation for this minister and congregant. It was her notes.

How many preachers do you know who can say that their sermon notes were that transformative for someone?

I am not telling you all of this to brag about my wife. Okay, I’m bragging. But mostly I am telling you this because I want you to know that my wife is brilliant, well-spoken, well-trained…and completely convinced that she is not worthy to speak to a bunch of seminarians and their professors about God.

I might get nervous when I speak in front of that same crowd, but I don’t have to be convinced that I’m worthy of it. That is because fifteen years ago, I was asked to lead singing in church. I was asked to pray in front of my church. I was even asked to preach in my church. I had plenty of role models to choose from, because everyone that I saw doing those things was the same gender as me.

Fifteen years ago, my wife was asked to do none of those things. When she searched for role models who shared her gender, she saw women who were in the church kitchen doing the work of hospitality rather than leading singing. She saw women praying silently rather than publicly. She saw women asking questions instead of preaching.

***

I look around the circle, trying to remember where all the questions have come from. I have only mildly been paying attention, so I am finding it difficult to work through my fuzzy recollection. One question came from a female student I don’t know. Then a professor. Then the wife of a second-year student. Another professor. Two more female students and a female administrative worker. The female professor.

I was right. At least seven women in the room have asked questions, and only three men. Men, professors, who have learned through degree upon degree upon degree how to ask questions.

Not a single male student has thought of a question they would like to ask this Orthodox priest.

Though the topic of the day is that which sustains us, I start to think about that which forms us…and those are not always the same thing. You see, we men in the room have been formed by being asked to lead singing. To pray publically. To preach. We’ve been formed by watching these things done by men that we look up to, and having these same men ask us to do these things. We’ve been formed by being asked to be public, outspoken leaders.

The women in the room – though they have many additional skills, talents, and gifts – have been asked to cook. To pray silently. To ask questions. To serve. These are the only things that many of these women have been asked to do. As I look around the room, I realize that these women have learned to do these things well.

We are all formed by the things that we do. Sometimes we do the only things that we are allowed to do. And those things form us as well.

Do the rest of these men sit here silently because, like me, they are too busy thinking about how they would answer the same questions? Because they are thinking about what they would have said had they been asked to speak? Because they are thinking about that one paper?

Do we sit here silently because we have only learned how to answer questions rather than to ask questions of others?

And all the while, these women…these women…are asking beautiful questions of this Orthodox priest. Not because it is the only thing that they are allowed to do in this setting, but because they know how.

The Voice of Justice

I found out recently that a junior high girl from my neighborhood got beaten so badly by two boys that her optic nerve was nearly severed – and it happened in the middle of class. There are a thousand things we could say about this, and we could discuss the bureaucracy, the teacher’s hands being legally tied, broken homes and broken systems for years and never get anywhere. That is not what I want to focus on today.

I’m of a personality that generally struggles to have hope in the world. There are moments of light in my life – I see my friends and I see strangers exhibiting random acts of kindness, and in those times I remember hope, but then something like this happens and I find myself lost in this dark world again. How can such a thing be? Intellectually, I can reason about it all, but in my heart, none of it makes sense. I experience cognitive dissonance. I lie awake at night thinking of the sweet girl whom I have known for years now and whom I have watched slowly lose hope as darkness has visited her time and time again to steal her life away. She is so young, and already she has gone through more than people know and more than any human being should ever have to suffer.

We could speak of ways the system needs to change; we could speak of proper parenting techniques; we could speak of how politicians and administrators should help; we could speak of how the girl was sassy. We could speak of a million things and still end up in the same dark hole. We can intellectualize all day without once acknowledging what I believe to be the most important thing for us to recognize:

A human being has suffered needlessly and brutally, and this should not happen.

I know – of all people, I know – that the world is not perfect, and people are not perfect, and systems are not perfect. It’s easy to say, “Shit happens.” It’s easy to logically explain why such injustice occurs. It is not so easy to face the fact that there seems to be so little we can do. I am someone who values logic, perhaps sometimes to a fault, but tonight I could not value logic in the same way. Tonight all I could think was that this is not right; this must not be; this must not happen again.

So much happens in our world that we end up casually dismissing because there is little or nothing we can do about it, but this is something we cannot dismiss. So much happens in our world that is drama and entertainment, but this is the real pain and the real suffering of a real girl, and this we cannot laugh off or push aside. There is nothing I can do to change the fact that this happened, and it seems that there is precious little any of us can do to prevent such tragedy from happening again, but what we can do is speak. This is the time to speak. Christian, Hindu, Atheist, Muslim, Jewish – it matters not – all are people and can empathize with the suffering of a fellow human being for we all experience suffering in one way or another. But tonight I am reminded of words that to me with my background are familiar:

Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless; plead the widow’s cause. (Isaiah 1:17)

Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. (Psalm 82:3)

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

I won’t say any of us, regardless of religious, political, and other views are any good at this because as a whole we’re not. What I will say is that whatever your background is and whatever your beliefs are, I hope you will consider these words tonight, and I hope you will mourn with me for the injustice that has happened. I hope that you will speak up, or at the very least I hope that you will add your tears to the ones I have shed tonight. I hope that when we witness injustice, we will never be silent again.

A Letter to the African American Churches of Christ (Part 1)

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Dear African American Churches of Christ,

I extend the warm peace and grace of God through Christ to you all. God has blessed us richly and continues to use us for His glory in this world. I praise God that God has and continues to use us for His glory through our efforts in sharing the gospel of Jesus. Our rich heritage has a reputation of being very diligent and passionate in sharing the good news to those who are not in a reconciled relationship with God.

My beloved heritage, it was you who birthed me into my spiritual journey and it was you who raised me while on the journey. Thank you for teaching me about Jesus. Thank you for being a firm foundation. Thank you for the investment you have made in the lives of many young people like me. You have taught me to study Scripture and have integrity with it. You have taught me in many ways to trust God at any cost. You have taught me to be a defender of truth at any cost. Thank you so much for the foundation that you have laid for me to walk in.

The Early Stage of my Journey

Throughout my journey, I have been in awe of the pulpit icons within our heritage. I have been impressed with the great defenders of truth, as well as the astonishing expositors within our heritage. And since I strongly desire to be a preacher, I have always patterned myself after the great pulpit icons. I remember quite vividly, attending many debates and gospel/tent meetings which were focused on “exposing truth and error, “ while calling those who were in error to leave their denominations and to join the “one true church.”

As a result, I have witnessed many people come to Jesus in response to such strong passionate sermons focused on the one true church.

I remember a few years after I accepted the call to preach.  I attended an event where a popular evangelist was preaching at a well-known African American Church of Christ in Dallas. The preacher was well dressed, covered with jewelry, and had a smooth persona. He spoke with a deep bass voice, words of scripture, and persuasive rhetoric all flowing of his mouth with regard to the churches of Christ. After about an hour and a half of preaching, ten people responded to his invitation and committed their lives to Jesus in baptism.  By the end of the gospel meeting, a total of forty-six people all decided to be followers of Jesus.  As a young man, witnessing such moments deeply impressed me and created a passion which likewise called me to be a strong and persuasive defender of the one true church.

I enjoyed many such remarkable experiences during the early stages of my journey of faith and benefited by sitting at the feet of outstanding expository preachers in churches of Christ. Eventually, I too was baptized and raised in a congregation of the churches of Christ which was led by one of the leading expositors in our heritage. In fact, when I informed him that I wanted to become a preacher, he personally mentored me and introduced me to expository preaching.  Expository preaching, at the time, was thought to be radically different from the style of older preachers who were considered defenders of truth whose style was more topical.  Indeed, these differences—between expository and topical preaching—led to real tensions between stalwart “defenders of truth.”  I entered the fray by accepting expository preaching as the most honest and rigorous approach to Scripture. I still harbor this belief today.

Throughout the earlier parts of my journey, dear churches of Christ, I have observed you carefully. Like a child committed to her or his parents, I have entrusted you to rear me in the ways I should go.  I have watched how you chastised nonbelievers using our interpretative style to send them to hell. I have seen how you invested money, attention, and time into gospel meetings, lectureships, and Southwestern Christian College. I have appreciated how you went door knocking and asked people if they believed in the Bible, if they believed that Christ has built one church, and if they wanted to be added to the church. In these things I witnessed your heart to save people and your courageous defense of the truth.

I also observed how preachers in our heritage fought against one another over worship styles and personal morality. I read letters, unloving letters, written by Preachers and sealed with the closing “said in love”.  Dear Preachers, I even noticed how some of you marginalized preachers’ sins, but magnified other preachers’ sins.  You played the game of favoritism with one another.  You isolated those who did not agree with your beliefs.  Consequently, you encouraged our heritage to speak truth with aggressiveness, conning persuasion, but not primarily in love.  My beloved heritage, I watched you, and I imitated you in so many ways.